Tuesday, February 02, 2010

At the Third Japan-Black Sea Dialogue

As I mentioned before, I attended the third Japan-Black Sea Dialogue at the International House of Japan, which was hosted by the Global Forum of Japan with the help of Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkish Embassy, Bulgarian Embassy, and the Wider Europe Research Center at the University of Shizuoka.

At the beginning of this event, President Kenichi Ito at the Global Forum of Japan mentioned common policy agendas between Japan and Black Sea nations, ie, the global financial crisis and the Russo-Western conflicts. Secretary General Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and Director General Yasuaki Tanizaki of European Affairs Bureau at Japanese foreign Affairs Ministry outlined the importance of the Black Sea area in security and the economy of the world. The Black Sea area is located at the crossroads among Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East. It is a cradle of ancient civilizations, such as Scythia, Thrace, Anatolia, and Greek colonists.

As for Japan’s role in this region, the focus tends to be those on economic and development cooperation such as infrastructure building and so forth. Director General Mithat Rende of Economic Affairs Bureau at Turkish Foreign Ministry mentioned Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada’s visit to Turkey from January 3 to 4 to commemorate “2010 Year of Japan in Turkey” as a breakthrough in Turkish-Japanese relations.

Since the Black Sea region is a frontline of the Russo-Western conflict and a route of energy resource, multilateral interaction cannot be dismissed to talk about Japanese diplomacy in this area. BSEC nations possess the second largest reserve in oil and gas after the Middle East. Particularly, Russia and Azerbaijan are major producers. Regarding the oil and gas trade and geopolitical rivalries, China is supposed to pose significant influences as it does in Africa. However, it is not clear how China gets involved in the energy dispute and geopolitical interactions.

Quite interestingly, comparisons of EU and ASEAN regional integration were discussed, and explored how BSEC integration should proceed. While the EU is a common political value club, ASEAN is more focused on economic cooperation within the region. In case of BSEC, the Russo-Western tug war in the former Soviet Union makes things complex.

In security, Europe and Japan share many agendas in common as democratic allies of the United States. Issues like US military bases are one of them, in view of the Futenma dispute between Okinawa residents and US armed forces. As Romania and Bulgaria joined NATO, the United States has military facilities close at hand Russia. However, Former Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Pascu, currently Vice Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, points out that those facilities jointly used with Romania and Bulgaria, not exclusively by the United States. Thus, he says that things are completely different from the Futenma case in Japan.

Toward more multilateral approach to this region, I am impressed with a comment by Director Atsushi Kaifu of Central and South Eastern Europe Division of European Affairs Bureau at Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He mentioned the New Silk Road Speech by Prime Minister-then Ryutaro Hashimoto and the Arch of Peace and Prosperity Speech by Foreign Minister-then Taro Aso as breakthroughs for Japanese commitment to global security and well-being. The latter speech sounds something like echoing foreign policy of George W. Bush. In a journal jointly published by the Institute for Central Asian and Caucasian Studies in Sweden and the Institute of Strategic Studies of the Caucasus in Azerbaijan, Gursel Ismailzada, Counselor of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Japan, presents an extensive analysis on the Aso Speech (“A New Pillar of Japanese Foreign Policy: The Arc of Freedom and Prosperity—Japanese Policy toward the GUAM Organization”; CENTRAL ASIA AND THE CAUCASUS Journal of Social and Political Studies; No. 3-4 (51-52), 2008).

I appreciate Aso’s speech much more than current Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s controversial East Asian initiative, because I firmly believe that Japan be at the heart of the Western alliance of free nations along with the United States, Britain, Germany, and France. Japan should be a member of the anchor of world peace and prosperity, constituted of top industrialized democracies. Through this “best and brightest” club, Japan will augment its political presence on the global stage.

As Kaifu advocated more active Japanese involvement beyond the neighborhood, I wish he had talked furthermore. Generally, people see Japan and the Black Sea area has been remote each other, and new relationships are currently being built. However, I strongly disagree to such a viewpoint. In my eyes, it appears that policymakers are obsessed with “Scandinavian” roles for Japan, ie, economic and development assistance. I would argue that Japan also pursue “Anglo-American” liberal imperialist roles, such as commitment to the War on Terror and a regime change.

I firmly believe that Japan has a historical role in the Black Sea, the Middle East, and the Caspian Sea area. Most notably, Turkey under Kemal Ataturk and Iran under Reza Shah Ⅰ followed Japan’s path for modernization in the Meiji Revolution. Japan can help de-Islamification of Turkey, and endorse Turkish membership for the EU. This will be an invaluable contribution to defeat Islamic radicals in the War on Terror. In addition, as a top industrialized democracy, Japan should actively get involved with governance reform in Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union to help eastward expansion of the alliance of free nations.

The Japan-Black Sea Dialogue was a great opportunity to understand Japanese diplomacy and interactions among global powers in this region. I really appreciate the Global Forum of Japan for inviting me to this event. It is a pity that I cannot mention so many valuable views and insights presented by the panelists in this post.