Yuichi Hosoya: “Both Ukraine and Japan need to strength our own national defence capabilities and we have to keep the cooperation in defending the rule-based international order”

30 April 2019, 09:00

Which perspectives or plans has Japan in ongoing tensions with China?


– The relationships between Japan and China are always influenced by relations between US and China, which are now two largest economies and two largest military powers. And of course, we need to keep in mind that Japan is an ally to the United States. Currently we are seeing the deteriorations in relations between US and China. And naturally, trying to avoid the isolation,Chine is coming closer to Japan. So now our relations have been greatly improved for certain period of time, putting the territorial issue beside. The incentive of China for having a better relations with Japan is driven not only by that reason, but this is also driven by the possibility that Chine will unavoidably face a serious problem of aging society caused largely by its own “one child” policy as well as by the probability that Chinese economic growth rate will be rapidly falling down. So this means that China seriously needs cooperation with Japan, particularly in economic terms. So now, we are seeing rapid improvements in relations between Japan and China. That means that territorial problems is not at the center of this relationship, but rather the economic cooperation is taking the lead, especially in the context of a severe trade war between the US and China. 


But still there is at least one area with clear competition of interests – Indian ocean. 


– The basic philosophy of Prime Minister Abe’s foreign policy is to enhance the cooperation among four leading democracies in this region, these are the US, Japan, India and Australia. And this will be the core of Indo-Pacific region. Now Japanese government is promoting a strategy of creating the free and open Indo-Pacific region. We are combining two oceans. These four powers will define the future of this region in the coming decades. In that sense, the cooperation between India and Japan is one of the most important proposal that Japan presents. 


Recently Russian authorities announced that resolving of disputes with Japan over Kuril islands could take years or decades. Could you share your opinion on that issue? Do you see any signs of political will to resolve this issue from Russian side?


– Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Putin have met at the summit meetings more than twenty times, so they can develop their personal friendship and trust. The other point is that both sides agreed on several important points, like economic cooperation and a limited cooperation in security as well. Although they have also agreed to  create a peace treaty,  we  have not seen that happened. We have many common interests, but because of one difficult issue, the territorial issue, two sides cannot move forward. In the last recent years, we had a hope that two sides could solve that territorial dispute in the end. But I feel that, because of several reasons, now it is becoming more difficult than before. The first reason is Russian annexation of Crimea. After that the annexation, I have a feeling that Russian peoples become more and more sensitive to territorial issues. It means that it would be very difficult nowadays for President Putin to show any kind of concessions in territorial issues. That is why I see some link between Crimean and Japanese territorial problems. Maybe we are seeing the toughening of the tone. Second is that in the last several years we could not see any valuable concretes result in economic cooperation between Japan and Russia, because of several barriers. Actually, we see some stagnation. Russia is becoming little bit more frustrated. For some reasons, the two sides are becoming more realistic than before. In the sense that it is not so easy to solve that issue within few months, or even few years. Some time ago, we have hoped that, because of the fact that Prime Minister Abe and President Putin are  both strong leaders, and also because of their strong leadership, political basis and friendly relations, we can solve the problem. But now we are retreating from the previous position. The most difficult thing is now whether two sides will be able to show any further concessions. Both sides need to show them. One of the biggest reasons for this step back is hardening public opinion in the two countries, which become more nationalistic than before. Many media are covering this issue today and if the media of two countries does this more frequently than before, people become more familiar with the problem. What is more important is that people in Japan and in Russia become more irritated to face any more concessions. That is why I think, due to these two factors, President Putin is now in a very difficult position to show any signs of compromise with Japan on the territorial issue, and then  he now shows the opposite attitude – a more hardline position . 

The key issue in this is that the strategical importance of Kuril islands is now much larger than before. It is because of the increasing importance of the North Pole. Now we can more easily  navigate the North Pole area because of global warming. That is why Russia regards these islands as a strategically important asset. The Second reason is –the rapid rise of Chinese military power in this region. By controlling these islands, Russia will maintain an important strategical advantage by having an ability to contain Chinese naval vessels. Besides, of course, Kremlin doesn’t like to see further expansion of the US military activities in that area. 


