In Search of Proactive Diplomacy: Increasing Japan’s International Role in the 1990s

This essay solely reflects the author’s view, based upon his experience as an official in the Government of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Introduction: Is Japanese Diplomacy Reactive?

For more than half a century since the end of World War II, it has been argued that Japanese diplomacy is reactive in nature. Japanese diplomats have generally encountered the following reasons given to support this argument:

  1. “Japan is external pressure-driven”: it does not change its course unless it is criticized by foreign countries;
  2. “Japan blindly follows the United States”: it lacks independence and always does what it is told by the United States; and
  3. “Japan’s diplomacy is faceless”: it lacks any leading personalities.

On the matter of trade negotiation, for example, Japan allegedly yields to foreign pressure only at the last minute. In a world with incomplete international norms, however, it is not only politically unrealistic but also domestically impossible for any country, without external pressure, to relinquish for example, its vital economic interests solely for the purpose of being faithful to the principles of a free, open market. It is a universal truth that external pressure helps trigger policy change in any country.

Furthermore, Japan is often criticized for “always following the United States.” The fact is that Japan, as an ally of the United States, shares fundamental values and ideas with the United States, and as such, its foreign policy naturally moves in a direction similar to that of the United States.

The Japanese decision-making process has been described as an accumulation of slow actions based on precedents. According to this view, due to general restraint in its foreign policy decisions and other various considerations, Japan has refrained from unnecessarily overturning precedents. This reflects a pattern of behavior that exists throughout the Japanese bureaucracy, but is not necessarily unique to Japan.

That said, many point out that Japan’s post-Cold War diplomacy has outgrown its passivity. Some people argue that Japan is becoming more and more self-confident as the Japanese people seek a more assertive role in the international community. Others argue that Japanese politicians have finally begun to widen their scope of interest from domestic affairs to international ones.

Are these arguments valid or is it yet premature to make such conclusions? In order to provide some insight to the old and new question: “Is Japanese diplomacy reactive or proactive?” this essay will focus primarily on some aspects of recent Japanese foreign policy formulation toward the Asia-Pacific region. This essay will describe some key components of Japanese foreign policy, which drive Japanese diplomacy in a more proactive direction in the post-Cold War period.

Chapter 1 examines four major factors that define Japanese diplomacy: public opinion and the international environment, politicians, bureaucrats, and the United States. Chapters 2 and 3 offer two critical case studies which help to illustrate and provide insight into Japan’s proactive foreign policy: the Cambodian peace-building process, and the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Finally, some lessons are drawn in Chapter 4.

Chapter 1: The Mobilizing Elements in Japanese Diplomacy

Public Opinion and the International Political Environment

In the early 1990s, a group of American “revisionist” scholars determined that Japan is a nation that stubbornly refuses to change and will not take any action without pressure from the United States. Indeed, the Japanese themselves tend to prefer a “natural” process of evolution as opposed to “artificial” maneuvers that are manifested as initiative taking. They also consider themselves better at conforming than at making unilateral decisions. However, this does not necessarily mean that Japan will never change. In fact, in its modern history, Japan has always preferred to change to conform to the standards of the rest of the world. The evolutionary process of Japanese public opinion on foreign relations in the post World War II period stands out as a good example of this approach to change.

Japan and the post-Cold War Period

At the outset of the post-Cold War era, Japan faced three major security issues. The first issue was how to establish a new security order in the Asia-Pacific region. After the inauguration of the Clinton Administration, the United States embarked upon the exercise of reviewing its military posture (the so-called “Nye Initiative”). This review later led to the periodic issuance of the East Asia Strategic Report (EASR). In the meantime, the Japanese and U.S. governments jointly began to redefine the U.S.-Japan security framework, resulting in the U.S.-Japan Security Declaration in 1996 and the revision of the Defense Guidelines in 1997. Paralleling this bilateral endeavor, Japan played an independent role in helping to establish the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) to foster confidence building in the Asia-Pacific region, and complement regional bilateral security arrangements.

The second major security issue was a legacy of the Cold War, and concerned the restoration of a stable peace in Cambodia. This was a prerequisite to stability in Southeast Asia as a whole, and included as a goal, the successful fulfillment of the so-called “Fukuda Doctrine” (see below).

The third vital Japanese security issue was a remnant of the Second World War. Along with the Northern Territories issue vis-à-vis Russia, normalization of relations with North Korea remained a problem for Japan. Japan sought to address this issue in the 1990s, but prospects for a solution seemed remote as of 1999 due to North Korea’s suspicious nuclear ambition and unilateral suspension of normalization negotiations with Japan.

The passage of time and the beginning of new era are not the only explanations for the emergence of a more proactive Japanese foreign policy. In fact, the Japanese public simultaneously developed an awareness that Japan should play a more active role in international affairs over a long period of time. Thus, it could be argued that the end of the Cold War merely happened to coincide with a time of heightened awareness among the Japanese people about foreign affairs.

Since foreign countries began to recognize Japan as an “economic superpower” in the 1970s, Japan has been called upon to play an increasingly active role in the international community. These heightened demands gradually began to sink in with the Japanese.

In 1977, Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda presented his long-term vision of Japan-Southeast Asia relations. In retrospect, the ensuing “Fukuda Doctrine” was the first attempt by Japan to present a proactive foreign policy stance since the end of the Second World War

At the end of his policy speech in Manila, he summarized his views.

  • First, Japan, a nation committed to peace, rejects the role of a military power, and on that basis is resolved to contribute to the peace and prosperity of Southeast Asia, and the world community.

Second, Japan, as a true friend of the countries of Southeast Asia, will do its best in consolidating the relationship of mutual confidence and trust based on “heart-to-heart” understanding with these countries, in wide-ranging fields covering not only political and economic areas but also social and cultural areas.

Third, Japan will be an equal partner of ASEAN and its member countries, and cooperate positively with them in their own efforts to strengthen their solidarity and resilience, together with other nations of the like mind outside the region, while aiming at fostering a relationship based on mutual understanding with the nations of Indochina, and will thus contribute to the building of peace and prosperity throughout Southeast Asia.

Although this doctrine called for “heart-to-heart” friendship between Japanese and Southeast Asian peoples, it did not go as far as to suggest a political role for Japan. In so doing, Japan cautiously avoided comparisons to the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” associated with imperialist Japan. The Fukuda Doctrine signaled a departure from the reactive or low-postured diplomacy that had continued since the end of the Second World War, and may be summarized as the application of the emergent public sentiment in the 1970s.

Japan maps its future course

Upon entering the 1980s, the Japanese government began a serious internal discussion of the direction of its “international contribution” based upon its partnership with the United States. In 1980, when the United States was deeply troubled by the Teheran embassy crisis, Japanese Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira described the state of relations with the United States by publicly saying “Friends in need are friends in deed” at the White House after meeting with President Carter. This was an epoch-making remark in the development of Japan-U.S. bilateral relations. In 1981, Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki followed suit, when he and U.S. President Ronald Reagan issued a joint Communiqué and used the word “alliance” for the first time in history to describe the Japan-U.S. bilateral relationship.

Throughout the 1980s, Japan continued to explore the means to play a more active role in the international community as an allied partner of the United States. One of the solutions was the May 1988 announcement of the three so-called “Takeshita Principles.” He said:

First, the strengthening of cooperation to achieve peace. As you may know, Japan is firmly committed to the furtherance of world peace, and its Constitution does not permit it to extend any military cooperation. This does not mean, however, that Japan should stand idly by with regard to international peace. I believe that Japan, from a political and moral viewpoint, should extend cooperation to the utmost of its ability. I will pursue ” Cooperation for Peace” as a new approach toward enhancing Japan’s contributions to the maintenance and reinforcement of international peace. This will include positive participation in diplomatic efforts, the dispatch of necessary personnel and the provision of financial cooperation aiming at the resolution of regional conflicts.

The second pillar is the strengthening of international cultural exchange. . .

The third pillar is the expansion of Japan’s official
development assistance.

The 1980s was a critical time for Japan in formulating its policy for the Asia-Pacific region. The government remained rather cautious throughout the decade, sensing it yet too premature for the government to engage in proactive foreign policy. In retrospect, it was during this time that the incremental shift of public opinion became noticed. The Takeshita Principles presented in 1988 were well received by the public.

Following the Takeshita Principles, Japan entered the post-Cold War era of the 1990s. In 1990 in his State of the Union address, Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu specifically described the Japan’s role by using the words “participation to construct international order.” Occasional messages from the political leadership guided the Japanese public’s view of Japan’s role in the international arena. It was a time when the expectations of the international community coincided with a heightened Japanese awareness of international affairs. According to a public opinion poll on diplomacy, the share of the Japanese people who thought “It is Japan’s duty as a major player in the international community to promote the internationalization of Japan” went up steadily from 43.1% in 1989 to 45.7% in 1993. During the same period, those who supported “Japan’s political contribution to the settlement of regional disputes” went up from 12.9% to 28.8%.

A negative perception of Japanese diplomacy may persist, but Japan has faced many challenges in the field of foreign policy after the Cold War period, and its proactive diplomacy began to become more and more visible in the 1990s. Indeed, Japan faced a number of restraints in terms of diplomatic choices and actions available due to its geopolitical position, national strength, and the historical background of its relations with its neighboring countries-and these factors cannot be overlooked. However, by the 1990s, politicians and their political parties favored a proactive diplomacy backed by steadily growing public awareness about foreign affairs.

Interaction between Politics and Diplomacy


The ideological rivalry among major political parties that existed for over forty years lost its meaning after the collapse of the Soviet Union and East European bloc. Political leaders in Japan began to seek new a political alignment. In the process, foreign policy issues often played a catalytic role in connecting politicians or political parties. These issues included frontier states in Asia like North Korea, Cambodia and Myanmar. For example, in 1990, Shin Kanemaru, a senior LDP politician, and Makoto Tanabe, the chairman of the Japan Socialist Party, jointly led a bipartisan delegation to North Korea. This ignited government level interaction between Japan and North Korea that paved the way toward normalization talks. The most significant aspect of the trip to Pyongyang in terms of politics was the fact that the members of this delegation served as a driving force behind the historic political realignments in the 1990s. In retrospect, the trip played an important role in solidifying unity and friendship among politicians from different political parties.

In 1991, when Cambodian issues began to attract attention in Japan, Diet members launched the bipartisan Parliamentary League on Japan-Cambodia Peace and Friendship. The group aimed to confirm members’ views on the Cambodian peace and U.N. peacekeeping operations, and to work toward common action. Once again, current foreign policy issues played a catalytic role in uniting like-minded politicians from different political parties. A few months later, in a move strongly supported by founding members of the League, a new political party (the New Frontier Party) was established.

In August 1993, the “1955 System”-dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) since 1955-came to an end with the inauguration of an eight-party coalition government led by Morihiro Hosokawa, founder of the Japan New Party.

Did this change in political structure from de facto one-party politics (“1955 System”) to a multi-party system have any impact upon Japanese diplomacy? Did it give the Japanese political leadership new incentive to play the field of foreign affairs? Answers to these questions are found in a new dynamism between politics and diplomacy that has characterized the political landscape of Japan since the beginning of the 1990s.

Under the circumstances of the Cold War, active policy-oriented discussions at the Diet were rare, as ideological differences among the political parties overwhelmed substantive debate. However, with the end of the Cold War, ideological conflict began to disappear, political realignment emerged, and as a consequence, non-ideological and pragmatic discussions of national security affairs finally began in earnest.

For example, discussions on revising the 1978 U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines have been active since September 1997. In January 1999, the formation of a coalition between the LDP and the Liberal Party headed by Ichiro Ozawa activated further discussion. Opposition parties joined in the practical discussions, and theoretical debates were held in the Diet in the early part of 1999. This clearly demonstrates how the political realignment process of the 1990s helped instigate meaningful foreign policy debate. Due to realignment, in the 1990s virtually every political party has been involved in the policy making process on national security issues as a governing party. Accordingly, every political party found it awkward to target outright opposition on this key issue.

