AsiaGlobal Voices

Trending Opinions From Across the Region

AsiaGlobal Voices is a curated feed of summaries of opinion articles, columns and editorials published in local languages in media from across Asia.

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No State Funeral for Abe Without a Discussion of His Merits
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
No State Funeral for Abe Without a Discussion of His Merits

Tanaka Shunsuke, political science student, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo, in Ronza (July 16, 2022)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: @kumasionlinegh on Twitter)

No State Funeral for Abe Without a Discussion of His Merits

Abe Shinzo was killed. Of course, no life should be extinguished – whether it is to change politics or to relieve some personal resentment. I do not want a society where murder is used as a means of doing so.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has announced that there would be a state funeral for Mr Abe. He stressed that this would show that “Japan will not give in to violence and that it is determined firmly to defend democracy.” But how exactly does a state funeral for Abe contribute to democracy. This is a serious question. It may be that a funeral could block criticism of what Mr Abe had done and undermine democracy based on free speech. I therefore oppose the state funeral for Abe.

There is no clear legal basis for a state funeral of a previous prime minister. Before the World War II, there were 20 state funerals based on a law. But that decree expired at the end of 1947. Since the war, the only instance of a state funeral for prime minister who had left office was that of Yoshida Shigeru when Sato Eisaku was prime minister. This was held in 1967, with about 5,700 people attending, including the crown prince and his wife, as well as foreign representatives. Yet, at the time, there were a number of questions about Yoshida’s funeral, which was held without any provision for it in the law.

For Abe, there are those who would want to express their condolences of course but forcibly making all people mourn the loss may be regarded as too much. I would say that there should not be such a funeral until there is an opportunity to have sufficient discussion and debate of the merits and demerits of holding one.

Do NOT Use Nuclear Weapons!
Wednesday, April 6, 2022
Do NOT Use Nuclear Weapons!

Akiba Tadatoshi, mayor of Hiroshima from 1999 to 2011, in The Mainichi (March 4, 2022)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Do NOT Use Nuclear Weapons!

As a former mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, I call for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the world leaders to declare immediately that no nation will use nuclear weapons in this conflict! I also call for Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, who is from Hiroshima, to visit Moscow to meet President Putin and attend the United Nations Security Council meeting to explain why, by conveying the cry of the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I want to share the sense of urgency that the hibakusha and Japanese citizens felt when President Putin made the first of the two statements that we interpreted as a threat to use nuclear weapons. It compelled me to start an online signature collection campaign titled, "Do NOT Use Nuclear Weapons! -Message from Japan-" via

Threatening to use nuclear weapons is a clear violation of international law. It is evident to everyone that the situation of Russia does not qualify as an "extreme situation of self-defense," so there is no doubt that it is a violation of international law.

I ask President Putin and other world leaders to declare immediately the nonuse of all nuclear weapons and ensure to fulfil their most fundamental responsibility as members of the human race. This is the responsibility of all the countries with nuclear weapons, not just Russia.

How to Overcome the National Crisis
Monday, February 21, 2022
How to Overcome the National Crisis

Iokibe Makoto, Chairman of the Asian Affairs Research Council, in The Mainichi (February 21, 2022)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Office of Japan)

How to Overcome the National Crisis

The country is faced with troubles. This was due to the spread of the coronavirus, which poses a life-threatening danger to the entire nation. The people are not tolerant of a government that is unable to respond to the threat to their survival. 

The threat from foreign enemies has not subsided. North Korea is even more defiant and provocative. China has built an all-round military system and is not afraid to use it. China's actions toward Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands cannot be blocked, and Japan must find a response.

Here are three suggestions on what should be done to overcome our national crisis:

First, establish a crisis management agency for disaster prevention and epidemic control. 

Second, Japan must restructure its national security strategy. It is essential to find a way to prevent our neighbors, who are rushing to expand their armed forces, from using force. This is difficult to achieve, but a combination of three approaches may be useful: 1) strengthening self-help capabilities, including enhancement of missile networks, 2) making the Japan-US alliance more effective, and 3) expanding international cooperation.

