Japan's world view, as with its perceptions of most phenomena, has been sober, subtle and sophisticated. This circumspection shaped its foreign policy and diplomacy. In the post-World War 2 era it needed to be low-key. A merchant and maritime state, it was constrained by lack of natural resources, and often self- imposed necessary military restraints symbolized in the Constitution' Article 9. Relative peace, combined with domestic stability and external, particularly US, security guarantees, allowed its creative energies to find fruition in its technological advance. It made Japan the regional leader in what the economist Kawame Akamatsu in the 1960s called the flying geese paradigm or Ganko keitai-ron. This pertains to the flight of a flock of geese, with one bird in the lead, inspiring the ones that follow. This brought enormous prosperity to Japan, which then needed protection for its sustainability. This implied the need for a positive global perception of Japan combined with Japan's larger benevolent international footprint.
A natural consequence was its conduct of omnidirectional diplomacy for decades. It was given substance in the 1970s by Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda when he launched his "all-directional foreign policy for peace" or zen-hoi heiwa gaiko. Also called 'Fukuda Doctrine', it eased relations with China, fostered ties with the ASEAN countries and created ties with Australia. The Nixon-Kissinger initiative led the US to help drew China deeper into the web of multilateralism, which gave Japan the needed respite. Japan also reached out to the developing world of the global South with heavy doses of diplomacy combined with generous development assistance, including to South Asia. Bangladesh was a major beneficiary. Japan's burgeoning popularity across the world engendered a desire within itself for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.
But nothing remains constant and global politics too are in perennial flux. China grew stronger and was being perceived as increasingly more assertive with application of President Xi Jinping's Zhang Guomeng or China-Dream. its relations with Japan's strongest ally, the US began to wane. In the 1910s, while prime minister Shinzo Abe sought to continue with "panoramic diplomacy", covering the wide world, what became known as the Abe Doctrine. It required certain adjustments to Japan's external behaviour. The realities of the regional and global impact of China's rise needed policy recalibrations. As a result, geostrategic and normative elements were incorporated into Japan's foreign policy. No great surprise, therefore, when in August 2016 PM Abe launched the concept of 'Free and Open Indo -Pacific'. The key tool with which he wished to achieve it was the 'Quadrilateral cooperation' between Australia, India, Japan and the US, better known as the Quad. Three prongs comprised Abe administration's "democratic security diamond": One, the buttressing of defense under the policy called "proactive contribution to Peace", or sekkyokuteki hetwa shugi.; two, the strengthening of the Quad by giving the concept more content; and three, an expanding of the development finance role, also seen to counter China's "Belt and Road Initiative".
Fast forward to the present. The current Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, came into office after a brief one year of governance by PM Yoshihide Suga. PM Suga had largely continued his predecessor's foreign policy. He stepped aside following a multiplicity of challenges arising from the covid pandemic, economic stagnation and rising security threats. PM Kishida had served as Foreign Minister during the Abe years. Even during that period, he was viewed, even by his own admission, as more liberal and dovish than his leader within the ruling Liberal democratic Party. Indeed, he had led the LDP's KOCHIKAI Faction (or 'Broad Bond Society), founded by Hayato Ikeda in 1957, which had underscored the importance of Sino-Japanese relations, as also multilateral approaches to regional challenges. Coming as he does from Hiroshima, the city that experienced atomic bomb devastation, PM Kishida was an unlikely champion of higher military spending. But he needed to shed his moderate credentials to some degree while contesting for leadership his rival, the clearly right-wing Sanae Takaichi, who advocated revising the pacific article 9, and nearly doubling defense budget. This perhaps imposed upon PM Kishida more hardened postures than would have been otherwise expected.
Clearly, he needed to address the anxiety emanating from the rising tensions regarding Taiwan and the perceived threats from China on the East and South China seas, relentless North Korean missile and munition tests, and the issues arising out of disputes on intellectual property with China. The tensions enhanced the scope for what is called the Thucydides trap, the possibility of war through miscalculations. Domestically, he needed to bring relief to people by spreading the benefits of growth more equitably by, with the help of, among other things, supporting free trade. Many of these concerned external interactions. So, at the beginning of his term, he articulated a three-pronged foreign policy strategy that heralded more continuity of, than change in, the Abe-Suga approach. Policies continued to be "value-laden" to synchronize with western allies on the matrix of contest with China in the Pacific and the growing conflict with Russia in Europe.
