The ICAS Lectures


Japan’s Perspective:
Challenges in East Asia

Masataka Okano

ICAS Winter Symposium
Humanity, Peace and Security

February 24, 2005 12:30 PM -- 5:30 PM
U.S. Senate Dirksen Building Room SD 226
Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. 20510

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Biographic Sketch & Links: Masataka Okano

Japan’s Perspective:
Challenges in East Asia

Masataka Okano
Political Counselor, Embassy of Japan


It is my great pleasure to speak at this ICAS Winter Symposium. Today I would like to discuss three challenges that East Asia is facing today and discuss these issues particularly from Japan's perspective. These three challenges are North Korea, "the rise of China", and the building of the East Asia community.

I. North Korea

1) How Does Japan View the Korean Peninsula?
From Japan's point of view, the most imminent challenge in East Asia is the tension on the Korean peninsula. The presence of a secluded society with a population of 22.5 million, an unpredictable pattern of behavior, and a nuclear development program worry people in the region. The Japanese are no exception, and nuclear issues, missile issues, proliferation, abductions are all issues which are a great concern to us. Reading Japanese newspapers, you can easily find many articles on North Korea. North Korea is also a popular topic among TV shows, the prime target of which are housewives.

Up until the 1970's, the Japanese view towards the Korean Peninsula was vastly different from today's perspective. For the average Japanese, South Korea was a country ruled by a dictatorship. Many Korean residents from Japan were arrested in South Korea for their democracy movements. We had a dark image of South Korea.

Since then, the ROK has undergone spectacular economic growth and democratization. Exchanges with Japan have also made huge strides. Although there has always existed many historical issues between the two countries, the Korean presence in the mind of the Japanese has increasingly become bigger and closer. For example, when I was a young boy, kimchi, the Korean pickles, could hardly be found in stores, but now you can find them in any Japanese supermarket. It has been integrated into Japanese food culture. Korean TV soap operas are catching the hearts of many Japanese women and some men and this kind of phenomenon was unimaginable several decades ago.

Concerning North Korea, we did not then and still struggle now, to gather information about this country. What we did know was that from 1959, many Korean residents in Japan went back to North Korea to join the cause of building a new socialist country. But at that time, the Japanese really did not know the true situation inside North Korea. In the 1980's, some books were published describing the inside of the North Korean society, and little by little we came to know the economic difficulties and the lack of freedom in that society. In 1983, the Rangoon incident occurred when North Korean agents unsuccessfully tried to assassinate President Chon of the Republic of Korea. In 1987, two North Korean agents exploded a Korean Air jet. Through these incidents, the Japanese got an impression that North Korea is a fearful regime. At that time however, we had not yet realized that North Korea presented problems aimed directly at Japan. It was after North Korea launched a Taepodong missile in August 1998, that many Japanese came to realize that North Korea is our problem. This missile launch drastically changed the Japanese people's sense of national security. It was followed by the mysterious boat affairs, which happened in 1999 and 2001. Those boats were carrying out mysterious activities in the territorial sea and/or the exclusive economic zones around Japan and they tried to escape capture from the Japanese Coast Guard. Later North Korea acknowledged that these boats were North Korean vessels. All of this, coupled with the abductions cases, which North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Il acknowledged responsibility for during Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to Pyongyang in 2002, have given the Japanese a sinister view of North Korea. Today in Japan, one can hardly find any political parties or opinion leaders who present pro-North Korean arguments.

2) Japan's Approach
a) Under these circumstances, the basic policy of the GOJ is "dialogue and pressure." North Korea's nuclearization is a serious threat to Japanese security. The GOJ attaches great importance to finding a solution to this issue and we have raised it in the normalization talks as well as in the Six-Party Talks. North Korea's missile development programs are also a serious threat to Japan and we have urged them to stop these programs. At the time of Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to Pyongyang in 2002, North Korea expressed an intent to continue the moratorium on the launching of its missiles and we will remain attentive to this issue.

b) One of the hottest issues in Japan today is the abduction issue. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, many Japanese mysteriously disappeared. In many of these cases, through investigations in Japan and testimonies given by asylum seekers coming from North Korea, suspicion turned to North Korea. After 1991, the GOJ repeatedly raised these cases to North Korea, which made categorical denials. However, when he met with Prime Minister Koizumi, North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Il acknowledged responsibility, gave an apology, and promised that similar acts would not reoccur. So far, five victims have returned to Japan. But information on other victims given by North Korea is limited and sometimes incoherent. Recently, North Korea handed remains over to Japan, saying that these remains belonged to one victim, but after DNA examination, these bones proved to belong to others. The Japanese people became angry over North Korea's insincere attitude and voices calling for sanctions have become strong. Last week in Washington, Mr. Machimura and Dr. Rice issued a joint statement on North Korea and in it, the US reconfirmed its full support to the GOJ on this issue and we do appreciate this support.

c) Japan has entered into normalization negotiations with North Korea based on the political decision that normalization would be necessary to redress the irregular state of relations. We believe that normalization should be realized in such a way as to contribute to the peace and stability of North East Asia. There had been eight rounds of negotiation between 1991 and 1992 followed by a prolonged interruption. Negotiations were resumed in 2000 but since the 12th round in 2002, there have been no negotiations. The main reason is the abduction issue. During the negotiations, we discussed past related issues as well as pending issues between Japan and North Korea such as abduction, nuclear, and missile issues. The basic position of Japan is to realize normalization by achieving a comprehensive solution to those issues. The current atmosphere surrounding the two countries is not favorable for resumption of these talks.

3) How to Solve Nuclear Issues: Are the Six-Party Talks Relevant?
What is the best way to solve nuclear issues? Perhaps we have not come up with the best answer to this question, because this issue has not seen any major progress. Nevertheless, the Government of Japan believes that the approach of "dialogue and pressure" is also valid on this issue and that the Six-Party formula is still an effective method.

So far, I am afraid the Six-Party Talks have not brought about tangible results. There lacks a mutual confidence among the parties, especially with North Korea and accordingly, the participants are not in the mood for frank talks in the Diao Yu Tai guesthouse. Some people would argue that this process is meaningless. Others would argue, "Time is not on our side. While we are stuck in the Six-Party process, and North Korea is developing nuclear weapons." These arguments may be right. But the problem is, there is no effective alternative to the Six-Party Talks.

The process for the Six-Party Talks has its own merits. Each party makes clear its position and is requested to respond to questions from other parties. In the previous round, the US presented a comprehensive proposal and North Korea also made a proposal. Thus, we can at least say that this is a meaningful process for the purpose of mutual understanding and that it provides an incentive for further discussion. Also in the future, the Six-Party process could be used as a platform for cooperation within this region. We believe that we should not give up this formula, and continue to seek negotiation with North Korea under the guidance of "dialogue and pressure".

4) Importance of Cooperation Among Relevant Parties
It is important that all relevant partners send a unified message to North Korea. If there is a wavering of our mutual position, North Korea will not take our message seriously. In this regard, we highly appreciate the trilateral cooperation exhibited amongst Japan-US-ROK.

Many views have been expressed on China's role. My Chinese friends tend to say, "We do not have as strong an influence over North Korea as you may think." While this might be true, it is also true that no other country has a bigger influence than China does on the North Koreans. Japan appreciates the role China has played so far as a Chair of the Six-Party Talks and we hope that China will not only play not the role of a broker but also act as a main player in persuading North Korea into making the strategic decision to give up its own nuclear programs. It will not be in the interest of China to have a nuclearized neighbor country which has a record of unpredictability. Before the Six-Party Talks began, the most important agenda item for China was the stability of the Korean Peninsula. Recently, in China, we see more arguments about North Korea from the angle of Chinese security and this new phenomenon merits our attention.

5) North Korean Foreign Ministry's February 10th Statement
North Korea's Foreign Ministry announced on Feb 10th, that it had produced nuclear weapons for self defense and that it had indefinitely suspended its participation in the Six-Party Talks. This is a proclamation of nuclearization. Japan deeply regrets this news and in no way, can accept this acknowledgement. North Korea's nuclear program is a direct threat to the peace and stability of Japan, North East Asia and also poses a serious challenge to the efforts of the international community for non-proliferation, which is embodied in the NPT. We will continue to urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs under a credible international verification regime.

What is the intent behind the North Korean Foreign Ministry's statement? Various interpretations are possible, and we cannot be sure of the truth. Many analysts speculated that North Korea would come back to the negotiation table after President Bush's State of the Union address but the reality turned out to be the opposite. At minimum, we can speculate that North Korea's leader judged that it was not advantageous for them to return to the table. There may be an ulterior plan but it is also possible that there is no logical thinking in their strategy.

