On 16 February the EU-Asia Centre, in cooperation with the Mission of Japan to the EU, held a panel discussion to discuss “Japan’s Changing International Role”.
Ambassador Keiichi Katakama welcomed the audience and emphasised the timeliness of the panel discussion as 2016 will see a visible change in Japan’s international role. Japan shared fundamental values with the EU – democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law and market economy. Japan was in its 11th term as non-permanent UN Security Council member; it was chair of the G7 presidency; it would host the trilateral summit and the 6th Tokyo International Conference on African Development. It was also revising security guidelines to allow for greater cooperation on collective security.
While the security environment in Europe and Japan was very different, the two regions were both exposed to global threats. The upcoming Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) would provide a sound basis for the EU and Japan to extend their cooperation to address these threats. As of today, Japan had already provided 1.8 billion USD of development aid to Ukraine and 1.2 billion USD to Iraqi and Syrian refugees, addressing European foreign policy priorities.
Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre, thanked the Mission of Japan to the EU for its support in organising the event and agreed it was a timely moment to assess Japan’s changing international role. This year would be a pivotal moment for EU-Japan relations, and also Japan-Belgian relations as the two countries were celebrating 150 years of diplomatic relations. The 2001 Action Plan had not produced the desired results to boost EU-Japan relations. It was important, therefore, to ensure that the SPA/EPA did produce real results.
Shingo Yamagami, Director General (Acting) of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, said that PM Abe’s priority was the economy. Abenomics had produced mixed results. While Japan was facing low growth and inflation, Japanese companies and the stock market were doing very well. ‘There was money everywhere.’ The significant gap between Gross National Income and Gross Domestic Product, twice as high as the US’, indicated that Japan was making much of its money abroad. Japan was very dependent on foreign markets. Of the 10 million cars produced each year by Toyota only 3 million were sold in Japan.
The government enjoyed high approval rates thanks to its emphasis on stability, productivity and pragmatism. Abe’s foreign policy benefited from activism – expressed in 63 overseas visits in three years – with a focus on the alliance with the US, a strengthening of ties with Australia and India, plus ASEAN. The government had also established a new national security council and strategy. A visit of all ASEAN capital’s early in Abe’s term had contibuted to recent poll results among ASEAN citizens, holding that Japan was the ten states’ most trusted partner for now and in the future – even surpassing the US.
As for Japan-EU relations, Yamagami suggested the two sides were stronger by acting together to maintain the liberal world order. A strong message had to be sent to those who threaten this very order by force or intimidation. In this respect, it was a huge step for EU-Japan relations that the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy mission were explicitly mentioned in the amended Japanese legislation, allowing for further cooperation. In economic terms, the upcoming EPA could furthen the already strong relations, reflected in 500,000 jobs created in the EU by Japanese investment. This investment had been stable in recent years, while Japanese investment in China had fallen by 40% in 2014 and 25% in 2015.
Petr Jezek, Chair of the European Parliaments Delegation for Relations with Japan, emphasised the potential for growth through the EPA. 400 000 additional jobs could be created in the EU, its GDP could grow by 0.6% and exports to Japan could increase by one-third. Vice versa, the EPA could help Japan to become more export-driven overall and increase its exports to the EU by one-fourth. For the European Parliament it was important that the EPA and SPA were concluded together to send a strong message in the face of a deteriorating security environment worldwide. Japan and the EU should work together to address concerns regarding Syria, Russia and China. The violation of international law, as well as the refugee crisis and climate change could be expected to feature prominently in the upcoming interparliamentary meeting in May 2016.
Julian Wilson, Director for Japan at the European External Action Service, reminded the audience that the EU was predominantly an economic actor and should not be regarded as a major player in the security field. Nonetheless, the increasingly linked up nature of global threats (terrorism, piracy, cyber, nuclear proliferation, climate change) should push the EU and Japan to join forces and address issues in Ukraine, Crimea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in a coordinated way. New answers had to be formulated to these threats, making clear that a violation of international law would not be tolerated. A potential EU membership in the East Asia Summit would increase the EU’s voice – advocating for a rules-based system. In Africa, direct cooperation could also be envisioned. Wilson recalled that political leaders had urged the completion of the FTA/EPA/SPAS this year.
Luis Simon, Professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, said that the US-Japan alliance still provided the super-structure for Japanese foreign policy. By amending its Peace and Security Legislation, Japan had balanced a formerly asymmetric relationship, making Japan the most important ally of the US. This super-structure was based on a shared analysis of potential threats from China and the DPRK. Apart from improving security ties with Australia and India, Japan was also strengthening relations with the Philippines and Viet Nam as well as ASEAN as a whole. Relations with the Republic of Korea were slowly thawing, giving rise to the hope that the missing link of Japan’s foreign policy might be fixed. Facing renewed aggression from DPRK, the near future would show how much trilateral cooperation between Japan, the Republic of Korea and the US was possible.
In the discussion the following points were raised:
– Trilateral cooperation: prospects were improving for 2016
– More people to people contacts: broad agreement
– Impact of Brexit: could lead to reduced Japanese investment in the UK
– FTA: TPP would have to be ratified first before the FTA could be finalised, and there remainedsubstantial issues
– Defence cooperation: some Member States had extensive cooperation with Japan, via procurement and staff exchanges
– China: Japan had provided considerable development assistance to China. China’s rise was an opportunity more than a threat. Both economies were intertwined although the last two years had seen a decrease in Japanese FDI in China. Japan should be a good student of history.
Concluding the event, Fraser Cameron said that the panellists had certainly raised the level of understanding about Japan’s new international role. He hoped that the considerable potential for closer EU-Japan relations would be realised this year with the conclusion of the various agreements under negotiation