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

Perspectives on Japan's Value Oriented Diplomacy
NISHIKAWA Megumi / Journalist

November 29, 2013

Perspectives on Japan's Value Oriented Diplomacy

NISHIKAWA Megumi Journalist

Recently, experts from Japan and abroad convened for a symposium titled "Toward the Making of Shared Values in Foreign Policy." Wherein lies the difference between the human rights diplomacy upheld by the United States and Europe, and the value-oriented diplomacy pursued by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo? That was my main interest for attending.

One Japanese scholar offered xxxx insight on the issue. He characterized the western concept of human rights diplomacy as "inclusive universalism" while describing Prime Minister Abe's value-oriented diplomacy as "cohesive universalism." Universalism stands for values and principles such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law, which are now considered global standards.

According to this scholar, the human rights diplomacy of the west is "principle-led" – it takes the value of human rights and seeks to expand it in authoritarian regimes and dictatorial states in a global embrace. In contrast, Prime Minister Abe has adopted the method of emphasizing solidarity within the fold of countries that respect human rights, in order to accentuate the difference with countries that lag in this respect.

Value-oriented diplomacy was first proposed under the first Abe administration in November 2006, in a lecture given by then Foreign Minister Aso Taro at the Japan Institute of International Affairs. It is worth noting that he launched the idea by pairing it with the concept of an "arc of freedom and prosperity."

Mr. Aso expressed the hope that values such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law would expand within an "arc of freedom and prosperity" that lies in a geographic belt extending across Northeast Asia and Central Asia to Central Europe and Eastern Europe, adding that "Japan will serve as an escort runner for democratic states." The point of pairing the concepts was to designate the southern region of Eurasia as a target for spreading the value of human rights so as to encircle China and Russia.

However, the "arc of freedom and prosperity" has become a term seldom mentioned under the second Abe administration. In fact, it seems to me that the administration is deliberately refraining from doing so. Perhaps the current government is concerned that China and Russia may interpret the paired concepts as a ploy to encircle them.

The Japanese scholar mentioned above says the Abe administration's value-oriented diplomacy is built on a weak foundation and that its chances for success are low. His view is probably based on that inherent notion of encirclement.

Expressions such as "sharing values" and "an alliance with countries that share the same values" began to appear in Japan's Diplomatic Blue Book around the start of the 21st century. In that respect, Prime Minister Abe's value-oriented diplomacy did not emerge out of the blue. Yet, not a few observers at the time had sensed the exclusivity and encirclement that were characteristic of Cold War logic in the way the idea was tied to the "arc of freedom and prosperity" during the first Abe administration.

Japan's value-oriented diplomacy should neither be "principle-led" as in the diplomacy of the United States and Europe, nor be an exclusive vocal affirmation of in-group solidarity. An ideal example is the role Japan played in bringing democracy to Myanmar.

When the United States and Europe were bent on showering criticism on the Myanmar government, Japan maintained its connection through grassroots assistance and grant aid, all the while persuading the government to recognize the merits of democracy. It was said at the time that "the Myanmar government rebels against the United States and Europe, but lends an ear to what Japan has to say."

What Japan's value-oriented diplomacy needs is the diplomatic skill of keeping a firm eye on reality while guiding countries towards the universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law with quiet dexterity.

Megumi Nishikawa is Expert Senior Writer on the Foreign News Desk at the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2013年 11月 29日










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