Third is the revitalization of the economy. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has called for "new capitalism" through wage hikes and inequality correction. This is a global issue. The most urgent task is for Japan to regain its growth potential by strengthening research and development and direct investment. Now is the time to use aggressive fiscal measures to promote digitalization, where Japan is lagging, and to concentrate on accelerating investment in new industries with an eye on global warming.

As for the severe environmental crisis, what matters is how we act. History is rich with examples of recognizing severity and setting ambitious goals to turn a crisis into an opportunity. Let us aim for a creative recovery.

RCEP and CPTPP: Take on China to Shape the Regional Order
Wednesday, February 9, 2022
RCEP and CPTPP: Take on China to Shape the Regional Order

Endo Ken, Professor, Graduate School of Public Policy, Hokkaido University, in The Mainichi (February 4, 2022)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China)

RCEP and CPTPP: Take on China to Shape the Regional Order

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement has come into effect. Now is the time for Japan to reconsider its risks and opportunities. Japan's national interest is to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with China without alienating the US, Tokyo's ally. RCEP is a platform to pursue this interest. 

This is where the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) comes in. In this context, the CPTPP can be positioned as an additional framework of a higher order. China, which applied to join the CPTPP, has for the first time in a long time put itself in the position of being a "demandeur". This is not bad for Japan. After all, Japan is the leader of the CPTPP and has veto power as a current member so it has little to lose even if China does not join.

There is room for Japan and the rest of the world to take advantage of this opportunity to correct and mitigate the China problem. Tokyo should take this opportunity to move to prevent China from unilaterally deviating from universal rules. During the past decade or so, China has baffled many countries with its coercive economic diplomacy. In light of China's tendencies, this is a difficult enough task on its own, but it is also important to work to bring some relief to political and military matters as well. 

In urging a gradual reduction in the establishment of military bases, the flying of military aircraft, and the intrusion of (armed) fishermen and public vessels into politically disputed areas, it would do no harm to bring up the CPTPP membership application. To use a cold-hearted metaphor, take as much as you can before you let them into the room, and if the tactic does not work, let them stand in the hallway forever.

Abe Shinzo’s No-Nonsense Message to Beijing
Tuesday, December 7, 2021
Abe Shinzo’s No-Nonsense Message to Beijing

Miyake Kuni, President of the Foreign Policy Institute and Research Director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies, in The Japan Times (December 2, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Anthony Quintano)

Abe Shinzo’s No-Nonsense Message to Beijing

During a virtual keynote speech on Japan-Taiwan relations at a forum organized by a Taiwan think tank, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned Beijing that an attack on Taiwan would be “economic suicide”. Beijing immediately lashed out at the former Japanese leader, denouncing Abe’s remarks as “openly nonsensical”,

Was Abe’s speech “openly nonsensical”?

As always, Abe was cautious in his use of words. He neither referred to the Republic of China nor Taiwan as an independent state. He neither called for its independence nor separation.

What might have alarmed China was Abe’s reference to an armed contingency. He said, “A Taiwan contingency is a Japanese contingency, and therefore a contingency for the Japan-US alliance. Beijing, President Xi Jinping should not have any misunderstanding in recognizing this.”

What Abe said is far from nonsensical. He wished for China to consider its ultimate national interests. He said that “any military adventure in Taiwan will have serious repercussions for the global economy” and therefore “China will suffer badly” because it is deeply involved in the global economy.

China will be or perhaps is already facing what I call “the middle-income trap with Chinese characteristics”. If China attacked Taiwan, China would immediately see its wealth and assets evaporate, which the nation and its people worked hard for over the past 40 years. Surely China does not wish for this.

Abe went on to say that “a military adventure against Taiwan is the way to economic suicide for China and would also have a significant impact on the world economy,” which China will continue to heavily depend on. If China’s political leaders are rational, they will clearly understand what Abe meant to say.

The Crown Prince Took Great Pains To Ensure His Daughter’s Marriage
Thursday, November 11, 2021
The Crown Prince Took Great Pains To Ensure His Daughter’s Marriage

Emori Keiji, editor, in The Mainichi (October 26, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Pool photo)

The Crown Prince Took Great Pains To Ensure His Daughter’s Marriage

During his birthday press conference in November 2020, Crown Prince Akishino touched on the marriage of his elder daughter, then Princess Mako: "To respect their feelings means to approve their marriage…If they are truly serious about getting married, as parents, we should respect their feelings."

