Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan and the Southern Pacific, the importance of the North-South Axis
NISHIKAWA Megumi / Journalist

August 3, 2006
What impressed me most during my recent tour of New Zealand is the great difference of feeling in the "sense of distance" that exists between Japanese who look down or southward and New Zealanders who look up toward Asia and Japan.

For the Japanese, New Zealand and Australia are still very remote. As it takes about ten and a half hours to fly from Tokyo to Auckland, it is nearer to Japan than Paris or London. But we have a feeling that it is farther away psychologically than the actual geographical distance. In this regard, the New Zealanders seem to feel that Asia and Japan are much closer to them than the reverse.

What made me realize this was the conversation I had with Mr. John Austin, executive director of the "Asia-New Zealand Foundation," whom I met in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. Up to last year, he had been bustling around Asia and the Southern Pacific area as a World Bank director. "Asia, to the New Zealanders, is just round the corner," he said.

Asia for New Zealand used to mean Indonesia. Just look at a map and you see Indonesia west of Australia, about 6-7,000 kilometers away. Then, you go northward to Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and then to China and Japan further to the north. Although the economic ties with Japan are strong, it was still a far away country in the Northern Hemisphere.

In the latter half of the 1990s, however, this picture, or geographic concept, of Asia began to change. The momentum came from the rivalry between Taiwan and China in competition to expand their influence into such areas as Tonga, Fiji, Solomon, Samoa and other Southern Pacific islands with whom New Zealand had been deeply involved. It was Taiwan who moved first. Then, in a fashion to counter this expansion, China came in. Taiwanese and Chinese stores competed with each other in the market, where Chinese was the only practical language spoken. "Now Asia is just before our eyes," said Mr. Austin, "The psychological distance between Japan, China and us has been very much shortened." It goes without saying that a sudden surge of Asian immigrants is another factor contributing to making New Zealanders feel more familiar with Asia.

Globalism changes people's geographical concepts. Although the Japanese feel that the Southern Pacific areas are still far away, I predict that this mental distance will surely shorten for them soon and at a rapid pace. Big momentum will come from the initiative taken at the end of last year towards East Asia community building.

Japan made every diplomatic effort and succeeded in bringing Australia and New Zealand, together with India, into the organization. The fact that the two countries sharing the same values with Japan have become the southernmost members of the East Asia Community means that a strong north-south axis linking Japan to the Southern Hemisphere has been formed. For Japan, the two nations are the cornerstone of the south wing and it is expected that their presence will become more and more important.

To make it a new, great diplomatic leap for Japan, however, Japan will be required to make further efforts. And that will be in the form of free trade agreements (FTA). Currently, Japan is making a joint study of an FTA with Australia, but negotiations for an FTA with New Zealand are not even on the agenda yet. While New Zealand is anxious to have an FTA with Japan, the Japanese government is less enthusiastic saying: "it will not be so easy, as we have agricultural problems."

With such a big power like Australia, it is necessary to follow appropriate process and make necessary preparations well in advance, as the economic impacts would be enormous. But for New Zealand, whose population is only about four million and whose economic scale (GDP) is below one-fortieth of Japan's, it will be different. If an FTA is concluded between Japan and New Zealand, Japan will suffer comparatively little damage even though a portion of the agricultural products now exported to Europe, Southeast Asia and the United States will be diverted to Japan.

If Japan wants to play a global role in the world, I believe it should pay special attention to such a country as New Zealand not only from the economic point of view but also based on strategic judgment, keeping political and diplomatic significance in mind.

The Writer is Senior Editorial Staff Writer at the Mainichi Newspapers.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2006年 8月 3日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan and the Southern Pacific, the importance of the North-South Axis