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Thursday, 17 January 2019

Japan's shifting geostrategic concerns

Ahmed Al-Moslemany , Saturday 22 Dec 2018
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Views: 2585

During a recent visit to Japan, I went up the famous "Sky Tree" tower, which is one of the capital’s most well-known tourist attractions. From that staggering height, one can view this enchanting city which glistens across a vast area. You can see to the horizon, the geography of light extending infinitely. If you are bolder, you can stand on a glass floor to see down below – too distantly – houses and streets as if you are viewing them from an airplane. What an exciting and charming scene!

The city of Kyoto was Japan's capital for centuries, then the city of Edo, which was called Tokyo later, became the empire's metropolis.

Founded in 1602, Tokyo is the symbol of Japan's modernity. It is the symbol of moving from the "samurai" to the "state", from the middle ages to modern times. In the twentieth century, Tokyo was rebuilt twice, the first time in 1923 in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that razed more than half of the city, and the second time following the destruction caused by the World War II air raids.

Tokyo rose above the earthquake and the ravages of war and flourished. It is the most secure city in the world, its stock exchange is the second most important after New York’s and it has the top university in Asia.

Taking a more detailed look at Tokyo from above will make one see the incessant beehive in one of the most modernised cities in the world. Millions of people go to their businesses in an astonishing order governed by a universal creed: faith in work. It isn’t the capitalist or the socialist ideology. It is the “work ideology.”

In a noteworthy report aired by the BBC, its Japan correspondent Yukari Mitsuhashi described the scene of man and his job in two terms: sushi-zume and ikigai.

The state of sushi-zume, a term which likens commuters squeezed into a crowded train car to tightly packed grains of rice in sushi. The term ikigai points out that work may have nothing to do with income. It is a value in itself, it is the source of happiness, happiness in having a value and the value of being a worker; to see those who were influenced by your work, to be positive. Instead of solving the problem of hunger in the world, try to solve the problem of a person you know. The culture of ikigai according to Mitsuhashi means to be useful and beneficial, to look forward to the future even if you’re miserable right now.

The beautiful Tokyo doesn’t conceal the concerned Tokyo and the strong Japan doesn’t hide the Japan who is facing monumental geostrategic challenges.

The summary of what I heard in the Foreign Ministry and in the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) is that Japan is trying to renew its capability to move amid political storms in East Asia, without going beyond the dialogue and peace strategy.

Japan confronts challenges from a square that sometimes stretches to include a fifth dimension. First there is North Korea, which Japan accuses of kidnapping a number of its citizens without responding to the Japanese families and the Japanese government’s pressures to return them home. This is occurring in spite of the late North Korean leader’s acknowledgement and apology for those acts. There are also the nuclear missiles and the nuclear programme which pose a real threat to Japanese national security.

Second, there is South Korea, which usurped – according to Japan – Japanese islands and also doesn’t abide by bilateral treaties between the two countries, and always returns to talking about issues which were dealt with such as “comfort women” and “forced labour.”

Third, there is China, which Japan feels very concerned regarding its economic and military expansion. There is also an islands dispute and the Chinese military’s existence in the South China Sea from which Japan gets all its energy imports.

Fourth, there is Russia, which hasn’t signed a peace treaty with Japan since the end of World War II. Although Japan demands the return of four Japanese islands, Russia refuses under the pretext that they were annexed in the Soviet era according to international law.

Here is the square of the challenges to Japan’s national security: North Korea, South Korea, China and Russia. Japan sees that being in alliance with the USA and the rapprochement with India constitutes a balance that has no alternative for confronting these challenges.

However, since the beginning of President Donald Trump’s term, he has opened a dialogue channel with North Korea which Japan doesn’t necessarily know all the details of. In addition, the American president has kept demanding that Japan pay much more for its security. All this has driven Japan to stretch its geostrategic concern to a fifth dimension.

President Trump’s departure two or six years from now might not mean that trust would be regained fully, because the USA has become more pragmatic now and can’t be trusted to the same extent as in past decades.

Some disgruntled citizens in Japan whisper about the necessity of having a deterrent nuclear force, but the Japanese elite is still adamant that this is absolutely impossible, despite the capacity to do it. Tokyo is still betting on the USA, trying to come closer to India in Asia, Egypt in Africa and France in Europe for the sake of reintroducing the new Japan to the world.

Japanese values, the Japanese economy and the Japan International Cooperation Agency all represent very successful facets of Japan’s soft power. However, the question concerning soft power’s inadequacy and the necessity of having hardcore power is rising day after day.

Cairo has a distinguished relationship with Tokyo. Japanese tourists don’t visit Egypt just to have a good time in resorts and on beaches; they travel to see the ancient Egyptian civilisation, the most glorious in the world.

Relations between the two countries during El-Sisi’s presidency, given his strong friendship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have moved further in the fields of cooperation and joint action.

Japan needs Egypt for its situation in the Middle East and Africa and Egypt needs Japan in order to regain its soft power, specifically in education and economy.

Japan realises that it can overcome its geostrategic challenges and that the sun disc at lying in the centre of its flag is capable of renewing itself every morning incessantly.

Japan is distinguished in several industries but the greatest industry of them all: manufacturing hope.

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