By Genc Mlloja
Senior Diplomatic Editor
“The year 2019 was a “year of diplomacy” for Japan with a series of international meetings and major events taking place in the country. Large-scale international conferences, such as the G20 Osaka Summit and the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7), as well as the Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor at the Seiden, provided excellent opportunities to further deepen the world's understanding of and interest in Japan and to share with the international community Japan's readiness to tackle issues for achieving global peace and prosperity,” has said the Foreign Minister of Japan, Toshimitsu Motegi.
This comment was made by the chief of the Japanese diplomacy, Motegi in the Preface to the Diplomatic Bluebook 2020 released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, and it is in the hands of Albanian Daily News thanks to the courtesy of the Japanese Embassy in Tirana, which has recently presented it to newspaper’s editorial board.
“Each time I talk with my foreign counterparts, I am made keenly aware that expectations for Japan are increasing and Japan's global presence is growing, as a country that has been pursuing a consistent, stable diplomacy amid the increasingly complex and uncertain international situation,” said Mr. Motegi while introducing the content of the Bluebook which records Japan's diplomatic activities in priority areas that took place throughout 2019,
In principle, Diplomatic Bluebook 2020 describes an overview of the international affairs and Japan's diplomatic activities between January 1 and December 31 of 2019, but, however, some important events that occurred until April 2020 are also included in it. The Diplomatic Bluebook is an annual report on Japan's Foreign Policy and Activities published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan each year. This year’s Bluebook covers Japan’s diplomatic activities throughout 2019, which was assessed as a huge “year of diplomacy” for this country. A series of major international meetings and events took place throughout 2019, including the G20 Osaka Summit, The
Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor and the beginning of the Reiwa Era, and the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7). The impacts of COVID-19 have also been included despite the book’s focus on 2019, reflecting the significant impact it has had on international affairs.
“I am determined to exert initiative in resolving various problems by translating Japan's growing global presence into coordinating capacity in the international community. I will stand firm where a resolute response is needed. This is precisely what I aim to pursue under the “diplomacy with a sense of caring and robustness, which I have reiterated since my appointment as Foreign Minister,” said Mr. Motegi who retained the post as Foreign Minister in the new government.
PM Yoshihide Suga who was elected Japan’s new prime minister, following the resignation of Shinzo Abe, took office as Japan's first new government head in nearly eight years on September 16 this year, forming a Cabinet of familiar faces to stay the course set by his predecessor.
“I will continue to take further steps with a particular focus on six policy areas: (1) further strengthening of the Japan-U.S. Alliance, the cornerstone of Japan's foreign policy; (2) tackling outstanding issues of concern regarding North Korea; (3) advancing diplomacy with neighboring countries, such as China, the Republic of Korea, and Russia; (4) addressing the increasingly tense situation in the Middle East; (5) engaging in economic diplomacy in which Japan will lead efforts to establish new common rules; and (6) addressing global issues,” stressed FM Motegi.
“It is my sincere hope that this Diplomatic Bluebook will help a broad readership, both domestic and overseas, form an image of Japan demonstrating leadership in the international community and contributing more than ever to global peace and stability,” Japanese top diplomat pointed out.
The Book consists of 4 chapters offering concise overviews of Japan's diplomatic activities throughout 2019. It also includes special features explaining specific foreign policy themes in an easy-to-understand manner and column articles contributed by people with global experiences. To be more concrete Chapter 1 reviews the international situation and Japan's diplomacy in 2019, while chapters 2 and 3 elaborate on major events in 2019 in relation to country’s foreign policy by region and by field respectively. In the meantime Chapter 4 discusses the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to support the Japanese society and people in deepening their ties with the world. Additions were made to cover the situation concerning the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to the extent permitted by time available until publication, it is noted in the introduction to the 368-page Bluebook.
From Heisei to Reiwa: Ceremonies of the Accession to the Throne
Under the above headline the Bluebook carries among others the following ‘Opening Special Feature’ on one of the most important developments in Japan as it is the enthronement of the new Emperor of Japan on May 1, 2019:
“On May 1, His Majesty the Emperor of Japan acceded to the Throne, and the era name changed from Heisei to Reiwa. This marked the first imperial succession by abdication in approximately 200 years.
The most important ceremony of the Accession to the Throne is the Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor at the Seiden (State Hall), in which His Majesty the Emperor proclaims his enthronement and receives felicitations from representatives in Japan and overseas.
Japanese and foreign guests were invited to the Ceremony of the Enthronement at the Seiden held on October 22. While heads of State, envoys, their spouses, and others from 160 countries and organizations attended the Heisei imperial succession, the Reiwa imperial succession was represented by 191 countries, organizations, and others. Foreign guests also attended the Court Banquet after the Ceremony of the Enthronement and the Banquet hosted by the Prime Minister and his spouse.
With many foreign dignitaries visiting Japan, the events offered an opportunity to acquaint a wider circle of people across the globe with the linkages between the Imperial Family and the world.”
International Situation and Japan's Diplomacy in 2019
“The security environment surrounding Japan is becoming ever more severe and uncertain. Changes in the balance of power in the international arena are accelerating and becoming more complex, while cross-border threats are also growing. Today, no single country can protect its peace and security on its own,” it is said in the opening of Chapter 1 under the subtitle ‘International Situation and Japan's Diplomacy in 2019’. It is noted that the balance of power in the international community is shifting dramatically due to the rise of emerging countries, among other factors. Inter-state competition, in which states seek to shape an international order to their advantage as well as to increase their influence, is emerging more prominently. Meanwhile, there is growing uncertainty over the existing order.
Among other things it is stressed that the world economy has become more interdependent than ever through the development of global supply chain and financial systems, in line with the progress of globalization and innovation, such as digital technology. Meanwhile, protectionism and inward-looking trends that have spread as a backlash against globalization remain pronounced across the world.
In an overview on Japanese-Chinese relations the relevant section dwells on the situation in China, domestic affairs, economy, foreign policy, and military affairs and security in the country. Referring to the Japan-China relationship it is pointed out that “The relationship with China, the neighboring country across the East China Sea, is one of Japan's most important bilateral relationships, and the two countries have close economic relations, as well as people-to-people and cultural exchanges. Carrying on from 2018, 2019 saw active high-level dialogues including Summit Meetings and Foreign Ministers' Meetings, and was a year that took relations to a new stage toward “a new era of Japan-China relations”.”
Regarding the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease that started spreading in China at the end of 2019, Japan and China worked together closely from the perspective of preventing the spread of the virus in China and protecting Japanese nationals. “Japan and China share significant responsibilities for the peace and prosperity of the region and the world. The international community strongly demands fulfilling these responsibilities given current regional circumstances. In addition to reciprocal visits by its leaders, Japan will build a mature Japan-China relationship in the new era by deepening and expanding exchanges in various fields.”
Referring to the nuclear and missile development by North Korea it is noted that this country frequently and repeatedly conducted launches of ballistic missiles, totaling more than 20 from May to November 2019, and it also launched ballistic missiles in March 2020.
The Bluebook contains a detailed panoramic overview of the Asia-Oceania region which includes not only China and Japan, the second and third largest economies in the world, but also numerous emerging countries with remarkable growth. Below are some of its findings: It is a dynamic region where diverse cultures and races intermingle and influence each other. As the world's growth center, this region, with an abundance of human resources, drives the world economy and has been enhancing its presence. Of the world population of 7.7 billion, approximately 3.6 billion people live in East Asia Summit (EAS) member states (excluding the U.S. and Russia). This represents about 47% of the world's population. The combined nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, China, and India increased by more than 260% over the last ten years, as compared to the world average of 140%. Total exports and imports of EAS member states (excluding the U.S. and Russia) are 11.4 trillion US dollars (2018), making it comparable to the EU (12.7 trillion US dollars). “Against this backdrop, Japan practices proactive diplomacy with neighboring countries as a pillar of its diplomacy, and has been actively engaging in diplomacy including at the leaders' and foreign ministers' levels,” it is highlighted.
The Bluebook stresses that the Japan-U.S. Security Alliance, with the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements as its core, is the foundation of peace, prosperity, and freedom, not only for Japan but also for the Indo-Pacific region. “In the midst of an increasingly severe regional security environment, the Japan-U.S. Alliance is more important than ever.”
Continuing on from 2018, in 2019 there was frequent policy coordination at high levels between Japan and the U.S., including 11 summit meetings (of which six were telephone calls) and 14 foreign ministers' meetings (of which 11 were telephone calls, and which included meetings with the acting Secretary of State). In particular, there were three consecutive months of mutual visits by the leaders of Japan and the U.S., consisting of the visit to the U.S. by Prime Minister Abe in April, the visit to Japan by President Trump as the first State Guest of the Reiwa era in May, and President Trump's visit to Japan to attend the G20 Osaka Summit in June. Under such deep relationships of trust achieved through frequent exchanges between the leaders and the Foreign Ministers, the Japan-U.S. Alliance has become stronger than ever, and both countries have been closely cooperating on resolving various regional and international matters such as the issue of North Korea, as well as maintaining and strengthening a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”.
In an overview on the relations with Europe it is stressed the importance of cooperation with Europe, with which Japan shares fundamental values and principles. The European Union (EU) and European countries are important partners for Japan, and share fundamental values and principles such as freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. It is necessary more than ever before for Japan to cooperate with them on the various issues that the international community faces today, it is said.
In addition, European countries pursue common policies across a wide range of fields such as diplomacy and security, economy, and state finance, through various frameworks including the EU. They also play a major role in formulating standards in the international community through major international frameworks such as the United Nations Security Council, the G7, the G20, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). “They also continue to have considerable influence on international opinion with a background of their language, history, culture, artistic activities, as well as major media organizations and think tanks.”
Regarding the bilateral relations between Japan and Russia it is said that they have the greatest underlying potential. In recent years, Russia has placed importance on the development of the Russian Far East and East Siberia and has been proactively enhancing relations with the countries in the Asia-Pacific region that are a growth center of the global economy.
Japan Has Promoted Cooperation with Entire WB
Part of the panoramic overview of Japan's foreign policy is also the Western Balkans, and it is said the following in the Diplomatic Bluebook: “Although there still remains ethnic divisiveness, overall progress can be seen for stability and development in the Western Balkan region owing to each country's commitment to reforms toward European integration. Prime Minister Abe visited Serbia in January 2018, the first visit ever by a Japanese Prime Minister. During the visit, he announced the Western Balkans Cooperation Initiative designed to advance cooperation with the Western Balkans (Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, and Montenegro), which aims for EU membership. Japan has promoted cooperation with the entire Western Balkan region in areas such as youth and economic exchanges. In terms of relations with Japan, Foreign Minister Kono visited Serbia in August and President Thaci of Kosovo visited Japan in September. Furthermore, in October, Prime Minister Abe held meetings respectively with President (Editor’s note: Ilir) Meta of Albania, President Thaci of Kosovo, President Djukanovic of Montenegro, and Prime Minister Brnabic of Serbia during their visits to Japan to attend the Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor. He confirmed strengthening of bilateral relations with each country and support under the Western Balkans Cooperation Initiative.”
Maintaining Territorial Integrity Govt’s Fundamental Responsibility
Chapter 3 deals with Japan's foreign policy to promote national and global interests and it is noted among other in the Bluebook that in order to adapt to the changes in the security environment surrounding Japan and to secure the lives and peaceful livelihood of its people, it is important to advance vibrant diplomacy to create a stable and predictable international environment. “In addition, it is important to enable seamless responses to any situation, and to contribute even more proactively to the peace and stability of the international community under the policy of “Proactive Contribution to Peace” based on the principle of international cooperation. To achieve these objectives, the Legislation for Peace and Security” took effect in March 2016.”
Referring to territorial integrity it is noted that its maintenance is a fundamental responsibility of the Government. “Japan's policy to resolutely protect its land, sea, and airspace remains unchanged. Japan will continue to maintain its stance of responding firmly but in a calm manner.”
“As the only country to have ever suffered atomic bombings during wartime, Japan has the responsibility to take the lead in efforts by the international community to realize a world without nuclear weapons,” it is said in the Bluebook. Regarding the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Japan places great importance on maintaining and strengthening the NPT, which is the cornerstone of the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.
Japan as the Safest Country in the World
“Japan's Diplomacy Open to the Public” is the headline of Chapter 4 which deals with the perspective of promoting people-to-people exchanges and strengthening bilateral relations among others in the spirit of the willingness of Japanese society and people to deepen their ties with the world. For example, in 2019, the number of foreign visitors to Japan reached the highest on record at 31.88 million. In the vision, it is stated that the Government will engage in strategic relaxation of visa requirements for the five countries that require a visa to visit Japan (China, Russia, India, the Philippines, and Viet Nam) out of 20 countries and regions that have high market potential to attract tourists. “MOFA will keep working on the relaxation of visa requirements in order to increase the number of foreign visitors to Japan while maintaining “Japan as the safest country in the world,” and to contribute to making Japan a tourism-oriented country both in quality and quantity through attracting the wealthy class, repeat visitors, and the young generation.”