The three priorities were: First, a determination to "fully defend the universal values of freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law" and to "vigorously promote a free and open Indo-Pacific" making use of Quad allies and other like -minded countries such as friends from South Asia and Southeast Asia including the ASEAN nations. A clear indication that he would not want to be seen as soft on China was to appoint the former conservative Defense Minister, Gen Nakatani, who was outspoken on Hong Kong and Xinjiang issues as human rights adviser: Second, to ensure protection of Japan. He did so by emphasizing the US links, declaring North Korean missile tests as "totally unacceptable", and by willing to meet the South Korean leadership "without any conditions": And third, addressing wider global issues as nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, climate change and "a new Japanese form of capitalism", which would bring more equitable growth and redistribution, including through expanded free trade. The application of these thoughts was eventually named "realism diplomacy for a new era" or Shinjidai riarizumu gaiko. Its value-laden component was deepened following the Ukraine conflict, and PM Abe's policy of negotiating with President Putin over territories was halted.
With China, the Kishida government was somewhat between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis. On the one hand, while there was a useful meeting of the two foreign ministers, on the other hand PM Kishida did not receive the departing Chinese Ambassador for his farewell call. Significantly though this is the 45th anniversary year of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China, and hence some incremental enhancement of interaction is possible. With South Korea, given the unacceptability of the North's missile tests, the so-called "shuttle diplomacy "was back on track. Both PM Kishida and President Yoon Suk Yeoul exchanged visits. Domestic reactions were varied, but the US felt encouraged by these developments.
The ASEAN nations, and I was able to follow this with interest from Singapore, while welcoming Japan's roust regional counterweight to China, were chary of the kind of swing in Japan's policy that would necessitate them to take sides. Their acceptance of the term "Indo-Pacific", more politically loaded, was a tad hesitant, in place of the apolitical geographical expression "Asia-Pacific". The Kishida administration is likely to continue efforts to get the three still-recalcitrant ASEAN States -the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand into the Progressive Agreement for Transpacific Partnership or CPTPP.
In South Asia, for Japan, relations with India remained key. Bangladesh also became a link in this chain. It was largely because the Kishida administration took further the August 2017 the two countries announced the establishment of the Japan India Coordination Forum (JICF) for development of India's northeast. Some strategic projects are being contemplated across the spectrum of connectivity, roads, electric infrastructure, food processing, disaster management, organic farming and tourism. The Japanese financing of the Matarbari deep -sea port is said to be linked to it. In addition, there is Japan's Bay of 'Bengal Industrial Growth Belt' or BIG-B. The projects under it, mainly, the Dhaka MRT line, the Matarbari deep seaport, Dhaka airport terminal three and the Araihazar economic zone will massively transform this country and South Asian economic outlook.
It is true that Japan will benefit from this market of 170 million, its growing purchasing power, its demographic dividend, and its labor source. Japan will also benefit from its rapid economic transformation fueling regional change. And, yes, Japan will also benefit from having it as a middle-income powerful player in the global economy and polity. However, evidence points to the happy fact that that is not the only reasons why Japan has been holding Bangladesh's hand since the latter's inception since 1972. This arises from other causes as this article seeks to demonstrate.
I recall the historic visit of Takashi Hayakawa to Dhaka that laid the foundation of the relationship. in March 1972. Japan signaled its wish for these relations to be seen as the example of a mutually rewarding model of cooperation in which a stronger partner genuinely helps a weaker partner stand up. As a diplomat and civil servant for my country I have seen this spirit motivate Japan and its policy makers through decades. Which is why, at a private level nothing will please many of my diplomatic peers around the world more to see Japan as a permanent member of the Security Council. Japan is a tested system, and the Japanese are a tested people who, as the Japanese proverb goes, 'can fall seven times, and get up eight'!. As a model development cooperation partners, Japan and Bangladesh are treading a novel path. And as a Spanish poet, Antonio Marchado once wrote said, "Traveler, there is no path; the path is made by walking".
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