Foreign Policy Blogs

Reading the 2010 MOFA Bluebook

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has just released its annual Bluebook, which is available in Japanese here. (Unfortunately, if past years are any indication, it will be months before a proper English language translation comes out.)

[Clarification: what I’m discussing here is the executive summary of the Bluebook, not the 200+ page report. Thanks to Michael Cucek for pointing this out.]

In essence, the Bluebook has three over-arching goals: 1) to document the major diplomatic events of 2009 2) to articulate the growing diplomatic initiatives of 2010 – the Hatoyama administration’s diplomatic roadmap 3) and to explain, in laymen’s terms, what this diplomatic package means for Japan and its citizens.

Notably, this is the first Bluebook produced by Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and his team, and it should give us a strong sense of continuity and change within the Foreign Ministry.

The year’s report covers way too much material to be exhaustively analyzed here, but I’d like to highlight the major points that jumped out at me, especially those that relate to Japan’s diplomacy with its neighbors.

-Regarding regional diplomacy in general, the report takes every opportunity to remind us that there are two critical parts of the regional security equation: America as the basis (基軸) of their engagement, and East Asian cooperation (共同体), or Mr. Hatoyama’s Asianism, as an ongoing project. The report pains itself to pay respect to both initiatives, reminding us time-and-again (somewhere in the ballpark of ten times, I think) that both are integral to the Hatoyama administration’s foreign policy. This of course is nothing new: foreign analysts (myself included) have by now exhausted the debate on the US-Japan Alliance versus Japan’s “new Asianism.” But what the report does show us is that the Hatoyama administration doesn’t simply conceive of foreign policy as a zero-sum game. Both of these initiatives, though perhaps at odds, are genuine and unflagging, and its about time analysts find a new paradigm for analyzing Japan’s diplomacy vis-a-vis the US and East Asia.

-The Bluebook stresses the need to push hard on building regional architecture. Mention of ARF, APEC, EAS, ASEAN+3, and FTA are littered throughout the East Asian section of the report, and constitute the vast majority of the Bluebook’s stance on regional economic issues.

-The other regional take away from the report is that new regional challenges – H1N1, global warming, terrorism, and others – present new opportunities. The report identifies a laundry list of items that could be used as a springboard for cultivating ties – both bilateral and regional. To a certain extent cooperation on these issues is already underway, as the report acknowledges, but there is certainly room for closer cooperation.

-Regarding relations with South Korea, the big issue, which has already spilled beyond the Bluebook’s pages, is Japan’s claim on Dokdo/Takeshima, a small group of uninhabited islets in the Sea of Japan that have proved a perennial thorn for bilateral relations. Interestingly, this stubborn stance on Takeshima works against the desire to rein in the contretemps of the recent past – an initiative also articulated, albeit tersely, in the Bluebook. The debate regarding possession of these islets is more complicated than one might think (as Professor Alexis Dudden expertly shows in a recent article at JapanFocus), and it is understandable that Japan would want to explain its stance, but it is a major oversight to have these two contradictory notions explicity stated in the same report. If anything, the release of the report have hurt bilateral relations, which is obviously not what MOFA was going for.

The report otherwise surveys the many and various diplomatic initiatives that Japan shares with Korea: democracy promotion, resolving the N. Korean nuclear program, combating terrorism, and many others.

-On China, the Bluebook recognizes China’s growing influence in the region and suggests, essentially, that Japan should work in concert with its neighbors to help “manage” China’s rise in the region. This requires bolstering bilateral ties, incorporating China into regional architecture, and further addressing potentially problematic issues like the East China Sea dispute and food health issues. The China section of the report struck me as somehow inadequate, but maybe that’s just me.

-Regarding Australia, the Bluebook stresses economic cooperation with Australia as the key to maintaining healthy ties. The report also stresses Australia’s critical role in promoting and maintaining regional security. This section is nothing if not hackneyed. (New Zealand gets ignored.)

-The Bluebook stance on India was, I thought, the most impressive. In one of the longest treatments of the entire report, India is identified as an critical partner in promoting democracy in Asia and ensuring stability in East and South Asia. The Bluebook deftly appraises India’s own internal issues, the deteriorating security situation in South Asia, and Af-Pak issues in general, and I think it goes to show how Indo-Japanese ties have improved markedly over the past few years. This isnt necessarily Mr. Okada’s doing, but it shows that he is going to further cultivate these bilateral ties. (It does allay fears I once had that Mr. Hatoyama’s New Regionalism doesnt include India, however.)

-On North Korea, the Bluebook is as interested in documenting past failures as it is in outlining steps forward. It proposes to stay the course on the Six Party framework, while simultaneously pursuing bilateral channels to ratchet up the pressure on the North Korean regime. Notably, and aptly, it identifies South Korea as the key stakeholder to the negotiations.

-There is only one mention of Taiwan in the entire report, and this remark is in passing reference to the end of the Cold War. It isn’t all that surprising that MOFA would skirt the contentious Taiwan Straits issue, but I was somewhat taken aback by the complete lack of discussion of Taiwan’s participation in other regional initiatives. This undoubtedly stems from the 1972 Joint Communique: as Japan doesn’t formally recognize the ROC it can’t mention it in a formal report. But a more realistic appraisal of regional issues would have factored in Taiwan’s role.

-Among the many foreign policy challenges identified in Bluebook are Iran’s nuclear program, Somalian piracy, the war in Afghanistan, and global terrorism. These are the usual suspects, to be sure, and the Bluebook doesnt offer any particularly original insight into how to go about tackling them. But it does stress the importance of multilateral and international cooperation.

-Lastly, and this carries off comments I made yesterday in regards to Pres. Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review, but the term “post Cold War” (冷戦後) is strewn throughout this report. By my calculation is it used, in various linguistic  permutations, 14 times – perhaps more than any other diplomatic buzzword. There seems to me to be a consensus among foreign policymakers in both Washington and Tokyo that the end of the Cold War brought with it a seachange in foreign policy priorities. The term is used in both reports to imbue a sense of paradigmatic change. And yet when it comes to the presence of US troops and the relocation of one base (of scores of others) this type of Post Cold War discussion is impossible. What justifies a radical alteration of Obama’s nuclear policy (what directly affects American security) doesnt suffice to enable a frank re-assessment of an air base (what is comparatively inconsequential).

The 2010 Bluebook, like earlier versions, is a thorough 26 page report. It outlines Japan’s foreign policy regarding Europe, South Asia, Africa, and just about everywhere else. It also includes an interesting section on how Japan’s foreign policy will affect and engage its citizens. There is a lot to chew on, so I encourage you to take a look. I’ll re-post as soon as the English translation come out.

A major pet project of mine is to compare this Bluebook to the 2009 version, so expect more to come.



David Fedman

David Fedman is a PhD student in the History Department of Stanford University where he focuses on modern Japanese and Korean history. He lives in San Francisco, California.