Japan’s Choice for “Eurasian Diplomacy”
On July 24, 1997, then-Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto delivered the following speech at a roundtable meeting of the Keizai Doyukai (the Japan Association of Corporate Executives).
“I believe that amid the sweeping changes in international relations resulting from the end of the Cold War, the foreign policy of our nation has come to an important period in which we must significantly push to enlarge the horizon of our foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific region as we forge a new diplomatic perspective. I prefer to call this perspective Eurasian diplomacy.”*1
A quarter of a century has passed since Hashimoto announced Japan’s “Eurasian diplomacy.” In Japan, this speech can be considered to mark the beginning of Japan’s Eurasian diplomacy. However, I say “can be considered” to emphasize that the concept of Japan’s “Eurasian diplomacy” continues to lack a clear definition even today. It is also difficult to define because different academics and policymakers have different views on the geographical scope and the goals of this diplomatic strategy. To begin with, the term “Eurasia” is seldom used in postwar Japanese diplomatic strategy. For example, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi’s foreign policy speech delivered at the 208th session of the Diet in January 2022 commented that the international community is currently undergoing a period of epoch-making change and emphasized the following two points. First, universal values such as freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law and the international order have been exposed to severe challenges. Second, the advent of innovative technologies has rapidly broadened the scope of security. Subsequently, he raised the need for three resolutions (resolve to uphold universal values, protect Japan’s peace and stability, and contribute to humanity and lead the international community) based on the trust the world has placed in Japan due to the efforts of its predecessors.
Moreover, the seven pillars were rearranged in the form of fields to which Japan should pay particular importance: (1) strengthening the Japan-US alliance; (2) realizing the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) concept;*2 (3) strengthening diplomacy with neighboring countries (China, South Korea, Russia, North Korea); (4) promoting regional diplomacy (ASEAN, the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, and the Caucasus); (5) leading international efforts to create new rules (economic security etc.); (6) addressing global issues; (7) strengthening Japan’s all-round diplomatic capabilities.
However, these points express interest in Eurasian issues in maintaining and strengthening Japan-US relations, strategic dialog with neighboring countries, and the importance of the Eurasian continent in terms of religious conflicts, resources, and terrorism, among others. Moreover, they did not set a clear direction regarding and responding to the continent.
The same trend can be seen in the Diplomatic Blue Book*3 published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s term of office in 2016–2019, the phrase “stability and development of the Eurasian region as a whole, including Japan,” was used. Nevertheless, in editions from 2020, “stability” and “development” were used interchangeably. This suggests that the term “Eurasia” was not being used in the context of Japanese diplomacy.
Since the end of the Cold War, Japan has developed various diplomatic strategies with a broader perspective beyond the Japan-US relationship, such as the “Silk Road Diplomacy” (1997), the concept of “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” (2006), “Diplomacy that takes a panoramic view of the world map” (2012), “Proactive Contribution to Peace” (2013)*4, and the FOIP (2016).
However, today, the international strategic environment in Eurasia is undergoing dramatic changes, including the materialization of China’s “One Belt, One Road” concept, North Korea’s missile proliferation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the return of the Taliban, Brexit (the UK’s withdrawal from the EU), African politics and opening-up, and the beginning of shipping routes through the Arctic Ocean.
In this context, has Japan been able to strategically envision an overall image for the future of “Japan as part of the wider world” and develop a medium- to long-term diplomatic strategy for the Eurasian continent? Rather than focusing solely on countering conventional threats from unfriendly nations and other threats, can Japan develop a multilateral diplomatic strategy with an overall view of the Eurasian continent to increase its future diplomatic options? This paper was written with precisely this question in mind.
This paper aims to recall the past 25 years of Japanese diplomacy and ask about the diplomatic strategy that Japan has adopted toward countries of the Eurasian continent.*5
In discussing Japan’s Eurasian strategy, I would like to recall the diplomatic principles established by the Hashimoto, Obuchi, Aso, and Abe administrations, which cannot be overlooked, and raise the need to choose “Eurasian diplomacy” in Japanese diplomacy today.
1. Positioning of Eurasia in Japan
Main stage for a “return to geopolitics”
Eurasia is a portmanteau of Europe and Asia. Eurasia is one of the world’s largest continents, encompassing China and Korea at its eastern end, Europe at its western end, and the Indian subcontinent at its southern end, with the Japanese archipelago being the easternmost island nation (the Eurasian Peninsula).
Japan’s ties to the Eurasian continent are historically deep. It is a well-known, established theory that Japan and the people of Eurasia have had close interactions (trade, migration, etc.) throughout history and that the prototype of the Japanese people has its origins in Eurasia.*6
However, the Japanese usually look at the geographically distant American Continent rather than the geographically closer Eurasian Continent. The Japan-US alliance has been the cornerstone of Japan’s postwar diplomacy at both home and abroad, and few Japanese deny the role and value of the alliance. Amid these circumstances, the free and open rule-based international order, mainly supported by advanced democratic nations such as Japan, the US, and Europe, is now in danger. Many commentators have highlighted a “return to geopolitics.” Conventional geopolitics is associated with names such as Halford Mackinder, Alfred Mahan, or Nicholas Spykman, who have used reanalysis to unpick contemporary society from various periods and perspectives. Eurasia is the main stage for today’s return to geopolitics. This region has been called the “crossroads of civilization” since ancient times. It has been a vital geopolitical crossroad at which the influences of China (east), Europe (west), the Middle East (south), and Russia (north) have intersected. The dynamics of the Eurasian continent are increasingly active, creating an extremely complex regional dynamism.
