Compared to just twenty years ago, Japan has made a remarkable shift regarding its foreign relations strategy to become one of the leading nations championing increased integrations, more comprehensive free trade agreements, and updating rules and regulations of trade. Mireya Solís has spent the last few years examining this shift in foreign policy, including the changing domestic factors, how this has changed Japan’s relationship with China and the United States, and ramifications for the future of the Asia-Pacific region.
Solís began her presentation by describing the ‘profound dilemma’ of Japan; Japan became a bigger player on the international stage just as economic tensions began to rise between the world’s greatest powers, the United States and China. While this served as an opening for Japan to be more proactive in the case of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to take on a leadership role, it has also made Japan more pragmatic in recent months. Japan has recognized the significant economic and influential benefits that come from participating in mega-trade agreements and pursued three in the past decade. By defining the rules of economic trade with the TPP-turned CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership), Japan then used those rules in new trade deals with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and its deal with the EU. Japan has also increased its involvement in Southeast Asia, investing significant amounts in infrastructure for these developing countries. Now, over 80% of Japan’s trade is covered by 21 free trade agreements.
Even with all the economic benefits, free trade agreements offer, protectionism and nationalism are on the rise across the globe. The biggest example of this is seen in the Sino-American trade war in the Trump era; both nationalism and protectionism sentiments have only risen since the advent of the pandemic. However, even with more hostility towards economic cooperation, the rhetoric surrounding the debate has to do with ‘self-reliance’ rather than isolationism, an encouraging sign. Even Japan’s new Prime Minister Kishida has outlined a plan for economic security. Japan is choosing to be strategically indispensable, i.e., developing cutting edge technology and being so far ahead on the technological frontier in key products so other countries are forced to depend on you; also increasing influence in the economic and security spheres.
What does Solís believe Japan’s contributions to the liberal international world order are?” With the creation of the CPTPP, Solís believes that Japan shows middle powers like Japan, ASEAN countries, Canada, and Mexico could cooperate and create rules-based trade outside of great powers like China or the United States. In doing so, Japan advanced its ideal of what the region should look like: a free and open Indo-Pacific with rule of law, connectivity, and democratic values. Even in the face of how difficult it can be to navigate a zero-sum international order, Solís remains optimistic for the future of Japan and its prominent role in the Asia-Pacific.
Check out the entire lecture below to hear Solís’ analysis more in-depth and her answers to other great questions asked by participants.
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This post was written by Keely McNeme ’23. She is triple majoring in Political Science, Corporate Communication and Public Affairs with a concentration in Political Communication, and International Studies with a focus on Asia and a minor in History. She also does research alongside Professor Takeuchi and is very involved in the SMU Libraries, where she participates in the Library Student Advisory Board and works in DeGoyler Library of Special Collections.