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“Rekishi no Kyokun” Author Talk with Prof. Nobukatsu Kanehara

August 26, 2020 @ 9:00 am - 10:15 am


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On August 26, 2020 Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA (Sasakawa USA) welcomed Mr. Nobukatsu Kanehara, a professor at Faculty of Law Department of Political Science at Doshisha University, to discuss his recently published book Rekishi no Kyokun, a historical analysis of Japan’s foreign policy and lessons learned for Japan’s future course. Mr. Kanehara was one of the leading strategic thinkers in the second administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and possesses an independent and thoughtful mind, supported by his mastery of history and facts. Attendees included distinguished guests from the Washington, D.C. policy community, academia, think tanks, and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo. Sasakawa USA’s Chairman and President, Dr. Satohiro Akimoto moderated the Q&A discussion.

Mr. Kanehara played a major role in the closest policy struggles around PM Abe in his capacity as the Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary from 2012-2019 and Deputy Secretary-General at the National Security Secretariat from 2013-2019. Prior to joining the second Abe administration, Mr. Kanehara enjoyed a long and distinguished career at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), covering a wide range of important subject matters. In addition to his current role at Doshisha University, he has also taught at the Graduate School of Law at Waseda University.

Overview of Rekishi no Kyokun

Mr. Kanehara began his presentation by introducing the title of his book in English as, Lessons of History: The Reasons of Japan’s Failure and Future National Strategy. He explained that this book is based on the research he completed for PM Abe in preparation for a statement on history that PM Abe released for the 75th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. Before the prime minister’s speech, Mr. Kanehara held long discussions every two weeks on how to frame the new statement. When PM Abe released the statement, Mr. Kanehara recalled it being a tremendous success that was highly appreciated inside and outside of Japan, which boosted PM Abe’s popularity.

Making clear the focus of his book, Mr. Kanehara identified two purposes of it. The first is to stress Japan needs to make clear where it stands historically. He stated that when looking at history, Japan must think about the future and where the country is headed to provide a framework to interpret history. He stated that Japan faces two difficulties in overcoming its inability to accept the past, divisions of Japanese society on generational and ideological bases. He explained that children born after 2000 are not aware of events such as the Cold War or countries such as the Soviet Union, so the younger generation is creating a new identity and reuniting the nation again. His book looks to make sure that his generation’s narrative is passed along to the next generation.

The Liberal Order

Delving into the details of the book, Mr. Kanehara began explaining the world is organized around an international liberal order. The current order was achieved through arduous times, but a more peaceful world was created out of the chaos and must be protected. However; he stated that the liberal order is facing many difficulties, particularly in Europe and the U.S. He stated that although the world is experiencing a disruption of the liberal order, Asia is experiencing the creation of a liberal order. He recalled that during the Cold War, the Free Camp was fake as it was run almost entirely by dictators and that as Asian economies progressed in the late 1980s through the 90s, the dictatorships shifted to democracies one-by-one. Mr. Kanehara noted that many repressive regimes still exist in Asia, but they are headed towards democracy and a market economy.

As a result of these developments, human equality has arisen and Mr. Kanehara emphasized that to protect this understanding, global discussions need to continue. This will result in the development of consensus and the creation of rules based on the consent of consensus. He added that it is only natural for people to develop a society that allows for the realization of one’s purpose in life and to be truly free. To ensure this development, he recommended institutions such as the Greco-Roman institutions, that have been successful across Asia. Mr. Kanehara concluded that without these institutional guarantees we cannot have rule of law, human dignity, or human rights.

Early Spread of Liberal Values

Next, Mr. Kanehara explained the history of the spread of liberal values to better convey how liberal values have taken root in Asia. First, he discussed that advanced 15th-century European sailing techniques and the industrial revolution beginning in the UK in the 19th century allowed for the spread of western liberal values to Asia. With Asia consisting mostly of large empires such as the Ottomans or Manchus in China, following the industrial revolution, each of these powers began to fall one by one except for the Ottoman Empire and Japan.