For example, China is developing an expansive cooperation strategy across Eurasia with its military rise and maritime expansion. This includes the Belt and Road Initiative, comprising the “Silk Road Economic Belt” (land route)*7 and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” (maritime route) and the “16+1” concept of economic partnership between China and Central and Eastern European countries. European countries are also moving to consolidate their position in Eurasia through economic proximity to China. The Middle East is experiencing a proxy war between the major powers in Yemen and Syria with the return of the Taliban. Russia has strengthened its economic ties in Eurasia, including Central Asia, and the Caucasus, through the Eurasian Economic Union, while committing a barbaric act of military aggression against Ukraine. Both events occurred in the Eurasian continent, and Japan cannot ignore either. While Japan is a country with limited natural resources, it is also one of the world’s largest energy consumers. Securing a stable supply of Eurasia’s abundant energy and diverse mineral resources is essential for Japan’s functioning. The Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011 and the subsequent nuclear accident that followed remain fresh in our minds and has triggered a fundamental rethinking of Japan’s energy and resource strategy. British Shell announced its withdrawal from the Sakhalin 2 gas development project in far eastern Russia (funded 12.5% by Mitsui & Co. and 10% by Mitsubishi Corporation). In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that his government would not withdraw from the project, citing Japan’s difficult financial situation. In an increasingly complex international society, Japan should broaden its diplomatic options by understanding Eurasia’s complex dynamics and international affairs.
2. Sprouts of Japan’s “Eurasian Diplomacy” – The Hashimoto Administration
Hashimoto’s speech, mentioned at the beginning of this paper, prompted Japan’s first steps toward Eurasian diplomacy. Japan’s first step in its postwar diplomacy began with a two-pronged approach of concluding the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the Japan-US Security Treaty—the San Francisco and the Japan-US security frameworks. Curiously, 2020 marked the 60th anniversary of the revision of the Japan-US Security Treaty, which forms the basis for Japan’s national security. At that time, Abe emphasized that “the Japan-US Security Treaty is now an unshakable pillar, protecting world peace and guaranteeing prosperity.” However, his successor, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, declared at his inaugural press conference in 2020, “we will develop policy based on a functioning Japan-US alliance.” Furthermore, Prime Minister Kishida announced at a press conference the day after taking office in 2021 that he would “further strengthen the Japan-US alliance” and “achieve the FOIP” (see Figure 1). Therefore, successive Japanese administrations will likely continue to emphasize Japan-US relations and develop the FOIP in the future.
Figure 1: An image of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”
Essence of Hashimoto’s Eurasian Diplomacy
Although alliances existed in prewar Japan, an alliance with a particular country for more than 60 years is extremely rare. In that sense, the United States and the Japan-US alliance loom large, considering Japan’s postwar diplomacy. The Hashimoto administration, which I will discuss shortly, was no exception. The Hashimoto administration also embarked on its journey amid fears of a drifting Japan-US alliance due to the rape of a young girl in Okinawa and issues surrounding the Futenma base.
In January 1996, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama abruptly announced his resignation, and Hashimoto succeeded him as prime minister. In his policy speech on January 22, 1996, Hashimoto proposed his vision for “developing an independent foreign policy.”
In a later interview, Hashimoto said on the matter of independence, “(hereinafter Japan) will not do what it is told to do but will make its own judgments and come up with its own ideas,” and testified his belief that Japan should do more in terms of security.*8
During his tenure, Hashimoto achieved independent diplomacy. The origin of this independent diplomacy can be interpreted as the confluence of two events in the Hashimoto administration: 1) return of Futenma from the US; 2) conception of strategic diplomacy between Japan and Russia, subsequently the mainstream of Hashimoto’s Eurasian diplomacy. The two events did not coincide by chance but inevitably because Hashimoto saw Eurasia as a single continent with many countries.
Before the new administration’s inauguration in September 1995, the kidnap and rape of a young girl by US soldiers in Okinawa had caused outrage among the people of Okinawa. Therefore, conflict broke out between the national government and Okinawa Prefecture over the right to use the land where US troops were stationed under the Special Measures Law for US Military Bases. Hashimoto had always been interested in Okinawa as a politician, and he considered the return of the Futenma base an important issue. Nevertheless, Hashimoto was concerned that putting Futenma on the agenda could shake Japan-US relations. Hashimoto was faced with a last-minute choice of whether to put the return of Futenma on the agenda just before his first Japan-US summit meeting with then-US President Bill Clinton in Santa Monica. At this meeting, Hashimoto and Clinton discussed matters unreservedly, whether, by coincidence or necessity, the Futenma issue was slated for discussion.*9 Later, in 1996, the Japanese and US governments reached an agreement regarding the Futenma base that continues to this day.
Second, Hashimoto had worked out a framework for diplomacy with Russia*10 and how Russia should be a member of Asia. An ingenious idea to this end was for Japan to handle the procedures for Russia’s accession to the “Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)” on its behalf.*11 However, Hashimoto had resolved to present a draft of the Eurasian diplomacy that had long been on his mind to bring Russia closer to Japan in a speech delivered to the Keizai Doyukai. In his speech, Hashimoto stated, “It is undeniable that of the interrelationships between the United States, China, Japan and Russia, which have a vital influence on peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan-Russia relations have lagged the most. (omission) Improving relations between Japan and Russia is the top priority for both governments as we head into the 21st century.” Further, he added that the three principles for improving relations are trust, mutual interest, and a long-term perspective. Subsequently, he emphasized, “Our goal, in line with these three principles, is to improve the overall relationship that exists between Japan and Russia and create a relationship reaching from the Asia-Pacific through to the Western tip of Eurasia from which both countries can benefit.” *12
Based on these statements, it can be inferred that the essence of Hashimoto’s Eurasian diplomacy primarily sought to bring Russia into Japan’s camp to further strengthen Japanese diplomacy.*13 Confirming this, a Japan-Russia summit meeting was later held (November 1997) in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. At this meeting, Hashimoto and then-President Boris Yeltsin agreed to make every effort to conclude a peace treaty by the year 2000, following the Tokyo Declaration. Therefore, Japan-Russia relations made steady progress after that. Nevertheless, unfortunately, the Japanese economy gradually deteriorated due to the Asian currency crises that began in the summer of 1997, and anxiety grew among the Japanese people. The approval rating of Hashimoto’s cabinet also dropped below 30%, and the government was now dangerously unstable, where it could no longer remain in power. Finally, Japanese citizens’ lack of distrust of government and unease about the future led to a wipeout of the Hashimoto regime in the 1998 House of Councilors election. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) held onto just 44 seats, and Hashimoto resigned.
3. “Silk Road Diplomacy” – The Obuchi Administration and Central Asia
Following Hashimoto’s resignation, Keizo Obuchi succeeded as the prime minister. Obuchi actively engaged in “Diet member diplomacy.” From June 1997, he followed Hashimoto, touring Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan through projects such as the Russia-Central Asia Dialog Mission (delegation led by Obuchi), and strived to build relations between Japan and the Central Asian countries. The beginning of Hashimoto’s speech outlined what “Silk Road Diplomacy” meant: “The countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, which have emerged from the vast Silk Road Region, are making significant efforts to establish rich and prosperous domestic structures under new political and economic institutions and create peaceful and stable external relations with their neighbors. I am convinced that Japan’s active assistance in the nation-building of these countries will surely have constructive significance for the newly independent states and the peace and prosperity of Russia, China, and Islamic countries and will expand the frontiers of Japanese diplomacy into the Eurasian region going into the 21st century.”*14
This speech shows that the “Silk Road Diplomacy” aimed to build stronger bilateral relations with the Central Asian countries. It was based on the three pillars: political dialog to strengthen trust and mutual understanding, cooperation in economic and resource development to create prosperity, and cooperation to achieve peace through nuclear nonproliferation, democratization, and stability.*15
A strategically key region rich in resources
The Central Asian region remained a blank spot on the map until the 19th century. Mackinder once said, “He who controls the heart of Eurasia controls the world.” In the 19th century, Russia strategized to move southward into the Indian Ocean, competing with Great Britain for supremacy in the Central Asian region, which had colonies in India. Since their independence from the Soviet Union (now Russia), Central Asian countries have experienced several crises, including the Russian financial crisis.
The region has become the site of the New Great Game between China and Russia (as their back yard)*16 because of its abundant rare metals, uranium, oil, and other resources. Japan is positioned in the corner of that region, and resource diplomacy with the resource-rich Central Asian countries is the most important issue for Japan, which is extremely dependent on resources and energy imports. In this sense, Central Asia can be regarded as a resource-rich strategic location. It has moved from being an isolated land-locked island deep in the Eurasian continent to connecting China and Asia with Europe from East to West, North to South, and Russia with Southwest Asia. Between October 22 and October 28, 2015, Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit Mongolia and five Central Asian countries (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan). Japan provided ¥12.7 billion in official development assistance (ODA) for constructing a thermal power plant in Uzbekistan. In Turkmenistan, Japan built a bridgehead for cooperation by proceeding with projects totaling more than ¥2.2 trillion, including constructing a natural gas plant.
These moves strengthened economic ties and checked China’s growing regional influence. China was the largest trading partner of all five Central Asian countries, with Japan averaging only about 1%. In September 2013, President Xi Jinping visited Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan to further encourage the expansion of Chinese companies into the region. In a speech in Kazakhstan, he proposed an economic zone called the “Silk Road Economic Belt.” Additionally, China rapidly increased its presence in the region by establishing the Silk Road Fund (with a capital of $40 billion) and the AIIB (with a capital of $100 billion) and showing a willingness to lend without strings attached. However, Japan supported the nation-building of Central Asian countries since the 1990s after their independence from the Soviet Union (now Russia). Therefore, its approach has differed from China’s. Japan has provided economic assistance and supported healthy development in the region through Central-Asia-oriented projects such as fostering agriculture, developing businesses, and increasing employment.
Central Asia is often discussed as a single entity. However, it is a collection of various countries, not a monolithic entity, and situations differ from one country to another.
As exchanges between Japan and Central Asia increased, the “Central Asia + Japan” dialog was launched in 2004,*17 proposed by the then-Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi as a new government-based framework for promoting regional cooperation. This dialog focused mainly on developmental challenges facing Central Asia, such as the economy, tourism, and agriculture, with the participation of experts and practitioners from both sides, and yielded focused discussions. Most importantly, for Central Asian countries seeking to diversify their foreign policy, Japan, which had no territorial ambitions, was a promising option. As mentioned earlier, the strength of Japan’s diplomatic approach was that it differed from the military and economic approaches of Russia and China. Moreover, it heeded the local people in Central Asia. It focused on them, including the development of industries that would bring employment and the training and development of businesses to further democratization. The launch of this dialog provided a common, sustainable framework within which Japan and Central Asia could move forward and grow together and an effective understanding of Sino-Russian relations. However, the “Silk Road Diplomacy,” proposed within the framework of Eurasian diplomacy, subsequently stagnated, perhaps due in part to the death of Yutaka Akino, a member of the United Nations Monitoring Mission in Tajikistan (UNMOT).
4. The “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” Concept – Aso’s “Value-Oriented Diplomacy” in Motion
In December 2005, Foreign Minister Taro Aso delivered a policy speech titled “Asian Strategy as I see it: Japan as the Thought Leader of Asia.” In his speech, Aso posed three questions about what Japan is to Asia and provided three answers. His three answers were what Japan wanted: (1) to be the Thought Leader of Asia; (2) to be a stabilizing force in Asia (stabilizer); (3) to approach other nations as partners on equal footing rather than viewing them as above it or below. Subsequently, he welcomed China’s rise and called for transparency and stated that China, South Korea, and ASEAN countries should follow a path of “Peace and Happiness through Economic Prosperity.”*18
During his global visits after becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs in October 2005, Aso felt that the Japanese people should first reaffirm and reevaluate Japan’s value in terms of its international standing and value.
A New Pillar of Japanese Diplomacy
There is a reason why Aso is fixated on value. When he visited India as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2005 and observed the metro system, a local Indian told Aso, “what I have learned from Japan is the value of work above all else.” This may have had no small influence on Aso’s thinking.*19 After his return from India, Aso gave considerable thought to where the value of Japanese diplomacy lies. On November 30, 2006, at Hotel Okura Tokyo, he presented his answer in a policy speech titled “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity: Japan’s Expanding Diplomatic Horizons.” At the outset of his speech, Aso said, “Today, I am going to be speaking on the topics of ‘value-oriented diplomacy’ and ‘the arc of freedom and prosperity’. Both these are new bases for our foreign policy and new expressions, but I hope that you remember these two phrases when you leave here today.” This epoch-defining diplomatic concept went beyond the conventional pillars of Japanese diplomacy, strengthening the Japan-US alliance and international cooperation. This included the UN and strengthening relations with neighboring countries such as China, South Korea, and Russia, emphasizing “universal values such as freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law and market economy, taking the form of an “arc of freedom and prosperity.”
Figure 2: An illustration of the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity
Here, the extent of the arc’s geographic scope is notable. Beginning with the Scandinavian countries, it extended to the Baltic countries, through Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Northeast Asia through Southeast Asia, right up to Japan’s partners in Australia and New Zealand. The idea was to create a prosperous and stable region grounded in universal values—an “arc of freedom and prosperity” across this geographic area (see Figure 2). As for what “freedom” and “prosperity” mean here, Aso interpreted them by saying that all the countries scattered along the “arc” are different from one another. All these countries are trying to grow before having had the chance to become prosperous. This is prosperity. The term “freedom” refers to the freedom of movement, speech, and living one’s own life.*20
Since 2001, the United States has referred to the crescent-shaped region from the Middle East through East Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia to the Far East as the “Arc of Instability.” It has been restructuring its military forces to respond to regional conflicts. Mackinder referred to the outer circumference of Eurasia as the “arc of crisis.” Aso saw unknown possibilities in this arc and put together a concept that shared common values and linked the countries of that region together.*21
This speech was drafted by Tomohiko Taniguchi, then-Deputy Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs. It contained clear assertions and messages that draw a clear distinction from those in previous speeches given by foreign ministers.*22
To ensure the success of the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity,” he emphasized Eurasia, particularly the Middle Eastern nations, at the epicenter of various conflicts and where democratization has lagged.*23 Notably, Aso sought to clarify the position of Japanese diplomacy toward countries committed to democratization and a market economy by combining the values of freedom, prosperity, and arc with Japan’s past efforts. However, this “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” raised the alarm among ASEAN countries because of its overemphasis on liberal values such as human rights and democracy. Abe was conscious that this concept had become known as the “Aso Doctrine,” and the term “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” would gradually disappear. Abe’s “Diplomacy that takes a panoramic view of the world map” subsequently replaced the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity.”
5. “Diplomacy that takes a panoramic view of the world map” – Abe and the Indo-Pacific
In September 2012, Abe ran for the presidency of the LDP. On December 16, 2012, he won the 46th general election for the House of Representatives, winning 294 seats. Once again in the prime minister’s chair, Abe learned from the past in naming his second Abe administration the “crisis breakthrough cabinet.” Conversely, his first cabinet in 2006 had been derided as a “cabinet of chums.”
In his keynote address at the inauguration of his second administration, Abe announced, premised on the rebuilding of the Japan-US alliance, that “our diplomacy will be for us to develop a strategic diplomacy based on the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law, and we view the world as a whole as if looking at a globe.”*24 He broadly outlined a diplomatic concept that could be termed “Diplomacy that takes a panoramic view of the world map.” Notably, the pursuit of strategic diplomacy was based on the Japan-US alliance and respect for universal values such as democracy and basic human rights.*25
Its geographical scope traced an arc from Japan through the ASEAN nations, India, and the southern rim of Eurasia in a multifaceted expansion of countries cooperating with Japan. Japan’s postwar diplomacy has had a history of issues surrounding reparations. It was significant for Japan to unpick these issues, as many countries were wary of whether Japan could be trusted. To achieve this, Abe actively engaged in “summit diplomacy” with various countries and regions immediately following his administration’s inauguration. He made 81 visits to 76 countries and regions during his tenure. Abe’s “Diplomacy that takes a panoramic view of the world map” ultimately took the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” as its prototype in a new form of value diplomacy that brought Japanese values to the fore. Nevertheless, Abe’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine and issues surrounding recognition of historical events meant that this diplomacy did not live up to expectations in Japanese relations with China and South Korea.*26
The “Indo-Pacific” Concept
The “Indo-Pacific” is an important diplomatic concept in discussions of Japan’s foreign policy strategy today. This concept first made its first formal appearance in August 2007, during the first Abe administration, when Abe delivered a speech to the Indian Parliament titled “Confluence of the Two Seas.” In this speech, Abe stated the following: “The Pacific and the Indian Oceans are now bringing about a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and prosperity. Therefore, a broader Asia that broke geographical boundaries is now beginning to take on a distinct form. Our two countries have the ability—and the responsibility—to ensure that it broadens yet further and nurture and enrich these seas to become seas of clearest transparency.”*27 He called on then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to consider the possibility of a new phase in Japan-India relations. Five years and four months later, on December 27, 2012, shortly after the inauguration of the second Abe administration, Abe published a new English-language article titled “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond” as a further development of the “Confluence of the Two Seas.”
The paper, written before prime minister Abe took office, stated that “Peace, stability, and freedom of navigation in the Pacific Ocean are inseparable from those in the Indian Ocean” (with China’s maritime expansion in the South China sea in mind). It went on to say that the four maritime democracies—Japan, the US (Hawaii), Australia, and India—should work together to form a “diamond” of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
Abe testified in a later interview about how he came up with the “Indo-Pacific” concept: “It was during the Koizumi administration (that I focused on the Indo-Pacific). I served in the Koizumi Cabinet as Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary (April 2001–September 2003) and then as Chief Cabinet Secretary (October 2005–September 2006). During this time, I witnessed the Prime Minister’s considerable difficulty in dealing with China and Korea. (omission) I believe that rather than being confined to bilateral relations, dealing with China and South Korea from a broader perspective, with a panoramic view of the world map. In the process, I became deeply interested in India.”*28 For Abe, the new concept of the Pacific and Indian Oceans as one “Indo-Pacific” resulted from his growing interest in India and developing his “Confluence of the Two Seas” concept.*29
Birth of FOIP
Later, in his keynote speech at the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICADVI) in August 2016, Abe called for cooperation with Africa to “make the seas that connect the two continents into peaceful seas governed by the rule of law.” Furthermore, he said, “Japan bears the responsibility of fostering the confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans and Asia and Africa into a place that values freedom, the rule of law, and the market economy, free from force or coercion, and making it prosperous.” This marked the birth of the FOIP. Abe dared to say “free from force or coercion.” This can be viewed as a demonstration of Japan’s position to the world that it would not permit China to forcibly change the status quo.
6. Eurasian Diplomacy 2.0
Competition and Cooperation with China
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, FOIP can be defined as “the further expansion of the diplomatic concepts of ‘Diplomacy that takes a panoramic perspective of the world map’ and ‘Proactive Contribution to Peace’. This was possible by treating the dynamism created by combining the two continents of Asia and Africa and the two oceans of the Pacific and Indian Oceans as a single comprehensive concept.” The following three pillars*30 are set out as necessary to achieve the FOIP: (1) promotion and establishment of the rule of law, freedom of navigation, free trade.; (2) pursuit of economic prosperity (improving connectivity and strengthening economic partnerships, including EPA/FTA and investment agreements); (3) commitment to peace and stability (capacity building for maritime law enforcement, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief cooperation, etc.)
The FOIP is characterized by its comprehensive approach. This includes maritime security, economy, development, and connectivity, and it presents the concept of the “Indo-Pacific” rather than the “Asia-Pacific” as its scope. However, this “Indo-Pacific” concept is not unique to Japan. The United States, Australia, India, and other countries also possess this concept. Moreover, in June 2019, ASEAN announced its version of the Indo-Pacific concept (AOIP – ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific).*31 Nonetheless, behind the “Indo-Pacific” concept in Japan is the uncertainty of China’s rise in the international community and a desire to minimize any such impact, should it exist. Therefore, Japan has emphasized facing China primarily through multilateral cooperation while entrenching the framework by expanding its global partner relations based on the Japan-US alliance. However, the FOIP has another notable feature. In referring to the creation of new value through interactions between the two oceans, the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it considers both competitive and cooperative views of relations with China. In other words, in the face of various threats in the Indo-Pacific today, Japan aims to make the region free and open by ensuring a rule-based international order, incorporating the rule of law, freedom of navigation, peaceful settlement of disputes, and promotion of free trade through the FOIP. This is competition with China.
However, in October 2018, Abe gave the following statement in a joint China-Japan press release issued on the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty: “The relationship between China and Japan is now moving into a new stage, from one of competition to one of cooperation. With Premier Li Keqiang, I look forward to making significant progress in the relations between our two countries. (omission) We are neighbors. We are partners in mutual cooperation and do not pose a threat to each other. I confirmed this principle with Premier Li at our recent summit meeting.”