Despite efforts of President Donald Trump, North Korea is continuing its missile (and maybe nuclear) program. What is Japanese approach to that problem?


– There are several different issues in this problem. The number one priority is denuclearization of North Korea. Japan has been responsible for that, because Japan is a member of the six-party talks on that issue. So Japan has a say in denuclearizing North Korea, and also needs to maintain its influence in the negotiation process. In that negotiation direct talks between the US and North Korea is a key. And now I think that  Mr. Trump’s negotiation last year in Singapore was amateuristic. He didn’t know the details of previous negotiations, and that’s why he didn’t stick to the importabce of the verification process. North Korea really doesn’t like to be inspected internationally. But this time in Hanoi, Mr.Trump seemingly became more sophisticated in many points about the negotiation. That’s why he becomes tougher. I think North Korean government, particularly Chairman Kim Jong Un, did not no really prepared well for the reality that his counterpart president was becoming tougher. That is why North Korean government was disappointed at that American administration under President Trump actually came back to the original tough position of putting  a strong pressure upon denuclearization. I’m now sure that North Korea has no strong willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons. That means that we will continue to see this deadlock. 

The second important issue in this problem is the termination of the war.  In 1953, two sides concluded an armistice of the Korean war. The main parties of creating a peace treaty are the United States, North Korea, China and South Korea. Japan is not supposed to be a member of these talks, so it is natural that we are marginalized in this particular process. 

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Then the third dimension of that issue is economic reconstruction. Because now North Korea is in a difficult economic situation, it needs huge amount of economic assistance to reconstruct its own economy. Japan is a country which perhaps will provide the largest amount of economic aid to North Korea. That means that North Korea needs Japan, more than we need them. At some point, I believe that Japan will play a very important role for the reconstruction. Of course, there are some other dimensions as well concerning with this issue. 


What other hot spots you see in Asia?


– Now we see a rapid change in global balance of power. China has a clear strategy, and it tries to create an exclusive sphere of influence to become a hegemon in the region by  rejecting the intervention of external powers, particularly the US. To do that China needs to control two seas – East China Sea and South China Sea. Now Beijing more or less controls South China Sea for the purpose of  rejecting American reconnaissance activities there. Chine doesn’t want their submarines to be detected by US reconnaissance planes. If Chinese submarines can move freely and remain undetected, Chine will have the second nuclear strike capability. So even if  China’s mainland is attacked with massive American nuclear weapons, these Chinese submarines can survive and strike back. It means that China will become equal to the United States in the area of nuclear deterrence. So if China can completely control South China sea in the coming years, it will become much more arrogant and the US will become must more vulnerable. On the other hand, in East China Sea, the situation is a little bit different. Japanese and American ships and planes can enter this area freely. If we allow China to create a kind of  exclusive zone of influence there, China will become the only hegemon in the region. So now US, Japan, Australia, India and other Asian countries are  sharing this concern, and they are now trying to prevent that happened. As long at they are in cooperation, they are able to increase pressure on China. 


Nowadays we can see some troubles for international multilateral organizations and treaties, politics of Mr.Trump changes global agenda to more  bilateral type of relations. Do you believe, that organizations like NATO are still effective?


– We have to remind that all the three big powers, US, Russia and China, have very strong unilateralist  foreign policy. These countries basically do not like to be controlled by multilateral international institutions. As long as they can control them, they are happy, but if not – they can be easily irritated. If they were really serious in damaging these institutions, they cannot survive. But on the other hand, Japan and the EU with the UK in it are really serious in trying to defend the rule-based international order. Because they really need to depend on international rules, their power is not equal to US, nor to Russia or China. If international organizations are seriously undermined, we will face more difficulties.  We are now in a critical moment. Whether we see a breakdown of these institutions or whether we can maintain them depend on our own effort to keep them alive. 


Continue with USA – it's a hard time also for American allies. What is current state of Japan-USA relations, which perspectives you see?