As a result of this, he stated that many of the empires’ former territory eventually became colonies of the European powers but by the 1950s, many Asian and African countries began to gain their independence. Following this, the 1960s brought the end of state-sponsored racism thanks to the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and before them Mahatma Gandhi. He explained that as a result, the world suddenly became flat in the 50s and 60s as the heaven of the colonial rulers, and the earth of the Asians and Africans was ended. From this, a more equal system arose because of the materialization of ethics and the political awakening of Asians and Africans.

Going beyond Asia and Africa, Mr. Kanehara reminded the audience that by looking back at history, the very ideas of the liberal order can be found in the French Revolution and the American Independence movement. Quoting Mutsu Munemitsu, a Meiji era minister and revolutionary who was a very influential diplomat in the 19th century, Mr. Kanehara quoted “this is awful, this is a jungle, they’re simply stronger, it is the weak. But suddenly, my eyes were filled with tears of joy after reading the chapter of American Independence.” Mr. Kanehara stated that American and French perspectives were great shocks to Munemitsu. Going beyond Munemitsu, he then referenced Yoshida Shoin, a major intellectual leader before the Meiji Revolution, and recited “Heaven has no eyes, no ears, so heaven listens to and sees through people’s eyes and ears. So, heaven’s mind is people’s mind and you can know who supports whom and that is where heaven’s grace falls.” Mr. Kanehara explained that these quotations are evidence that European Enlightenment thinking is very similar to Confucius thinking and because of this it was not very difficult for the Japanese to understand the political thinking of Westerners.

Lessons from History

Mr. Kanehara then turned to address why Japan could not wait for the materialization of the world order, despite a broad understanding of western thought present in Japan, and added that if Japan waited until the 1950s, 60s, or 70s, there could have been many changes that would have prevented war in the Pacific. During the time before WWII, he explained that Japan had many great strategic thinkers, such as Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Admiral who attacked Pearl Harbor, who knew that Japan could never win against the U.S. So why did Japan not wait until the liberalization of the world order? Mr. Kanehara responded by stating that simply, the Japanese constitutional system was very bad. Within this system, the command line of the military came from the Emperor who was both worshipped and held very high authority, but had no staff, chief of staff, bureaucrats, or others supporting him. As a result, the government was excluded from decision making as the prime minister and other ministers had no right to interact with the command line.

With this system in mind, two contributors to Japan’s failure to maintain control in WWII was the Daihonei and the strength and independence of the Army and Navy. First, Mr. Kanehara explained Daihonei, a situational joint staff, and, in theory, was only formed during wartime. The Daihonei was formed during both the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) but was not used again until the second Sino-Japanese War started in 1937. Secondly, in the early Meiji period there were strong leaders within the Army and Navy that cooperated and were easy to control, but by the 1930s, Mr. Kanehara said that Army and Navy were so large, independent, powerful, and hated each other. Therefore, they did not coordinate, and the government was excluded from military thinking. As a result, the Army invaded Manchuria, which started a major war on the continent.

Mr. Kanehara stated that the decision to invade Manchuria was a major mistake. Japan had never been a continental power and had always acted independently of the continent. Before Manchuria, Japan had only involved itself in continental Asian affairs two or three times. First, in the 7th century when the allied Korean Baekje Kingdom was destroyed by China and Japan attempted to help but ultimately withdrew. Second, in the 16th century when general Toyotomi Hideyoshi wanted to invade China and attempted to enter through the Korean Peninsula. Lastly, despite Koreans frequently traveling to Japan to request assistance due to fears of the Mongols, Manchus, and Chinese, Japan almost always refused, choosing to not involve itself in continental affairs.

Therefore, when the Army invaded Manchuria without consulting the emperor or government, it was a betrayal to the emperor, but the army escaped punishment when they were hailed as heroes throughout Japan. Mr. Kanehara explained that another major mistake was Japan’s thought that it could cut Chiang Kai-shek’s resistance in half and carve a line down to Vietnam. This decision was influenced by the actions of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin and their ability to carve out Eastern Europe and cut Poland in half. Due to the early French defeat in Europe, Japan thought it could easily take Vietnam; however, Japan still managed to anger the West by attempting to do so. Mr. Kanehara stated that after this incident, Japan gradually viewed the U.S. as a potential military target.