In fact, Crown Prince Akishino had voiced this view to those around him on countless occasions, ever since news outlets reported on the unofficial engagement of the then princess to Kei Komuro in May 2017. He has consistently stuck to the idea that as long as the pair wish to marry, their union cannot be disapproved of.

But the road leading to their marriage was a rocky one. After money trouble between Komuro's mother and her ex-fiancé was revealed, the situation took a turn for the worse. In February 2018, the Imperial Household Agency announced the postponement of Mako's engagement.

Crown Prince Akishino decided to not proceed with the engagement or marriage ceremonies, as he judged that the marriage would not be accepted and celebrated by most of the public. Mako refused a lump sum usually paid to female Imperial Household members who leave the family upon marriage. The recent union is an extraordinary one for an Imperial Family member, involving only a marriage registration.

The Imperial Household should have the public's best interests at heart. The activities of the Imperial Family and the postwar system that deems the emperor "the symbol of the State" are built upon the understanding and support of the Japanese public. What would have happened if the traditional rites had been approved even as many voices continued to criticize Mako's marriage? Crown Prince Akishino's decision not to carry out the rites must have been an agonizing one as a father.

The Prime Minister Failed to Show Courtesy When Resigning
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
The Prime Minister Failed to Show Courtesy When Resigning

Koga Ko, senior writer, in The Mainichi (September 9, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: UN DGC)

The Prime Minister Failed to Show Courtesy When Resigning

Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide announced he would not run in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election, effectively resigning. He has become a "someone of the past" fairly quickly.

The new LDP leader will not be elected until September 29, and the official selection of the next prime minister is not going to happen until early October. This means that this "someone of the past" will remain head of the executive branch of the Japanese government for another month. In other words, the present power vacuum will continue for that long as well.

The premier's resignation was anticlimactic. Suga has not even held a news conference to address the people. He said the reason for his resignation was that he would not be able to balance tackling Covid-19 and the LDP leadership election campaign because they would "require an immense amount of energy".

What? Surely his command for "one million vaccine shots a day" as well as his piecemeal declarations of states of emergency and their extensions were calculated to pave the way for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which would ultimately help him get re-elected as LDP president. Using the pandemic as an excuse just because his plan failed makes him a sore loser.

If he knew that a power vacuum that would start the moment he stated he would not seek to continue in office, he could have asked to bring forward the party election date. What will happen if we are struck by a major earthquake tomorrow? It is the outgoing prime minister's job to shorten the leadership vacuum.

Two successive Japanese prime ministers have been defeated by the pandemic. And in both cases, we did not see the kind of courtesy associated with those in such a position when they leave.

Breaking Away From “Digital Defeat” With a New Agency
Thursday, August 5, 2021
Breaking Away From “Digital Defeat” With a New Agency

Murai Jun, dean of the Institute of Geoeconomic Studies and senior fellow at the Asia Pacific Initiative, in The Japan Times (August 3, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Kizuna/The Government of Japan)

Breaking Away From “Digital Defeat” With a New Agency

The government’s Covid-19 response, which led to the public’s worries and dissatisfaction, has been described as a “digital defeat” for two reasons. First, while the internet and mobile technology were widely available in Japan, administrative services using such technology did not function well in tackling the virus. Second, it became apparent that the public could not use, had difficulty using or chose not to use the digital apps and services that were actually provided by the government.

But why did such problems emerge? When the pandemic arrived, countries across the world took various actions to cope with the spread of the virus. It became clear to everyone that there are gaps between governments that actively utilized the digital environment — citizen identification systems and services, infection data, testing services, data on hospital beds, vaccination processes and predictions for the effect of lockdowns — to tackle the virus and those that did not.

Members of the public do understand the power of digital services. And they also became aware of the fact that Japan, unlike other countries, failed to use these services to deal with this significant contingency. That is what made many view the situation as a digital defeat.

The new digital agency has a goal to not leave anyone out. That means realizing a 100 percent digital service coverage for all regions and people.