On February 19th, Foreign Minister Machimura met with Dr. Rice in Washington, and issued a joint statement on North Korea. The Ministers affirmed that North Korea's nuclear program poses a serious challenge to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and represents a direct threat to the peace and stability of the Northeast Asian region, including Japan. They also reiterated their commitment to continuing to seek a peaceful diplomatic resolution of the nuclear issue through the Six-Party Talks.

6) The Real Long Term Challenge

The challenges that I have mentioned are big ones. But we have an even greater challenge on the Korean Peninsula. That challenge is reunification. The Korean people should primarily address this challenge but its neighbors have a natural interest in this process in terms of the region's future stability. During the Japan-US Security Consultative Committee meeting on February 19th, Japanese and US ministers defined "support for the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula" as one of our common strategic objectives.

II. How to Cope with the Rise of China?

1) Introduction
I would like to move onto the second challenge in East Asia. That is the so-called, "rise of China." We often hear statements such as "China is rising", "Sino-Japanese relations are politically cold, economically hot." Are these statements true? I believe they are only partly true. What is important is that we should continue our endeavor to grasp the facts correctly since the situation in East Asia, especially inside China is changing dramatically and at high speed. Keeping that point in mind, let me elaborate on the current status of Sino-Japan relations.

2) China's Image Among the Japanese
What makes Sino-Japanese relations complicated is the conflicting images each country holds about the other country. Let me first elaborate on how the Japanese people view China.

In Japan, they say that the image of China varies according to generations. When I was an elementary school student, i.e., at the beginning of the 1970s, we Japanese had just started contact with mainland China. This was before normalization, and simple agricultural products like dried fruits along with artistic goods were often displayed in festival booths. Seeing those products, we Japanese thought, "We have a big neighbor. People living there are poor but they lead a life rich in spirit." Toward the end of the 1970s, the volleyball world championship was held in Japan and the Chinese national team played well and became popular among Japanese youngsters. At that time, Japan's image of China was that of a good friend.

Since then, the image of China has gone through a gradual change. In particular, the Tiananmen incident left many Japanese with a strong, scary impression of China. In the nineties, many Japanese got fed up with repetitive Chinese requests relating to past historical issues. Also China's rapid economic growth stirred up the "China threat theory" and many people worried about the future of China. Unilateral exploration of the East China Sea seabed, the incursion by a Chinese submarine into the Japanese territorial sea, and criticisms over Japan's handling of Taiwan; all of these issues have contributed toward a feeling of uneasiness among the Japanese. According to a poll conducted by the Japanese government, those who said, "I like China" has dropped from 47.9% in 2003 to 37.6% last year and those who said, "I do not like China" increased from 42.9% to 60%.

3) China's Image of Japan
In China, too, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we could see friendly feeling toward Japan. Japanese film stars became popular among ordinary Chinese citizens and many sister city arrangements were made. However, since the ‘90s, Chinese citizens' views toward Japan have turned severe and many Chinese have begun to believe that Japan has not repented for past historical mistakes. There are different views about the reason why this phenomenon has occurred. Some point out an anti-Japanese education. Some argue that by nature, the Chinese do not like the Japanese and this feeling has boiled to the surface. This anti-Japanese sentiment has become especially strong after the Prime Minister's visits to Yasukuni Shrine. Anti-Japanese movements are now amplified by a flurry of communications through both the Internet (Chinese internet users already number around 10 million) and short messages sent through cell phones (There are almost 270 million Chinese mobile phone users) . Last August, during the final game of the Asian Soccer Cup which was held in China, the Japanese anthem was greeted with boos and the whole stadium jeered the Japanese team. After the match, one of my colleague's car was attacked by a mob and a window was broken.

4) Sino-Japanese Political Relations
In this kind of environment, political relations between Japan and China are far from excellent. Since 2001, there have been no mutual visits by either leader. The Chinese Government cites the Yasukuni Shrine issue and blames Japan. For their part, the Japanese side argues that, "We have already apologized for the wrongdoings of the past. How many times should we continue to apologize to the Chinese?" Today, even some liberals in Japan, who used to be willing to offer apologies to the Chinese, are having strong, negative, and sometimes emotional reactions to these Chinese demands.