As a result, Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka turned the trilateral alliance of Japan, Germany, and Italy against the Soviet Union and sought to look to the U.S. However, as Mr. Kanehara explained, Matsuoka was only a foreign minister, whereas Hitler and Stalin were the Supreme Commanders of their armies. Mr. Kanehara explained that Matsuoka was also used to buy time which was an additional mistake because suddenly Japan set the U.S. as the primary enemy and the situation spiraled out of control. He explained that the Emperor ordered then PM Hideki Tojo to stop the war, but the government was still too weak to control the Army and Navy. This early mistake, according to Mr. Kanehara, made the government more and more marginalized while the Army and Navy grew their power and ruled the nation.

Mr. Kanehara concluded that, based on these historical failures and ineptitude of the government, today Japan must strengthen civilian control again to prevent similar failures in the future. He continued that, after WWII, debates on security were mostly ideological with no substance at all, with a focus on choosing the side of the east or the west. For the west side, alliance management and the enforcement of the Self Defense Force (SDF) was the priority. For the east side, priority was neutrality and no armaments. Mr. Kanehara explained that this either/or situation resulted in no substantial discussions on national security, and discussions on this topic did not occur until the 1990s.

This changed after the Cold War and Mr. Kanehara stated that views changed, and a National Security Secretariat (NSS) was formed giving the prime minister an apparatus to have more control over the command lines and whole of government including diplomacy, finance, economy, energy, industry, and others. Mr. Kanehara described the prime minister as the incarnation of the idea of civilian control and so the NSS is the apparatus for that control and must, therefore, work to support the prime minister so that they can be effective in their civilian control of military forces in case of a contingency. However, Mr. Kanehara explained that this control has not been tested by fire and expressed concern but hopes the NSS will serve to strengthen civilian control.

Japan’s New National Security Strategy

Turning to his final remarks, Mr. Kanehara introduced his views for Japan’s new national security strategy, which is based on three levels. The first level, according to Mr. Kanehara, is a strategic balance regarding China. He continued by explaining that economically, 10 years ago China was the size of Japan, but now they are three times larger and 70% of the size of the U.S. economy. Militarily, the Chinese budget is now four times bigger than Japan’s and is one-fourth of the U.S. budget but rising quickly. Speaking briefly on Japan-China relations, Mr. Kanehara noted that Chinese leader Xi Jinping does not understand the world. Xi is expanding by force, particularly in the Himalayas and the East and South China Seas; however, China does not use naval force. Moreover, China says they will never confront the U.S. militarily, but China is bullying U.S. allies and friends in the region using police forces according to Mr. Kanehara. He said that these skirmishes are the job of the allies and friends to deal with, but keeping balance with China strategically is the role of both Japan and the U.S.

One recommendation for better balancing of China by the U.S., according to Mr. Kanehara, is by strengthening the U.S. alliance system in the Indo-Pacific. He said that the current U.S. Pacific alliance system, known as the hub and spokes system, is very weak especially in comparison to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Instead, it is not an organization and has no headquarters, but is all bilateral. To Mr. Kanehara, this has caused South Korea to strategically be very confused, at least with the current government. Additionally, the Philippines and Thailand are not credible military powers to balance against China, Australia is often reliable but too far away in the South Pacific and too small, and despite investing a lot in India, they are neither flying nor on the runway. Therefore, Mr. Kanehara views the present spine of the liberal order in the Pacific as resting on the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Concluding his remarks on the first level of Japan’s national security strategy, Mr. Kanehara explained that U.S. commitment and ability to rally friends and allies in the region is vital. He stressed that the current structure of the U.S. must be restructured to allow for the protection of Taiwan, the Philippines, and small islands from Chinese picking in the South China Sea. Economically, Europe, Japan, and the U.S. account for 50% of the world’s GDP, whereas China is currently at 16%. The Chinese economy may surpass the U.S., but Mr. Kanehara does not believe it can surpass the combination of Japan and the U.S. and is certain it will never reach the combined size of Japan, Europe, and the U.S., but leadership is needed. He noted that while leadership development may take time, if the U.S. is committed, Japan and the U.S. can show leadership in the region together which will frame and balance China.