– Basically, at the official and practical level of military cooperation, our alliance is strongest today. We have very strong trust. We can rely on that. There is a wide range of cooperation between the two countries. But on the other hand on the political level, we have some concern – Mr.Trump doesn’t like alliances very much. So there is a clear gap between President Trump and the establishements in Washington, DC. It means that the question will be to what extend President Trump can damage alliances. we are now observing that  he is damaging them much more than we had anticipated. Previously we could rely onGeneralMacMaster, General Mattis and Mr. Tillerson, as we said “adults in a room”. But they all left the office. Despite Japanese government has good relations with a new national security adviser Mr. Bolton, we know that President Trump is willing to control foreign policy. If American foreign policy is formulated by these elites, we can still rely on it. But if President Trump is more willing and more interfering to formulate foreign policy, we think he will be able to seriously damage alliances. 

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Coming closer to Ukraine – how can you evaluate our relations? Which fields could be improved? Specially in security and defence sectors?


– First of all, I think now is the best time for relations between Japan and Ukraine. We have no negative feeling towards Ukraine, unlike our feeling towards Russia. At the same time, we both share the same kind of feeling – our territories are occupied by Russia. That’s why we have same views, same position. We need to enhance cooperation among like-minded countries. That’s why the G7 is now supporting Ukraine. But, basically, we are now entering in the time of more self-help, because of the decline of multilateral institutions. I see that much more than before. We have to defend ourselves. We cannot rely too much on others, because in each country populism and nationalism are rising. We see many countries, which are interested more and more only in their domestic problems. So both Ukraine and Japan need to strength our own national defence capabilities. But, at the same time, we have to keep the cooperation in defending the rule-based international order. At the security level, maybe we also have some areas for cooperation – we can share some intelligence information. And we need to increase the exchange of people, experts and officials between two countries. Then we can share more common interests. In that case political leaders and public opinion feel that time has come for further and deeper security cooperation. 


Do you see any signs of populism and nationalism rising in Japan?


– There is no radical change. Some people say that Japan is the only exception among leading liberal democracies in this problem. Maybe there can be several answers. In a country which experienced structural reforms and liberalization of the market, we see a much broader widening gap between the rich and the poor. Japan didn’t experience such radical reforms and market liberalization, so we don’t see  that huge gap. Usually, populism is driven by those who are left behind, or abandoned. This problem is limited in Japan. The Unemployment rate is extremely low today.    


Talking on strengthening national defence – what is current view on changing the Japanese constitution to have its own army?


– It seems that Prime Minister Abe is trying to make a bridge between those who support it and those who not. While understanding the necessity of changing the constitution, but at the same time he understands basically that it is really necessary to Japan to stick to its national identity as peace-loving country. So I don’t see no radical break from the previous position, that we have lots of homework to do  in sphere of security. But it is now more difficult than before to remain simply pacifist. We are surrounded by nuclear powers like China, Russia and North Korea and sometimes they are threating Japan. 


We witness the last months of Heisei period in Japan, which was named also a “peaceful ruling” period. Can we expect some shifts in Japanese policy due to that?


– In the Heisei period for the first time in the last 150 years, we didn’t experience any wars. That’s why Heiseiperiod means “peace” and we didn’t  fight any battle during that time. After that new Emperor will come, we still don’t know new name of the period, but I am sure that our new Emperor will be the most open-minded and the most international. He has studied at Oxford University and Empress has studied both in Oxford and Harvard. So they can speak fluent English and they have many friends in the West. In that sense the new Era, I think, will be the symbol of internalization of Japan. Our country cannot live without friends and international cooperation. This will be more significant in the next period. 



Yuichi Hosoya studied international politics at Rikkyo (BA), Birmingham (MIS), and Keio (Ph.D.). He was a visiting fellow (Fulbright Fellow) at Princeton University (2008–2009) and a visiting professor and Japan Chair (2009–2010) at Sciences-Po in Paris (Institut d’Études Politiques). Was a member of Prime Minister’s Advisory Panel on National Security and Defense Capabilities (2013), Prime Minister’s Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security (2013-14) and a member of the Advisory Board at Japan’s National Security Council (NSC) (2014-2016). Currently Yuichi Hosoya is professor of international politics at Keio University, Tokyo. He is also Senior Researcher at Nakasone Yasuhiro Peace Institute (NPI), Senior Fellow at The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research (TKFD), and also Adjunct Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA).


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