To lead the global governance regarding the internet, it is necessary to have sufficient discussions on a daily basis to establish trusting relationships with allies and other countries which share the same goals. It is essential for the agency to secure people who can engage in such activities, as well as implementing other policies such as making its officials communicate in English, inviting advisors experienced in international negotiations and holding exchange programs with international organizations.

The Resurgence of Nationalism
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
The Resurgence of Nationalism

Endo Ken, Professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy of Hokkaido University, in The Mainichi (July 8, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: State Council, The People’s Republic of China)

The Resurgence of Nationalism

In China, tourism of famous sites of the Communist revolution is booming, a way of tracing a proud century of the Communist Party on the occasion of its centennial. This phenomenon might appear to involve poor people poisoned by the one-party dictatorship that sometimes treats human rights and democracy as if they were nothing. But in an emerging country that has overcome its "history of humiliation" and is on the verge of becoming the strongest country in the world, many people seem to become naturally patriotic.

Many people reflexively want to defend their country. Love and pride in one's country is not limited to China, but can be found anywhere and anytime. In this age of globalization, whether it is Tokyo or Shanghai, one tends to see oneself as a replaceable part of a larger system that transcends national borders. Nationalism is the perfect mental stabilizer, anchoring one's ever-changing life in a unique history that continues unbroken.

It must work only when there is a sense of unity as a nation. When a catastrophe occurs in a distant part of a country, the feeling of being a fellow countryman surely intervenes. Nationalism has its benefits. However, when patriotism is imposed "from above" from a position of power, and when people are forced to "ethnically" identify with a certain group, the negative effects can be serious.

Japan is not immune to this kind of nationalism. We should not stop watching China's problems and criticizing them. But if we get so caught up in it and succumb to anti-Chinese peer pressure, then Japan will become a mirror image of China. Nationalism is like a well that never runs dry. The off-putting celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party in China are calling Japan to check itself.

The World Is Watching As Tokyo Hosts the Olympics Amid Covid-19
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
The World Is Watching As Tokyo Hosts the Olympics Amid Covid-19

Wada Koji, Professor in the Department of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, and Director of International Medical Cooperation at the International University of Health and Welfare, in The Japan Times (July 9, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Hamano Hideya)

The World Is Watching As Tokyo Hosts the Olympics Amid Covid-19

As the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics near, athletes, coaches and staff are arriving amid still strong concerns about the risk of Covid-19 infections. Measures put in place by organizers may look good on paper. But they are bound to be hard to implement in practice. For one, infections could occur among athletes, coaches, staff, volunteers and spectators. The degree of punishment the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hands down to violators could trigger diplomatic issues. It would be unfortunate for athletes to lose their chance at winning a gold medal because they infected someone or became infected.

Hosting the games at a time when people are being asked to stay indoors, avoid large gatherings and remain vigilant may impact their willingness to comply with voluntary restrictions, and therefore lessen the impact of the country’s coronavirus measures. With the spectator ban, the risks of infection have been reduced. But it is also important to make sure that infections will not spread outside the venues such as bars and restaurants where people may gather around to watch the games together.

The world is now paying attention to Japan and we need to act responsibly. This is an opportunity, but at the same time, it can be a risk. We need to imagine how people in other countries will react to the Olympics and help prevent the further spread of the virus. The Japanese public and the rest of the world need to know that Japan remains in a difficult situation and that, while steps are being taken to hold the Games safely, the pandemic is still ongoing. The country must set a good example and make sure that our children and grandchildren are respected by the rest of the world. We can do that by making the Olympic and Paralympic Games a success.

Lending A Hand To The Myanmar Military And Their Injustices
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Lending A Hand To The Myanmar Military And Their Injustices

Endo Ken, Professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy of Hokkaido University, in The Mainichi (July 3, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Brian Kelley)

Lending A Hand To The Myanmar Military And Their Injustices

Since Myanmar military coup in February, over 800 people have been killed in crackdowns and hundreds have gone missing. Security forces have been arbitrarily detaining and torturing people. Their reckless actions are inexcusable and unjustifiable.