Furthermore, there was no pre-fixed party line on foreign policy. Many of the newly emergent parties desperately needed to expand their support base and did not want to limit it by adopting a clear-cut foreign policy platform. As such, the party-level discussions as well as the parliamentary ones were, of themselves, an important part of the policy-making process for those emerging political parties.

In addition, issue-oriented activities by Diet members, which differ from traditional Diet diplomacy, became more prominent.

These activities continue to help lead Japan’s diplomacy in a proactive direction. For example, The Parliamentary League on the Environment centered around former Prime Ministers Noboru Takeshita and Ryutaro Hashimoto, and played a key role in fostering a more assertive Japanese government position during the Environmental Summit held in Rio De Janeiro in 1992. The recent establishment of the “Parliamentary Study Group on Japan’s Contribution to the United Nations” by young Diet members of the LDP is another example. Frustrated by the slow progress on Japan’s bid for permanent Security Council membership, the group is aiming to influence the international community as well as Japanese government policy.

Style and leadership-The role of prime ministers and public diplomacy

It is conventional wisdom that during the Cold War, Japanese political leaders were passive, reactive and “faceless” compared to other foreign heads of state. But in the post-Cold War era, even Japanese political leaders were not allowed to sit back idly and remain “faceless.”

Political leaders have become more and more indispensable in stating Japan’s position in the international community. The Japanese people have begun to pay more attention to specific foreign policy issues since the Cold War ended. As the number of foreign policy issues becoming the topics of daily conversation among the people increases, political leaders are more obliged than before to assume responsibility for “public diplomacy”-explaining their policy outlook to the people.

Recent prime ministers have donned their own unique styles and have helped eliminate the impression that Japanese diplomacy is passive in both appearance and substance. More frequent exposure to the public has required that prime ministers act more proactively. Consequently, communication and consultation between prime ministers and the bureaucracy became closer and more frequent than before.

In tracing the foreign policies of successive administrations, it is possible to identify a major foreign policy task for each. The biggest challenge for the Kaifu cabinet (1989-1991) was how to respond to U.N. Security Council Resolution 678, which called for “appropriate assistance” from Japan to support peace-restoring activities in the Persian Gulf region. The Kaifu cabinet’s contribution was severely criticized by the United States for its Gulf War contribution being “too little, too late.” Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu decided to send Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1991 in response to Resolution 678. This historic decision marked the first mission abroad for the Self-Defense Force since its founding after the Second World War. Prime Minister Kaifu also tried very hard in vain to gain public support for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) legislation in the Diet. The Kaifu cabinet also took a series of diplomatic initiatives to restore peace in Cambodia, which are discussed in greater detail below.

The Miyazawa administration (1991-1993), having learned lessons from the Gulf War, passed UNPKO legislation after lengthy deliberation in the Diet and first applied it to the PKO in Cambodia in 1992. This was a case of belated but proactive foreign policy application. Prime Minister Miyazawa, the last prime minister under the “1955 System,” chaired the G7 Summit in Tokyo in 1993. With his exceptional English language ability, his chairmanship was highly acclaimed by the leaders of the other participating countries as the work of “a real statesman.”

The Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) entered the final phase of negotiation shortly after the inauguration of the Hosokawa administration (1993-1994), the first coalition government since the end of the “1955 System.” Prime Minister Hosokawa faced a tough political decision over the exceptional measures for the tariffication on rice at the end of 1993. His prompt decision saved Japan from falling victim to criticism from other parts of the world.

Prime Minister Hosokawa made full use of the mass media, frequently presiding over press conferences and broadcasting policy announcements nationwide in order to show visible “change” to the people.

The biggest foreign policy challenge for the Murayama administration (1994-1996) was how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear aspirations. Prime Minister Murayama engaged in proactive leadership, which was all the more impressive as his party, the Japan Socialist Party, had recognized only North Korea and not South Korea for many years before he took office. After exploring a cooperative framework among Japan, the United States and South Korea, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO)8 was established in March 1995.

The Hashimoto administration (1996-1998) took power when Okinawa was outraged by the rape of a schoolgirl by U.S. military personnel in the fall of the previous year. The issue of U.S. military bases in Okinawa was the biggest policy issue dividing public opinion. Prime Minister Hashimoto and President Clinton jointly took the lead to announce the Japan-U.S. Security Declaration in April 1996, paving the way to conclude the Japan-U.S. Defense Guidelines in 1997.

Prime Minister Hashimoto used various public appearances as opportunities to present diplomatic initiatives. A week before his visit to China, Prime Minister Hashimoto clearly stated Japan’s position of not supporting Taiwanese independence, laying the groundwork for his successful China visit. In July of the same year, Prime Minister Hashimoto announced the “Hashimoto Doctrine” of Japan’s Russia policy, and thereby laid the foundation for a successful summit with Russian President Yeltsin in November, giving a boost to the territorial issue thereafter.

One can argue that some previous prime ministers like Nobusuke Kishi or Eisaku Sato assumed great leadership roles during their tenures. However, after the Cold War ended, the prime ministers’ role changed in terms of public diplomacy. The burden on prime ministers and politicians to express their views to the people of Japan increased. The Japanese people began to pay more attention to foreign affairs, forcing the government to win public support when pursuing its foreign policy. Interactions between political leaders and voters are increasing and successful management of public diplomacy by political leaders has become crucial. This role can never be assumed by the bureaucracy.

All of the issues mentioned above are currently topics of nation-wide discussion in Japan. Nowadays, public sentiment indicates that persuasive power and leadership on foreign policy issues is required of political leaders. Japanese prime ministers in the 1990s tried to conduct their diplomatic duties in a proactive manner in substance as well as appearance. Though the average term of office of the prime ministers during this period was relatively brief by Western standards, their personalities came to the forefront as summit diplomacy grew increasingly important. Although there was much progress to be made on the matter, Japan began to strive hard to overcome the criticisms of its “faceless diplomacy.”

Administrative reform (“gyou-kaku”)

As noted above, politicians and bureaucrats began to interact with each other much more frequently to attain shared goals in the 1990s. Facing the newly emerging political environment both within and outside of Japan, politicians and bureaucrats alike tried to make the most flexible use of existing policy-making mechanisms. In other words, the system itself remained intact as a bottom-up policy-making apparatus, under which bureaucrats formulated national policies. Thus, the bureaucracy continued to lead an unchanged system throughout the 1990s.

But recent administrative reform initiatives promoted by the Hashimoto and Obuchi administrations may drastically change the foreign policy decision-making system. After the reform, politicians are expected to share more responsibility for, and to have a greater influence on the policy-making process. The legislation relating to the central government administrative reforms are expected to go into effect in January 2001.

The following points in this reform draft may change the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats by allowing substantial opportunity for politicians to take the helm in foreign policy formulation. The reform measures include:

  1. Increasing political posts in the Ministries and Agencies, including the introduction of deputy-ministers, thus enabling politicians to take part in the process of policy formulation.

  2. Limiting the role of bureaucrats in the Diet debate session with the aim of stimulating debate among politicians.

  3. Increasing the number of policy adviser posts for the prime minister.

  4. Empowering the prime minister to propose important policy guidance at the cabinet meeting.

A new breed of policy-makers (“seisaku-shinjinrui”)

In the 1990s, while political reorganization was in full swing, strong-minded and interest-driven politicians began to appear. They were relatively young individuals, mainly in their 30s and 40s, many of whom have studied abroad and are capable of making themselves understood in foreign languages. These days, such politicians are called “seisaku-shinjinrui”(the new breed of policy-makers). In the past, it was obvious that foreign policy did not generate votes in Japan. Since the end of the Cold War, however, with deepening economic interdependence and greater supranational problems-such as the Asian economic crisis, U.N. peacekeeping operations, nuclear proliferation, global environment, terrorism and human rights-such issues are of increasing concern to the common people. Although it is still debatable whether or not foreign policy leads to more votes, the rate at which this “new breed” is entering politics in order to conduct diplomacy appears to be increasingly steadily.

Policy-making Function of the Bureaucracy

In the previous sections we saw that politicians and political leaders began to play a more proactive role in the foreign policy field in the 1990s. The political realignment process served as a driving force in that direction. Successive prime ministers and their cabinets in the post Cold War period have had a more positive role to play, and have tried more enthusiastically than before to deliver policy direction to the public.

However, this does not necessarily mean that Japanese politicians alone are taking the lead in foreign policy-making, with the bureaucracy merely following suit. In fact, the bureaucracy has managed to function rather proactively in close coordination with the political sector.

The role of MOFA

As Japan entered a new era of uncertainty, the role and responsibility assumed by the bureaucrats has become more important than ever. In Japan, the number of policy staff for politicians and the Diet is definitely lacking, and the activities of think tanks and academia are not yet influential. (Whereas in the United States these activities can influence public opinion, and affect government decision-making.) Consequently, the bureaucracy, centered at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is primarily responsible for foreign policy from its inception to implementation. Thus, if Japan’s diplomacy is labeled “reactive,” then blame should be placed on the MOFA-centered bureaucracy. Likewise, if it is proactive in nature, praise should be directed at the MOFA-centered bureaucracy.

The bottom-up style of Japan’s policy-making process is both time- and energy-consuming. On the one hand, MOFA is required to always be on alert so that it might present convincing policy options to politicians on an issue-by-issue basis. On the other hand, in the post-Cold War era, the political leadership is always expected to make sound decisions and provide proper answers with correct timing on a day-to-day basis. The voices of political leaders are decisive in defining foreign policy direction. Thus, politicians and MOFA officials have become mutually interdependent, unable to escape the feeling that they are in the same boat, heading toward a common but uncertain destiny.

Still, proactive diplomacy is more often than not the brainchild of MOFA itself. For example, it is usually MOFA that dares to introduce new thoughts that contradict existing policy.

A typical example was the shift in Official Development Assistance (ODA) policy. Japan had planned and implemented its ODA policy based solely upon the requests of recipient countries. Japan’s ODA policy had deliberately taken a reactive posture rather than a proactive one. But in the 1980s, on a step-by-step basis, strategic thinking was introduced into ODA policy. In 1991, immediately after the end of the Cold War, MOFA issued four guiding principles aimed at making more strategic use of its ODA. This decision was a clear departure from its longstanding ODA policy.

Japan’s shift in its policy toward Cambodia regarding taking a more equidistant position when confronting Cambodian factions was another case, which will be further examined in the following chapter.

It is sometimes vital to not seek policy shifts when both international and domestic societies are in a state of flux. The frequent transition of governments in the 1990s provided an excellent opportunity for political parties and leaders to propose new diplomatic initiatives upon coming into power while global circumstances were yet unclear. The role of the bureaucracy was tested to determine whether it could secure continuity of the government and consistency in its foreign policy every time the opposition came to power in search of change. Surprisingly, there were very few examples of such shifts in foreign policy.

When the Hosokawa administration was inaugurated in August 1993, there was some change in style, but Hosokawa did not make any explicit change in the existing foreign policy other than presenting a more specific view on the issue of “past history.”

While there was one visible controversy between MOFA and the prime minister over Japan’s permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council, this was a tactical difference rather than a philosophical one. MOFA wanted to assert Japan’s desire for permanent membership in the Security Council more explicitly in accordance with the decision by the predecessor Miyazawa cabinet, while Hosokawa preferred a more cautious approach.

The Murayama coalition administration, which was centered on the Japan Socialist Party [JSP; later changed to the Socialist Democratic Party (SDP)] started a year later. In this case, it was the JSP, not the government, which significantly changed its foreign policy platform after intensive discussion between the new prime minister and the bureaucracy. In a reversal of long-held JSP policy, Prime Minister Murayama officially endorsed the constitutionality of the self-defense Forces (SDF) and the maintenance of the Japan-U.S. security alliance at the outset of his administration. The Clinton administration appeared to have serious concerns over the legitimacy of a “socialist government” at the beginning of its inauguration. However, such concerns were proved groundless when Prime Minister Murayama stated both in his telephone conversation with President Clinton (July 1st, 1994) and the bilateral summit meeting in Naples (July 8th, 1994) that:

  1. the friendship between Japan and the U.S. was the foundation of Japanese diplomacy;
  1. his administration intended to maintain the Japan-U.S. security system; and

  2. his government would follow the policies of the preceding administration.

