The United States, inarguably the leader of the post-World War II international order, is seeing its influence in the world community waning, while China and Russia are raising their global profiles. And as the world order shifts and realigns amid the U.S.'s slow exit stage left, what diplomatic role should Japan take?
First and foremost, we must evaluate Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's foreign relations policies over the 6 1/2 years since his return to power in late 2012.
Japan's postwar diplomacy has been based on two pillars: the bedrock of Japanese security that is the Japan-U.S. alliance, and the principle of international cooperation centering on the United Nations.
Under the Abe administration, Japan's dependence on the U.S. has stood out, underlining the administration's stance that it must secure the country's interests through the U.S.'s influence. To that end, Prime Minister Abe has openly sought to please President Donald Trump on a host of occasions, reaching a peak of intensity in May this year when Trump was invited to Japan as the first state guest of the Reiwa era.
These favor-currying tactics would only have been really effective when the United States led the free and democratic world. Trump, however, is vandalizing those traditional American values.
Trump detests multinational frameworks and complains that U.S. allies including those in the European Union are shouldering too little of the cost of their own defense. He has targeted Japan in his trade war, and hinted at a review of the decades-old Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.
No matter how ardently Prime Minister Abe preaches the significance of international collaboration to Trump, there is a hurdle that cannot be cleared solely with the relationship of trust between the two leaders, as long as Trump adheres to his pet slogan of "America First."
Today, the United States has rather become a destabilizing factor in the world. While Trump boasts that he called off a military strike on Iran with just 10 minutes before it was to commence, what is Japan supposed to do should an armed conflict break out?
The fate of a plethora of issues faced by the international community is left up to decisions made by the U.S. Whoever the president is, a strong Japan-U.S. alliance is indispensable for Japan's foreign policy.
At the same time, Japan must pursue the establishment of stable relations with China and Russia, two major powers in the region, as well as an unstable North Korea, instead of being committed to the U.S. alone.
That said, the Abe administration's recent efforts -- hinting Japan would accept the return of two of the four islands in the Russian-held Northern Territories, and offering an unconditional Japan-North Korea summit meeting -- have been controversial. Some observers have called them realistic, while others labeled them unprincipled concessions.
In its campaign pledges for the July 21 House of Councillors election, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party says that it will protect Japan's national interests with strong foreign and defense policy, claiming there is a need to improve the nation's defense capabilities.
While such a statement hints at the party's confidence in its diplomatic achievements, the move may just end up being another way to curry favor with President Trump through extravagant purchases of U.S. military hardware.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties have agreed upon just one common cause -- repealing security legislation allowing Japan the limited exercise of the right to collective self-defense -- despite their joint struggle to counter the ruling bloc in the upper house race. In other words, the opposition camp lacks a common strategy to deal with the troubled international situation.