By the late 1980s, Japan’s economic power had translated into a desire to increase its global activities while also promoting understanding of Japan and its people. In order to advocate Japan’s culture, the Japan Foundation, a cultural institute created by the Japanese government in 1972, began to open institutes in a number of cities across the globe, while in 1987 the Ministry of Education and other government institutions launched the JET program which promoted grass-roots exchanges between youth in Japan and overseas.
On the economic front, the late 1980s saw Japan, in co-operation with Australia, establish the APEC forum in 1989. JICA, or the Japan International Cooperation Agency, continued to send technical experts and volunteers to participate in ODA projects in 166 developing countries across the globe.
Yet just as Japan’s confidence in its diplomatic and economic position began to grow, two events occurred that forced Japan to re-think its foreign policy agenda and redefine its role on the international stage.
The first was the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1990. Japan, as a leading global economic power and an ally of the US, came under significant external pressure to become involved in the allied effort. While the LDP favoured sending Japan’s Self Defence Forces, opposition parties, particularly the Socialist and Communist parties, objected to sending any form of material support as this would be a violation of Article 9 of the Constitution.
Ultimately a compromise was reached and US$13 billion in total was donated to Operation Desert Storm, which was later followed up in 1991 with the dispatch of a minesweeper vessel to the Persian Gulf. However criticism of this response both domestically and abroad in turn led to legislation that would allow the Self Defence Forces to be dispatched overseas on peace-keeping missions.
The second dilemma to face Japan’s diplomacy was the onset in the early 1990s of an economic downturn and the end of what was known as the “Bubble” period. As much of Japan’s post war diplomacy was founded on economic rather than ideological grounds, the stagnation of the Japanese economy led to a reduction in overseas investment and the degree of Japanese involvement in fiscal measures aimed at stabilising global markets (a point that became particularly noticeable during the Asian financial crisis of 1997). Although Japan had a definite interest in wanting to influence global economic policy, growing levels of national debt brought any further attempt at broader economic diplomacy to a halt.
At the same time, the break-up of the Soviet Union and creation of new global paradigms, especially the threat posed by international terrorism, nuclear weapons and rogue states, created opportunities for Japan to look beyond its pre-existing security role and expand its involvement in international operations.
Following the enactment of the International Peace Cooperation Law in 1992, Japan dispatched Self Defence Force engineering units to Cambodia, the first such instance of Japanese troops participating in a UN peacekeeping mission. Thereafter SDF personnel were dispatched to the Golan Heights, Mozambique, Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and continue to serve in the Sudan, Nepal, off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden (and more recently in Pakistan and the Philippines).
The involvement of Japan in UN-led operations, while initially met with reservation both domestically and among Japan’s neighbours, has served to raise the profile of Japan abroad and reinforced confidence in Japan’s ability to contribute to global security.
Given Japan’s historical aversion to nuclear weapons, during the 1990s and early 2000s Japan played an active part in introducing initiatives to the UN to reinforce the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and bring an early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In recent years Japan, together with Australia, took a prominent role in the 2010 NPT Review Conference and continues to work with Australia in pursuit of nuclear disarmament.
From the start of the new millennium, Japan also sought to build upon its economic relations with the Asia-Pacific region and embarked on negotiations with a number of countries for the creation of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), realising that for Japan’s export driven industries to survive they needed to promote a much greater degree of trade flow to compensate for the increasingly shrinking domestic goods market and the challenge posed by Chinese and other Asian manufacturers.
This indeed became an impetus for Japan to join negotiations regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (or TPP), although domestic concern about the impact that this might have on Japan’s agricultural sector has tempered political enthusiasm both for and against the agreement. Given the greater regional uncertainty that has accompanied the rise of China, Japan has sought out increased security relations with nations such as South Korea, Australia, and India in what it sees as a natural extension of its alliance with the United States, the “main cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy and security”.
This particular concern with regional security marks what has been a gradual process of moving beyond purely economic diplomacy into the realm of what could be described as strategic realism and an awareness that economic power can be combined with political and security objectives in order to ensure stability. Although questions on whether Japan can undertake a much broader, far more active role in regional security operations remain (particularly given regional suspicion of any resurgent role for the Japanese military), indications are that Japan is re-examining its predominantly defensive, limited security role in order to address such concerns.
Japanese Diplomacy over 60 years
The past 60 years of Japanese diplomatic relations have thus been marked by an almost unbroken continuation of the principles that were first laid out in 1957. Although Japan has on rare occasions disagreed with its predominant diplomatic partner, the bilateral ties that Japan has shared with the United States has helped to preserve a stable North Asian environment and helped to contribute to the prosperity of neighbouring countries and region.
Through the institution of the UN, Japan has sought to increase its presence across the globe in accordance with the ideals outlined in the UN Charter and through its numerous appearances as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. With global focus now centred quite firmly on the Asia-Pacific region, the manner in which Japan’s relations with a number of regional partners develops will have significant repercussions in both the short and long term.
 Japan Foundation website, http://www.jpf.go.jp/e/about/president/index.html, accessed March 8 2012
 The JET Programme, website: http://www.jetprogramme.org/e/introduction/history.html, accessed March 8 2012
 Michael Green, op.cit, p.26
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diplomatic Blue Book 2006, Tokyo, 2006, pp.4-5
 Yutaka Kawashima, op.cit, p.27
 Yoichi Funabashi, “Japan and the New World Order”, Foreign Affairs, Winter, Vol.70 No.5, 1991, p.63
 Michael Green, op.cit, p.18 and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, op.cit, p.3
 Yoichi Funabashi, op.cit, p.27
 Michael Green, op.cit, pp.29,230
 Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2011, Public Affairs Division, Ministry of Defense, Tokyo, 2011, pp.350-351, & Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diplomatic Blue Book 2011, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press, Tokyo, 2011, website:http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/other/bluebook/2011/html/h3/h3_01.html, accessed March 8 2012, & Ministry of Defense, “What Japan Can Do Now” (Pamphlet), Public Affairs Division, Ministry of Defense, 2011
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, op.cit, p.5 and Ibid.
 Kobayashi Kenichi, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Future of Japan: From the Perspective of Japan’s Reconstruction”, Quarterly Journal of Public Policy and Management, Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting, Vol.3, Tokyo, 2011, pp.87-88 & Bernard K Gordon, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Rise of China: What Japan joining the TPP means for the region”, Foreign Affairs, November 2011, website: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136647/bernard-k-gordon/the-trans-pacific-partnership-and-the-rise-of-china?page=show, accessed March 9 2012
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, loc.cit.
 Reinhard Drifte, Japan’s Foreign Policy in the 1990s, St Martin’s Press, New York, 1996, p.162
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Japan in the UN Security Council – Our Viewpoint” (Pamphlet), Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press, 2008, pp.2-3