Much to my delight, I received a very valuable journal I requested from my supervisor, Mrs. Atanassova. ‘Studia Diplomatica’ is an established journal by Brussels think thank EGMONT – The Royal Institute for International Relations. It mainly focuses on “European integration, the EU as a strategic actor, global governance, terrorism and on Central Africa”. In short, topics of interest to European policy making.
The issue in my possession discusses Japan-EU relations, hence it’s subtitle: Japan-European Union: A Strategic Partnership in the Making. Very similar to my blog title, wouldn’t you say (confirmation I’m on the right track…).
Various articles can be found in this journal ranging from the direct relations between Japan and the EU to more indirect relations through various global mechanisms like ASEM.
In this post I’ll vent my opinion a bit on an interesting article called Japan in East Asia: the Dynamics of Regional Cooperation from a European Perspective. In future posts, I’ll give a summary on other articles.
The article was written by Mr. Ponjaert and Prof. Vanoverbeke, two researchers I know through my own university and I have great respect for. Two years ago, I was enrolled in a course by the two, where I learned a great deal on Japanese policy making and Japan’s role in East Asian regionalism. I gained a profound interest in the matter and as a result I co-wrote a lengthy article on Japan-ASEAN relations.
By reading this journal article I hoped to be introduced to a new perspective on Japan-Europe relations.
I must say I’m not disapointed, the two authors shed a light on Europe’s significance to East Asian regionalism. In today’s globalising world we see various regionalisms taking place. One of the best known examples is the EU. In fact considered as old regionalism, European regionalism was molded just after WWII. In various steps the EU evolved from “a free trade area, to a customs union, to a common market, to a monetary union to finally reach deep economic and political integration” (p.98). This way the EU became a primary example of regionalism and consequently we tend to have a eurocentric view when talking about other newer regionalisms.
And that’s the message the two authors want to emphasize, a European model doesn’t necessarely work in a distant region like East Asia. Whereas the EU has a formal structure with a social and integrating goal, East Asian regionalism tends to have informal structures with a pragmatic goal. The East Asian open regionalism differs quite a bit from the European variant. Therefore, having a eurocentric view on the matter in East Asia is talking through one’s hat. In my opinion this doesn’t mean however, regionalism structures like the EU can’t contribute to a genuine East Asian regionalism.
The real problem in East Asia is, though, that when you have this kind of lose and open regionalism through non-legally binding, informal agreements somebody needs to take a leading role. In the EU there’s a supranational body for many fields like agricultural, business competition and in the Eurozone even a supranational monetary policy. Because of the informality in East Asia, you don’t have these supranational institutions. This leads to consensus-driven practices where not everybody has to agree (as long nobody strongly disagrees, and where leadership by stronger states is needed to guide the regionalism (p.103). In East Asia we only find two real capable leaders, Japan and China.
The article explains why these powers have been unable to steer the regionalism in East Asia. The inevitable frictions between Japan and China are of course of concern. But these traditional adversaries don’t just quarrel whith eachother, they also have a strong trade relationship. In this relationship the two giants try to complement eachothers markets with various products, without risking too much competition (p.105). This could be an ideal starting point for deeper regionalism. Besides a balance of power problem, we see domestic problems as well in both countries, which hinder more cooperation.
The case of Japan is discussed more in detail. In the past, Japan had ample opportunities to take a leading role in the East Asian regionalism process. Take the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998 for example. Being world’s second biggest economy, Japan should have taken a more swift response in order to stabilise the region’s financial markets. However, Japan’s measures failed and this harmed Japan’s regional position. (NB. East Asia countered the financial crisis through the Chiang Mai initiative, which resulted in monetary cooperation, well before the conceivement of a common market. This way East Asia is an contradictory to Balassa’s theory that regionalism has to go through different phases like the EU did). While the financial crisis inflicted damage on Japan’s position, other previous events had already impacted Japan’s perception in Asia. For example, the 1991 collapse of its bubble economy, the first Gulf War and Japan’s checkbook-diplomacy (see previous post).
All these problems and incapability to react in a right manner can be linked to Japan’s domestic political system. Untill well into the 90′s, Japan’s decision making system can be described as slow, bureaucratic and ineffective, as well as inefficient. The Prime Minister didn’t have full power, the bureaucrats did. Before reacting to a crisis, the Prime Minister had to consult different bureaucratic agency’s and levels. And as I already pointed out in a previous post, different ministery’s would compete among eachother. As you can imagine it took some time for the Japanese to reach concensus. In short, Japan was unable to respond to any international crisis in a swift and satisfactory way.
But although the 90′s were a Lost Decade for Japan in many aspects, it was somewhat of a wake up call. Japan realised it had to take up responsibility and had to move away from the old Yoshida doctrine. During the 90′s we see various reforms, partly thanks to the historical election of 1993 when a coalition of eight opposition parties was able to form a goverment. It was a critical break with the old policy’s by the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), which had reigned for several decades. Although the opposition government only stayed in power for 11 months, a fresh breeze was noticable in Japanese politics.
It is also in this decade we see a determined, fresh, rebelling politician named Koizumi coming into the spotlight. LDP aligned Koizumi pressed for reforms and ultimately succeeded in becoming president of the LDP and thus, as is often the case in Japan, Prime Minister. The Lost Decade didn’t prove to be that lost, after all.
With Koizumi in power we see a more determined Japan rising, willing to take its role in Asia. Especially after 9/11, when Japan’s hard power accompagnied its soft power (the SDF (Japanese Self Defence Forces) were authorised to play a rear role for American operations and today Japan has the 6th biggest military expenditure in the world). Japan seemed suddenly capable of reacting to a crisis situation. This was all thanks to important reforms. Bureaucratic officials became civil servants, meaning the public had the right to question certain decisions and officials had to answer to the public from now on. Even more importantly, in 1999 the Prime Ministers Office and the Cabinet Secretariat were reformed and granted more powers. When reacting to 9/11, the Prime Minister didn’t have to go through a web of bureaucratic offices anymore. Instead Koizumi, who was just merely half a year in power, consulted his coalition partner and his own party. Doing this Koizumi was capable of announcing his measures just 8 days after the attacks, and one month later he was able to introduce several bills concerning SDF in response to the crisis. We’re talking lightspeed in Japan!
However, with Koizumi, we saw a detoriating relationship with China. And the authors are right when they claim that, although it’s good Japan has found its voice again, East Asia needs a compatible Japan and China. It remains to be seen if this relationship can evolve in a win win situation for both countries and eventually for East Asia.
I’m fully aware this may be a bit out of the scope of my bachelor paper (at least the details). I do somehow feel the subject of regionalism can be of an added value to my paper. Seen as the EU sometimes tends to be an example to the East Asian regionalism process, this may (or should!) be reflected in relations with one of the leading countries in the region, Japan. Therefore, institutions like ASEM among others may be described in the paper. But of course it remains to be seen. I’m not writing an exhaustive book, but a bachelor paper of +-30 pages. Some editing to come, for sure……..
Vanoverbeke, Dimitri en Frederik Ponjaert. Japan in East Asia: the Dynamics of Regional Cooperation from a European Perspective. In Studia Diplomatica: Japan-European Union: A Strategic Partnership in the Making, Takako Ueta, Eric Remacle, Frederik Ponjaert (red.), 97-116. Brussels: The Royal Institute for International Relations, Vol. LX, 2007, N°4.