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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #30: January 11, 2002

China, A threat to Japanese Leadership

John de Boer (University of Tokyo)

Prime Minister Koizumi is in the middle of his six nation trip through Asia and reports indicate that Japan's leadership status is at stake. A survey of the global media puts a new twist on Japan's recent foreign policy. The overwhelming interpretation is that Japan's primary concern is to limit the spread of Chinese influence throughout Asia. Newspapers say that Japan's position is being threatened and Koizumi is on a mission to prepare for the battle over number one.

David Ibison of the Financial Times did not waste any time pitting China against Japan in his article of January 8. He emphasized that the focus was on how Japan intends to manage relations with its Asian neighbors following China's accession to the World Trade Organization. He warned that, "China is seeking to capitalize on its long-awaited membership of the trade body by building a leadership role in the region - a position that Japan holds and is reluctant to relinquish". Japan is on the defensive, claimed Ibison, and with its economy in shambles, all Koizumi can do is remind the rest of Asia of its past contributions in times of need (ex. during the Asian economic crisis of 1997).

The problem, as most see it, is that Japan's leadership position in Asia is quickly becoming a thing of the past and China is the future. Patrick Smith of the International Herald Tribune led off his article questioning whether Japan was willing to accept a reduced status among nations? "Would the Japanese prefer to preserve the emblems of their traditional ethos - secure employment, neighborhood retailers, subsidized rice farmers - even if this means becoming a second tier power?" His answer to this question was that today's Japan is likely a NDC (Newly Declining Country). The definition being, "a country that is unwilling to accept unrestricted foreign investment, 'flexible' labor markets and numerous other challenges of the new global order". As a consequence, Japan is left with no choice but to make way for the upcoming China.

According to the press, Koizumi's strategy to combat China's bid for number one is a free trade agreement (FTA) with ASEAN countries. The major highlight of Koizumi's trip will be the signing of the "Japan-Singapore Economic Agreement for a New Age Partnership". Yet, rather than being innovative this proposal has been portrayed by the press, ("Japan's Koizumi unveils ASEAN framework at start of tour", January 9) as a defensive move aimed to counter the agreement reached between China and ASEAN countries back in November. An agreement that seeks to create a free trade zone within ten years. The analysis is that Japan is struggling to respond to China's growing economic and political presence in the region and a FTA with ASEAN would enhance Japan's position in Asia (Kwan Weng Kin, Singapore Straits Times, January 10).

However, Koizumi's strategy for maintaining leadership in Asia is much more complex. His administration aims to increase Japan's international status by taking advantage of a whole array of opportunities. These include Japan's hosting of the conference on the post-war reconstruction of Afghanistan, the 2002 FIFA World Cup and most importantly Japan's new found military role in the 'War on Terrorism'. A more intense military cooperation between the US and Japan brings them one step closer to their united objective of keeping China at bay in every respect. A strong China not only challenges Japanese leadership in Asia but is also a threat to US unilateralism.


  • Kwan Weng Kin, "PM Goh, Koizumi calls for Japan-ASEAN pact," Singapore Straits Times, January 10, 2002
  • "Japan's Koizumi unveils ASEAN framework at start of tour," Singapore Straits Times, January 9, 2002
  • Editorial, "How should Japan approach the U.S., the sole superpower," The Asahi Shimbun, January 9, 2002
  • Patrick Smith, "A Japanese Way to be Modern," The International Herald Tribune, January 8, 2002
  • David Ibison, "Koizumi to trumpet the role of Japan in Asia," The Financial Times, January 8, 2002

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