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Japan takes the initiative

Updated On: Jun 13, 2006

Japan is the world’s second largest economy. In terms of military power, it also has one of the world’s top five navy.

It has already ordered aircraft carriers, the all-important platform for global power outreach. By all measures, it is ready to play a leadership role. Prodded by a USadministration fearful of China and encouraged by many in the ASEAN and Oceanic quarters which seek to have a strong balancer against Chinese power, Japan is now taking the initiative for its global power outreach.

Tokyo announced plans to put forward a candidate to head the International Energy Agency (IEA). Tokyo will recommend Mr Nobuo Tanaka, a director at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as a candidate to succeed Mr Claude Mandil next year. If Mr Tanaka gets the job, he will be the first leader from East Asia to head the Paris-based agency. Japan is already the second-largest financial contributor to the IEA, after the United States. Its qualification for the leadership of the organization is almost unshakable.

But seeking international organizations’ leadership posts like the IEA or the UN Security Council is the external wing of the emergence of Japanese global power. Internally, there are moves to flex Japanese muscle which has remained dormant for too long under US control and regional suspicions. These restraints have been shoved aside with the onset of the Bush administration which has formally entered into an “alliance (or Doumei in Japanese)” with the Japanese. Japan now takes a formidable burden in the US global missile defence system, fighter jet development and the maintenance of US facilities in Japan. Several hundred Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) troops currently remain deployed in southern Iraq.

Japan has also been encouraged to play a bigger role in peacekeeping duties with many in Southeast Asia welcoming Japanese bid for global power through such peacekeeping function.

Japan and Australia both acts as an anchor for US global power in encircling China. Australia’s hosting of a trilateral with Japan and US signals openly the intentions of these two US deputies, even as Australia tries vehemently to deny the implications of its moves. These relationships are further augmented by other US traditional partners like Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore. Other countries in the region like Vietnam, Indonesia and India which are recently being courted by the US to be part of its defence perimeter in monitoring China.

One of the first real concrete steps to empower Japan’s peacekeeping and global defence roles is to upgrade its defence office. The Japanese Cabinet approved a set of Bills that would, among other things, upgrade the Defence Agency to a ministry, giving Japan's security establishment a status in line with those of other countries. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had long clamoured to turn the Defence Agency, created in 1954 and now an organisation under the Cabinet Office, into a full-fledged ministry. This would give Japan greater flexibility in responding to global crises, North Korean missile launches, conflicts in the Taiwan Straits and peacekeeping calls.

Sources:

Japanese to seek top energy post (AFP, 10 June 2006)

Japanese to seek top energy post (Straits Times, 10 June 2006)

Japan pushes for defence ministry (Straits Times, 10 June 2006)