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Special Report Issue 44 - Japan's strategic outlook

By Rod Lyon

Japan has endured a difficult couple of decades, but probably confronts another. With its economy stalled, its political system still evolving towards a genuine multiparty system, and its population ageing and shrinking, it confronts a daunting array of domestic challenges.  The great East Asian earthquake of March has only added to its problems. The after-effects will be felt for years, not least in the continuing nuclear problems at Fukushima. Those challenges mean Japan will probably remain an introverted strategic player during the next decade or so.  Arguments made by a range of commentators about five years ago, that Japan had entered a critical ‘turning point’ in its strategic policy, now seem less compelling.

For Australia, the challenge is how to partner with that inward-looking Japan over the next ten-to-fifteen years. The pace of change in Asian strategic settings is such that much may change during that period. And there aren’t many Japan-sized players in the regional system, so we have to work to ensure that the one we already have remains committed to shared objectives to the greatest extent possible. We need to ‘work with’ Japan, perhaps bringing more ourselves to the relationship to offset Japan’s period of hesitancy.  But we might also need a ‘work around’ strategy—accepting that we need to do more with others to compensate for Japan’s strategic hesitancy. Australia wants an Asia with a range of engaged great powers—and Japan is an important part of that future Asia.’

Dr Rod Lyon, Director of ASPI’s Strategy and International Program, is the author of this report.