He added, “Together, we will play a constructive role working toward peace and prosperity for the international community. We are in complete agreement on this matter.”*32 This statement is made for cooperation with China.
Thus, the FOIP encompasses competition and cooperation, and Abe’s comments suggest that he would rather see China as a cooperative than a competitive partner. However, Japan is committed to having China join the FOIP and working together for peace and prosperity in the region. In this sense, the value of the concept will change going forward depending on whether Japan positions China in the FOIP as a competitor or cooperator (or co-power). Therefore, Japan will likely be required to make new diplomatic choices, with FOIP as a critical approach. Thus, it will be necessary to determine the position of both sides swiftly so that the FOIP will always remain a cohesive, rather than an antagonistic, interpretation of Eurasian diplomacy.
Universality of shared values
Next, I examined the current situation and realities of Japan’s Eurasian diplomacy drawing from the Diplomatic Blue Book. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is an organization responsible for protecting its country and negotiating with foreign nations. To understand the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to understand Japanese diplomacy. Therefore, I analyzed its position each year from its first issue in 1957 through 2021, taking “Eurasia” as a keyword, and found the following. The word “Eurasia” has appeared 45 times to date. It was used until 1992, appearing in issues No. 26 (1982), No. 30 (1986), and No. 36 (1992), and between No. 59 (2016) and No. 62 (2019) in the phrase “stability and development are important for all in the whole of Eurasia, including Japan.” Therefore, different people may interpret the term “Eurasia” differently regarding whether it refers to Japan’s posture toward Eurasia.
Table1: Changes in the number of times countries and regions appear in the Diplomatic Blue Book in key years
(Created by the author)
Next, an extracted terms list was compiled for each pivotal year across the 26 years from 1996, when the Hashimoto administration was first inaugurated, to 2021, and the number of times the same words appeared was tallied to see how regions of interest to Japan fluctuated over time.*33 In 1996, when the Hashimoto administration took office, Asia ranked first, followed by Europe, the US, the Pacific, and Russia. In 2006, when the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” appeared, Africa ranked first, followed by the US, Asia, China, and Iraq. Further, in 2016, when the FOIP was raised, Asia ranked first, followed by the US, China, the Pacific, and Africa. However, from 2019, when the Abe administration ended, to 2020, when the Suga administration came to power, the US ranked first, followed by China, Pacific, Africa, and South Korea (including Asia). Incidentally, in 2021, during the Kishida administration, the United Nations ranked first, followed by India, the Pacific, the US, and China.
From this table1, we can draw the following three points. First, Asia, the US, and China have been at the top of the list every year, indicating that Japan has always pursued its diplomacy with an awareness of the US, China, and Asia. Second, there is less Japanese interest in the region from central Eurasia to its Western tip. Third, there is a lack of perspective in seeing Eurasia as a totality. Therefore, Japan’s Eurasian diplomacy appears not to exist. However, is it safe to conclude that Eurasian diplomacy need not exist? Notably, the diplomatic strategy (from Hashimoto’s speech up to the FOIP) reveals that the bi-polarized East-West conflict between the US and the Soviet Union (now Russia) and the ensuing significantly increased diplomatic freedom have provided an opportunity to demonstrate the shift from a traditional passive to a proactive diplomatic approach both domestically and internationally. Nevertheless, by setting forth values in freedom, prosperity, value, and a panoramic view of the world map, Japan’s immediate neighbors and countries of Eurasia can understand Japan’s thoughts and what it hopes to accomplish in the future, although they are physically distant from Japan.
Postwar Japan has learned from its bitter experiences of the past. To prevent a repetition of such horrors, Japan has bolstered its presence in the international community while maintaining and defending an international order based on universal values and the rule of law. Why is it then that Japan steadily achieves results in this process? The reasons for this can be summarized in the following two points. First, Japan has established appropriate relationships with countries that can share its values. Second, Japan has maintained minimal relations with countries that pose obstacles to these shared values. We first examine to what extent a shared perception of threats can be achieved based on these shared values between Japan and friendly countries. For example, given that perceptions of China differ from one country to another and that the future of China itself is uncertain, even a slight sense of caution toward China carries risk in that it emphasizes only negative aspects. Regarding the second point, all countries, including Japan, have their values and principles. Therefore, it is easy to envisage conflicts between these values. Mutual recognition of shared values, which forms the fundamental premise for smooth diplomatic negotiations, is essential. Thus, how should Japan’s foreign policy choices be formulated, given the unprecedented speed with which seismic shifts occur in Eurasia?
A clue to this is hidden in the following three resolutions made by Prime Minister Kishida at a press conference on October 4, 2021:
1) Determination to fully defend the universal values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law
2) Determination to fully safeguard the peace and stability of Japan
3) Determination to lead the international community by confronting global-level issues and contributing to humankind
Naturally, the only way to achieve these three resolutions is to increase the number of countries that share values with Japan, with the Japan-US alliance as a cornerstone, and spend time and effort building up a realistic dialog with countries with obstacles to sharing values. Consequently, it is important to arrive at the universality of shared values, which forms the basis of the international order. This is not to say that maintaining relations with major powers such as the US, China, and Russia is the sole golden rule. Instead, countries that can take the lead in creating the international order must increase the number of friendly countries to the greatest extent possible and wield diplomatic power to spread universal shared values from multiple angles. “Diplomatic power” here does not merely refer to traditional political, military, and economic power. To find a solution to this difficult problem, we must now consider the pillars that form the foundation of this diplomatic power, following the times and the situation.
