Japan can act as a bridge between US and China: Foreign Minister Motegi

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi delivers his first foreign policy speech at the 1st Tokyo Global Dialogue on Dec 2, 2019.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi delivers his first foreign policy speech at the 1st Tokyo Global Dialogue on Dec 2, 2019.ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

TOKYO - The world should engage more deeply with both the United States and China as it seeks to update existing rules and norms, rather than isolate any country in the process, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Monday (Dec 2).

He also called on the two giants, now mired in what some scholars have termed a "clash of civilisations", to act for the greater good rather than their own self-interests.

"Precisely because of the current reality where existing great powers and emerging powers are competing for influence, claims must not be asserted by force," he said, in his first policy speech since he became Foreign Minister in September.

Emphasising solutions based on the rules of the international community, he said "international order needs to be made more sustainable, by creating new rules that reflect the changes in the economy, society and technological innovation."

Japan can play a role in fostering this consultative approach, he said, noting its location in between the US and China in the Indo-Pacific.

The world's third-largest economy also has positive ties with both countries, and a wealth of soft and hard power that gives it diplomatic clout among other nations, he said.

"We need to deploy a diplomacy that not only respects global diversity but also exercises our coordination capabilities in the rule-making process, while also taking a firm response to events that may happen," Mr Motegi said in his address to the first Tokyo Global Dialogue.

Held by the Japan Institute of International Affairs think-tank, its theme was: "Is it possible to build an international order based on free, fair and transparent rules?"

To this, Mr Motegi's reply was an "emphatic yes", even while noting that the power balance is becoming more complex in a highly polarised world.


Japan, which has greatly benefited from a post-war liberal world order that is now under threat, can lead efforts to update existing rules, such as maritime norms, and to create new rules in areas such as the digital economy.

In safeguarding multilateralism through trade, Mr Motegi said Japan's approach is born out of a "strategic judgement on what a desirable new framework would look like for the Asia Pacific, as the centre of world growth, from not only an economic but also a geopolitical perspective".

Japan has championed free trade including through such deals as the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership and its economic partnership agreement with the European Union.

It is also eagerly trying to persuade India - as the "world's most populous democratic country and a major strategic player connecting the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean" - to remain in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Mr Motegi said.

In this vein, Japan's trade deal with the US can "play the role of anchoring the US in the free economic sphere of the Asia Pacific", amid concerns that Washington is becoming less invested in the region, he said.

Dr Tsutomu Kikuchi, vice-president of Aoyama Gakuin University, told a panel discussion later that he saw Japan's Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision as another way to keep the US engaged in the region.

While they share the same name, the US version of FOIP is more security-driven while Japan's priorities are to promote a rules-based order and economic development.

"For Japan, the FOIP is quite important to keep the US engaged in the region, but at the same time... (it) creates more space for Japan to manoeuvre outside the US-China relationship."