On July 26, government sources in Japan revealed planning for the foreign ministers of that country, China and South Korea to meet, probably in August. This follows Japan hosting the G20 summit of the major nations of the world in late June and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the United States in April.
In sum, the extremely active network of international diplomacy and collaboration that characterizes our world continues. That is important given the prominence of headlines regarding the almost constant threats from the White House, and some actions, to limit international trade.
Prime Minister Abe’s visits to the U.S. underscore priority for the vital, now long-established bilateral alliance between our two nations. Mutual defense as well as economics is involved. Growing nationalism is evident in Japan, and occasionally reflected in the prime minister’s public statements, but there is no wide support for any major change in defense posture.
The substantial arms buildup by China rightly receives international attention and concern, along with the wider regional arms race and ongoing maritime disputes. North Korea’s often-violent rhetoric, combined with nuclear weapons development, makes that country a particularly disturbing wild card.
A new bilateral trade agreement with Japan has proven elusive, long predating the current U.S. administration. In the previous administration, sustained negotiations seemed to be nearing success and then stalled, frustrating hopes if an announcement in connection with President Barack Obama’s 2014 visit to Japan. Similar difficulty attended a trip by Prime Minister Abe the following year, though there were useful top-level discussions and an impressive address to a joint session of Congress.
The abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership by the U.S. overshadowed, but not for long, the steady growth of Pacific regional institutions for economic cooperation. ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) began in 1967 and has growing influence.
In 1989, Australia Prime Minister Bob Hawke proposed the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) organization. President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker embraced the concept, even as the Cold War with the Soviet Union was ending.
In the Atlantic region, NATO and the European Union can trace their institutional origins back to the later 1940s, and conceptually even earlier. Meanwhile, Asia has lacked a long-developed framework of collaborative institutions.
Since 1980, United States trade with Asia overall has been greater than with Europe, and that differential continues to expand. The Pacific region encompasses a steadily expanding share of the world’s economic product, investment and trade.
The 2006 APEC summit met in Vietnam, a nation of special significance given the success of communist revolutionary movements in Southeast Asia. Vietnam did not join ASEAN until 1995, reflecting the lingering influence of both Cold War and the Vietnam War. Yet Hanoi honored U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at that summit. Vietnam continues institutional engagement.
Today, growth of freer markets, trade and investment gradually reinforce stability and the commercial rule of law in Asia, and elsewhere, around the world. At the same time, the enormous arms buildup in the Pacific region requires monitoring and diplomatic resistance.
On July 5, 2017, Japan and the European Union (EU) achieved a breakthrough economic agreement. Japan Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrōm announced the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (JEEPA), a strategically important development
“The Economist” noted both economic powers seek to “fill the vacuum left by America’s withdrawal” from world trade leadership.
Arthur I. Cyr is a Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (Macmillan/Palgrave and NYU Press). Contact email@example.com.