The new Fukuda doctrine

On Thursday of last week, Prime Minister Fukuda gave a keynote foreign policy address at the fourteenth annual International Conference on the Future of Asia, hosted by Nikkei in Tokyo.

Not for the first time Mr. Fukuda gave me reason to lament his political troubles at home, as he gave a speech that was stunning in the breadth of his vision, his clear assessment of the challenges and opportunities facing Japan today, and his recognition that Japan needs to make serious changes if it is to retain power and influence in Asia.

After expressing his sadness over lives lost in the Szechuan earthquake and the Burmese cyclone, the prime minister opened by citing his father’s “Fukuda Doctrine,” articulated in 1977, and pointing to the changes that have occurred in Asia in the three decades since, pointing in particular to the prosperity and development achieved by ASEAN members and other Asian countries. (In a plug for this week’s TICAD in Yokohama, Mr. Fukuda suggested that Africa can learn from Asia’s experience and achieve a similar economic miracle.)

In a rare citation of Fernand Braudel by a head of government, Mr. Fukuda appealed to the attendees to work over the next thirty years to make the Pacific Ocean an “inland sea” that is the center of global order, the same role played by the Mediterranean — as documented by Braudel in his work on the Mediterranean world — in pre-modern and early modern European history. He emphasized liberalization and diversity in the Asia-Pacific, which will enable all involved to pursue “unlimited possibilities.”

This regional vision is a bit too flighty for me, although interestingly, Mr. Fukuda does not mention APEC once in this speech, surprising considering that APEC includes countries from all sides of the Asia-Pacific (but excludes India, an increasingly important player in the East Asian balance) and is the primary institution dedicated to liberalization in the Asia-Pacific. As an APEC skeptic, I’m not disappointed, but this concept of “Pacific as inland sea” seems more poetic than practical.

The interesting portion of the speech is the section after Mr. Fukuda’s discourse on Braudel. In this section — which includes five promises for concrete action necessary to create an Asia-Pacific network community — Mr. Fukuda casts Japanese foreign policy, including the US-Japan relationship, in a new light and suggests how Japan will be able to preserve its influence despite domestic limitations.

The key for Mr. Fukuda is reassessing Japan’s relationships. He spoke at some length about forging a new relationship with a Russia looking to develop the Russian Far East and East Siberia and play a greater role in East Asia. Mr. Fukuda expressed his hopes for a Russo-Japanese peace treaty and his belief that Russia can make a contribution to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific. He called attention to Japan’s contributions to development in South Asia, especially in India, contributions that will undoubtedly intensify in coming decades.

Moving on to his five promises, Mr. Fukuda first spoke at length about the importance of ASEAN, promising to deepen cooperation with the organization by promoting a special ambassador to ASEAN and creating a full diplomatic mission in the near future. He emphasized the importance of the Japan-ASEAN comprehensive economic partnership agreement currently under negotiation and pledged that Japan will work with ASEAN to combat economic inequality and cooperate to promote food and energy security.

His second promise concerned the United States. Compared to the eight paragraphs he spent discussing ASEAN, Mr. Fukuda talked about Japan’s relationship with the US in a mere two.

Point number two, Japan promises to reinforce public goods in the Asia-Pacific in its alliance with the US.

It goes without saying that the US is the single most important member of the Asia-Pacific region. I always say that ‘If the US-Japan alliance is strengthened, it will resonate in Asia diplomacy.’ In Asia unstable, uncertain factors like the North Korea problem still remain. The resolution of the Korean peninsula question is indispensable for the stable development of all of Northeast Asia. Today, the US-Japan alliance, more than being a device for the security of Japan, has taken on the role of a mechanism for the stability of the Asia-Pacific. Accordingly, the future outlook for Asia is of a peaceful place — in other words, a low-risk, secure place, a place in which trade and cultural exchanges can continue to expand. And so I think that this is a cornerstone of a prosperous Asia.

This is consistent with the vision of the alliance outlined by Mr. Fukuda during his visit to Washington in November 2007, a vision with which I am deeply sympathetic. The US will remain an important player in Asia, but its role will be less transformative and more about providing public goods, as the prime minister said. The US has long done this, but it will increasingly become the crux of the US role in Asia and the raison d’etre of the US-Japan alliance. Not merely an alliance for the defense of Japan, not a global alliance that is a mile wide but an inch deep, not an alliance dedicated to promoting democracy or dragon-slaying, but an alliance that recognizes the importance of stability in East Asia and in which Washington and Tokyo use all the tools at their disposal — and work with all potential partners — to pursue regional stability. Whether Washington embraces this vision will depend on the next president.

Relatedly, Mr. Fukuda reiterated his promise to make Japan a “peace cooperation state.” “Peace cooperation” includes a role for Japan’s self-defense forces, as the prime minister emphasized the need to work together to patrol the straits of Malacca, clearing them of pirates and terrorists. (Presumably the Japanese coast guard would also be involved.) It also includes peacekeeping and state-building activities in countries like Cambodia and East Timor and disaster prevention and relief, both of which will entail more cooperation with ASEAN. To this end, Mr. Fukuda wants to create an “Asian disaster and disease prevention network.”

His fourth promise involves the promotion of more intellectual and cultural exchanges in the region, especially among youth. His fifth concerns combating climate change, consistent with Mr. Fukuda’s goals for the G8 summit and domestic plans to promote a low-carbon emissions society.

He concluded his speech by acknowledging that this vision may seem optimistic in light of the gloomy mood abroad in the world, but suggests that the only way forward is together. He further acknowledges that Japan must make changes at home even as it works with its Asian neighbors to solve collective problems. His short list of challenges for Japan — which he has previously discussed — include promote greater equality between men and women, opening up Japan specifically to foreign investment and to foreign influences more broadly, and overcoming the problems of a shrinking, low-birth rate society.

As before, I am deeply impressed by Mr. Fukuda’s vision for Japan and its place in the world in the twenty-first century. It is worth noting that in his vision for Japanese foreign policy, there is no need for constitution revision or reinterpretation. If anything, he argues implicitly that Japan needs to be less concerned about its military capabilities and more concerned about its diplomatic assets, namely its relationships with other countries in the region. The US-Japan alliance (and, mutatis mutandis, armed force), while important, cannot be Japan’s only tool for solving problems in the region. Moreover, he recognizes that if Japan is going to play an important role in the region, it cannot afford to neglect its relationships with its neighbors and other regional powers. (And, presumably, it cannot afford to allow those relationships to be dragged down by bits of barren rock.)

How unfortunate that Mr. Fukuda was elected in September 2007 instead of September 2006, when he would have had enough support with which to make substantial progress in reconfiguring Japan’s foreign policy and tackling the domestic problems that threaten to limit its influence. As of now, it is unclear whether this new Fukuda doctrine will survive its progenitor’s government.

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