5) How to Make a Breakthrough
It is not a political option to allow the situation to remain as it currently stands. It is too dangerous and against the interests of both countries. What kind of remedy do we have?

I myself, have no panacea but I personally believe that for the Japanese side, we should make an effort to accept a developed China as a reality, and convince ourselves that we have no other option but to live with China, engage China, and move towards achieving prosperity based on cooperation. Over the last ten years, Japan has suffered from a long economic downturn. In such a period of economic depression, people tend to become narrow-minded and view the rise of another country as a threat. We are now out of our economic doldrums and I am optimistic that the Japanese people can accept the reality of a developed China and view them as a working partner.

I also hope that China pays more attention to suspicions or uneasiness shared by neighboring countries, which were caused by China's rapid development. And I wish China views Japan more objectively and not emotionally, and fosters a feeling among ordinary Chinese citizens that the further development of Sino-Japanese relations is in the best interest of China.

6) Positive Elements in Sino-Japanese Relations
Listening to my analysis, you might believe that we cannot be optimistic about Sino-Japan relations. However, there are positive elements in this relationship.

First, there is the rapid development of economic ties. Sino-Japan trade volumes reached the historic level of $168 billion dollars last year, which is a growth of 26.9% from the previous year. Japan's direct investment in China reached $9 billion dollars on a contracts basis, which is a growth of 15.2% compared with the previous year. These developments have brought about huge economic benefits to both countries and encouragingly enough, this perception is gradually penetrating into many people's mind. During the Boao Forum in April 2002, Prime Minister Koizumi said, "Some see the economic development of China as a threat. I do not. I believe that its dynamic economic development presents challenges as well as opportunities for Japan." Today, the "China Threat" argument is somewhat obsolete in Japan and a larger number of people regard China's economic development as "opportunities."

A second positive element is the increase in the exchange of peoples. According to Chinese statistics, in 2004, 650,000 Chinese visited Japan and 3.35 million Japanese visited China. In total, almost four million people visited between the two countries. Every week, there are 482 commercial flights between Japan and China. These flight routes not only connect big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Beijing, and Shanghai, but also local cities like Fukuoka, Niigata, Kagoshima, Dalian, Guilin, and Chengdu. The Japanese Government is very keen on welcoming Chinese tourists to Japan. We now see many tourists speaking Mandarin in Japan which was hard to imagine even ten years ago.

Another positive is the interest in learning the other country's language. In the past, at Japanese universities, students would choose French or German as a second foreign language. Now Chinese has become by far, the most popular second foreign language among Japanese students. In China, we cannot see a Japanese language boom any more but in spite of this difficult political climate, the Japanese language still holds the second position after English among students. Having people study and learn the other partner's language is a great asset to both countries.

7) Japan's Policy Toward China
The Japanese government considers Sino-Japan relations as one of its most important bilateral relationships. We hope that China will play a more constructive role for the sake of stability and prosperity of the Asia Pacific region. We particularly value the following two points.

First, we would like to promote dialogue with China at different levels. This includes policy dialogue in various fields, including the already ongoing security dialogue. We also attach importance to cooperation on regional forums such as ARF, and ASEAN+3.

Second, since 1980, the GOJ has provided Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the Chinese Government. Japan provides assistance to China for reforms and to create a more open China. The total amount of the yen loan has reached the level of $29 billion dollars, the grant amount is $1.35 billion dollars and technical assistance totals $1.18 billion dollars. This assistance has made tremendous contributions to China's economic development. Japan is currently debating how much longer we will be providing this assistance in view of the fact that China has already achieved economic maturity.

Even if China has reached a certain stage of development, this does not mean that Japan will disengage itself from Chinese economic development. As the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party has acknowledged, China is faced with different economic and social challenges such as disparity of income, old style national enterprises, bad loans in the banking sector, agricultural issues, labor conditions, water shortages, heavy consumption of oil and electricity, environmental concerns, and an aging society. Addressing these challenges are the key to maintaining China's sustainable growth. A stable and prosperous China will not only bring about benefits to Japan but will also contribute to the stability of East Asia. Will China rise or suffer from internal difficulties? This represents another huge challenge for us but I will not discuss that today. But I did want to point out that we can see more open debates on these issues in China, and this is an encouraging movement forward.

