TIU Global Dialogue Series: Japan’s Foreign and Security Policymaking in the Changing Geopolitical Landscape of the Indo-Pacific Region

By Trang Vu and Dieu Bui

On May 24, the TIU Global Dialogue Committee was honored to welcome Professor Misato Matsuoka from Teikyo University to hold a lecture regarding Japan’s Foreign and Security Policymaking in the Changing Geopolitical Landscape of the Indo-Pacific Region. The session was moderated by Professor Miyashita and was joined by other IR professors and students from TIU. 

Professor Matsuoka first introduced her research The Role of Informal Political Actors in Japanese Security Policymaking: The Case of Kitaoka Shin’ichi as a general guideline for the topic of this lecture – Japan’s foreign and security policymaking in relation to pacifism and antimilitarism, illustrating the vision of a novel Japan with freedom and prosperity in peace. Professor Matsuoka’s book also explores Japan’s outlook on fostering diplomatic relations within the Indo-Pacific region, as well as the role of informal political actors such as think tanks and researchers, particularly Japanese political scientist Kitaoka Shin’ichi, in Japan’s policymaking process. 

Following a brief introduction to the concept of pacifism, in which Professor Matsuoka noted the controversy around its nature, an explanation of notable changes regarding Japan’s pacifism was offered. After World War II, in order to restore its domestic economy, Japan had to rely on a security alliance with the US, thus employing a passive form of pacifism. According to Professor Matsuoka, however, following the diplomatic trauma of the Gulf War in the 1990s, Japan began striving for a more proactive approach as Japanese policymakers realized the limitations of the country’s constrained participation in UN activities and security arrangements.

Professor Matsuoka’s book

Delving into different features of Japan’s foreign and security policymaking, Professor Matsuoka presented two major pillars of the country’s direction of diplomacy and foreign policy – values-oriented diplomacy and the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity. Both concepts were introduced by former Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso during the first Abe administration. The former was centered around universal values such as liberalism, democracy, and fundamental human rights, whereas the latter strived to promote and facilitate the attainment of these values in the Indo-Pacific region. Professor Matsuoka remarked that, despite causing some controversies that led to their decline in popularity, these principles still remain relevant, serving as cornerstones for Japan’s foreign policies.

Another aspect to be discussed by Professor Matsuoka is the external forces that the Japanese government and policymakers take into account while formulating Japan’s foreign policy. China, for example, has been weighing on Japan’s diplomatic attitude in recent years, as evidenced by Japanese security papers as well as publications from political specialists. South Korea has been considered another prevalent external force, with Japan attempting to restore the Japan-South Korea postwar relationship in order to offset North Korea’s missile threat. 

Furthermore, taking a constructivist approach, Professor Matsuoka stressed the contribution of informal political actors in defining Japanese security and foreign policies. Japanese security and foreign policies fitted into the concept of constructivism in renewing the image of Japan from passive to active. Specifically, in her recent studies, she has explored the positive changes role of epistemic communities, including political experts, policy advisors, and think tanks, as well as norm entrepreneurs and policy entrepreneurs, in promoting Japan’s pacifism in the Indo-Pacific region.

As explained by Professor Matsuoka, these informal political players indeed hold a significant impact on Japanese security and foreign policies. Following World War II, Japan’s comprehensive implementation of passive pacifism hampered its ability to fully contribute militarily in the Indo-Pacific region. Under the complete control of the US that led Japan’s economy to rely on the US during the occupation, it is impossible to define Japan as a pacifist nation. Acknowledging this problem, many Japanese political experts advocated for a redefinition of Japanese pacifism. After several attempts by these professionals, including an advisory panel reconsidering Japan’s right to “collective self-defense” in 2008 and the National Security Strategy (NSS) document released in 2013, the promotion of a more proactive Japan in the Indo-Pacific region was further institutionalized during the second Abe administration. Thereafter, the Abe administration was supposed to be a large contributor to constructing Japan’s security and foreign policies based on the concept of pacifism.  

Professor Matsuoka (speaker-left) and Professor Miyashita (chair-right)

Diving deeper into the role of informal political players, notably think tanks, in redefining the concept of Japanese pacifism, Professor Matsuoka presented two essential ideas influencing Japan’s foreign and security policymaking – the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) and the Liberal International Order (LIO). Implementing these concepts, think tanks such as the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF), though may lack objectivity in their publications due to a close association with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are adequately contributing to the formulation and development of the proactive pacifism policy that Japan is pursuing in the Indo-Pacific region.

In this sense, is Japan’s novel proactive policy toward a free and open Indo-Pacific region a vision or a strategy? This question is further examined using the lens of informal political actors. Professor Matsuoka referenced political scientist Kitaoka’s comment as one example, noting that Japan’s notion of FOIP should be viewed as a vision rather than a strategy, as a careful balance between Japan and external pressures is required. Moreover, Professor Matsuoka revealed that Japanese think tanks are also moving toward the promotion of FOIP and LIO as a vision. Finally, she argued that, in addition to the aforementioned informal actors, a detailed investigation of formal ones such as Indo-Pacific countries and governments should be carried out. 

Watch the recording of the session here

While there has not been a certain conclusion on Professor Matsuoka’s findings due to the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of the Indo-Pacific, she recommended taking a closer look into Taiwan and the Global South countries within the region. Professor Matsuoka identified Taiwan’s approaching 2024 Presidential Election as a significant event that might cause the country to shift its interests away from the US and Japan and toward China, as there may be a major change regarding the political party in power. Closing the presentation, Professor Matsuoka also suggested that India, as a rising political power and counter-balance force to China, might be one of the important actors shaping the dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region in the future. 

Professor Miyashita then opened the floor for discussion, and several questions were raised by TIU professors and students, showing the participants’ great interest in the lecture. In response to Professor Miyashita’s series of questions about the significance of constructivist viewpoints as well as the impacts of policymakers on the actions of informal actors and vice versa, Professor Matsuoka once again emphasized the contribution of informal political players in shaping Japan’s pacifist policy. She also noted that while other strands of IR theories, notably realism, may provide an explanation for Japan’s shift in political approach, constructivism can help us gain a better understanding of the country’s reluctance to describe this shift as a strategic move. Professor Matsuoka further contended that, in addition to the top-down influences politicians have on researchers and think tanks, it is worth paying attention to the bottom-up approach, in which these informal players are able to affect policymakers’ decision-making processes. 

Leave a Reply