Such policy consistency was certainly beneficial, but the reasons behind following the precedent were not always clear. Frankly, a lack of policy coordination within coalitions before coming into power was another hidden reason to follow precedent. Coalition government members covered a wide spectrum of policy opinions, and newly created coalition governments always found it extremely difficult to make an agreed policy platform. MOFA was often asked to intervene in policy formulation for new coalitions. This was yet another proactive measure to help Japan’s foreign policy stay on course.

Chances for proactive diplomacy

Sometimes a chance for proactive diplomacy appears out of the blue. Other times such initiatives are planned out carefully by MOFA bureaucrats as mentioned above. Proactive diplomacy can happen at various times: during a head of state’s visit, at an international conference, during the passage of a U.N. resolution or with the emergence of an unexpected incident. But whatever the case may be, the initial response comes from the bureaucracy while implementation is carried out in close coordination between the political leadership and the bureaucracy.

Global, regional or even sub-regional consultations have become appropriate fora within which to address issues such as nuclear proliferation, arms transfers, racial conflicts, international finance etc. In the 1990s, the number of ministerial or summit-level international conferences that called for high profile Japanese participation greatly increased. For example, various kinds of G7 (G8) meetings, the G8-Summit, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), APEC, the ASEAN-Post Ministerial Conference (PMC), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Quadrilateral Trade Ministers’ Talks (U.S., EU, Japan and Canada) are cases in point. They are either annual, bi-annual, or semi-annual events which the bureaucracy tends to make use of to take well-planned proactive initiatives. For instance, the Japanese government’s proposal to establish ARF was first presented on the occasion of the ASEAN-PMC in 1991.

Taking diplomatic initiatives at bilateral summits is also common although the government tends to utilize bilateral summits to solve outstanding bilateral issues rather than to conduct proactive diplomacy. Looking at the recent history of Japanese foreign policy, it is possible to find clear examples of proactive diplomacy. For example, it was then foreign minister Taro Nakayama’s visit to Thailand (January 1990) and Thai Prime Minister Chatichai’s visit to Japan (April 1990) that triggered the development of Japanese policy toward Cambodia. Additionally, progress in territorial talks between Japan and Russia was initiated at the bilateral summits in Krasnoyarsk, Russia (1997) and in Kawana, Japan (1998).

As the international community pays more attention to transnational and global issues in the post-Cold War period, opportunities for multilateral collaboration have emerged more often than before. A nation hosting a multilateral conference must take the lead by proposing creative ideas and striving to make consensus the goal of the conference. Indeed, creativity and diplomatic skill is tested.

Supported by a growing public awareness of international affairs, Japan has tried to attract international gatherings on global and regional issues such as development assistance, the environment, nuclear disarmament and arms control. In 1989, Japan invited the U.N. Disarmament Conference to Kyoto and in 1991 hosted a meeting in Tokyo to discuss the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines. Furthermore, when the U.N. arms register system was established in 1992, Japan hosted the Tokyo Workshop to improve transparency in arms. On the peacemaking front, the Tokyo Meeting on Cambodia was held in 1990. In September 1991, Japan took the initiative to host a conference aimed at promoting democratization in Mongolia. Additionally, Japan hosted the Tokyo Meeting for Assistance to the Former Soviet Union in October 1992, as well as the Tokyo Special Session on Partnership for Democracy and Development in March 1993. As a part of its efforts in regional economic development, Japan hosted the second meeting of the International Conference on the Reconstruction of Cambodia in 1994 after chairing the first meeting in Paris in 1993. Japan also hosted the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) twice, in both 1993 and in 1998. On global issues, Japan, for example, hosted the Tokyo Conference on Anti-personnel Landmines in 1997, and on its own initiative, hosted the Kyoto Conference on Climate Change. Promoting and hosting those international conferences signaled the intention of the Japanese government to enhance national awareness of current international affairs.

The Gulf War was a typical example of Japanese proactive diplomacy being triggered by a change in international circumstances. For instance, Japan dispatched its Maritime Self Defense Forces’ minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1991 for the first time in history. Moreover, the Gulf War ignited heated debate over U.N. peacekeeping operations that led to the introduction of the U.N. Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) Act two years later in 1992.

Another example of an external event triggering proactive diplomacy is the Obuchi cabinet’s swift decision to purchase communication satellites and to accelerate the process of joint R&D with the United States for theater missile defense (TMD) systems after the Taepodong launch by North Korea in August 1998.

The United States

Does the United States remain the primary source of “external pressure” on Japan? Will the United States continue to be a country that Japan “blindly follows?” A short answer to these questions might be that the scope of cooperation between Japan and the United States is growing wider and wider and that their bilateral cooperation has become more complementary than ever before. “Global Partnership”-the slogan coined in conjunction with President Bush’s visit to Japan in 1992-correctly reflects the reality. The notion that “Japan blindly follows the United States” is no longer applicable.

Allied partnership

Each post-Second World War decade of Japan-U.S. relations was characterized by a different trend: U.S. occupation of Japan in late 1940s and early 1950s; development of a Japan-U.S. security framework during the 1950s and 1960s; and the debate over Japan’s role in the 1970s. But in each case, American foreign policy was a decisive factor in determining Japanese foreign policy direction. The United States was the leader among the industrialized democracies and accordingly Japan relied heavily upon the United States’ guidance for its foreign policy formulation.

The post-Cold War world faces new types of threats such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation and ethnic conflict. The U.S. capacity to address these threats has been in relative decline, which is one of the reasons that the United States began to demand more burden-sharing from Japan in the 1990s. The nature of the Japan-U.S. relationship had become more security-oriented and more regional and global in scope. Consequently, Japan found more room to execute a more proactive diplomacy. Whenever Japan pursues a diplomatic initiative, policy coordination with the United States is crucial in order to ensure its credibility and effectiveness.

Policy coordination between Japan and the United States

In retrospect, Japan and the United States coined many catch phrases trying to describe their bilateral relationship in the post World War II period:

  • “Equal Partnership” (1961)
  • “Japan-U.S. cooperative relations in the world” (1977)
  • “Japan-U.S. Alliance” (1981)
  • “Global Partnership” (1989)

Practically speaking, some of the phrases were no more than a reference to the future nature of the relationship. But after the end of the Cold War, all those slogans became a single reality. Japan and the United States started working together on security issues in the Asia-Pacific region, on international disputes and conflicts such as the Cambodian peace process, Middle East peace, Bosnia, and finally, on transnational issues such as the environment, HIV, and women in development (WID) under the framework of the Japan-U.S. Common Agenda. The Japan-U.S. relationship became more or less an “equal, cooperative, global, allied partnership.”

Japanese and U.S. views on international issues can be categorized into four groups:

  1. Close agreement: Most of the issues in which both countries have interests belong to this category. Examples include global issues, applying the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, and the Common Agenda.
  1. The U.S. seeks Japanese cooperation: The United States, as the unipolar power in the world, now asks for Japanese cooperation in foreign policy issues more often than before. Japan is expected to complement American policies even though the issues may be somewhat remote to Japan. Examples include activities in working groups on the Middle East peace process, financial assistance for Bosnia, and assistance for Eastern European countries.

  2. Japan and the U.S. differ: Examples include their respective positions toward the military regime in Myanmar and their policies toward Iran. In this case, Japan either conducts its own foreign policy, disagreeing with the U.S. policy, or respects the U.S. position and refrains from taking its own initiative.

  3. Japan seeks U.S. cooperation: Japan takes the initiative to ask for U.S. support. Examples of this category include the issue of the expansion of the permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council, and the resolution of the Northern Territories issue.

Cases (a) and (b) are traditional patterns of U.S.-Japan cooperation. Japan usually plays an appropriate role under American leadership. If Japan does not clearly explain the national interests at stake on these cases, the Japanese government tends to be criticized as either “blindly following the United States” or acting solely because of “external pressure.”

In contrast, the frequency of cases (c) and (d) has been increasing in the 1990s as Japan’s political role expands. In these instances, it is easier to explain the intention of the Japanese government and thus it appears more proactive. Case (c) in particular is likely to be promoted as a U.S.-Japan confrontation because the differences between the two countries tend to be emphasized in the media.

The Early 1990s- A Unique Period for Japanese Foreign Policy

As described in this chapter, the early 1990s provided Japan with a unique opportunity to seek out instances and issues in which to engage in proactive diplomacy. By the end of the 1980s, the time was ripe for the Japanese public as a whole to accept a mission in which the government would play a more proactive diplomatic role. By the early 1990s, politics had entered into a historical phase of political realignment that enabled politicians and political parties to adopt more creative and pragmatic thinking in terms of foreign policy formulation. The bureaucracy stood ready to meet the challenge Japan was about to face vis-à-vis an uncertain world. The United States began to seek more burden sharing with its allies including Japan. In this historic post-Cold War era, these elements were combined to allow Japan to search for proactive diplomacy.

It is possible to identify specific foreign policy cases in which Japan dealt proactively in the early 1990s. One addressed here is the Japanese proactive involvement in the Cambodian peace process. Another is the Japanese contribution to the birth and development of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). The Japanese initiative on the Cambodian peace process falls into the rarely seen category (c) of Japan-U.S. diplomatic relations. Japanese involvement in ARF falls into category (d).

Using the end of the Cold War to mark a turning point, the restoration of peace in Cambodia represents the settlement of the past, whereas ARF is representative of the forward-looking mentality of the post-cold war period. The Fukuda Doctrine, which outlined the future of relations between Japan and Southeast Asia, will only be complete when Japan-Indochina relations expand in substance. The conceptual origin of ARF grew from the need to stabilize the fluid and unclear security environment of the Asia-Pacific region in the post-cold war period.

In the case of Cambodia, the objective was peace making, and including the post-peace era, peacekeeping too. It was a “competitive diplomacy” in which competition took place among the interested countries inside and outside of Asia regarding know-how and the capability to attain a durable peace in Cambodia.

ARF is the attempt to foster mutual trust among the countries in Asia-Pacific region. The nature of this issue was “preventive diplomacy”-to prevent future conflict. The approach taken by Japan was not a dynamic one. Rather, Japan aimed at systematically expanding and developing ASEAN’s functions by respecting ASEAN’s initiative.

In both cases, relations with the United States were a significant factor for Japan in its pursuit of conducting its own proactive diplomacy. The policy coordination with the United States on the topic of Cambodia was relatively straightforward and substantive, and sets the precedent of policy coordination between Japan and the United States. In case of ARF, the challenge for Japan was how to engage the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. Particularly, ARF tested whether Japan could act as a bridge between the countries on both sides of the Pacific.

Chapter 2: Case Study #1-Cambodia

Japan’s policy toward Cambodia was the first instance of Japanese proactive diplomacy in the 1990s.

All the major countries of Asia and the world including the United States, China, the Soviet Union, France, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia were involved in the peace process in Cambodia. It was the historical juncture at the end of the Cold War that allowed such unprecedented cooperation. The trial and error basis by which Japanese proactive diplomacy was carried out in Cambodia presents good material for examining the future of Japanese diplomacy.

The Situation in the Late 1980s

Civil war in Cambodia: Not just a proxy war

The civil war that resulted from the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in December 1978 reached a stalemate by the late 1980s. The Heng Samrin “puppet” regime installed by Vietnam drastically expanded its forces soon after the war’s outbreak and effectively controlled more than 80% of the territory by the early 1980s. As the war dragged on, Cambodian people on both sides grew tired of fighting. By the late 1980s, fighting occurred only sporadically aside from the seasonal military offensives carried out by either side.

Indeed, the civil war in Cambodia exhibited the characteristics of a proxy war between the East and the West. The Soviet Union backed the Heng Samrin regime and Vietnam. China supported the Khmer Rouge militarily, financially and ideologically. The United States and the ASEAN nations were supporting the Cambodian non-communist resistance (NCR) composed of the Sihanouk (royalist) and Son San factions.