Search for a New Horizon in Japanese Diplomacy
The ability to conduct multilateral diplomacy with many countries can be a significant advantage when considering Japanese diplomacy today. For example, the latest ranking (January 2012) of the Henley Passport Index (by the British consulting firm Henley & Partners) compares global passports based on the number of countries and regions that can be traveled to without visas; Japan again took the top spot this year.
Currently, Japanese passport holders can travel to 192 countries and regions.*34 Japan has a strong international reputation for reliability and should exploit its rare geographic advantages. Japan has steadily built up its diplomatic achievements by using its ability to develop its relations with each country, the US, China and Russia, without damaging relations with the other powers. In other words, Japan has the potential and is in the best position to become a bridge between the three. As Figure 3 shows, one option for Japan going forward and the one that should be examined and selected is to search for a new horizon for Japanese diplomacy, called “Eurasian diplomacy,” and add this to the “Eurasia” perspective present in the FOIP. Unlike the FOIP, Eurasian diplomacy is a diplomatic concept viewed solely in terms of its geographic scope and covers many countries and regions with different languages and cultures. Therefore, choosing Eurasian diplomacy and taking the first steps forward will require more effort than in the past. Moreover, the region is one in which various countries’ interests intertwine, and Japan must make the corresponding commitments and preparations. If the question is asked as to whether Japan cannot (or does not need to) develop Eurasian diplomacy, then the answer is “no.”
Figure 3: Positioning of “Eurasian Diplomacy 2.0”
The basis of the postwar Japan-US relationship has been shared fundamental values such as freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Since the Rambouillet Summit in 1975, Japan, as a member of the liberal democracies, has made steady, albeit step-by-step, progress contributing to the formation of a stable international order. However, we are aware of the difficulties in sharing these democratic values. China, Japan’s neighbor, has dramatically different standards, even for universal values such as freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. The year 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. The Kishida administration has inherited the vision of the FOIP. It will continue to engage in intense diplomatic negotiations with major powers such as the US, Russia, and China.
In this context, it should be reaffirmed that many countries and regions in Eurasia can help and support Japan. This determines Japan’s future diplomatic choices. Therefore, the future development of Kishida’s diplomacy should be watched closely.
The most important issue addressed in this book is the scarcity of books and articles focusing squarely and comprehensively on Japan’s Eurasian diplomacy. Japan’s postwar diplomacy played out as a mixture of glory and setbacks. Eurasia, in particular, is a vast continent in which polities, economies, and cultures are concentrated, while each country and region have their contradictions and conflicts. In this sense, Eurasia’s position in the international community makes it an extremely attractive continent for which it is difficult to formulate a strategy.
Nonetheless, while Japan’s positioning of Eurasia can be concluded from its efforts toward each country and region and individual specific results, there appears to be a lack of a Japanese perspective taking an overall view on Eurasian diplomacy. Further, when discussing the ideal direction for Japanese diplomacy in the future, the Japan-US alliance is always in question. As the international strategic environment surrounding Japan undergoes dramatic shifts, Japanese diplomacy requires a balanced international perspective and the ability to make calm and objective judgments. Diplomacy is not the sole responsibility of the government; it also depends on the understanding and support of individual citizens regarding the complexity of international affairs and the course that Japan should take.
In envisioning the next phase of Japanese diplomacy, we should pursue an earnest diplomatic strategy to expand Japan’s circle of friends, regardless of whether they share our values, while continuing to pursue global interests beyond Japan’s self-interest.
*1 See “Prime Minister Hashimoto’s Speech at the Keizai Doyukai (Members’ Roundtable Meeting)” (July 24, 1997), Diplomatic Blue Book 1998, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1998, p. 209.
*2 In November 2018, the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” was changed to the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision.”
*3 In principle, the Diplomatic Blue Book summarizes changes in international affairs and Japan’s diplomatic activities during the year through December of its publication and has been published annually since its first issue in 1957. While other government agencies publish white papers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is unique in publishing a “Blue Book,” following the British Parliament’s Blue Book.
The report summarizes the Japanese government’s foreign policy and recent international developments, allowing the reader to understand which areas and fields Japan’s diplomacy has (or has not) focused on each year.
*4 In 2009, JFIR published a policy proposal titled “Positive Pacifism and the Future of the Japan-US Alliance.”
(https://www.jfir.or.jp/wp/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/32.pdf) Incidentally, at that time, Kenichi Ito took the position of “negative pacifism” after the war, in which Japan used the US as much as possible but minimized the extent to which the US used Japan, thereby minimizing costs and risks for Japan. However, after the Cold War, with the “war on terror” taking root in global security issues, he stressed the need for “positive pacifism” to play an appropriate role.
*5 Notably, this book does not delve deeply into the history of Japanese diplomacy. This is because over 70 years have passed since the end of the Second World War; in addition to the history of discussions in the Diet, the number of papers documenting Japanese diplomacy has also expanded enormously, making it difficult to cover everything in a finite number of pages.
