Japan’s Relations with Southeast Asia: The Fukuda Doctrine and Beyond

Japans Relations with Southeast Asia The Fukuda Doctrine and Beyond

Editor:        Lam Peng Er

ISBN:           9780415809665

Publisher: Routledge

Year:           2013

Price:          $140,00

Reviewed by Andrea Passeri, Ph.D. Candidate in International Relations of the Asia–Pacific, University of Cagliari, Italy.

Japan’s Relations with Southeast Asia: The Fukuda Doctrine and Beyond provides a rich selection of essays – by prominent analysts and scholars from Japan, Southeast Asia and China – presented during the conference held in 2007 in Singapore to celebrate the 30th anniversary since the establishment of the Fukuda doctrine, that still today represents the most relevant attempt by postwar Japan to regain a proactive foreign policy in Southeast Asia, as well as a moderate degree of diplomatic autonomy vis–à–vis the United States. The volume argues that such an ideological platform, based on mutual engagement and “heart–to–heart” relations, has indeed stood the test of time, maintaining its explanatory value also in the post–Cold War Asian scenario, characterized by the spectacular rise of China; by the gradual emergence of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) as a relevant regional stakeholder; as well as by the resulting relative decline in the American influence in the region. Hence, according to the editor and contributors, the resilience showed by the Fukuda doctrine in outlasting the bipolar setting dominated by Washington and Moscow demonstrates that East Asian politics should be also assessed through a non–realist prism, in which the consolidation of international norms can mitigate the incidence of power politics. Against this backdrop, the book’s underlying argument is that the normative legacy of the Fukuda’s blueprint provides an inclusive factor in Tokyo’s diplomacy which should be extended from Southeast Asia to engage China and Northeast Asia as a whole, acting as the backbone of a brand new East Asian Community (EAC).

Contents are structured around three main sections. The first is aimed at tracing the historical and political roots of the doctrine, introduced in 1977 by the then Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda Takeo during a speech in Manila, as the culminating point of his regional tour. The autobiographic chapter by Edamura Sumio, among the early drafters of the strategy, is a precious insider’s account that analyzes the origins of its three main tenets, namely the renunciation by Tokyo to re–advocate the role of military powerhouse in Asia; the unprecedented proactiveness in establishing a bridging role in Southeast Asia, thus contributing to regional stability and to the establishment of new institutions, such as the Asian Regional Forum (ARF); together with the pledge to develop equal relations with local actors, based on mutual benefit and mutual respect. The following contribution describes the evolution of the Fukuda doctrine over the course of the last three decades, emphasizing on one hand its relations with great power politics, and, on the other, with the Japanese domestic arena. The author argues that since it was established, at a time of American relative decline in the region following the Vietnam War’s fiasco, the Fukuda doctrine has witnessed major structural changes and successfully adapted to them, playing an important role in fostering a reversed “hub and spoke” network for regional integration centered on ASEAN.

Section two turns its attention to the relevance of the Fukuda doctrine for the implementation of Southeast Asian states’ diplomatic strategies. Sukma’s chapter assesses the bilateral dimension of Japan–ASEAN ties, highlighting some common issues and challenges deserving a more profound coordination, ranging from non–traditional threats and humanitarian–relief mechanisms to a common approach towards a rising China. Wang Jianwei evaluates how the “China factor” as well as the “America factor” will affect the future of Japan’s cooperative bonds with Southeast Asia, offering also an alternative view on the Fukuda doctrine as a whole. According to him, the paramount alliance between Tokyo and Washington continues to reflect a strategic ambiguity that dimmed Tokyo’s aspiration to play a truly autonomous role in Asian affairs, thus allowing Beijing to rapidly catch–up as a credible competitor in the region. In the following chapter, Tang Siew Mun recalls the positive outcomes of the Fukuda doctrine in changing the image and perceptions of Japan across Southeast Asia, but, nonetheless, he urges a reformulation and actualization of its main tenets. Among the most relevant assets that traditionally assisted the strategy and should be further developed, the Malaysian scholar examines peace–building efforts, maritime security, people–to–people diplomacy and Official Development Assistance.

The third and final section focuses on the normative contribution of the Fukuda doctrine to regional community–building, and, more precisely, to the advancement of the idea of an East Asian Community. Kitty Prasirtsuk’s essay acknowledges the pivotal role enjoyed by Japan and ASEAN in shaping the regional institutional architecture, through an effective mix of economic partnership agreements and soft power tools. In his contribution on the prospects for future Japan–Southeast Asia cooperative ties in the context of a changing environment, Yamakage Susumu points out that “within complex multi–layered schemes of regional cooperation and institutionalism, the time tested Japan–ASEAN partnership will remain as the hub of an incipient EAC” (p. 123), while the final chapter analyzes the elements of continuity in Tokyo’s regional approach in the midst of the historical electoral defeat of the liberal democrats in 2009.

Overall, the book provides useful insights on the formulation, implementation and evolution of the Fukuda doctrine over the course of more than three decades, and thus is recommended both for students and scholars working on Southeast Asia and Japan’s foreign policy. Several issues and trends intimately connected with Tokyo’s diplomatic posture in the region, though, may deserve more emphasis when dealing with such legacy. Against this backdrop, Japan’s Relations with Southeast Asia raises a set of questions which appears only partially covered by the contributors. To what extent, for example, may this approach be affected by the ongoing process of “normalization” of Tokyo’s defense constraints? What about the historical role of the United States in shaping the scope and intensity of the Japanese engagement campaign? And, finally, what kind of future should we envisage for the third pillar of the doctrine, focused on Japan’s bridging attitude vis–à–vis the Mekong region, in a period characterized by the rising competition between Tokyo and Beijing to win the “hearts and minds” of ASEAN’s newcomers?

Suggested citation: 

Andrea Passeri (2015), Review of ” Japan’s Relations with Southeast Asia. The Fukuda Doctrine and Beyond ” by Lam Peng Er (ed.), East Asian Integration Studies. Vol 8, no. 5.