However, the war was equally a confrontation between groups within Cambodia. The war was also strongly influenced by the historical ethnic rivalry between the Cambodians and the Vietnamese. It was naive to assume that the Cambodian civil war would automatically be solved with the cessation of hostilities between the East-West factions.

By the late 1980s, major powers in the region were also tired of being involved in the conflict in Cambodia. Under Deng Xiaoping, Beijing began reconsidering the nature of Chinese support for the Khmer Rouge, which was a direct ideological descendant of radical Maoism, and therefore suspect in the eyes of China’s new leadership. Furthermore, continuing support for the Khmer Rouge after the Tiananmen incident was seen in Beijing as leaving a doubly negative impression of China on the international community.

The Soviet Union, facing economic difficulties, was shrinking military and economic assistance to its allies in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.) The waves of democratization were whirling in the Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union itself was facing collapse.

For Vietnam under the Doi Moi policy, the Vietnamese version of Perestroika, reconstruction of its own economy was its top priority. Accordingly, Vietnam was trying to make the Cambodian issue an “internal one” so that Hanoi could rid itself of the problem. Accordingly, in September 1989, Vietnam declared that it had completed its military withdrawal from Cambodia.

The influence of the United States also had its limits. The United States supported the non-communist resistance and did not have any leverage upon the Heng Samrin regime and Vietnam.

Furthermore, the United States had not yet fully healed from the aftermath of Vietnam War.

Japan’s situation

Unlike the United States and the Soviet Union, because of several factors, Japan was well positioned to actively promote Cambodian peace. As a part of its policy of placing importance on its relations with ASEAN, Japan was increasing its focus on Indochina, which was geographically close to Japan. As explained in the previous chapter, there emerged a growing awareness among the Japanese people that Japan should make a greater contribution to the international community. Because Cambodia was an Asian issue, information was fairly abundant, and thus, it was easier to understand the situation. Moreover, fortunately for Japan, there was no lingering animosity from World War II between Japan and Indochina. Even better yet, Cambodia was not an issue in which Japan had its vital national interest at stake. This issue was unlikely to be politicized and the number of the interested politicians was also limited.

“It will be a problem if we are not invited.”

In the summer of 1989, Indonesia and France jointly called for the first Cambodia peace conference in Paris, the Paris International Conference on Cambodia (PICC). The biggest question for the Japanese government was whether or not Japan would be invited. Throughout the 1980s, Japan kept a low profile in its Cambodia policy, supporting ASEAN’s position. Because Southeast Asia was a region where the memories of Japanese militarism during World War II were very much alive, Japan was hesitant to play any political role beyond the minimum level necessarily.

When it was revealed that the agenda for the PICC included post-peace assistance for rehabilitation and reconstruction, it became clear that Japanese economic assistance was expected. Japan had emphasized the importance of assistance for reconstruction since the early 1980s at almost every gathering of the ASEAN-PMC. For example, Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe stated the Government’s position in 1984:

“[W]hen true peace has been restored to Cambodia, Japan will be prepared to render as much economic and technical cooperation as possible for reconstruction in the Indochinese countries, as it has previously announced.”

In 1987, Foreign Minister Tadashi Kuranari reiterated the long-standing Japanese commitment:

“I wish to reaffirm Japan’s intention to play a role in connection with each of these aspects by extending assistance and cooperation commensurate with its resources.”

The Japanese Government was concerned about a negative domestic response if, in this international setting, the political voice of Japan would be restricted while expectations for financial contribution remained. “Cooperation to achieve peace” existed as the first pillar of Takeshita’s Three Principles, along with international cultural exchange (the second pillar) and official development assistance (the third pillar). Influential and vocal politicians such as former Deputy Prime Minister Michio Watanabe and former Foreign Minister Koji Kakizawa began to pay greater attention to Indochina. It was the sense of crisis reflected in the words “it will be a problem if we are not invited” that triggered Japan to launch its proactive diplomatic effort in the Cambodian peace process.

The Paris International Conference on Cambodia (PICC)

Thanks to assertive diplomatic maneuvering beginning in spring of 1989, Japan was invited to the Conference. Japan was also elected co-chair of the Third Committee, which addressed post-peace assistance for reconstruction. Based on a Japanese proposal, establishment of an International Conference on the Reconstruction of Cambodia (ICORC) was also adopted. However, with regard to the power sharing of the government in the transitional period-the core issue of the Cambodian peace process-no compromise was seen between the Vietnam backed regime of Hun Sen and the three-faction anti-Vietnamese coalition, National Government of Cambodia (NGC). Hun Sen insisted on fifty-fifty power sharing. On the other hand, the NGC, led by Prince Sihanouk and supported by the United States, China, ASEAN and Japan, insisted on equal 25% power-sharing among the four factions. The peace conference that was held mid-summer in Paris concluded with an atmosphere of unbreakable impasse. All the delegations that participated in the conference left the conference room feeling pessimistic.

The Dawn of Proactive Diplomacy

The springboard for proactive diplomacy -The positive side

Japan was able to gain certain satisfaction by being able to participate in the PICC. Also, as a major byproduct of its participation, Japan became ready to ponder the next step that needed to be taken. “Could Japan go beyond being a mere participant in the peace conference? Can Japan make some diplomatic contribution to the peace making process itself?” The Foreign Ministry of Japan knew that the offer of reconstruction assistance itself could be incentive enough to mobilize the peace process. This served as motivation to engage in proactive diplomacy because it made clear the fact that the traditional indirect approach of simply supporting ASEAN would not be sufficient. Japan was convinced to go a step further and play both an independent and active role for peace. Japan had been presented with the opportunity to complete the Fukuda Doctrine (“the building of peace and stability throughout Southeast Asia”) by materializing the Takeshita Principle (“cooperation to achieve peace”).

Psychological springboard -The negative side

There was also a psychological factor behind Japan’s motive for proactive diplomacy. Japan felt a strong sense of exclusion for the first time since it began to involve itself in the Cambodian peace process.

This sentiment was first triggered by the initiative taken by Secretary of State James Baker (the so-called “Baker Initiative”) in the fall of 1989. After the failure of the PICC in the summer of 1989, the United States began to seek alternative forms of resolution by leaving the issue in the hands of the United Nations with the aim of “neutralizing” the conflict issues. The proposal was made based on the judgment that if the Cambodians could not make peace on their own, the international community had no choice but to draft a comprehensive peace agreement and then impose it in its entirety on the Cambodians. U.S. Secretary of State Baker suggested that the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council draft this neutralization scenario. This became known as the “Baker Initiative” and laid the foundation of the “Permanent-5” (“Perm-5” or “P-5”) process later on.

In the eyes of Japan, however, this was a big psychological disappointment. The stage for the peace process moved to the P-5 just when Japan seriously began to consider the role it hoped to play. Japan, which was not among the P-5, was politically excluded from the process.

Two hypotheses and two conclusions

Under the circumstances, Japan began to initiate its own proactive diplomacy after the fall of 1989. The following two hypotheses created the base for intense policy discussions within the government:

First, Japan agrees to the proposition to neutralize Cambodia in order to achieve peace, and to have the United Nations govern Cambodia in the transition period until the first general election. From the standpoint of the United States and Australia, where severe criticism against the Khmer Rouge was emerging, it is understandable that they needed to draw a blueprint for peace centered around the U.N. (bypassing the Khmer Rouge) in order to calm domestic public opinion. However, even if we are successful in neutralizing Cambodia, the issue of power sharing should be solved as long as the institution for day-to-day administration exists in the transition period or Supreme National Council (SNC) is created as the supreme body of the nation. The answer to this power-sharing issue has to fit the reality in Cambodia. Otherwise, the Cambodians will not accept it, and even if they do, it will be short-lived.

Second, even if the comprehensive peace proposal by P-5 is close to perfection, it will be an empty promise without unanimous acceptance by all the factions involved. Civil war in Cambodia has a background far more complicated than that of a mere proxy war. There has to be some area where Japan can play a meaningful role.

MOFA mapped out its principles based on the above hypotheses and reached the following two conclusions:

First, the power of the Heng Samrin regime, which, in practice, governs most of the territory, cannot be overlooked. It may not be right to let the Khmer Rouge faction have 25% of the power. The correct power sharing should be fifty-fifty between the NGC and the government in Phnom Penh.

Within the United States, concerns about the reemergence of the Khmer Rouge also existed. Some, although few, indirectly suggested a Sihanouk-Hun Sen coalition. This was a good sign for Japan. However, virtually no voices suggested the support for the two non-communist factions should be shifted to Hun Sen.

Second, if Japan seeks to play the role of a mediator, it is necessary for Japan to maintain a certain distance from both factions. Therefore Japan needs to be in contact with the Heng Samrin regime with which Japan had no contact since the invasion by Vietnam in December 1978.

Proactive Diplomacy Part 1-Contacts with the Heng Samrin Regime

Peace plan made in Japan

Japan began to initiate its proactive diplomacy based on the two conclusions above. This clearly signaled a departure from its long-standing policy of supporting the position of ASEAN and the United States. ASEAN maintained the position of supporting the idea of equal power sharing among the four factions. At the same time, the Japanese establishment of contacts with the Phnom Penh regime was different from the policy of the United States. MOFA even originated its own peace plan centering on the would-be structure of a transitional administration.

The issue of government recognition

The first issue to be tested before making unofficial contact with the Heng Samrin regime was that of government recognition. Beginning with the recognition of the Pol Pot regime in 1975, Japan had recognized the coalition government of three factions led by Prince Sihanouk, the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), throughout the 1980s. Thus, any visit by Japanese government officials to Phnom Penh would raise doubt about Japan’s intentions regarding the CGDK, while providing a useful boost for the Heng Samrin regime.

Japan addressed this problem by preemptively limiting its mission to Phnom Penh to fact-finding as the co-chair of the Third Committee of the PICC. For this purpose, the delegation agreed on a code of conduct which included entering the country with civilian passports, limiting the points of contact to levels lower than vice-minister, and refraining from any act that could be regarded as recognizing the government. Japan tried its utmost to avoid having the visit misunderstood as an act of recognizing the Heng Samrin regime.

The challenge: Policy coordination with the United States

The U.S. position-The second problem to be overcome was policy coordination with the United States. Historically, the United States supported the non-communist resistance which was composed of the Sihanouk and the Son Sann (descended from the Lon Nol regime) factions. The U.S. was convinced that the Heng Samrin regime was a Vietnamese puppet government. However, there was a growing concern inside and outside the government as to whether or not the non-communist resistance might have worked together with the Khmer Rouge. The administration worried about the perception that supporting the non-communist resistance is the same as supporting the Khmer Rouge. The U.S. government was compelled to handle this delicate issue very carefully in its relations with Congress.

The Vietnamese government declared the completion of its withdrawal from Cambodia in September 1989, but at that time the United States was not willing to take such a statement at face value.

The P-5 members of the U.N. Security Council started discussions on a draft proposal of a framework agreement in January 1990.

Under those circumstances, it was apparent that the United States would interpret any attempt by the Japanese government to contact the Heng Samrin regime as a disturbance. Departure from American policy itself was a case for which one could hardly find precedence in the history of Japanese diplomacy. Cautious handling of the problem was required. Managing relations with the United States was the biggest challenge for Japan in initiating proactive diplomacy.

Coordination with the United States-By January 1990, the P-5 process had barely gotten underway. A Japan-U.S. bilateral policy coordination meeting to discuss the Cambodian issue was held at the U.S. Department of State on January 30th and 31st. The agenda included discussions of Japan’s peace plan and its upcoming fact-finding mission to Phnom Penh

Regarding the fact-finding mission in particular, the U.S. side expressed its opposition, insisting that: 1) it would send the wrong signal to Vietnam, 2) it is too early and premature, and 3) it would do harm to the Perm-Five process in progress. The Japanese side described the good intentions of Japanese government and its sentiment with the phrase “No Taxation without Representation.”

