Why has Japan emerged from the “lost decades” unscathed from the populist wave and a far more consequential actor in the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific? In answering this question, Japan’s Quiet Leadership provides a sweeping look at Japan’s domestic economic and political evolution, its economic statecraft, and the array of geopolitical challenges that have triggered a gradual but substantial shift in the country’s security profile. This deep dive into Japan’s trajectory over the last three decades underscores Japan’s hidden strengths in its democratic resilience, social stability, and proactive diplomacy; while reckoning with the profound challenges the nation faces: depopulation, rising inequality, voter disengagement, and threats to Asia’s long peace. The book traces the profound currents of change coursing through the Japanese polity and its external environment; and the myriad ways in which Japan’s experience has become more relevant to countries coping with slow growth, adverse demographics, adjustment to economic globalization, and the emergence of a powerful and assertive China.
This is a story of Japan’s reinvention as a network power to overcome the harsh realities of diminishing relative capabilities. In reshaping the Indo-Pacific, Tokyo deployed a robust economic strategy of trade integration and infrastructure finance; and a proactive security diplomacy cultivating new partnerships with regional and extra-regional actors and deepening the alliance with the United States. Nevertheless, acute geopolitical rifts, Japan’s pandemic insularity, and the securitization of international economic relations are testing Japan’s statecraft of connectivity. The tasks at home are no less pressing: delivering on the green, digital, and human capital transformations, avoiding the return of the politics of indecision at the helm of the nation, and fostering democratic dynamism. This book illuminates where the Japanese polity, economy, and people are heading as we move past the Abe era, and well into the 2020s and beyond.