The Korbel School hosted Japanese scholars and government officials in February and March of this year in a program coordinated by the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research. The following is a description of the first panel held with Noriyuki Shikata, who was Deputy Chief of Mission, the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. He is currently studying at Harvard where he has received a Master’s in Public Policy. The panel was sponsored by the Crossley Center, the Center for China-U.S. Cooperation and the Office of Global Engagement.
Japan-China-U.S. and Japan’s Vision for the Indo-Pacific
Panel participants were:
Minister Noriyuki Shikata, Professor Suisheng Zhao, Dean Fritz Mayer (introduction and discussant), Professor Floyd Ciruli (moderator)
Former Minister Noriyuki Shikata observed that the Indo-Pacific is becoming more and more the center of global economy. By 2030, the Chinese economy will surpass the U.S. in GDP. He highlighted that populations in the area are growing and there are already problems resulting from the development of mega cities. In that also lies opportunity for collaboration with the U.S. and U.S. companies. For instance, addressing the issue of pollution will call for more clean energy, as well as how to make cities operate more efficiently.
Japanese relations with China have had tense periods historically and there is recognition that even small conflicts could become quite dangerous. Since 2012, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has been working to improve relations. A crisis communication mechanism was established between Japan/China ministers to avoid any miscommunication. The relationship-building started before Donald Trump became president, but the progress has likely been accelerated because of it.
The concept of the Indo-Pacific region has evolved over the years from Asian, to Asian-Pacific, to Western-Pacific. While it is rightly used as a geographic concept, Prof. Zhao argued that it is more of a political concept. During the Obama administration, Indo-Pacific was used to describe a national security strategy. Another concept is a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, but China objects to this as a U.S. containment strategy.
While Japan and China have had alliances over time, they have been pragmatic, and only where certain interests overlapped.
Minister Shikata offered that, while there are different interpretations of a free and open Indo-Pacific, the Japanese do attach certain issues to the alliance, such as human rights as well as freedom of navigation. He added that outside powers, such as the UK and France, also have an interest in this concept since they have overseas territories that fall in the region. He stressed that Japan’s response is not about containing China, but that when certain conditions are met, there can be collaboration and don’t want to see an escalation of tension in the South China Seas.
The Japanese and Chinese have always learned from each other’s cultures, stretching back thousands of years. Today, more Chinese are coming to Japan with the relaxation of visas, and there is hope this will help improve communications across borders.
This alliance among Asians is likely to continue as the Indo-Pacific region develops into the center of the global economy and U.S. business continues its interest in the region. In the 1980s, Japan was seen to be the economic threat to the U.S. Today, it is China.