After the discussions, the U.S. side grudgingly accepted the idea of Japan sending a fact-finding mission to Phnom Penn. In return, the Japanese side reluctantly agreed to the U.S. request that Japan not circulate its peace plan to the Heng Samrin regime on this trip. However, after the meeting, policies of the United States and Japan began to diverge from one another on Cambodia issues.

Why did Japan gamble against the odds?

It has frequently been asked whether it was necessary to go that far in disagreeing with the United States. After all, Japan did not have a vital national interest at stake in the Cambodian issue. Still the question remains as to why Japan dared to take such a risk by confronting the United States. Several points help explain this situation.

First, for the previous decade, Japan had supported three anti-Vietnamese factions (CGDK), but only indirectly through support for ASEAN’s position. However, the policy differences among ASEAN member states-Singapore and Thailand, for instance-began to emerge and ASEAN was no longer as cohesive in the late 1980s. This opened both the opportunity and necessity for Japan’s proactive role.

Second, Japan did not have “past” issues with Cambodia. Under nominal ruling by the Vichy colonial government, Japan established in Cambodia a garrison that numbered 8,000 troops by August 1941. On March 1945, Japanese forces in Cambodia overthrew the French colonial administration and encouraged indigenous rulers to proclaim independence.

Third, Japan’s current relations with the Cambodians during the civil war period were limited, not having much to do even with the CGDK except for refugee assistance on the Thai-Cambodian border. Japan had a freehand to play.

Fourth, in those days, dominated by the sense of despair from the failure of the PICC, the atmosphere of the international community was that any action would be permitted, so long as it contributed to the peace process. Japan was eligible because knowledge and information gathered by the Japanese was by then abundant both in quantity and quality.

All of these near-term factors helped drive Japan down the path of proactive diplomacy. It is ironic in an instance like this that sometimes a latecomer with some fresh ideas can take advantage of a little initiative.

Policy change under the guise of fact-finding

After a week’s visit to Phnom Penh in February 1990, Japanese officials could confirm several facts that provided significant motives for the Japanese government to further develop its policies toward Indochina. This assessment comes later, but following is the gist of three major facts found during the visit:

First, the Phnom Penh government seemed to effectively govern most of the territory and became more independent from Vietnam. It appeared to have gained confidence in its governance after eleven years of experience. It can be expected to be in power for a long time.

Second, the regime claimed that it abandoned its socialist economic system in the mid-80s and has been working toward an open economy. Also, the regime seemed to think that the introduction of a multi-party system is inevitable in the future.

Third, there was a strong sense of hatred toward the Khmer Rouge among the majority of Cambodians. As a result of this persistent hatred, a considerable number of people support the SOC, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

As a result, the goal of keeping a certain distance from both factions via establishing contact with the SOC was partially fulfilled and Japan prepared to take the next steps of proactive diplomacy.

U.S. Policy Shift

The “Baker Shift”

After its first encounter with the Heng Samrin regime, Japan shifted its position from supporting the CGDK to taking a half step closer to the Heng Samrin regime. This was viewed as a method by which it could achieve the greater goal of contributing to the Cambodian peace process as a go-between for the two confronting factions.

Five months after Japan shifted its policy, the United States made a tactical maneuver, and on July 18th, 1990, Secretary of State Baker announced a new U.S. policy toward Indochina in Paris. In this so-called “Baker Shift,” the U.S. indicated three new policy guidelines:

  1. The U.S. would not support U.N. membership for the CGDK, which included members of the Khmer Rouge;
  1. The U.S. would continue to provide non-lethal assistance to the NCR;
  2. The U.S. would start a dialogue with Vietnam on Cambodia, and even establish contact with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The perception gap between Japan and the United States on Vietnam

One important thing to be noted is the difference of the views of Japan and the United States on the topics of Vietnam and the Heng Samrin regime of Cambodia. After the fact-finding mission of February 1990, Japan confirmed its view that the Heng Samrin regime had become more independent from Vietnam than before. Such a view was one of the motivations for Japan to push for the Sihanouk-Hun Sen talks in Tokyo in June 1990. At the same time, it was hard for the U.S. to accept Japan’s view of Vietnam’s role toward Cambodia as it would raise questions about the credibility of the “Baker Shift.” According to a then high ranking official in the Bush Administration, the policy goal of the “Baker Shift” was “to buy off Congress and deflate congressional pressure, without undermining the P-5 process.” It was also conceived that the U.S. would take advantage of this “Shift” to explore the possibility of repairing relations with Vietnam. But the U.S. regarded resolution of the Cambodia issue as a precondition to normalization with Vietnam. From the U.S. standpoint, if it admitted to the notion that Vietnam had limited influence over the Heng Samrin regime, there was not enough reason to launch a dialogue with Vietnam at this juncture. This was another dilemma for the United States.

Proactive Diplomacy Part 2-The Tokyo Meeting on Cambodia

Sihanouk and Hun Sen: key players for peace

Assessing the results of the fact-finding mission, Japan was exploring the next step it would take. By taking a risk and visiting Phnom Penh, Japan was now convinced that the Hun Sen government could no longer be labeled a Vietnamese puppet regime. The Japanese government was further convinced that the key figures for peace in Cambodia would be Prince Sihanouk of the CGDK and Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of the Phnom Penh regime.

Between the end of 1987 and the PICC in the summer of 1989, the two individuals met five times. At first they found no common ground, but after a series of talks it seemed that they began to nurture a kind of mutual trust. There was nobody other than Prince Sihanouk who could represent the CGDK and possibly unite the Cambodian people. It was the Hun Sen government that controlled the vast majority of the Cambodian people and its soil. Sihanouk and Hun Sen were indispensable in promoting the peace process in Cambodia. Accordingly, Japan secretly began preparation to mediate and host meetings between Prince Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen in Tokyo.

“from a battlefield into a market place”

As a “front-line state,” Thailand had been forced to make great sacrifices throughout the 1980s since the breakout of the civil war. It was a great burden in terms of Cambodian refugees spilling over the Thai-Cambodian boarder. On the other hand, the Thai economy was booming throughout the 1980s, and domestic economic activities had reached the point of saturation. The demand from the Thai business circles for new markets was growing. Under these circumstances, the Chatichai government took over the Plem regime in August 1988. Prime Minister Chatichai attempted a shift in its Cambodia policy by departing from the traditional policy of maintaining ASEAN solidarity. This peace-promotion policy was embodied by the slogan “from a battlefield into a market place.” The Chatichai government initiated its contact with the Heng Samrin regime.

Prime Minister Chatichai’s visit to Japan

Since dispatching its “fact-finding mission” in February 1990, no further relations had been established between the Heng Samrin regime and Japan. However Japan took notice of the line of communication between the Chatichai administration and the Heng Samrin regime and a Japanese government official thought that Japan and Thailand might be able to complement each other by working together.

Diplomacy sometimes requires good luck. It was perfect timing when the Prime Minister of Thailand made an official visit to Japan in April 1990 by the invitation of the Prime Minister of Japan. Necessary groundwork was done behind the scenes between MOFA officials and Prime Minister Chatichai’s private advisors before hand. On April 5th Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu of Japan and Prime Minister Chatichai agreed to work together on promoting the idea of arranging Sihanouk-Hun Sen talks in Japan.

The “long vacation” of a “changing” prince

Japan and Thailand began to jointly contact the confronting factions. This type of joint operation between Japan and Thailand was, and still is, rather unique in Japanese diplomatic history. As expected, it was easy to convince Prime Minister Hun Sen to attend the meeting. The invitation to such meeting with Prince Sihanouk in Tokyo was exactly what he had wanted. Not only did he have nothing to lose, but also if this visit to Tokyo became reality, the position of the Hun Sen regime would be strengthened. It would also lead to stronger relations with Japan, an Asian power

However, Prince Norodom Sihanouk was very reluctant to accept the invitation. Later, Prime Minister Chatichai and Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit persuaded Sihanouk to accept the invitation. However, Prince Sihanouk moved to Beijing and declared that he would take a “long vacation” from his presidential duties on May 7th and that accordingly, he could not go to Japan. By declaring this vacation, he intended to restore his declining influence. His plan worked, and after his declaration, the three factions continuously submitted petitions to Prince Sihanouk, at which time, he swiftly announced that he would lead the three-party delegation to talks with Hun Sen in Japan. This announcement marked the end of his well-known “vacation” and Prince Sihanouk resumed his presidential duties on May 21.

In the end, Prince Sihanouk came to Japan accompanied by the leaders of the three factions, Prince Ranariddh (ANS), Son Sann (Khmer People’s National Liberation Front; KPNLF), Khieu Samphan (Democratic Kampuchea; DK).

The “Chawarit Plan”

Parallel to the invitations that were sent to Prince Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen, Japan and Thailand began their joint effort to draft a Communiqué that would be the result of the Tokyo Meeting on Cambodia. The goals of Japan and Thailand were a cease-fire at an early date, along with the establishment of a Supreme National Council. On the Thai side, the deputy prime minister/defense minister Chawarit was specially assigned by Prime Minister Chatichai to lead a negotiating team. A group of private advisers to the Prime Minister (Pansak, Kraisak, and Srakiat) supported Chawarit. Deputy Prime Minister Chawarit lobbied for endorsement from each faction and, as a result, managed to win endorsement of the two principles by May 17. This was the so-called “Chawarit Plan” and consisted of the following two principles:

  • Voluntary restraint from use of force is urgently needed; and
  • The SNC will be composed of the same number of personnel from both groups.

However, this plan had a serious shortcoming. There was no linkage between (A) the military aspect and (B) the political aspect. The Thai group drafted a revised text based on the suggestions from Japan and the United States, but time was running out and the Cambodian participants came to Tokyo with no consultation on the revised text.

The Joint Communiqué

The Tokyo meeting on Cambodia was held in June of 1990. The Japan-Thailand team jointly conducted shuttle diplomacy between Prince Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen. The team also was engaged in behind-the-scenes maneuvers to formulate an ambitious joint Communiqué. The entire meeting was boycotted by Khieu Samphan who represented the Khmer Rouge faction. He adamantly opposed every arrangement prepared by the Japanese government. In substance, he did not accept any alteration of the original Chawarit Plan. He never accepted any revision to the Plan linking the military aspect (self-restraint on the use of force) to the political aspect (establishment of the SNC).

The joint Communiqué was co-signed by Prince Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen after the two-day meeting. The Joint Communiqué addressed several significant issues that would influence the peace process afterwards. The notable elements of the joint declaration called for:

  • Self-restraint of the use of force by all factions;

  • The SNC to be composed of equal numbers from both parties;

  • Implementation of self-restraint of the use of force on the day when the first meeting of the SNC is convened;

  • The declaration of Angkor as a non-hostility area; and

  • Reporting of the results of this conference to the U.N. Security Council.

The most important issue was agreement on the composition of the SNC. The concept of equal sharing by the Phnom Penh government and NGC was adopted in a written manner. This was the application of one of MOFA’s principle goals, and a departure from the “four-faction representation” concept. It was the very result that the Japanese government had aimed to achieve from the initial phase of planning the Sihanouk-Hun Sen talks. Since the first unofficial contact in Phnom Penh, the Japanese government was convinced that a fifty-fifty power sharing scheme between the NGC (CGDK) and the government in Phnom Penh was closest to the realty in Cambodia and that following this formula was the most pragmatic approach toward peace.

Establishing the linkage between the military aspect and the political aspect of the plan was also important. The international community was worried about a “partial settlement.” There was a widespread perception then that the Heng Samrin regime was trying to preserve the regime in Phnom Penh as it was, and was seeking progress only on the military aspect of the issue. Contrary to this concern, an agreement was reached to link the military aspect to the political one. Those who had previously had skeptical views of his intentions considered this a dramatic compromise for Hun Sen.

Apart from the Joint Communiqué, the Khmer Rouge boycott posed a big question for the Japanese government. Any settlement without the participation of the Khmer Rouge would be virtually ineffective. Prince Sihanouk correctly stated at a press conference that the Meeting was “half success, half failure.” It was certain that the Khmer Rouge also faced a serious problem after the Tokyo Meeting. Any progress toward a comprehensive peace could endanger the future of the Khmer Rouge. However, boycotting the conference would attract renewed blame on the Khmer Rouge from the entire international community.

