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.