Changing Asian Security - a Japanese Perspective How to read Asia today

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Thu 16.10.2014 at 9:15-10:45
The University's Main Building, Auditorium XIII
Unioninkatu 34, 3rd floor, Helsinki

Asia is currently experiencing a period of extensive political and economic change. Recent leadership transitions in China and North Korea have bred both challenges and opportunities. The US has announced a pivot toward the Asia–Pacific region, but remains preoccupied by events in the Middle East. Japan’s economy appears to be recovering after a long period of stagnation, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seemingly altering the fundamental tenets of the country’s security policy, which has remained unchanged for more than half a century. This presentation will provide a Japanese view of such key recent developments across the region. The event is co-organised by the Embassy of Japan in Finland, Discussing World Politics, the University of Helsinki, and the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Speaker: Ichiro Fujisaki, President, America–Japan Society, Inc; Distinguished Professor and Chairman of International Strategies, Sophia University, Tokyo; Distinguished Professor, Keio University, Tokyo; Former Ambassador of Japan to the US

Ichiro Fujisaki is President of the America–Japan Society, Inc., Distinguished Professor and Chairman of International Strategies at Sophia University, and Distinguished Professor of Keio University. Educated at Keio University, Brown University and Stanford Graduate School, he went on to become a Research Associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Following his entry into the Foreign Ministry in 1969, he held posts in Jakarta, Paris and London before taking on more senior roles. These included Political Counsellor at the Embassy of Japan in London, Political Minister at the Embassy of Japan in Washington DC, Director General for North American Affairs and Deputy Foreign Minister. During the tenure of Deputy Foreign Minister, from 2002 to 2005, he served as a "Sherpa”, the personal representative of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, for the G8 Summit Meetings. From 2005 to 2008 he served as Ambassador of Japan to the UN and World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva, before taking up the post of Ambassador of Japan to the United States from 2008 to 2012.

Chair: Timo Kivimäki, Professor, Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki

Summary of the seminar: 

Professor Timo Kivimäki opened the seminar and remarked that Asia has been exceptionally peaceful the past 35 years. However, this might change in the future. In his presentation, Professor Ichiro Fujisaki described the position of Japan in Asia by challenging three misleading notions. The first notion is a concern, that Japan will become a threat to other Asian nations. It is true that Japan has relaxed arms sales restrictions and is changing the interpretation of the constitution on collective self-defense. Yet, this does not mean that Japan would try to revise the history or it would start to re-arm itself. The Japanese are satisfied with the status quo in the region and they wish a peaceful solution to the island disputes on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. The purpose of the changes has been to fortify the relations with the U.S., which has also supported the new interpretation of the constitution. The second notion to be questioned is the belief that the focus of Japan has turned excessively to Asia-Pacific. Although Japanese diplomacy is now concentrated on the Asia-Pacific, it has remained deeply committed to the rest of the world and it is e.g. the second largest contributor to the United Nations and number two donor to Iraq and Afghanistan.  The third notion relates to the challenges faced by Japan’s economy. These include the financial crisis as well as the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. In spite of the difficulties Japan has faced, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has managed to change the psychology of the economy back to positive. The fiscal stimulus and monetary easing have already succeeded, but the third "arrow” – structural reform – is still on its way.

The discussion with the audience dealt with different topics, including the future of nuclear power in Japan, its immigration policies, nationalism and the policies towards the UN and official development assistance.  Prof. Fujisaki was also asked whether the Japanese are worried about the U.S. commitment in the region because of isolationist features in Congress and recent incidents in Ukraine and in Islamic states. Despite recent challenges, he sees the U.S.-Japan alliance as being crucial because of legal commitments but also because of Japan’s geographical position in between Hawaii, Guam and Diego Garcia. Japan has to support the U.S. because it relies on its external deterrent in the face of coming changes.