The reaction of the U.S.

Although the U.S. government refrained from making public comments on the progress of the Tokyo Meeting on Cambodia, it was certainly worried about the issue. The U.S. administration had its own stake in a comprehensive peace centered on the United Nations. In particular, the U.S. worried about the possibility that the outcome of the Tokyo Meeting would give Hun Sen many “good” reasons not to accept the P-5 process that aimed at “neutralizing” Cambodia.

However, Japan believed that its diplomatic initiative was meant to complement rather than contradict the actions of the United States. By hosting the Tokyo Meeting, Japan tried to promote mutual trust between Prince Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen, the two key players, as well as to solve the power-sharing issue, which was the core of the problem.

Stalemate in the Peace Process

The P-5 “Framework Agreement”

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 attracted the world’s attention and interest in Cambodia virtually disappeared. However, the Cambodian peace process continued to make solid progress in the shadow of the Gulf War. On August 28th, the draft proposal for a “framework agreement” was completed by the P-5 countries. On September 9th, Indonesia and France (co-chairs of the PICC) hosted an unofficial meeting in Jakarta, where the “framework agreement” draft was presented to the four Cambodian factions. For various reasons, the four factions accepted the “framework agreement” in principle and agreed to hold the first SNC meeting in the near future.

The establishment of the Supreme National Council (SNC)

The first meeting of the SNC, whose early establishment was agreed upon at the Tokyo Meeting on Cambodia, was held in Thailand on September 17th 1990, a week after the P-5 meeting in Jakarta. This was a significant outcome of the Tokyo Meeting. The historic first meeting was held at the former Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, where each side, sending six representatives, followed the model for future power sharing in new Cambodia. But the significant absence of Prince Sihanouk cast doubt on the SNC’s legitimacy. The meeting was characterized by a confrontational atmosphere and was filled with mutual distrust from the outset. It would be another nine months before the SNC began to function on the initiative of Cambodians (see Part 9).


The biggest focus from the fall to the winter of 1990 was on whether or not the Phnom Penh government would accept the comprehensive peace agreement drafted by the P-5 based upon a framework agreement. This draft document (the so-called “November Document”) was presented to the confronting parties by the PICC co-chairs in November 1990. The NGC quickly announced it would accept the November Document in its entirety. From the Phnom Penh government’s standpoint, a process involving careful scrutiny within the government remained necessary. It could not easily accept the peace proposal, which included the potential reemergence of the Khmer Rouge. Furthermore, many difficulties were expected in the regime’s efforts to convince domestic forces to exercise self-restraint. The interested countries watched the response of Prime Minister Hun Sen very closely.

In December 1990, the PICC co-chairs invited the SNC members to Paris. Prime Minister Hun Sen requested that the co-chairs provide clarification on crucial elements such as the modality of disarmament, the division of authority between the U.N. transitional authority and the current government administration, and measures to prevent the recurrence of genocide in the future. The meeting adjourned as Hun Sen required time for further scrutiny back home. This brought the Cambodian peace process into a deadlock and nobody was able to speculate on its future.

The breakdown of the P-5 peace process at the end of 1990 became a new trigger for Japanese proactive diplomacy.

Proactive Diplomacy Part 3 – Direct Dialogue with the Cambodians

“Japan’s idea”

The major concerns of Hun Sen boiled down to two issues, disarmament and genocide. According to the draft agreement, the disarmament procedure was to be taken through successive phases of regrouping, cantonment, disarmament and finally demobilization before the general election. Hun Sen stressed that the Phnom Penh regime could not accept this procedure, as the Khmer Rouge might betray the agreement and engage in guerrilla warfare. With regard to genocide, Hun Sen stressed the importance of a written guarantee in the peace agreement to prevent the recurrence of genocide.

MOFA began to explore ways to break the stalemate. There was virtually no prospect for peace if the confronting factions were unwilling to accept the proposal drafted by the United Nations. After a series of debates from different perspectives, Japan formulated an unofficial working paper under the heading of “Japan’s idea” on the peace agreement draft.

Some key elements of “Japan’s idea” found in the working paper included:

  • [Disarmament]
    The phase of disarmament, for example, shall never be initiated unless the completion of the preceding phase is confirmed by the United Nations Transitional Authority on Cambodia (UNTAC.) If guerrilla activities are found systematically organized, the political party proved responsible for those activities shall be denied its party registration for the general election.

A special committee composed of representatives of UNTAC, SNC and the U.N. Human Rights Committee shall be organized to explore concrete measures to ensure the non-return of the policies and practices in the past.

MOFA began contacting the confronting Cambodian parties systematically. Minister Imagawa was sent to Phnom Penn with “Japan’s idea” in his pocket in mid-February 1991. He had a series of meetings with Speaker of the House Chia Sim and Foreign Minister Ho Namhon. Minister Ikeda, Charge d’Affairs to the NGC, visited Beijing to meet Prince Sihanouk in late February. He visited Beijing again in March to attend the three party meeting at the invitation of Prince Sihanouk to further explain “Japan’s idea” in detail. In late March, Japan invited Prime Minister Son Sann to Japan as the government’s guest as part of a direct dialogue.

It was not an easy task to persuade the Cambodians. As a matter of fact, the Khmer Rouge flatly rejected “Japan’s idea”. The response from the Phnom Penn regime was not encouraging either, and they argued that “Japan’s idea” was not persuasive enough to dispel doubts. However, both parties appreciated Japan’s proactive diplomacy during this period when the Cambodian issue was about to lose momentum.

“Medical diplomacy”

Prime Minister Hun Sen had fallen ill while attending the meeting in Paris hosted by the PICC co-chairs in December 1992. The Government of Japan confirmed this, and learned that since the beginning of 1991, as a result of his health, Hun Sen had suspended all official activities and retreated to a rural area of Cambodia. After its visit to Phnom Penh in February 1990, the Japanese government was convinced that the leadership role of Prime Minister Hun Sen was indispensable in achieving a comprehensive peace in Cambodia. As such it was agreed that the recovery of Prime Minister Hun Sen was one prerequisite for peace. Setting the recovery of Hun Sen as the top priority agenda, the Japanese government explored the means to achieve the goal. The answer was quite simple: the best possible medical treatment must be provided to Hun Sen. The logical conclusion was to invite Hun Sen to Japan to benefit from its advanced medical technology. Once in touch, it did not take long to gain his acceptance.

Some conditions had to be met in order to realize Hun Sen’s visit to Japan. First, because he was Prime Minister of the Heng Samrin regime, which Japan did not recognized, it had to be made clear that the purpose of his visit had nothing to do with recognition of the government. The Japanese government internally formed the consensus that the purpose of Hun Sen’s visit to Japan was his medical treatment from a humanitarian perspective and that it had nothing to do with government recognition. Secondly, it was determined that it would be best if everything was done without attracting too much media attention so that unnecessary controversy could be avoided. His visit was arranged as a private visit. Interested countries such as Indonesia and France, co-chairs of the PICC, and the United States, were notified in advance.

Japan was determined to make full use of this opportunity to conduct discussions with Hun Sen during his visit and to try to convince him to accept the P-5’s peace proposal. This was in line with what Japan had been doing since the beginning of 1991. Deputy Foreign Minister Hisashi Owada was designated to carry out the task.

Hun Sen came to Japan on April 20, 1991 and was hospitalized on April 22 for three nights. Hun Sen was found healthy after an intensive medical check-up. The Japanese government took this opportunity to replace Hun Sen’s left artificial eye with a new one, because Hun Sen claimed that the old Russian-made one was not fitting well and was putting pressure on the bottom of his eye socket. The replacement of his artificial eye together with the good news of his medical check-up result also helped boost his morale. On the day Hun Sen was discharged from the hospital, he and Owada dined together, celebrating his health. After the dinner, the two moved to a room in the hotel to hold a meeting that continued late into the night. The main points of discussions were threefold; how to deal with a comprehensive peace agreement, genocide, and chairmanship of the SNC.

Owada tried to convince him of the following:

  • Japan fully shares the concerns of Prime Minister Hun Sen on the comprehensive peace agreement drafted by the P-5 countries and proposed by the PICC co-chairs. However, the time has come for you to trust the international community involved in the peace process, including the P-5 countries and Japan. You should change your position from “defensive defense” to “offensive defense.”

  • As an international law scholar, Owada had a strong view of the Genocide Treaty. The genocide issue can only be solved politically by the will of the people through the general election process.

  • The crucial element at this juncture is to activate the SNC and, for that purpose, for you to accept Prince Sihanouk as the Chairman of the SNC

Prime Minister Hun Sen insisted that as he was responsible to the people for the outcome, he could not accept a peace proposal that could lead to the comeback of the Pol Pot regime. He stressed that there should be some article in the peace proposal providing measures to prevent the recurrence of genocide. He also insisted that there should be a balanced solution in which he becomes the vice-chairman under the chairmanship of Prince Sihanouk.

Their in-depth discussion continued until Uch Kim An, the director-general of the political affairs of Foreign Ministry who acted as the interpreter, wore out. Although the meeting ended without reaching any firm conclusion, the Japanese team interpreted this new debate as a turning point that could change the tide of the Cambodian peace process. Three months later, an historic reconciliation between Prince Sihanouk and Hun Sen came unexpectedly.


Sihanouk’s leadership

The international environment surrounding the Cambodia issue was also changing. The rapprochement between China and Vietnam was in progress. There was a series of vice-foreign minister level talks aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the two countries. They seemed to agree that each government would exercise possible influences upon respective Cambodian parties. In April 1991, the United States announced its new policy on Indochina by showing a road map toward normalizing relations with Vietnam and Cambodia. Japan also intensified its efforts for peace. The foreign minister of Japan made an official visit to Hanoi in June 1991, and urged his Vietnamese counterpart to exercise influence over the Heng Samrin regime of Cambodia. This visit marked the first minister-level visit by Japan to Vietnam since it was unified in 1975.

Reconciliation between Prince Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen appeared out of the blue. The first sign was detected when there was a joint meeting between SNC members and the PICC co-chairs in Jakarta in June. Prince Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen met on June 2 and agreed on the longstanding issue of SNC chairmanship and on the continuation of a voluntary cease-fire.

Prince Sihanouk formally assumed the post of SNC Chairman in July and continued to exercise his leadership. His initiative was well coordinated with Prime Minister Hun Sen. After an informal SNC meeting in Beijing in July, a formal SNC meeting was held in Pattaya, Thailand in late August 1991. This meeting was the major breakthrough that paved the way to Paris. In the meeting, SNC members reached an agreement by consensus in three crucial areas; the disarmament and demobilization process, the relationship between the SNC and the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), and genocide. The Final Communiqué issued on August 29 said as follows:

Disarmament and demobilization

  • All forces of all Cambodian parties shall be reduced by 70%. Arms, ammunition and equipment of these forces shall be reduced by 70% as well.

  • The remaining 30% of these forces will be regrouped and relocated to specifically designated cantonment areas under the supervision of UNTAC.

Relationship between UNTAC and SNC

  • If there is no consensus on any given matter among the members of the SNC, Sihanouk shall be entitled to make the final decision, taking fully into account views expressed in the SNC.

Hun Sen did not pursue the genocide issue any further, and this case was closed vis-à-vis the peace agreement.

The final informal SNC meeting was held in New York in late September. With regard to the electoral system, which was the last remaining problem, SNC members agreed to choose a proportional representation system in each state. Issues were all solved and a comprehensive peace agreement on Cambodia was finally reached.

The Paris Peace Accord

On October 23, 1991, representatives of the Cambodian factions, Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, France, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam, India and Yugoslavia all gathered at the Creber International Conference Center in Paris. Following remarks by President Mitterand, all the representatives signed the Paris Peace Accord.

Foreign Minster Nakayama represented Japan in witnessing the historic moment. Looking back, the last time Japan signed a peace accord for an international conflict was when it signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1921. Two years earlier, Japan had been invited to the peace conference that was held at the same conference center. That seemed long in the past, and now, two years later Japan felt a real sense of achievement. This was the moment at when Japan’s proactive diplomacy bore fruit.