Japan has been weak to show its diplomatic presence against what is going on there and even worse, seems to be lending a hand to the military. The situation is nearly identical to its response to the Tiananmen Square incident that occurred more than 30 years ago in Beijing. The Japanese government then systematically supported China's Communist-Party ruled government, which was responsible for the massacre of its own people, and later lifted sanctions ahead of others.

The Japanese government boasts of its "own channel of communication" with the Myanmar military, but it is not willing to stop atrocities. Japan, as one of the leading donor countries to the Southeast Asian nation, is supposed to exercise its influence through actions such as a total suspension of aid. But Japan is anxious about pushing Myanmar closer to China and ruining its positive bilateral relations if it imposes sanctions together with the US and European nations.

The military regime appears to take advantage of Japan's concern. Japanese taxpayers lack awareness over how their tax money is spent. Japan has provided over 100 billion yen ($900 million) a year in assistance to military-ruled Myanmar, while their loans are often written off. Although new loans have been suspended, projects which are already under way are continuing. We should list companies which maintain relations with the brutal Myanmar regime and put them under surveillance.

Authoritarianism is rampant across the globe. What is happening in Myanmar will serve as a touchstone for Japan, a country seeking to maintain freedom and democracy, with respect to how the country can progress.

The Government Is Taking A Risk Of Olympic Proportions
Monday, June 21, 2021
The Government Is Taking A Risk Of Olympic Proportions

Ito Takatoshi, deputy vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Finance of Japan (1999–2001), Professor of International and Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, and Adjunct Professor and Professor Emeritus at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), in The Japan Times (June 18, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Dick Thomas Johnson)

The Government Is Taking A Risk Of Olympic Proportions

As of June 15, Japan had the second worst vaccination record among the 38 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, with 20.9 doses per 100 people. Contrast that with the United Kingdom’s 106.1 doses per 100 people and the US rate of 93.3 doses per 100.

Why is Japan lagging so far behind the rest of the OECD? For starters, the government was late in securing purchase agreements with vaccine producers, not least because the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare was reluctant to provide rapid emergency approval for the new vaccines.

Japan has a history of controversy over vaccine side effects. During the Covid-19 crisis, the authorities insisted that a clinical trial for vaccines be conducted in Japan before approval, even though large-scale randomized controlled trials had already been undertaken elsewhere. Another obstacle for Japan’s vaccination program is the rule that only medical doctors and nurses may administer doses.

Even if the state of emergency in Tokyo and Osaka is lifted as expected, there is no guarantee that another wave will not demand new lockdowns soon. With the Olympic Games scheduled to be held from July 23 to August 8, and the Paralympic Games from August 24 to September 5, such a wave could be more like a tsunami.

Without herd immunity (or something close to it) in Japan, hosting the Tokyo Games is a risky bet. Suga could win big: If the games are a success, and infections do not rise, he is more likely to be re-elected as the leader of his Liberal Democratic Party, at which point he might even call a snap general election. But that does not change the fact that he is willing to gamble with people’s health, livelihoods and lives.

What is Really Behind the Calls to Cancel the Olympics?
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
What is Really Behind the Calls to Cancel the Olympics?

Miyake Kuni, President of the Foreign Policy Institute and Research Director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies, in The Japan Times (May 30, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Dick Thomas Johnson)

What is Really Behind the Calls to Cancel the Olympics?

I received my first Covid-19 vaccination. It gave me a new perspective on the pandemic. If we have the right organization with the right chain of command in place, we can not only address the spread of Covid-19 but also host the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Asahi Shimbun, a major sponsor of the 2020 Tokyo Games, called in an editorial for the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be canceled – the only national paper calling for the games to be scrapped. The editorial made waves and raised several questions, including whether it is part of a political game aimed at weakening Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The Asahi editorial urged Suga to make a decision on the cancellation, although the paper is aware that the authority to cancel the games belongs to the International Olympic Committee. This raises the question as to whether its position is motivated by politics rather than journalism. A general election must be called by this fall. Was the Asahi editorial part of a subtle attempt by the left-leaning paper to damage the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition and to help opposition parties?

Many ordinary Japanese are tired and stressed, having had to wear face masks as part of their daily lives since March 2020 and maintain proper social distance. They have been so frustrated that they are psychologically not prepared to hold the Olympics and Paralympics this summer. But this does not necessarily mean that all Japanese have lost confidence in the games.

Given the growing capability of the government to start controlling, if not containing, the Covid-19 pandemic, Tokyo should be able to handle the Olympics without exacerbating the spread of the virus. A narrative could even be framed that it would be proof that the world is overcoming the disease.

In Preparing For A Taiwan Contingency, Tokyo Must Remain Discreet
Monday, May 24, 2021
In Preparing For A Taiwan Contingency, Tokyo Must Remain Discreet

Funabashi Yoichi, Chairman, Asia Pacific Initiative, and editor-in-chief of Asahi Shimbun (2007-10), in The Japan Times (May 22, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erica Bechard/US Navy)

In Preparing For A Taiwan Contingency, Tokyo Must Remain Discreet

Successive US administrations have stuck to a basic policy of strategic ambiguity on the subject of the Taiwan Strait. “Strategic ambiguity” refers to a deliberate refusal to clarify whether or not the US would hasten to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese military attack. It was devised as a means of simultaneously deterring both a declaration of independence by Taiwan and a Chinese offensive aimed at forcing Taiwan’s unification with the mainland.

Some are raising doubts about the effectiveness of strategic ambiguity. Yet a transition to a policy of “strategic clarity” with regard to Taiwan carries risks. China could overreact, setting off an arms race. The US could fall into a trap if it presents strategic clarity as a red line. Observing it would become a litmus test for American credibility. Furthermore, such clarity is not very effective when it comes to gray-zone geopolitical challenges involving cyberattacks, supply-chain disruption and social media battles for political influence.

We should not overestimate China’s abilities. Experts are divided on the question of China’s ability to launch an invasion of Taiwan and the merits of its strategy. Taiwan’s growing strategic value to both the US and Japan is undisputable. If Taiwan is lost, the US will no longer be able to maintain a line of defense along the first island chain. This would signal the demise of the US as a power in the western Pacific. It would also jeopardize the US-Japan security alliance and the security of Japan’s sea lanes.

The reference to Taiwan in the 2021 joint declaration clearly considers a possible Taiwan contingency and the role of Japan. It is precisely for this reason that we must keep our “words” discreet and quietly prepare for “actions” that serve the goals of deterrence and dialogue.

Nuclear Ban Treaty Offers Rare Chance To Strengthen Regional Leadership
Friday, April 30, 2021
Nuclear Ban Treaty Offers Rare Chance To Strengthen Regional Leadership

Sayuri Romei, Stanton nuclear security fellow, RAND Corp., in Asahi Shimbun (April 28, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Zach Stern)

Nuclear Ban Treaty Offers Rare Chance To Strengthen Regional Leadership

Japan is conspicuously absent from the signatories of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which took effect in January 2021. The treaty itself is profoundly divisive. Many doubted it would even enter into force. Skeptics describe the TPNW as merely symbolic, as no nuclear power had joined. Supporters of the treaty are confused by this skepticism and point to its long-term objective: to have a significant impact on the international community and change the perception of nuclear weapons.

This divisiveness is here to stay. In Japan, this polarization is even more tangible. Polls show Japan’s public overwhelmingly favors Japan joining. The government, however, does not. One explanation is the view that the treaty is not grounded in reality and will exacerbate the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear states. As a self-proclaimed bridge-builder between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, Tokyo does not see how this treaty can bridge that gap.

Another reason behind this stance is Japan’s alliance with the United States. Tokyo prioritizes the alliance, thus ensuring that nuclear deterrence is effectively extended to Japan. Officials never miss an opportunity to emphasize Japan’s atomic survivor identity and its efforts toward nuclear disarmament. Japanese officials see the TPNW as tone-deaf to their concerns and disruptive of Japan’s balancing act.

The implementation of Tokyo’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision requires Japan to be a reliable partner for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. Since all but one ASEAN nation has joined the TPNW, Tokyo’s timing and handling of this issue may impact Japan’s image and leadership. Given the evolving security environment, it may not be the right time to de-emphasize extended nuclear deterrence. Yet leaving the diplomatic door open to the TPNW could be valuable for Japan’s future position in the region.