Next, Mr. Kanehara discussed the second level of Japan’s national security strategy, which is the importance of establishing a commercial or economic strategy. Historically, since the 1930s Japan has never developed a true maritime strategy as an investing nation. However; before the 1930’s such a strategy was in development, as he explained, by PM Ito Hirobumi who sought to acquire Taiwan after the First Sino-Japanese War. This decision by Ito was part of a greater strategy to expand south, similarly to the British, French, and Dutch through commerce. Moreover, prior to the Tokugawa Shogunate’s policy of isolationism, Japan was active in trade throughout the region. Today and in light of Japan’s history, Mr. Kanehara stressed that Japan needs to reconnect to the world economy and recommended doing so by obtaining a large Navy. He recommended that one way to reconnect is through trade deals and listed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as a major achievement of the Abe government that is both good for Japan and the region. He noted that without the CPTPP, Beijing consensus would rule.

Beginning to conclude his remarks, Mr. Kanehara stated that the Indo-Pacific region needs free trade, but current Chinese initiatives such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are not real free trade initiatives. Although the region can defend against RCEP without U.S. involvement through the CPTPP, he explained that Japan has never led a mega-free trade agreement before, but U.S. involvement is important to ensure that free trade flourishes in the region. In addition to free trade deals, he noted that investment in the region by Japan will continue to grow in importance. Touching upon the third level of Japan’s national security strategy, the emergence of a legitimate Asia liberal order, differing from that of the fake “free camp” that occurred during the Cold War. The region is at the creation of the liberal order in Asia, not the disruption, but somebody must lead. Mr. Kanehara said that Japan cannot be that leader, as Japan is peaking out and the national average age is too old. However, although Japan cannot lead alone, he concluded by stating that with U.S. commitment, and help from Europe, friends in Asia and ASEAN can be rallied, engagement with India can be increased, Pacific Latin American countries can be better incorporated, and African nations can begin to be included.

Moderated Q&A with Attendees


NSS Economic Division Significance

After Mr. Kanehara’s presentation, Dr. Akimoto opened the Q&A by asking the first question. Emphasizing the symbolism of the NSS as Japan’s civilian control though the PM, Dr. Akimoto asked with the recently established economic division of the NSS, what will be the significance and purpose of the new division?

In response, Mr. Kanehara stated that the new NSS economic division serves two purposes. Noting that there are two types of technology in Japan, civil technology and heavy industries military technology, and a result, he explained there are two aspects of the economic policy. The first of these is the control of the free flow of technologies to China. This control is in part due to the problem in Japan of civilian sector developers not knowing or understanding how their technologies can be used for a military purpose and why their technologies are sensitive to the U.S. Additionally, Mr. Kanehara identified that the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MOD) budget is too small for research and development, at only approximately ¥130 billion, so MOD invests a lot in their assets and does not look into the future of civilian technology, making it difficult to evaluate which technologies are sensitive to Japanese national security.

In regard to the first purpose of the economic division and its related shortcomings, Mr. Kanehara recommended that Japan gather engineers inside the government and have them hold discussions to increase their sensitivity to issues of technology flow. Currently, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) is leading an initiative to increase technology flow on sensitive tech. such as networking, deep-sea cables, 5G, semi-conductors, data processing, quantum technology, and 3D printing, by involving MOD and intergovernmental officials with civilian technology companies. Additionally, Japan is following The U.S. Department of Commerce recently released 14 points regarding the protection of emerging technologies.

Addressing the second purpose of the NSS economic division, Mr. Kanehara stated that this was to work on military technology; however, he noted that this development is not going well. Since the 1970s, Japan has struggled with military technology since PM Takeo Miki’s decision to halt all Japanese arms exports. Mr. Kanehara explained that, as a result, the scales have tipped out of favor with Japan and South Korea is now Asia’s biggest military industry due to their high amounts of exports and quality of armaments. This has caused difficulties for Japanese military industries as military engineers are leaving the military sector due to the inability to make a profit. Due to these difficulties, Mr. Kanehara believes that Japan must engage more engineers and scientists to enhance Japanese military technology. He further explained that Japan is now galvanizing all scientists in the civilian sector who also hold pacifist views by explaining that defending the nation and protecting soldiers’ lives is important, so the government needs their cooperation.

Post Abe Era

The next question was asked by Dr. Michael J. Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Dr. Green asked, will the Abe strategy continue with a different leader? He also requested Mr. Kanehara to speak on what his sense of politics was behind the strategy described is and if he thinks there’s deep support among different parts of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the coalition.

Mr. Kanehara responded by saying that it is too early and therefore, unclear who will be the next PM. Regarding the strategy, he noted that the strategic framework for Japan is, if China rises, Japan needs the U.S., but this will change. More and more, he said, the discussion on national security is less ideological, as people become more realistic, particularly the younger generation. As a result, he explained, Japan can no longer argue for disarmament and neutrality and will continue to trend away from these policies.

Regarding ally commitment and national security, Mr. Kanehara explained that PM Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso are special, both grandsons of Prime Ministers Nobusuke Kishi and Shigeru Yoshida, respectively, two founders of the U.S.-Japan alliance. As a result, the two are sworn allies to sustain the achievements of their grandfathers and are personally committed in this regard, so it is easy to discuss national security issues with them. Mr. Kanehara stated that once PM Abe resigns, strategically, the politics will not change, but Japanese thinkers will have to persuade and explain a lot to the new leader of the importance of national security. Mr. Kanehara explained that, apart from Shigeru Ishiba, whoever becomes prime minister will likely be a continuation of the Abe government, although even Ishiba will have a nearly identical national security policy. So, Mr. Kanehara does not think there will be a big change of course but written policy, passion, and the priorities of the next prime minister need to be discovered.

Switching to address matters outside of national security, Mr. Kanehara stated that no matter who the next prime minister is they will have to cope with the COVID-19 situation, huge fiscal debts, and the economic situation which will take up much of the new leader’s energy in the first several months. He also noted that once PM Abe resigns and his relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump ends politically, Japan will see Japanese unity with the U.S. as damaged. Concluding, Mr. Kanehara stated that Japan is also worried about U.S. leadership and the upcoming elections.

Following Mr. Kanehara’s response, Dr. Green was given the opportunity to respond. He first stated that as part of a group of 70 ex-government officials from the Republican party, a large number of former members of Congress on the Republican side, Justice Department, and political appointees and senior officials from the Regan, H.W. Bush, W. Bush, and Trump administrations have been putting out similar statements that President Trump is failing to provide the unity that Mr. Kanehara spoke of. However, Dr. Green noted that many senior officials in the Trump administration are completely in line with the strategy Mr. Kanehara described and have a very similar maritime strategic view which is a real strength for the U.S. right now. Generally, he said, the national security strategy in Japan and the U.S. are well aligned, and he believes that would be true under a Biden administration too. Concluding, Dr. Green admitted that he is also worried about the U.S. election, but thinks that there is really strong continuity so it will be a question of whether or not the leadership will be able to provide unity internationally at a time when it is needed.

Following the topic of the post-Abe era, Ambassador Rust Deming, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. to Japan from 1993-1996, explained that PM Abe put together an all-star team that produced a very strong chief cabinet secretariat. Therefore, he asked with a new prime minister coming in, even with the same policies, if they are less dedicated to putting the right people in the right places and maintaining the structure, is there a risk of erosion as ministries try to pull back power from the NSS and Kantei that could result in the decentralization of a very coherent strategy that Japan has had under the Abe administration?

In response, Mr. Kanehara stated that, institution-wise, Japan’s government has become far stronger than before. MOD and the MOFA are now very close, the military is much more integrated as the Chief of Staff and Joint Chiefs of Staff see PM Abe very often, which was not the case before, so the strength of Japanese institutions will continue. In terms of the people involved, Mr. Kanehara explained that it will be the choice of the new prime minister, but the chief cabinet secretary has become very important which was not the case before. He continued his explanation, saying, up to the 1990s, they were just a “rubber-stamper,” whereas now they are a power center that has to coordinate all the ministry agencies, the ruling party, and Komeito, and deal with the Diet. The current Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, has been in his role since 2012 and Mr. Kanehara said that he has done an excellent job, but his caliber is not easy to find. So, the next prime minister must choose a very good chief cabinet secretary, foreign minister, and defense minister. He emphasized that, although the selection of prime minister is important, the team is also very important, and until both are known it will be difficult to predict what sort of government will form.

Strategic Importance of Southeast Asia

Next, Ambassador David Shear, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs from 2014 to 2016 and U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam asked Mr. Kanehara about how Japan and the U.S. could better engage Southeast Asia. According to Amb. Shear, the U.S. strategic posture in Asia has traditionally been much stronger in Northeast Asia with lots of forward-deployed forces and strong capable allies in both Japan and South Korea, but it has been the opposite case in Southeast Asia where the U.S. has fewer forward-deployed forces and much weaker and less reliable allies. Amb. Shear concluded by asking, is this a matter of concern and what should the U.S. be doing, what is Japan doing about it, and is there more beyond the CPTPP?

Mr. Kanehara responded by noting that the current alliance structure is oriented to cope with the Soviet Union and was never intended to deal with China in the south. After the 1970s, he said, China was on the same side and only began to act strangely this century. As a result, the thinking shifted to not provoke China, but whether they are provoked or not, China continues to move in the wrong direction today. So, Mr. Kanehara said that the U.S. and its allies must think about new ways to frame and engage China.

One issue associated with this problem that Mr. Kanehara identified is that China does not listen to the weak. To be effective, they must be pressured from a position of strength militarily, economically, and in terms of ideas and values. Mr. Kanehara is confident that liberal values will never lose to communist values and stated earlier that China cannot overcome the combined economies of the U.S. and its allies, but militarily, at least locally, there is a potential for China to have an advantage, so there needs to be rehabilitation in terms of military. One way to overcome this, according to Mr. Kanehara, is that U.S. allies must train together, otherwise, they will be unable to fight together or deal with China. As U.S. allies train together, he said that they should work quietly and begin preparations for Chinese military actions, especially against Taiwan, so no chance can be given to China to criticize U.S. allies as being aggressive.

He continued the discussion of this issue by stating that, just like the grand strategy of George Kennan, when he launched the new concept of X Article, there was no policy backing, but something had to start the process of policy development. As a result of the X Article, the liberal order was able to successfully frame Russia to change from inside, even if it is still taking time and changing still today. Mr. Kanehara said that similarly, Xi does not understand the free world at all, and digital technology is giving him a huge edge to control 1.3 billion people, but the liberal order will be on the winning side so preparations must be made for the coming shift in two or three decades. Militarily, Mr. Kanehara said that Japan and the U.S. need to start working with Taiwan quietly and push South Korea to change from its current Cold War framework of criticizing their conservatives, Japan, and the U.S. Although South Korea currently shows no signs of being able to escape its current domestic context, and it will take time for South Korea to mature strategically, and the inclusion of South Korea is necessary for the U.S. and Japan to frame Asia for the liberal order.

Future of U.S. Leadership

Next, Dr. Akimoto took the opportunity to ask a question about the changing nature of political leadership in the U.S. He said that U.S. political leadership has been undergoing a tremendous transformation in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. He continued by explaining that, in general, Japan has traditionally dealt mostly with white male political leadership. With this in mind, Dr. Akimoto asked, how ready is Japan to deal with and communicate with the changes of leadership in the U.S.?

Mr. Kanehara started his response by noting that President Barack Obama was African American, and the Japanese are not white. Therefore, it is rather easier for Japan to work with a variety of ethnicities, which Mr. Kanehara noted is one of the beauties of the U.S. Japan has an image of the U.S. as diverse and therefore, he stated that it is easier for Japan that U.S. leadership respects diversity domestically and globally. Using an example from his own life, Mr. Kanehara said that when he read U.S. history, he realized that the great awakening and abolitionists are the truly polished American principles for equality and diversity that Japan can sympathize with. Continuing, he said that this is something that the U.S. and Japan can build upon and the alliance must be built upon these principles.

The Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) Strategy

The next set of questions was asked by Natsuko Sakata, Counsellor at the Embassy of Japan in the U.S. and Associate at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Program on U.S.-Japan Relations. She began by noting that Mr. Kanehara was the leading advocate for FOIP during Ms. Sakata’s time at MOFA. So, Ms. Sakata asked Mr. Kanehara what his expectations were for developing the FOIP strategy, especially post-COVID-19 and elections in both countries, which are during growing U.S.-China tensions. Additionally, she asked if there are any vital factors Japan needs to be mindful of in pursuing FOIP further.

Mr. Kanehara responded by clarifying that the strategy discussed in his presentation came directly from the FOIP strategy. He explained that FOIP is the values-based diplomacy which had some resonance in Japan. To move FOIP forward, he recommended that Japan should clarify the flag of FOIP as it is no longer an ideologically confrontational time. He reiterated that Japan and the U.S. should somehow keep balance with China, and for this, the assistance of India, Australia, and ASEAN nations is needed. Part of this strategy is to promote high standard free trade such as the CPTPP and the EU-Japan trade deal. Finally, Mr. Kanehara said that the liberal order is important and is certain that the Indo-Pacific region will be the cradle for Asian free trade and liberal order, and described FOIP as a grand strategy, not a piece-meal policy which is easily realized.

In response, Ms. Sakata asked an additional question regarding the economic impact of the strategy described by Mr. Kanehara on Japan. She noted that concerns regarding the orientation of the economic division of the NSS, the controlling status of what originally was to be the promotion of free open market mechanisms, and technologies critical to national security must be addressed by Japan. Therefore, Ms. Sakata asked if Mr. Kanehara could speak more to these ongoing discussions.

In response, Mr. Kanehara stated that the logic of markets is different from the logic of national security, but the markets can often be affected by national security concerns. He said that there are some limits of commerce or trade from the perspective of national security, such as China’s huge economy and supply chains, as well as Chinese students present in Japan and the U.S., where research, patents, and licenses are at stake. With these issues in mind, Mr. Kanehara pondered what could be done. This question of what can be done is what the U.S. is currently asking itself, according to Mr. Kanehara. He stressed though that it is necessary to coordinate among allies on these issues.

The U.S. alliance system requires a more systematic and transparent approach to trade control with China. This will enable companies and organizations to decide what technology is too precious to provide to China, as well as knowing what they can and cannot sell to China. Overall, specific reasons for trade control must be developed in terms of national security, otherwise, it will become illegal, go against market forces, and fail. Although this is taking shape now, Mr. Kanehara stated it is not yet clear which technologies are very sensitive, but it is known that platforms like TikTok are dangerous and must be transferred. He concluded his response by noting that, apart from quantum technology, many issues need looking into to determine where China can be cooperated with, but it is not yet clear.

Importance of India

Dr. Thomas Berger, Director of the Center for the Study of Asia at Boston University, asked the last question. He first stated that for the U.S. and Japan, India is of enormous potential and importance, but it has historically been very difficult to cooperate with due to their non-aligned stance. So, he asked, what can the U.S. and Japan reasonably expect from India and what can India expect from Japan and the U.S.? He also noted that something must be given to India if there is to be an expectation that India will give something in return.

Mr. Kanehara responded by stating that India needs monetary, technological, investment, and other assistance. India may be the only potential superpower that can help to counterbalance China, but he noted India calculates national interests very carefully. Due to this, Mr. Kanehara said that India will not be 100% reliable as they will always calculate the distance with Russia and China. When China was very close to Japan, and Pakistan, India was forced to go to the Soviet Union to buy arms which was difficult for Indian leadership. By buying Soviet arms India could still maintain their non-aligned stance but was not truly neutral. Now, however, Mr. Kanehara stated that India sees that China and the U.S. have growing conflicts. Therefore, he views India as gradually shifting from the non-alliance policy, referencing Indian PM Manmohan Singh’s great difficulty moving Indian Congress away from their non-aligned stance, but eventually achieved partial success. Mr. Kanehara concluded his response by stating that, today, PM Narendra Modi’s government is moving closer to Japan and the U.S. but needs help as India will be a more independent superpower.

Dr. Akimoto concluded the Q&A and the webinar by thanking Dr. Kanehara for taking the time to present his new book Rekishi no Kyokun. Overall, his proficiency and historical understanding provided a valuable opportunity for participants to learn firsthand from and interact with an expert from Japan.


Sasakawa USA is grateful to Mr. Kanehara, Q&A participants, and attendees for the thoughtful discussion during the webinar.

The summarized views of the speakers expressed herein are entirely the work of Sasakawa USA and do not represent the official positions of any of the speakers.

For more information about Sasakawa USA’s Policy Briefing Series, click here.


August 26, 2020
9:00 am - 10:15 am
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