Sun & Star: Japan’s New Foreign Policy Strategy and U.S.-Japan Relations in the Evolving International Order

At the SMU Tower Center Sun & Star Symposium 2022, Japan’s New Foreign Policy Strategy and U.S.-Japan Relations in the Evolving International Order, we had the pleasure of hearing Ambassador Yoichi Suzuki as our keynote speaker. Ambassador Suzuki is the former Japanese Ambassador to France and the Japanese Chief Negotiator in the recently concluded Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). His talk led us through the different phases of Japanese trade, starting in the post-WWII era, and how Japan’s strategy has evolved since. In the 20th century, Japan was focused on the multilateral system set up by the United States and taking advantage of existing forums like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to pursue liberalization and nondiscrimination in trade rules. At the same time, Japan began competing with the United States in sectors like machinery, automobiles, and semiconductors; a huge part of Japan’s trade strategy at that time involved minimizing the unilateral distortions from the United States, as could be seen with a v voluntary export restraint applied to Japan in the 1970s. Now, considering the new globalization, the stagnation of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiation, and the advent of global value chains (GVCs), Japan has to find new ways to increase trade liberalization by adding developing countries as new members and concluding complex trade agreements that stipulate not only border measures (like tariffs) but also domestic regulations. The country has found success in its new strategy of pursuing free trade agreements (FTAs) such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Japan-EU EPA, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Now, Japan has several major priorities regarding trade in the post-COVID world. The first is bringing the United States back into the fold of several major FTAs such as TPP and negotiating similar FTAs with the US involvement. The second priority is balancing China in the Asia-Pacific region; the two economies are too intertwined for Japan to decouple, and China has resisted efforts to integrate itself into the liberal international order. The third priority is either salvaging or replacing the WTO to create an effective worldwide institution for trade liberalization. The fourth issue is solving trade coercion. Finally, related to WTO revival is the global integration of international issues like climate change, famine, the pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This could be done by either revamping existing international institutions like the United Nations or creating new institutions based around “like-minded countries” like the EU member states, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States. Other issues in need of resolving in the Asia-Pacific include Chinese territorial disputes such as the nine-dash line in the South China Sea, the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands dispute, and the political status of Taiwan.

What common ground does Japan share with the United States and other like-minded countries regarding trade agreement standards? Ambassador Suzuki responded that Japan and the United States both prioritized safety standards, giving the example of electric vehicle fuel cell standards. He also emphasized that what Japan knows, and the United States needs to realize, is that more active countries on the international stage will impose their own standards on the world economy. Regarding issues important to the United States like intellectual property and privacy standards, the only way for America to influence international rules is to participate in the rule-making of the world order.

We hope to see you at future Tower Center events!

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.