Us-Japan relations: a talk with professor Ellis S. Krauss

After the National Security Strategy 2010, the US foreign policy seems to focus its attention on the Asia-Pacific region. At the theoretical level, this approach has been confirmedby the idea of “pivot to Asia”. For this reason, met Ellis S. Krauss, professor at the University of California-San Diego and visiting professor at Sapienza University, expert on Japanese politics and Us-Japan relations.

Dear professor Krauss, could we begin this interview synthetically presenting the different phases of the Japanese political role in international system from 1853?

Us-Japan relations: a talk with professor Ellis S. Krauss -

In fact there are five very separated periods of Japanese and an Empire based on Emperor-worship ideology was instituted. The second stage is the late nineteenth century modernization, in which Japan modernized itself and foreign policy. From 1853 to 1868 when Japan was unified under a unique government called “Meji” restoration became an economic power, and eventually a military power in the early twenty century. It defied and defeated China and Russia in 1895 and 1905 wars, becoming a major power. During the second period it was allied with Britain in the Anglo-Japan alliance and this kept the peace in Asia up to 1920s. Then, there was an increasing conservatism in Japan and after the World War I, many democratic movements that led to some democratization. The post World War I era brought an unprecedented prosperity for its economy. The third period was an authoritarian period. In fact the parliamentary government was not rooted deeply enough to withstand the economic and political pressures of the “Depression period”. The State became militarized. Unlike Italy and Germany there wasn’t a fascist political party in Japan but this military-led government led Japan to challenge Britain and US during the World War II. The fourth stage is the US occupation of Japan implementing the democratization of Japan. The last period is the post-US occupation economic growth led Japan to be the second largest economy superpower in the world, but without a military power, limited by the peace constitution imposed by US at the end of the Second World War.

After the end of cold war, due to consolidation of unipolarism, which type of changes occurred in Japan’s foreign policy and its perception of the surrounding geopolitical space?

There are two periods which we have to consider from the end of Second World War. The first is before the end of Cold War, from the American occupation to 1990s, Japan was fairly stable in some way. It became an important ally for the US, but refused to get involved in US military adventures. So for example Japan refused to get involved in the Vietnam War. The only involvement is that Japan gave many military bases to US. This was pretty much the stable situation from the early of the 1960s up to 1990s. Everything changed in the 1990s, for domestic and geopolitical reasons. The electoral reform of the 1993changed the domestic political situation, with the Socialist Party which became very small, and instead a more moderate conservative party (the Democratic Party) that became the second largest party in Japan. This opened the way for Japan to become more active in domestic security. In late 1990s China became a major military and economy superpower, and North Korea became a real security threat. These domestic and international changes changed the situation for Japanese foreign policy. Japan claimed some autonomy from the US, but at the same time it started to build up its military and get closer to the USA in military affairs in order to protect itself from China. Some political scientists call this the “dual hedge,” that is insurance on both sides. Insurance against the economic  dominance of the U.S. by getting closer economically with China,but at the same time by getting closer to the US militarily, protecting itself from China.

Is it possible to talk about a political triangle in the China, Japan and US relations? And if your answer is positive, how does it work?

Yes, I think that we are able to talk about a political triangle. It was a more equal triangle before the arrival of the current prime minister Shinzo Abe. That is because the dual hedge strategy tried to balance it in different ways between China and US. From one side an economic power, from the other side a military power. In fact, many Japanese political scientists think that their country could be a bridge between the US(its military ally) and China (its major economic partner). Prime minister Abe seems to be changing the triangle from this type of balance. He to lead his country closer to the US, by improving the closer military cooperation with the U.S. instead Japanese investments with China have been declining quite a bit for the last two years. Another reason is related to the Senkaku Islands that both nations claim as their own. This dispute is a very dangerous, because it could lead both to a military conflict, which would drag US in. Abe foreign policy is changing the triangle to a parallelrelationship, with China from one side, and Japan-Us from the other.

How did the tension for the Asia-Pacific area of the Obama administration influence Japan foreign policy? And is Japan coming back to cover the role of a great power in this area?

Obama moved to the Pacific that he called “pivot”, but nobody in his government like this term. They prefer a term like rebalance that is more accurate to describe what Obama is doing. The US, during the Cold War, focused his attention to Europe, now that the situation is changed; they are shifting their attention and military resources to the Pacific, because there are more chances of conflicts and wars. That’s because there is a more aggressive China. Japan plays a major role in this rebalance as American biggest ally, but Japan is not going to become a great power by itself, not as it was before World War II. It will be a middle power, very much like Germany in Europe or Australia for example. China will be naturally the great military and economic power of the Asia in the future. The problem is that China is not a democracy. I think that this will be a big problem for the US in the next future.  Surely, US and Japan together will be able to restrain China, but not Japan by itself.