The Shenyang consular's case, China's unilateral exploration of the China Sea seabed, accidents related to wasted chemical weapons in Qiqihar, the Asian Soccer Cup incident, etc. We have had many controversial issues with the Chinese. It is inevitable that issues such as these come to the fore as interaction between these two countries deepens. And I would like to emphasize that many of these cases have been practically solved between the two diplomatic authorities in spite of difficult domestic situations in each country.

On the subject of Taiwan, I would like to lightly touch on Japan's basic position. We maintain non-governmental relations with Taiwan in accordance with the Japan-China joint declaration signed in 1972. We strongly hope that problems related to Taiwan will be settled peacefully through direct dialogue across the straits and that the dialogue will be resumed soon. Stability of the Taiwan Straits is in the interest of Japan. The Joint Statement of the US Japan Security Consultative Committee adopted on Feb 19th, states that it is one of the common strategic objectives to, "encourage peaceful resolution of issues concerning the Taiwan Straits through dialogue."

PLA modernization and a lack of transparency concerning China's military spending are also matters of concern to Japan. We have already expressed to the Chinese, our concern on these issues.

III. East Asia Community

1) Increasing Regional Exchanges
I would like to mention East Asia Community building as the third challenge for East Asia.

Over the last ten years, we have witnessed a rapid increase in East Asia's trade volume. For example, Japan-China trade has increased four-fold, China-ASEAN has increased six-fold, and China-ROK has increased eight-fold from ten years ago. The ratio of East Asia's intra-regional trade, which was 33% in the ‘80s, was up to 52% in 2003. This is a higher rate that that of NAFTA, which is 44.5%.

The Asian currency crisis in 1997 gave us an example of the importance of regional cooperation. Today, ASEAN+3 has set up 48 frameworks of practical cooperation in 17 fields. ASEAN itself is deepening its identity as a community in the framework of the Bali Concord II. Japan, China and the ROK adopted that summit's joint declaration two years ago. In these burgeoning frameworks, functional cooperations are moving forward on such issues as, trade and investment, IT, finance, transborder issues, development, energy, environment, food, health, and intellectual property rights.

2) East Asia Summit (EAS)
In this context, last year, there was a decision at the summit meeting of ASEAN+3 that the first East Asia summit would be held at the end of this year in Malaysia. This sounds like an epoch-making event. However, basic questions such as who will participate, what will be discussed, relations with ASEAN+3, future venue sites and the presidency of this forum are details that have yet to be settled.

Let me briefly introduce you Japan's point of view on some of these issues.

First, we advocate a functional approach. In view of the Asian countries diversity, we cannot have a community building process similar to the Europeans. It would also be counterproductive to set up a big institution at the outset. Rather, we would prefer to advance practical cooperation in various fields.

Second, Japan seeks to promote inclusiveness. The EAS should be open and transparent to the outside. We attach great importance to the involvement of other countries in this forum.

Third, the regional cooperation should be guided by fundamental values such as democracy, human rights, market economy and by international standards such as WTO rules.

Fourth, the EAS should have its own historical significance, and thus be differentiated from ASEAN+3.

Based on these principles, we will actively engage in the formulation of this community.

3) Future of the East Asia Community
The East Asia Community is still in the germination phase. We are not quite sure how this community will look in the future. What we can say is that this community building is not based on some politician's personal initiative to create a body which would exclude others but that this process stems from a growing movement of people, goods, capitals and services in this growing and dynamic region. In a sense this is a natural phenomenon and may develop into a much larger framework. We would like to maintain our engagement in this process rather than become an observer.

4. Japan-US Security Alliance
I have discussed three challenges facing East Asia. Last but not least, I would like to emphasize that in order to address these challenges, Japan-US cooperation must and will play a crucial role. There is no doubt that the Japan-US alliance plays a vital role in the security and stability of East Asia.

Let me conclude by quoting a relevant passage from the February 19th, Joint Statement of US-Japan Security Consultative Committee. "The Ministers noted the excellent state of cooperative relations between the United States and Japan on a broad array of security, political and economic issues. They looked to expand that cooperation, recognizing that US-Japan alliances, with the US-Japan security arrangements at its core, continues to play a vital role in ensuring the security and prosperity of both countries, as well as in enhancing regional and global peace and stability."

This page last updated 3/3/2005 jdb

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