The Strengthening of the Strategic Political Relationship Between the Central American Integration System and Japan
Rubén Armando E. Hasbún (National Bureau for International Summits, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador)
This is an abridged version of the full article which is available in PDF form.
This essay is aimed at both analyzing the evolution of the political relationship between Japan and the seven countries forming the Central American Integration System (CAIS), namely, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, plus the Dominican Republic (DR), who recently entered the organization; and also at analyzing the real political feasibility of the so-called "ICAJAP initiative" which has been pushed recently by some diplomatic circles on both sides as part of the framework for the future Japan-CAIS relations.
The core idea of this initiative is that Central America is now in the position to offer coordinated international and political backing to Japan at International Organizations and on direct and indirect specific issues of interest for Japan's goals on the world stage. In return, Central America would expect to receive from Japan higher levels of economic assistance and development engagement in the region through direct investments, cooperation, tourism promotion, trade, and transfer of technology. The objective of this paper is therefore to analyze this assumption and to determine to what extent a "strategic alliance" between Central America and Japan is feasible and what it will take for it to develop accordingly.
Basically, I argue that on the one hand, it must be acknowledged that the current level and nature of the relationship between Japan and Central America is far below its true potential. Nevertheless, any "strategic relation" to be established between the Parties will be limited and asymmetrical as a result of geopolitical, economic and logistic factors. If well implemented though, this strategy could bring about positive results in specific areas and issues for both Japan and the CAIS countries, but not at the level envisioned so far. Higher levels of diplomatic and political coordination within CAIS, and the strengthening of the political aspect of its integration process are some of the factors necessary to offer a true partnership to Japan.
As for the variables that have been taken into account in order to tackle this topic, we can mention the following: 1) International Cooperation; 2) Japan's and CAIS member States' national interests; 3) A heavily "donor-recipient" based relationship; 4) International Institutions as a liberal venue for the attainment of the State's national interests; 5) The United States - Japan - Latin America "triangle"; 6) The Taiwan - Japan - Central America "triangle"; 7) The Central American Integration process; and 8) The evolution of the legal and Institutional framework of the Japan-Central America relationship.
The investigation was divided into four parts, based on an evolutionary approach of the bilateral relationship between Japan and Central America:
Part one: "Japan and Central America: Likeminded enough for a Partnership?" is devoted to the theoretical analysis from different authors (Kawashima, Matsushita, Kochi, Medina Lopez, etc.) on the traditional relationship between Japan and Latin American as a whole in the last decades. It also describes what I believe are the four elements opening a window of opportunity for more Japanese political engagement in Latin America in the future (The change of the Japanese stance towards FTA's; Chinese growing presence in Latin America; The importance of APEC and FEALAC for Japan; and Latin America as a "safety" region for a more engaging Japanese presence). The work of Barbara Stallings and G. Szekely on Japan-US-Latin America was a very important source of information on the role of the American Government in shaping the scope of a possible wider Japanese engagement in Central America. This part closes by presenting a comparative analysis of basic positions and membership at important International Organizations and regimes by both Japan and the CAIS countries, rendering the two following conclusions: a) Japan and Central America do participate as members of important universal institutions of world relevance, and which are important to Japan; b) there is certain amount of regimes, and organizations important for Japan in which the seven CA countries do not share equal positions among themselves, hinting at the fact that CA needs a higher level of foreign policy regional coordination.
Part two, "Historical evolution of the bilateral relationship" is devoted to analyzing the historical and content evolution of the "Japan - Central American Dialogue and Cooperation Forum", established in 1995 as a framework under which the basis for an improved relationship in the short term future has been laid out. It also highlights 4 trends that can be perceived throughout this process: a) the importance of political and cooperation issues for Japan and CA respectively; b) the low-key level maintained on international political issues; c) The continuous institutional expansion of the mechanism; and d) The possible irregular coordination among Central American countries.
Part three: "The Japan - Central America Initiative and the August 2005 Summit" focuses on the latest efforts towards the realization of an upgrading of the relationship by both Parties, and the way in which Central America is trying to present itself as a partner with a very specific strategic potential for Japan. Specifically, this part covers the political analysis of the content of the "Tokyo Declaration", issued at the second Summit of Heads of Government and State of Japan and Central America, held in Japan in August 2005; and its "Plan of Action".
Part three also analyzes the content of the "Japan-Central America Initiative" (ICAJAP), as the document furthered by some Central American diplomats and which has served as an important tool for Central American Foreign Ministries in seeking a major engagement with Japan. The special nature of the political relations between Central America and the Government of Taipei is also tackled in this chapter as a factor that, even when left unmentioned in the bilateral documents between Japan and CAIS, is seen by some as the special feature that only Central America can bring to the table.
Finally, part four, "Conclusions: Concrete challenges and opportunities for a well-defined Japan - Centra American alliance" presents the conclusions of the investigation on the way I believe a new stage of relations with Japan should be handled, and how this "partnership" with Japan can fulfill its natural potential. The final part also includes some succinct conclusions and thoughts on the implementation pace of the agreements of the Plan of Action of the Tokyo Declaration; an assessment of the true potential of the ICAJAP proposal, taking as a basis the current international, regional and national situations of the countries involved; as well as an analysis on how the current pace of the Central American integration process is affecting the potential of the relationship with Japan and with other important partners for that matter.