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

TPP: A Real Test of Strength for Japanese Diplomacy
YAKUSHIJI Katsuyuki / Senior Associate, The Tokyo Foundation

May 29, 2013
Following recent developments, Japan is now expected to join the negotiating table for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as early as July.

TPP is not simply about liberalizing trade in goods, but covers a broad range of economic activities involving people, money and services, such as investment, intellectual property, government procurement, competition policy and acceptance of foreign labor. Negotiations on TPP could lead to a sea change in the economic order of the Asia-Pacific region. For this reason, deciding not to participate in the talks is tantamount to relinquishing the right to participate in the development of a new regional economic order of the future and condemning a country to a fate of self-inflicted closure and decline. It is due to this shared recognition that the Japanese government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as major leaders of both the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan and most of the domestic media have come to support Japan’s participation in TPP. Agricultural organizations and others that continue to express vociferous opposition despite this overall trend are generally perceived to be doing so only to better their chances at seizing subsidies and other benefits in return for their acquiescence to the negotiation.

For Japan, TPP holds a significance that goes beyond the formation of a new economic order. It offers an opportunity to create a stable environment for ensuring security in the Asia-Pacific region. There would have been no issue if the two giant nations - the United States and China – adhered to the same rules when acting in the political, economic and military arenas. However, in realty the two countries differ completely in terms of their political system, philosophy and values, and are each seeking to gain influence over the region according to their own self-serving rules. For Japan, an ally of the United States, TPP serves as a strategy for building a broad alliance with the United States and Asia-Pacific countries that would enable Japan to face up to an increasingly powerful China, or to lure China into following the same rules.

One point we must not forget when considering this issue is the magnitude of Japan’s economic influence. Whenever the topic turns to TPP, the initial debate in Japan tends to revolve around such passive themes as whether we will be able to preserve the tariffs for domestic agricultural products. Yet, in the arena of diplomatic negotiations, Japan is an impressive economic presence whose actions command the attention of other countries participating in the talks. And commensurate with that status, Japan is expected to play an active role in mobilizing the participating countries to form an overall consensus.

Indeed, as soon as then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda declared Japan’s intention of entering into talks with relevant countries towards participation in the TPP negotiation in November 2011, Canada and Mexico announced their participation and consequently joined the negotiation a step ahead of Japan. And when Prime Minister Abe announced Japan’s intention to participate during the Japan-U.S. summit meeting in February this year, it had the effect of jumpstarting multilateral economic negotiations involving Japan, such as the Free Trade Agreement between Japan, China and South Korea, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that includes these three countries and Southeast Asian countries, as well as the Economic Partnership Agreement between Japan and the European Union.

In each of these cases, fear of falling behind the TPP negotiations led by Japan and the United States motivated other countries to hasten their efforts to involve Japan in a separate framework. This is particularly so with China, which appears to have adopted an approach of separating political and economic issues to actively seek a new economic relationship with Japan despite the current diplomatic deadlock in the disputes over the Senkaku Islands and the Yasukuni Shrine.

Looking back on Japanese diplomacy over the past few decades, Japan has never been more popular in the international community than today. Various countries and regional groups are making gestures to woo Japan into joining their economic framework. From the standpoint of diplomatic negotiations, one cannot hope for a greater advantage. Japan has been placed in a privileged position to maximize its national interests by skillfully playing on the motives of other countries.

Unfortunately, the environment surrounding Japanese diplomacy and security has become increasingly uncertain over the past few years. North Korea continues to engage in adventurism by conducting nuclear tests and firing missiles. Just how stable the government of the young Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is remains an open question. China meanwhile has repeatedly violated Japanese territorial waters and airspace, and shows no signs of softening its rigid stance over the Senkaku Islands dispute. And Japan’s relationship with South Korea has not improved in any way in the territorial dispute over the Takeshima Islands.

Matters have been further exacerbated by visits made by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and other cabinet members to the Yasukuni Shrine to pay their respects to Japan’s war dead. Prime Minister Abe’s hard-line response of endorsing the visits has led to a string of cancellations in the diplomatic schedule for May, including a trilateral summit meeting with Chinese and South Korean leaders. Diplomatic activity towards Japan’s nearest neighbors has come to a virtual standstill. Moreover, due to the lack of progress on the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Futenma, Okinawa, the key relationship between Japan and the United States has become shrouded in a cloud of mutual mistrust.

The situation makes diplomatic negotiations all the more important for creating a stable environment. And in that sense, having been handed a set of good “cards” by its intended participation in the TPP talks, Japan now has a golden opportunity to pursue its diplomatic strategy.

TPP participants are aiming to reach agreement within the year. In the final stages, there will be a clash of interests and opinions among countries, necessitating tough negotiations on the part of ministers and leaders of each country. Will Japan be able to achieve its national interests by maneuvering adroitly to maximize on its current popularity? This is indeed a crucial moment that will test the true strength of Japanese diplomacy.

Katsuyuki Yakushiji is also Professor of Social and International Relations at Toyo University. The commentary was first published on the Tokyo Foundation website on May 2, 2013, and was reproduced here in summarized form with permission from the writer.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

TPP -日本外交の実力が試されるとき
薬師寺 克行 / 東京財団上席アソシエイト

2013年 5月 29日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > TPP: A Real Test of Strength for Japanese Diplomacy