Chapter 3: Case Study #2-ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

The end of the Cold War caused a great change in the balance of power in Asia. Soviet armed forces withdrew from the Far East and Indochina, and Chinese political influence was increasing. In spite of the end of the Cold War, Asia still had problems such as tension on the Korean Peninsula, territorial disputes over the Spratly Islands, civil war in Cambodia and tension across the Taiwan Straits. These were problems that were not solved with the end of the Cold War. In fact, because of the power vacuum that had been created, they posed the threat of becoming severely destabilizing factors in the region.

Japan’s Intentions

Although the United States had become the world’s only military superpower, in terms to burden sharing, its domestic economic problems as well as the global nature of all its affairs placed more demand on Asian countries, including Japan. As explained in Chapter 1, Japan was preoccupied with this new set of circumstances. The biggest question for the Japanese government in terms of its national security was how to get through the post-Cold War transitional period, while maintaining stability in Asia and ensuring its further development. The fundamental views of the Japanese government were as follows:

  • In an uncertain post-Cold War era, promotion of confidence-building measures among Asian countries will be increasingly necessary. A confidence-building framework needs to be established. There remain lingering concerns and rootless speculation among Asian neighbors on Japan’s intentions of political and economic engagement in the region. The memory of militarism had not yet fully disappeared. A multilateral framework will also be useful in eliminating such misperceptions.
  • The Asia Pacific region will soon be facing new global issues such as the environment, terrorism, and drug trafficking. In order to address such issues, a regional cooperative framework is crucial and should be enhanced.
  • The late 1980s and early 1990s marked a period of strategic shifts and uncertainty for Southeast Asia.
  • Japan should promote its interdependent relationship with the rest of the region, and in doing so, should incorporate China into the web of interdependence.
  • United States engagement in the Asia Pacific region is indispensable for the stability and prosperity of the region.

Based on these assumptions, the Japanese government came to the conclusion that the time had come to explore the possibility of establishing a framework for political and security dialogue at governmental level in an attempt implement confidence-building measures (CBM) in Asia.

Japan’s Initiative

Under these circumstances, at the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference (PMC) in Kuala Lumpur in July 1991, the Japanese government first proposed the idea of forming a policy-oriented, security-related dialogue mechanism with ASEAN at its center. As background for the proposal, the Japanese government used the experience it had gained when Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira proposed his Pan-Pacific Cooperation Concept in the 1980s.

This proposal was not well received at the outset. Participants listened to Japan’s seemingly premature proposal dubiously. In taking such initiative, Japan had to be very careful in its relations with ASEAN. If Japan showed its willingness to play a political role in the post-Cold War period, it could cause other countries to question Japan’s intentions. Because this could easily be connected with Japan’s active role in Cambodia, Japan had to be extra cautious. From the pragmatic as well as the strategic point of view, Japan had no choice but to take the posture that it would leave the final decision up to ASEAN.

Japan waited to see how its proposal would influence the outcome of internal discussions among ASEAN members. The answer came rather quickly. Surprisingly, serious discussion within ASEAN had begun immediately upon receipt of the proposal. Consequently, at the ASEAN Summit in January 1992, an agreement was reached to strengthen political and security dialogue with non-ASEAN countries by using the forum of the ASEAN-PMC. In July 1992, with the participation of 13 countries, the ASEAN-PMC included political and security dialogue as a part of its agenda for the first time. Then, at the ASEAN-PMC in July 1993, an agreement was reached to establish the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which would include China and Russia. The first ARF was held in Bangkok in July 1994 and frank exchange took place regarding regional issues and future CBMs.

Japan’s Expectations for ARF: Step-by-Step Development

Japan had several mid and long-term expectations for ARF. The first step was to promote confidence building among the participants. The goal was to improve the participants’ policy transparency and mutual understanding through discussion. Japan had a strong desire to use ARF as a mechanism to elaborate on its policies. It is rare to have an occasion where many Asian countries engage in political discussion, and as such, Japan hoped to maximize the opportunity to promote understanding on the subjects such as “the issues of the past,” disarmament and nonproliferation, and problems in U.S.-Japan security relations.

The second step was to take the discussion further, into policy coordination among the participants. It was Japan’s opinion that regional stability could be vastly improved if international public opinion could be formed, and mutual understanding, along with a certain degree of cooperation on potentially destabilizing issues in Asia could be established. Some such issues included North Korea’s nuclear development and cooperation among the related parties in South China Sea. In addition, by using ARF as a forum within which to criticize the policies of certain countries, it became possible for Japan to exercise wider diplomatic options. For example, this occurred at the 1998 ARF during critical discussions regarding nuclear tests by India and Pakistan. This was an indication of the effectiveness of ARF and its future direction.

The third step was for the participants to take common action toward certain policy goals. If this became possible, ARF could take a substantial step forward as a multinational security framework, rather than a mere confidence-building mechanism.

Aside from the above expectations, the major goal for Japan was to ensure constructive engagement of the major powers around the Asia-Pacific region. In order to keep the U.S. engaged in the region, development of concrete discussions regarding cooperation and burden sharing through debate at ARF would be an extremely important step. Furthermore, Japan deemed it vital for regional stability to constructively incorporate China into any regional cooperative framework. Finally, recognizing Russia as a constructive player in Asia and ensuring its active participation in ARF was also viewed as an important part of the development of Russo-Japanese relations.

The Deepening of ARF

With consideration for the above viewpoints, when looking back on the topics of discussion at the past five ARFs, one can observe a clear development of Japanese intentions. Japan continues to quietly take initiatives.

At the inaugural ARF in 1994, eighteen foreign ministers conducted a free discussion without a prepared agenda or speech texts. It served well to increase mutual understanding among the participants. Russia was unexpectedly active, while the Chinese attitude was cautious. China negatively reacted to the idea of using ARF to deal with specific security issues such as North Korean nuclear capability. After the discussion, though, all involved shared the view that the time was ripe to have security talks at the government level. They agreed to adopt the following as guiding principles for future dialogue.

  • The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia
  • The United Nations Charter
  • The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence
  • The Zone Of Peace, Freedom And Neutrality (ZOPFAN) in Southeast Asia
  • The concept of the South East Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ).

At the second ARF in 1995, for instance, concerns were expressed about continued nuclear testing as well as Spratly Island issues, both of which were addressed in the chairman’s concluding statement.

These movements were an indication that the second step Japan was hoping for (policy coordination on specific issues), and meaningful development was underway.

A consensus was reached that ARF would take an evolutionary, step-by-step approach to confidence building and would, and subsequently has, developed a three-stage process of :

  • Promoting confidence building
  • Developing preventive diplomacy; and
  • Elaborating on approaches to conflicts.

In the fourth meeting in 1997, Japan deliberately tried to widen the scope of CBMs from just the ASEAN region to include Northeast Asia. Japan emphasized the importance of security dialogue at the governmental level in Northeast Asia, along with the necessity of governmental level debate on preventive diplomacy. Japan also took this opportunity to explain the major points of the new U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines.

The fifth meeting in 1998 was held shortly after India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests, and intense discussion on the issue took place. India used the opportunity to explain its basic position. The effect of the Asian economic crisis on security was also discussed. Japan outlined its policy of assistance for Asia, and by explaining its economic policy also expressed its determination to revive its economy.

ASEAN’s Peculiarity and Japan’s Role

As outlined above, ARF has been showing steady development in the substance of its discussion. Japan’s initial goals such as confidence building, policy dialogue, policy coordination and common action agenda began in the areas where it was possible. In the discussions, Japan tried to take on the role of mediator between ASEAN and non-ASEAN countries. ASEAN tends to conduct its business based on consensus, a step-by-step approach that is quite slow from the perspectives of the United States and Australia. Furthermore, ASEAN traditionally abides by the principle of non-intervention in domestic issues and thus tends to be hesitant about engaging in detailed discussion, for example, on the “democratization process” in Myanmar or the “political struggle” in Cambodia.

If the ARF process deepens as Japan hopes it to, a situation of unprecedented difficulty could arise, presenting a real test for Japan. If ARF becomes less attractive and the U.S. begins to move away from ARF, it could cause disruptions for the region. In addition, if certain countries try to use ARF as a forum to impose their views, it would lead to a change in the nature of ARF. However, so far Japan’s vision for a policy-oriented, security-related dialogue mechanism has developed, grown, and holds great promise. Proactive diplomacy achieved beneficial results.

Chapter 4: Proactive Diplomacy-Lessons for Japan

After peace was achieved in Cambodia, UNTAC exercised transitional administrative authority for eighteen months until the first general election in May 1993

It took another six years for Cambodia to finally be accepted as a member of ASEAN

In July 1991, a few months before peace was achieved in Cambodia, Japan proposed the establishment of the ARF at the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference in Kuala Lumpur. After a quiet review over three years, ARF was established in 1994. Since then, it has been steadily developing to build up mutual confidence and it complements the web of bilateral security relations within the Asia Pacific region. Looking back on these events, what are the lessons Japan learned?

Proactive Engagement in Peace Keeping Operations

For Japan, one of the most significant outcomes of the Cambodian peace process was that it facilitated Japan’s entry into the unknown realm of United Nations peacekeeping operations (PKO). The PKO in Cambodia set the stage. Japan’s peacekeeping operations continued to expand in scope year after year throughout the 1990s.

Although Japan advocated U.N.-centered multi-lateralism since adopting its new Constitution in 1947, U.N.-centered diplomacy was scarce or nonexistent during the Cold War era. Although U.N. peacekeeping dates back to the end of World War II, most Japanese were unaware of its existence until the outbreak of the Gulf War. The Gulf War motivated the Japanese to begin serious debate over “Japan’s international contribution” in the post-Cold War era. In 1991, under the Kaifu Administration, “the International Peace Cooperation Act,” a bill which was meant to set the legal framework for Japanese participation in PKOs, was proposed to the Diet. Although the bill did not pass, it showed the direction of the people’s mindset. Against this background, a revised U.N.-PKO bill was introduced by the Miyazawa cabinet and was passed by the Diet in 1992.

On the issue of Cambodia, since the early 1980s the Japanese government had made a series of political commitments to contribute toward the reconstruction of Cambodia once peace was restored. At that time, development assistance policy was virtually the only effective tool of Japanese foreign policy for Cambodia, or anywhere else for that matter. In the late 1980s when peace in Cambodia seemed to be near, Japan promoted the idea of establishing an international coordination body for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of post-war Cambodia-an idea approved by consensus at the PICC in 1989. The Third Committee of the PICC decided to establish the International Conference on the Reconstruction of Cambodia (ICORC).

In the early 1990s, the Gulf War and Cambodia crossed paths in Japanese public debate. Through a nationwide intensive debate on PKO, many Japanese began to realize that if peace were to be achieved in Cambodia, Japan should contribute personnel as well as financial assistance. Public attention was focused on Cambodia, as Japan was actively pursuing proactive diplomacy for its peace process. The peacemaking effort, peacekeeping operations, and development assistance were all interconnected. Such a solid, strategically combined foreign policy was unprecedented in Japan. The words of the Japanese government carried a certain weight in the actual peacekeeping operations in Cambodia. Thanks to proactive diplomacy, Japan’s first full-fledged participation in a U.N. PKO began smoothly.

Just before the operation started in Cambodia, Japan dispatched its Self-Defense Force (SDF) to Angola for election-monitoring activities in 1991. Japan’s participation in global events has broadened geographically, and has included the dispatch of transportation units to Mozambique in 1993, cease-fire monitoring units to the Golan Heights as part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in 1996, and an election-monitoring team to Bosnia in 1998.

