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Connecting Japan and the Transatlantic Community

Tags: Asia , Japan , Europe , United States , International Affairs

Tsuruoka, Michito

June 12, 2009

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Fresh from two months in Brussels as the first recipient of the GMF-Tokyo Foundation Fellowship, the author discusses “the rise of Asia” as a new focus of transatlantic policy research, the need for stronger strategic ties between Japan and Europe, and the future of Japanese participation in GMF’s transatlantic network.

Under a grant from the Tokyo Foundation, I spent two months from the end of January through the end of March as a resident fellow at the Transatlantic Center of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Brussels on the newly inaugurated GMF-Tokyo Foundation Fellowship. I was the first Japanese fellow at GMF.

GMF and the Rise of Asia

The German Marshall Fund of the United States  was established in 1972 through a gift from the government of Germany (then West Germany) to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Marshall Plan. Dedicated to strengthening transatlantic cooperation, the GMF sponsors numerous initiatives to promote dialogue and exchange, not only between the United States and Germany but between North America and Europe as a whole. It also administers a number of grant programs to support the activities of outside groups and individuals.

Over the past decade or so, under President Craig Kennedy’s leadership, GMF’s role as a think tank has expanded dramatically as the organization has stepped up its activities in the area of policy research. In addition, it has widened the geographical scope of its grantmaking and exchange activities to include such areas as the Balkans and the Black Sea region. Two programs of particular interest from Japan’s viewpoint are Transatlantic Trends, a US-European public opinion survey project, and the Brussels Forum, a major policy conference held in March every year in Brussels.

Having long focused its efforts on US-European relations, GMF in recent years has developed a new interest in Asia fueled by the recognition that the rise of Asian powers like China and India will have a profound impact on the transatlantic community. GMF’s approach to Asian issues thus differs from academic area studies in that its main concern is to examine how the transatlantic community should and can react to the “rise of Asia.” In 2007, GMF launched the biannual Stockholm China Forum to bring together practitioners and a spectrum of experts from the transatlantic community, together with their counterparts from China and other Asian countries, for dialogue on China. GMF plans to launch a similar forum on India in the near future.

This is the context in which GMF recently set about building relations with a third Asian power, Japan. Whether Japan can be considered one of the region’s rising powers is open to question. Given that the transatlantic community is after all a community of shared values as well as common interests, a viewpoint often emphasized in GMF activities, the fact that Japan is a mature, advanced industrial democracy with a commitment to freedom, democracy, and a market economy, carries a special significance, which is not merely rhetorical but substantive. Not everyone shares this view, and outside GMF there is an undeniable tendency these days—especially in Europe—to overlook Japan when discussing Asian affairs. But from GMF’s point of view, which I strongly endorse, Japan needs to be the central or at least one of the firmest pillars of the transatlantic community’s relations with Asia.

The GMF-Tokyo Foundation Fellowship thus came about as a result of overtures from GMF, which hoped to balance its approach to Asia by injecting a Japanese component (in addition to the Chinese and Indian elements). From Japan’s perspective, this was an opportunity not only to ramp up Japanese participation in the transatlantic intellectual community—where Japanese think tanks and experts have had a meager presence—but also to establish a new platform from which to communicate our own perspective. With so many Western think tanks focusing their Asia resources on China, GMF’s initiative could not have been better timed or more welcome from Japan’s standpoint.

Getting Real about Japan-EU Relations

As the first recipient of the newly established fellowship and the first Japanese fellow at GMF, I devoted myself to two topics: “Connecting Japan and the Transatlantic Community” and “NATO and the Asia-Pacific.” I will leave the details of my findings to my two papers on these themes, which will be published by GMF in the near future. One of my major conclusions, which I would like to discuss here briefly, is that one way to view the relationship between Europe, the United States, and Japan in the context of the rise of Asia is how we can “use” each other in dealing with regional issues and beyond. Given that Europe’s engagement in Asia remains under-defined, how Japan and the US can use Europe in Asia is a new and significant challenge. The term “use” may seem rather undiplomatic when discussing such matters, but it conveys exactly the meaning I intend. In today’s world there is too much loose talk about “partnerships” and  “strategic partnerships.” We should not allow such euphemisms to obscure the fact that unless each party is convinced it can use the other party to advance its own interests, that relationship will never develop into a meaningful and valuable partnership regardless of what one may call it.

From this perspective, it seems clear that what is missing from the relationship between Japan and the transatlantic community, particularly when viewed in the context of Asian affairs, is a partnership (in the real sense) between Japan and Europe. When the Japanese approach issues in their region they are accustomed to take into account not only the other countries of the region but US policy as well. After all, the United States is a Pacific power as well as an Atlantic power. But until now there have been precious few opportunities—with a few isolated exceptions, notably the EU arms embargo against China—for Japan to consider Europe’s role in the context of Asian affairs.

The truth is that Europe’s role in the Asian region is extremely limited compared with that of the United States or the major Asian players. But this does not mean that Europe can be overlooked when considering Asian affairs. Today, the question of how Japan can make use of Europe in dealing with problems in the Asian region is an urgent one that merits asking from the viewpoint of Japanese policy, which is to say, from the viewpoint of Japan’s national interest. The idea that all we ask from the EU in Asia is to “do no harm”—a perception derived from the controversy over the EU’s move to lift the arms embargo on China—may have some immediate rationale, but it is not in Japan’s interests over the medium or long term. The arms embargo on China is but one European policy tool; the EU has the potential to exert further influence in Asia in any number of ways, not only through its extraordinary economic clout and its various agreements and pacts with the countries of the region but also through its role in exporting European norms and regulations. Although it may be difficult to reconcile the EU’s interests with Japan’s in some cases (such as the lifting of the China arms embargo), in many other cases Japan stands to benefit by cooperation, coordination, and compromise with the EU. That is exactly why Japan can and must make use of the European Union.

To build a reciprocal relationship, Europe also needs to start considering how to make use of Japan. Given that it is in Europe’s own interest to make effective use of Japan, how to do so is for the Europeans to determine themselves. However, it is important to note that it is Japan’s interest, too, to be used by Europe if it wants to remain one of the central players in Asia. Japan therefore needs to sell its value to the Europeans. The discussion has only begun. And given that the United States itself has yet to answer the question of how best to “use” Europe in dealing with China and other issues in the region, GMF would seem to be an ideal place to carry out this discussion.

Joining the Transatlantic Intellectual Network

GMF has its critics, and some of their criticisms are valid. However, the organization deserves unqualified praise for its achievement in building an intellectual network of unprecedented scope on both sides of the Atlantic. The opportunity to make use of that network is a tremendous advantage from Japan’s viewpoint. But this is only the beginning of Japan’s involvement in GMF’s programs. Through its GMF fellowship, the Tokyo Foundation has become a linchpin of that involvement, and as the program continues, as it certainly deserves to do, it has the potential to contribute and benefit in an even more meaningful way through the creation of a new human network linking Japan and the transatlantic policy community.

 

About The German Marshall Fund of the United States

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