Fachgruppensitzung Politik 2020

Organizers: Momoyo Hüstebeck (University of Duisburg-Essen), Kai Schulze (FU Berlin)

Politics, Media Discourse and Public Finance: What Japan’s National Debt Reveals about the State of its Democracy (Yosuke Buchmeier, LMU Munich)

Japan’s public debt has been rising significantly since the 1990s; in recent years it has risen to about 240% in relation to GDP. Contrary to repeated promises, political and bureaucratic attempts at changing the direction of this trend have been ineffective for more than three decades. Therefore, the sustainability of Japan’s public finance is frequently challenged, even more so in the light of the Bank of Japan’s ongoing quantitative easing monetary policy. Although it is true that socio-structural and macroeconomic conditions make the accrual of a public deficit more likely, the political and democratic dimensions of fiscal discipline are gaining more attention at present. Public policy research stresses the existence of systemic loopholes in Japan’s fiscal governance and demonstrates that the legal framework and parliamentary control have proved inadequate in limiting the quest by politicians and bureaucrats for budget maximization. While major OECD countries have made considerable efforts to enhance their fiscal governance by increasing fiscal transparency, establishing independent fiscal institutions (IFIs) and enforcing binding constitutional rules – such as balanced budget amendments, commonly known as »Schuldenbremse« in Germany – steps towards a fiscal reform in Japan’s case are not yet in sight.

To explain why Japan’s public finance has deteriorated to this degree (whereas other countries facing comparable social and economic challenges have managed to reduce their reliance on debt), this presentation first examined critical aspects of the country’s fiscal governance. Then it moved on to a media analysis of how the debt issue is covered by the mainstream press, namely public broadcasting (NHK) and the major newspapers. It demonstrated that the topic of public debt tends to be marginalized in media discourse, questioning the public’s issue awareness and the media’s ability to form a widely supported consensus that could pressure politicians to act and finally take effective measures towards fiscal consolidation. The presentation further illustrated that the shortcomings in fiscal governance are closely linked to the quality of public discourse, thereby underlining that the public deficit ultimately reveals not only Japan’s structural socio-economic challenges but also the fragile state of its democracy.

Climate Change Risks Knowledge Networks in Japan (Manuela G. Hartwig, University of Tsukuba)

Climate change has become a (national) security issue because it threatens civilization. Intensified weather phenomena such as rain bombs or more powerful typhoons pose dangers to people’s lives, livelihoods, and health as well as food security as agriculture experiences harsher circumstances for growing food. Rising sea-levels especially for island countries such as Japan reduces the domesticable landmass and forces people to move eventually. These, among many other issues of the effects of climate change that pose security threats for civilization entered the policy agenda. While leaders have to find solutions, basic knowledge about the context of these risks need to be increased among the public in order to motivate changes in attitudes, behaviors, and choices that recognize the effects of climate change.

This paper attempted to map actors such as governmental bodies, public and private research institutes, civil society organizations, media or businesses that take up risks and security related questions about climate change, themes these actors discuss and their attitudes toward these issues to identify drivers of dominant discourse and who influences political implementation in Japan. A thematic map of these actors based on questions how they address risk and security related issues about climate change means to reveal the thematic network among these actors is created. By identifying these thematic networks, we can understand who is taking up the issue of climate-related risks and what direction political implementation in Japan takes.

Dynamics of Japan-Europe Security Cooperation in a Trilateral with the US (John Jacobs, FU Berlin)

This thesis introduced in this presentation assesses Japan’s security cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU) and individual European states, in the context of a United States (US)-Japan-Europe trilateral security relationship. Japan and Europe face similar US demands for global burden-sharing, and challenges in managing US power. It assesses cooperation in US-led global out-of-area operations, and in defence technology and interoperability initiatives. In the former, Japan’s cooperation fluctuates from parallel contributions to concrete joint initiatives leveraging civilian and economic capabilities, and operational coordination of non-combat military assets, often more substantial than that with the US. Institutionalised cooperation is more apparent in defence technology and interoperability initiatives but varies according to European actor.

The trilateral is conceptualised as one of middle powers, that possess disparate regional security interests but partial global security interests, aligned with the same dominant ally, with global security interests, via disparate regional alliance systems. Extant analyses of trilaterals tend to be of regional middle powers that are aligned with the same dominant ally. These tend to identify Realist-derived variables; hedging regarding mutual regional external threats, and Constructivist variables; shared values and historical problems. The Japan-Europe security cooperation literature particularly highlights comparable security cultural practices as being a driver of cooperation given divergence in regional external threats.

The thesis suggests that institutional arrangements of disparate alliance systems are significant in the case of extra-regionally aligned middle powers. European preference for collective modes of cooperation, the subordination of capabilities to multilateral institutionalised arrangements, inhibits cooperation, as Japan places emphasis on strategic ambiguity and national control of capabilities. A lack of transatlantic cohesion impedes European collective action, allowing Japan to coordinate within less institutionalised arrangements and maintain national control of its capabilities.

New Asianism and Japan’s Regional Policy Formation in the 21st Century (Nakako Hattori-Ishimaru, FU Berlin)

The concept of Asianism (Ajia shugi in Japanese) has been controversial through the history of modern Japan’s diplomacy. The ethnocentric version once supported Imperial Japan’s colonialism and also the anti-Western war ideology. After the Pacific War defeat and the following Cold-war regime, Asianists in Japan became sidelined from mainstream policy debates. Postwar Japan had set economic and technical cooperation as its priority of Asia policy agenda. In the 2000s, confronting the “rise of China” and the US’ withdrawal, the policy elites started to argue remodeling the conventional approach both in security and foreign policy fields. How did the external changes transform Japan’s preexisting approach in Asia? How is the concept of Asianism represented in the policy debates of multilateral, regional cooperation? Based on foreign policy theory as a ground framework, the research addresses how Asianism is (re)conceptualized in Japan’s regional foreign policy formation since the 2000s.

The study discussed in this presentation will focus on the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP) of the Abe administration (2012-2020) as the first case of analysis. The purpose of FOIP reads as seeking “freedom of navigation and the rule of law” through both economic and security cooperation. The author considers a mixed method of discourse analysis and process tracing. Following the examination of policy designs and structures of FOIP, the study will identify policy ideas and its advocators across the relevant ministries. This will be followed by an investigation of the integral policy choices through the course by tracing the policy process.

Contrary to the conventional approach of post-war Japan’s diplomacy, what has made combining security and non-security fields within the FOIP possible? The sub-questions are: what are the relationships between institutional reforms in security and foreign policy sectors and the mainstreaming policy discourses? What are the features of the contemporary Asianism discourse?