Japan searches for Asian role

JAPAN'S Prime Minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, begins a week-long tour of South-east Asia today during which he will try to set out a new political and diplomatic role for Tokyo in the world's fastest- growing economic region. But with Japan's exploratory dispatch of peace-keeping troops to Cambodia in trouble and regional suspicions of a remilitarised Japan growing, Mr Miyazawa has very little room for manoeuvre.

There is a growing consensus in the government that Japan cannot continue treating East Asia simply as a vast industrial estate for Japanese corporations. Last month a panel commissioned by Mr Miyazawa to examine relations with Asia called for Japan to 'play a considerably greater political role and to make a greater contribution than in the past'.

With the ending of the Cold War, no one in Tokyo is quite sure what this role should be. Mr Miyazawa is to visit Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei; he is planning an important policy speech in Bangkok this week.

The most intractable problem for Japan in dealing with East Asia in general is the growing risk of military confrontation. China and all the South-east Asian states are building up military power as rapidly as their economies are expanding. Arms sales are booming in the region. At the same time the US, which has acted as a guarantor of regional peace up to now, has withdrawn its forces from the Philippines and is planning a gradual reduction of its remaining troops in Korea and Japan.

But, as Masashi Nishihara, a professor of international relations at Japan's National Defence Academy, points out, Japan is in no position to replace the US. 'Could we change our function and be like the US sending marines into Somalia? Could Japanese forces, even under UN auspices, use force overseas agressively? Would other Asian countries come to us and ask for our forces? I think not.' At most, he says, Japan can try to use economic leverage over Asian nations to slow the arms race. 'I would hope that Mr Miyazawa might hint that Japanese ODA (official development assistance) might be conditional on arms acquisition.'

Already the country's dilemma is coming to the surface in Cambodia. After two years of debate, Japan's parliament finally voted to dispatch troops as part of the UN peace-keeping mission to Cambodia last October. This was seen as the first step towards an expanded, benign role for Japan in Asian affairs. But by law the troops must withdraw from any outbreak of hostilities, and as the Cambodian peace plan begins to unravel officials in Tokyo are considering an early pullback of the 600 troops in Cambodia.

Last week the Foreign Minister, Michio Watanabe, caused a minor diplomatic storm by suggesting that Japanese troops should be allowed greater freedom to act as international peace-keepers.

'From now on, the role of the Self-Defence Forces should be to maintain global peace and order under the leadership of the United Nations,' said Mr Watanabe, adding that the military should have more long-range aircraft and ships to do so. This sent a shiver around Asia, and advisers said this was just Mr Watanabe's opinion, not government policy.

During Mr Miyazawa's Asian tour, Cambodia is likely to be high on the agenda. Tokyo is also keen for a greater dialogue on security issues with the six member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) - Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.

While trade negotiators argue at the Gatt talks that Japan cannot drop its ban on rice imports, the Agriculture Ministry is quietly arranging for a consignment to be imported because the domestic harvest cannot meet demand.

Officially, rice cannot be imported because Japan must maintain self-sufficiency for national security reasons. But despite huge subsidies to farmers the annual yield is going down, because rice- farming is losing its appeal.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable