By Yuki Kobayashi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterShinichi Kitaoka, a political scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, examines Japan’s future role in the world while visiting various countries around the globe in his recently published book.
The author of “Sekai Chizu o Yominaosu” (Rereading the world map), part of a series from Shinchosha Publishing Co., said: “The world still has high expectations for Japan. We must continue to meet these expectations.”
Kitaoka has been serving as the president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) since 2015. He has visited 108 countries, including those before he assumed the post.
In this book, he closely examines about 20 countries, mainly small nations including Russia’s neighbors Georgia and Armenia, African countries such as Uganda and South Sudan, and Asian nations.
Kitaoka keenly felt the desperate efforts that countries are making to protect their independence and maintain their initiatives, while being influenced by their own historical and geographic conditions.
He refers to the situation in which such countries place high importance on maintaining language and religion, and points out that even in small countries, there were many outstanding leaders who had strategies for development based on their own strengths and weaknesses.
On the other hand, countries closely related to Japan, such as the United States, China and South Korea, appear only indirectly in the book.
Although bilateral relations with these countries are important, discussions with them tend to focus on coordination of interests because diplomatic outcomes do not come to the fore conspicuously.
Kitaoka also sees the current diplomatic stance of Japan, which places too much emphasis on bilateral relations, as a factor that could lead to a deadlock in such relations. “I wanted to consider Japan’s standpoint from afar, and perceive the views of other countries toward Japan,” he said.
More well regarded than thought
During his visits to such countries, he realized that the rest of the world knows and respects Japan more than he had thought. He says one reason for this is Japan’s ability to achieve economic development and a society that embraces democracy and freedom despite being a non-Western country.
Another reason is that Japan has contributed greatly to the growth of aid-recipient countries by cooperating in the development of social infrastructure such as roads and ports, as well as in the field of “human security” such as health and sanitation projects.
Kitaoka’s new book also highlights JICA’s characteristic cooperation projects. These include efforts to introduce Japanese education methods for elementary schools — in which the students help to clean school buildings — promote the holding of athletic meets, invite the elite to Japan to provide them with education and teach rice cultivation in Africa.
Meanwhile, Kitaoka warns against the tendency for Japan to praise itself. He stresses that Japan should offer cooperation suited to local circumstances to aid-recipient countries on an equal footing without trying to put the countries under its influence in return for aid.
“Within a country, rich people pay a lot of taxes to make sure that benefits of the welfare schemes reach the poor. International cooperation is just the same,” he said, adding, “It’s important to ask yourself, ‘Does Japan continue to be a country that meets the expectations of the world?’”
Regarding the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s scheme to create a mega-economic zone, Kitaoka says it’s important for Japan not to counter this at any rate, but to take a balanced approach, such as by cooperating with beneficial projects that meet certain conditions.
Lessons from small countries
Observing small countries has made him realize what national interests Japan should protect and what it should stand for — namely, values that include international cooperation, free trade and democracy.
Cooperation based on principles and for the sake of recipients would enhance Japan’s image in the eyes of other countries, increase the number of countries friendly to Japan, and offer “security that is cheaper than spending huge amounts on weapons” — and this eventually would bring a significant return to Japan.
Of course, he does not underestimate security by defining it in a narrow sense.
Over the enactment of the security-related legislation in 2015, questions were raised about the right to collective self-defense, and there were dogmatic statements about war and protection of the Constitution.
But he criticizes such arguments, saying they ignore international situations: “Japan has yet to come up with a ‘pivotal argument’ to set priorities on important issues by facing the most crucial matters. The country was able to do so at the end of the Edo period through the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century. There are still many things Japan can do in its diplomacy.”Speech