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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

The Competing Conceptions of "East Asia" and "Asia Pacific" within Japan's Foreign Policy

24. März 1999 / 18.30

Petra Gebetsberger, University of Sheffield

Liberated from conducting relations under a Cold War framework, Japan is now developing those relations in Asia that it refrained from developing for most of the post-Second World War period. This increasing interest in Asia represents Japan’s reprioritisation of its Asian interests and, since the end of the Cold War, its more frequent self-identification as an Asian nation. As a result of this new trend, the Japanese have been engaging in a lively debate on the course of their country’s foreign policy. One major theme is a re-examination of the relations between Japan and the United States.  Another theme is the relations between Japan and its Asian neighbours. The argument within Japan centers on whether the country’s future should be ‚Asian‘ or ‚Western‘. Many, stressing Japan’s political parliamentarism, its economic and technological sophistication, and its international interests, argue for giving primacy to Japan’s links to the West. Others point to anti-Japanese sentiments in the West and argue that Japan cannot escape its cultural roots and its geographical neighbours.

Both, pro-Westerner and Asianists in Japan, try to recreate an identity for Japan that promotes their own interests. An understanding of the role of identity is therefore important for an understanding of the nature of co-operation and policy co-ordination in the Asia Pacific region. In other words, what influence does the debate concerning Japan’s identity have on Japan’s approach towards regional projects such as APEC and the EAEC, which symbolise the ‚Western‘ and ‚Asian‘ identity respectively?

For an analysis of the role of identity in the formation of a region, cognitivism is the most suitable conceptual approach. Cognitivist theories support the notion that regionalism has much, or primarily to do with identity. It explains regionalism as an instrument for changing existing international structures and institutions to create new identities, opportunities and alliances. Based on these theoretical considerations, there is evidence that the conception of the EAEC is being viewed in Tokyo more and more favourable.

Petra GEBETSBERGER is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Sheffield and currently a Research Student at the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ).