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Japan's Approach to Northeast Asian Security: Between Nationalism and (Reluctant) Multilateralism


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants Japan to become a more “normal” country in terms of its security and defence policies. In order to achieve a new level of security-policy “normality,” Abe has invested enormous political capital and resources in reinterpreting the country’s war-renouncing constitution. This has enabled Tokyo’s armed forces to execute the right to collective self-defence as formulated in Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Furthermore, in 2015 the Abe-led government pushed a package of controversial national security laws through parliament, which enable the country’s armed forces to better defend Japanese territory by military means, alone or with the US in the framework of the bilateral US-Japan security alliance. Such fundamental changes to Tokyo’s security agenda are the basis for Japan to expand old and establish new partnerships with countries such Australia, India, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam, in order to counter the potential threat posed by Chinese territorial expansionism in the South China Sea. Tokyo’s bilateral security alliance with Washington might, under US President Donald Trump, be subject to changes in the months ahead. At the same time, the Japanese nationalism and historical revisionism propagated by Abe and his supporters will continue to hinder Japan’s achieving sustainable reconciliation with South Korea and China. All of the above will likely mean that Tokyo’s interest in the South Korean-sponsored Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI) will remain very limited at best.

Paper presented at the international conference “Trust-building in North East Asia and the Role of the EU” organized in Rome on 21 October 2016 by the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) with the kind support of the Korea Foundation (KF).

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