*6 See Yūrashia taidō (Norio Horie, Iwanami Shinsho, 2010), pp. 26-30 [in Japanese]
*7 In addition to “land routes” and “sea routes,” in recent years, China has been expanding its influence in the digital sector through the Belt and Road initiative. This point is discussed in dejitarushirukurōdo jōhō tsūshin no chiseigaku [Digital Silk Road: Geopolitics of Information and Communications] (Dai Mochinaga, Nihon Keizai Shinbun Publishing, 2022), pp. 66-128.
*8 See Hashimoto ryūtarō gaikō kaiko-roku [Hashimoto Ryutaro’s Diplomatic Memoirs], (edited by Makoto Iokibe and Taizo Miyagi, Iwanami Shoten, 2013), pp. 61-63.
*9 See Hashimoto ryūtarō gaikō kaiko-roku, ibid., pp. 64-73.
*10 For a complete overview of the diplomatic world in the Northern Territories negotiations, see Hoppōryōdo kōshō-shi [A History of the Northern Territories Negotiations] (Yoshikatsu Suzuki, Chikuma Shinsho, 2021).
*11 See Hashimoto ryūtarō gaikō kaiko-roku, ibid., pp. 80-82.
*12 See the Cabinet Office website (https://www8.cao.go.jp/hoppo/shiryou/pdf/gaikou52.pdf)
*13 Kazuhiko Togo points out the following: “The essence of Hashimoto’s Eurasian diplomacy can be summed up in this one point: utilize Russia to empower Japan, caught between the US and China, and bring Russia into the new dynamics of the Asia-Pacific in a manner favorable to Japan.
This process will also resolve the Northern Territories issue, which has been the biggest challenge for Japanese diplomacy to date.” See Nihon no 「yūrashia gaikō」 (1997 〜 2001) [Japan’s Eurasian Diplomacy (1997-2001)]
(Kazuhiko Togo, Nippon.com, 2014)(https://www.nippon.com/ja/features/c00205/)
*14 See the 1998 Diplomatic Blue Book, p. 210.
*15 See the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website
*16 Although Central Asia is said to be a site of power struggles among the major powers, Tomohiko Uyama notes that the domestic political, security, and other conditions in each country are basically stable; they have not been seriously affected by the turmoil in neighboring Afghanistan. chūōajia “kokusai tero” to “gurētogēmu” no kyojitsu [Central Asian “International Terrorism” and the Blending of Fact and Fiction surrounding the “Great Game”], Diplomacy (Vol. 69, 2021) [in Japanese]
*17 As a side note, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Global Forum co-hosted the 7th Tokyo Forum and Central Asia Symposium, as well as the 10th Tokyo Forum. Among other things, the latter creates Central Asian culinary videos in a form not restricted by politics, economics and other factors. Available from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website
*18 See the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website
*19 See totetsumonai Nippon [Extraordinary Japan] [ (Taro Aso, Shinchosha Shinsho, 2007), pp. 9-15.
*20 “Speech by Foreign Minister Aso at the JFIR’s 20th Anniversary Event” (March 12, 2007, The International House of Japan)
*21 Aso loudly rebuked the terms “arc of crisis” and “arc of instability” used in reference to a particular region as a crisis produced by Western actions and sought a path of coexistence and co-prosperity. See totetsumonai Nippon, pp. 160-165.
*22 See Nihon no senryaku gaiko [Japanese Strategic Diplomacy] (Yoshikazu Suzuki, Chikuma Shinsho, 2017), pp. 84-98. [in Japanese]
*23 According to Suzuki, the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” and “Diplomacy of panoramic views” started out as a strategic theory targeting Russia but later shifted its strategic focus away from Russia to China in response to China’s accelerating moves toward maritime expansion. See Suzuki, ibid, pp. 83-84.
*24 See “Abe’s Diplomacy from a Global Perspective – Interview with Shotaro Yachi, Cabinet Secretariat Counselor (1)” (https://www.nippon.com/ja/currents/d00089/)
*25 See the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website
*26 For more information on the wavering Japan-China relations following Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine, see gaikō anzen hoshō senryaku-sei no tsuikyū [Diplomacy and Security: The Pursuit of Strategy] (Ken Jimbo), Kenshō Abe seiken hoshu to riarizumu no seiji [An examination of conservatism under the Abe administration and the politics of realism] (Asia Pacific Initiative, Bunshun Shinsho, 2022), pp. 171-176.
*27 See the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website
*28 See gaikō [Diplomacy] (Diplomacy, Editorial Committee, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 65, 2021), p. 95.
*29 See dare mo kakanakatta abe shinzō [What Nobody Wrote About Shinzo Abe] (Tomohiko Taniguchi, Asuka Shinsha, 2020), pp. 222-228.
*30 See the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website
*31 The ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, (June 23, 2019), (https://asean.org/speechandstatement/asean-outlook-on-the-indo-pacific/) Moreover, there are differences in the vision held by the US, Australia, India, ASEAN etc., but I will not address these here.
*32 See the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website
*33 Terms such as “Japan” and regions within Japan are omitted from this tabulation.
*34 The Henley Passport Index, 2022 (https://www.henleyglobal.com/passport-index/ranking)
(This is the English translation of an article written by TAKAHATA Yohei, Distinguished Research Fellow/ Director of Strategy and Policy, The Japan Forum on International Relations, which originally appeared on Japan’s Diplomacy in Eurasian Dynamism, Chuokoron-Shinsha, 2022.)