Proactive Engagement in Peace-Making

With the Cambodian issue as a start, proactive efforts by Japan to take part in the regional and sub-regional conflicts have become a distinctive characteristic of Japanese diplomacy in the 1990s. In other parts of the world, Japan has begun to apply the method of “engagement diplomacy,” which is somewhat similar to the Cambodian case. For example, Japan has deepened its involvement in the Middle East since the United States launched the Madrid process. In 1992, Japan volunteered to be the co-chair of the Environment Working Group, one of the multilateral groups to be set up to compliment and support the Middle East peace process. Japan was also the biggest aid donor in support of the Palestinians from 1993 to 1998. In the case of geographically distant Bosnia-Herzegovina, Japan insisted on its involvement in the peace process as a condition of the financial contributions that were strongly requested by the United States and Europe (another case of ” no taxation without representation”).

In the late 1990s when peace efforts were facing difficulties in Afghanistan, Japan proposed itself as a mediator by offering to host a meeting in Tokyo among conflicting Afghan parties under the auspices of the United Nations. None of these types of activities were a part of Japanese diplomacy before Cambodia.

“No Taxation Without Representation”

“No taxation without representation” is a saying that embodies the rebellion of the American colonies against Great Britain when the colonials refused to pay taxes imposed by the British Parliament in which they had no voice.

This was one of the important lessons Japan learned in the post-Cold War period, especially with regard to the Gulf War. Although Japan had made a major financial contribution-nearly thirteen billion dollars-its voice was not heard in decision-making circles. To the contrary, Japan’s contribution was criticized as being “too little, too late,” and belittled as “checkbook diplomacy.” Japan was not well informed of the discussions taking place in decision-making circles, namely, the U.N. Security Council.

The Cambodian peace process also posed a big question for Japan. As mentioned above, just when Japan began to have both the will and capability to make a meaningful contribution to the Cambodian peace process, the P-5 closed the door of opportunity in their face. It was a painful lesson learned by Japanese diplomats who worked on the Cambodian issue either in the United Nations or in Tokyo.

Recently, Japan has become more and more outspoken on the issue of U.N. reform, particularly on Security Council reform, which has been an outstanding issue for some decades. Cambodia and the Gulf War made no little impact on the Japanese view of U.N. reform. Japan’s annual contributions to the United Nations will surpass 20% of the total U.N. budget by the year 2000. One positive aspect is that Japan’s eligibility to become a permanent member of the Security Council has increased since its conventional foreign policy has improved and it is backed by its economic power and its record of playing a political role in Cambodia and other issues. But the situation represents another case of “taxation without representation,” which needs to be resolved.

Confidence-Building Measures and Preventive Diplomacy

The primary goal of the ARF is to introduce expanded CBMs to the Asia-Pacific region. Prevention of conflict itself is an important aspect of diplomacy, and the ARF is expected to function as a forum for such preventive diplomacy. However, Asian countries were not familiar with the concept of CBMs and, accordingly, the collective efforts by like-minded countries in Asia to establish a region-wide CBM forum were relatively new. Traditionally in Asia, threats came from neighbors, so it was entirely new when confidence-building efforts based upon dialogue between neighboring nations were proposed. The attempt to establish multilateral CBMs in the Asia-Pacific region on a governmental level (Track I) was rather unique. Its promotion was a test for Japanese diplomacy as well as that of its Asian neighbors.

Japan feels the need to introduce CBMs into Northeast Asia to address the prevailing uncertainty in the region in the post-Cold War era. In order to build up a more solid and stable security environment, defense policies and military postures should be discussed by Japan, China, the ROK and possibly Russia. They should collaborate to secure transparency on mutual security policies. In 1998 Prime Minister Obuchi floated the idea of organizing “six party talks” on the Track I level between Japan, the United States, China, Russia, ROK and North Korea. This is one of the prospects that Japan hopes to follow up in the future.

Reaffirming the Importance of the Japan-U.S. Alliance

Japan-U.S. relations were stable during the Cold War period and Japan relied heavily on the United States for its national security. The world was split into two blocs. There was little room, and actually no need, for the Japanese to question the legitimacy of the Japan-U.S. alliance. When the Cold War finally came to an end, the world entered into a new but uncertain era. Japan and the United States shared the view that the potential for instability and uncertainty would persist in the Asia-Pacific region. Both Japan and the United States had to redefine their cooperative framework and reaffirm their roles under new circumstances. The United States, a champion of peace in the post-Cold War era, had to ask friends and allies to share the burden of seeking and maintaining this peace, as the United States faced difficulties with its domestic economy. The United States also had to rely more on multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and NATO, as the world faced various kinds of transnational challenges. Japan, for its part, tried to stand ready to cooperate with the United States to solve issues of mutual concern. Policy coordination was a must, because if issues were left unresolved, there existed the danger that the common understanding of the other’s role would be undermined.

Both fully share the view that “alliance” does not necessarily imply a monolithic union. For example, with the Cambodian peace process, although Japan occasionally took steps that were different from the United States, there was no doubt that both Japan and the United States shared a common goal-to restore a durable peace in Cambodia and to build up a stable and prosperous Indochina. This mutual exercise on the Cambodian issue reinforced that lesson. In fact, before Cambodia, it was rare for Japan and the United States to have divergent opinions on specific issues.

Through the Cambodian issue, Japan and the United States both realized that each country can make its own case so long as neither challenges the foundation of the alliance.

On the occasion of President Clinton’s visit to Japan in April 1996, the two leaders reaffirmed the common notion that the Japan-U.S. alliance is an irreplaceable cornerstone in the Asia-Pacific region. Together with the announcement of the Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security, Prime Minister Hashimoto and President Clinton issued “the Message to the People of Japan and the United States.” The Message, subtitled “Meeting the Challenge of the 21st Century” tended to be overlooked, falling in the shadow of the Declaration on Security. But nonetheless, it well reflected the current state of overall relations and the future direction of the Japan-U.S. alliance. The Message read, in part:

  • Japan and the United States approach the twenty-first century as allies and partners with shared values, interests and hopes. Our relationship is of bilateral, regional and global importance. We face the challenges of tomorrow strengthened by years of common tests, experiences and cooperation.
  • Our alliance is central to peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan-U.S. security arrangements are vital to both nations.
  • Our diplomatic cooperation has helped to bring peace to troubled regions, combat terrorism, reduce nuclear dangers, strengthen the functions of the United Nations, and promote democracy and development around the world.

End of the Century ? The End of Proactive Diplomacy?

What role will Japan’s diplomacy play in the century to come? A look at trends as we enter the new century may help answer that question.

Japan failed its leadership test during the initial stage of the Asian economic crisis. “The Asian Monetary Fund” idea proposed by the Finance Minister in 1997 didn’t win the full support of the international community. Some Asian countries that were expecting Japan to play a complementary leadership role with the United States did not hesitate to show their disappointment. Japanese credibility was further reduced when, during President Clinton’s visit to China in June 1998, the Chinese Premier demonstrated his leadership role by saying that for the sake of trying to sustain the troublesome Asian economy, China would not devalue its currency.

The overall psychological commitment to ARF seems to be weakening, reflecting countries’ domestic economic problems and inward-looking mentalities. During the Asian economic crisis, there was a growing concern that APEC, the forum whose establishment Japan actively promoted with Australia in the late 1980s, might lose its momentum.

Although there have been ups and downs, the atmosphere surrounding Japan has not improved much in the 1990s. Actually, the security environment in Northeast Asia has become even more problematic.

After the successful state visit of the Emperor of Japan to China in 1992, the friendship between Japan and China began to deteriorate. Japan had to address the issue of “the past” repeatedly, even after the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 1995. Furthermore, the Japan-U.S. Defense Guidelines have become a bone of contention between Japan and China. The territorial issue of the Senkakus, which was set aside for more than a decade, resurfaced in the mid-1990s. Both governments had a hard time diffusing the issue when confronted with respective nationalistic sentiments.

Japan initiated normalization talks with North Korea in 1991 but those talks have been suspended since 1992. The atmosphere became even worse after North Korea launched a missile over Japan in 1998, and suspected North Korean spy ships intruded into Japanese territorial waters in 1999.

The importance of territorial talks with Russia diminished, relative to President Yeltsin’s health problems and domestic politics in Russia, which were in turmoil. Without a solid political foundation supporting the President of Russia, it is very difficult to see progress on sovereign issues such as the territorial disputes.

In response to the stifled mood surrounding Japan, and heavily influenced by the prolonged economic recession after the Japanese bubble-burst in the 1990s, there has been some backlash within Japan. Frustration is growing among the Japanese who seem to have become more inward looking than before. They have tended to pay less attention to Japan’s foreign relations.

After the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Pacific War in 1995, younger politicians and intellectuals-baby-boomers or even younger-feel less culpability for “past” deeds and their reactions have become more and more vocal.

Dismay and anger marked Japanese sentiments against North Korea after the missile test that temporarily paralyzed Japan’s policy-making functions. The absence of a line of communication between Japan and North Korea left Japan at a loss for how to react. This sense of frustration among the Japanese is growing, as Japan has to rely upon the United States and the ROK for information about its most serious security issues. This frustration is one of the elements behind the government’s rather swift decisions to develop its own reconnaissance satellite and to conduct joint research and development with the United States on theater missile defense (TMD).

Some Japanese have begun to cast doubt on Japan’s high share of U.N. dues, which are expected to surpass 20% of the entire U.N. budget in the year 2000. Years-long proactive efforts by Japan to promote U.N. reform and to become a permanent Security Council member have slowed due to seemingly unsolvable conflicts of national interests among member countries.

Some Japanese occasionally feel a kind of resentment toward American’s seemingly self-interested approach in dealing with Japan on macro-economic policy issues. Some Japanese, out of nationalistic sentiment, are even calling for greater distance from the United States. Under such circumstances, the government inevitably tends to hesitate asserting itself in the field of foreign policy as compared to the early 1990s.

Bureaucrats are also in trouble. The bureaucracy fell victim to criticism by the public in the late 1990s. Bureaucrats have lost their long-cherished self-confidence, and to some extent, the respect of the people. They are now taking pains to keep a low profile while political realignment is in transition and the outcome of administrative reform remains unclear. Political leadership roles and their relationships with the bureaucracy in the field of diplomacy remain undefined as various reform efforts such as administrative reform and political realignment are underway.

Amid these trends, the Japanese commitment to an expanded diplomatic role is irreversible. Proactive engagement through peace making efforts and peace keeping operations are widely supported by the Japanese public in general terms and well understood by the international community as a whole. Nationalistic sentiment prevailing among Japanese will prove to be a temporary phenomenon as was the case in the early 1990s. A series of economic stimulus packages together with structural reforms of the banking system are expected to bear fruit in the not-so-distant future. Those elements will all positively promote proactive diplomacy.

The only remaining issue is tempo. Domestic constraints such as an inward-looking temperament or budgetary restraints, mainly caused by economic recession, may force tactical slowdowns or setbacks. The subtle “ASEAN way,” or delicate relations with one’s neighbors, may also force the Japanese government to slow down the pace of its preventive diplomacy.

Japan and the United States have now successfully reconfirmed and renewed their security alliance in the post-Cold War era. Accordingly, they took steady steps that led to the adoption of revised Japan-U.S. Defense Guidelines in 1997. Japan and the U.S. are addressing vital global issues under the framework of the Common Agenda. It is now a given that the Japan-U.S. alliance is central to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The Japan-U.S. alliance finally gained bipartisan recognition in the Japanese Diet. In the midst of the Asian economic crisis, Asian countries belatedly began to realize that their future destiny lies in Japan’s economic performance.

In sum, the proactive Japanese diplomacy begun in the 1990s will continue to characterize Japan’s foreign policy in the century to come.


Table 1-1. Government Succession from November 1987 – August 1998

Date of
taking office
Prime Minister Ruling Parties Days
as P.M.
1987.11.06 –
1989.06.03 –
Sosuke UNO LDP 69
1989.08.10 –
Toshiki KAIFU LDP 818
1991.11.05 –
1993.08.09 –
Morihiro HOSOKAWA Coalition 263
1994.04.28 –
Tsutomu HATA Coalition 64
1994.06.30 –
Tomiichi MURAYAMA Coalition 561
1996.01.11 –
Ryutaro HASHIMOTO Coalition 932
1998.07.30 – Keizo OBUCHI Coalition