[SPECIAL INTERVIEWS WITH SCHOLARS -- (5) Takashi Inoguchi on the rise of Northeast Asia]NatThe following is the fifth in a series of interviews with scholars on major issues of the 21st century. The interviews were arranged by the JoongAng Ilbo in collaboration with the Global Academy for Neo-Renaissance at Kyung Hee University. The series includes topics on biological science, strategies for the future, nonviolence, environmental ethics, the rise of Northeast Asia and future politics. - Ed.
Professor Takashi Inoguchi, 62, is a renowned political scientist who studied international relations at the University of Tokyo and received a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is now a professor at Chuo University and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo. His major research areas include political theory, comparative politics, East Asian politics, political economy, international security and the international political economy. He has written dozens of books on world politics, Japanese politics and international relations in East Asia, including “Quantitative Analysis of International Relations in East Asia,” “Global Governance” and “East Asian Academic Community.”
The possibility of a Northeast (or East) Asian community is a popular discussion topic nowadays. Some look forward to the advent of an “era of prosperity and progress in Northeast Asia.” In the past, as implied by the slogan “stability and peace in Northeast Asia,” the region was seen as a dependency of the Cold War system and the U.S. global strategy. But today, the region is becoming increasingly more active in discussions on regional cooperation and the need for a regional grouping.
Is the “era of Northeast Asia” or the “Northeast Asian community” a reflection of reality or merely imagined? Is it possible to create a regional community in Northeast Asia, or is this ambition too subjective and emotional? What kinds of problems is the region facing? I sought out Mr. Inoguchi for his opinions.
“The idea of the era of Northeast Asia or a Northeast Asian community remains at an early stage or a discursive level in terms of the formation of the values, rules and dialogues, as well as in the aspects of consensus building toward that goal,” he said. He continued, cautious but not pessimistic, “It is encouraging to think of Northeast Asia actively and start discussing it.”
Then what are the conditions under which regional cooperation and community can be realized?
“First of all, functional integration is needed in economy, technology, financing and communications. This is an initial condition and does not guarantee the creation of a community. Regional identity is also necessary, but there are large gaps in this among Korea, China, and Japan. Korea has the strongest sense of regional identity and China the weakest. The growth of the middle class will help promote values and norms, mutual understanding and international exchange.
“But the middle class is very much oriented towards the United States, just like the rich, so it is questionable whether they will contribute to the formation of a regional community. A particularly difficult problem, which no one wants to discuss, is the security guarantee plan. Without the framework of security guarantees, it is very difficult to establish a community. Democracy is also important. The United States will want to push China and North Korea towards democratization and I wonder how that will go with the idea of a regional community.”
On the counteracting forces that affect a regional community, he said, “Globalization diversifies competitive and noncompetitive sectors in a country and, at the same time, spurs integration with other regions. Therefore, the national economy of the past form cannot exist anymore. But the shock of globalization stimulates national unity and nationalism. Many times, nationalism in Korea, China and Japan sends an impression of bias, complicating things. In Korea and China, nationalist sentiments do not seem to have changed much. In Japan I feel it has weakened a little, but compared to Europe, it is not quite so.”
The United States has contributed to stability and peace in the region but it hampers the formation of a regional community because of its bilateral relations with individual countries. In particular, the alliance of the United States and Japan in consideration of China’s rising power can be an obstacle to the formation of a regional community.
“Most Japanese think that Japan has to maintain friendly relations with the United States for military reasons,” Mr. Inoguchi said. “Some view it as an impediment, but 60 to 70 percent of people think it is helpful. However, no one knows how friendly the relations should be. U.S.-Japan collaboration may continue forever, but their relations are changing. The two countries are not as irrational as Koreans might think they are. It is possible that the rise of China will increase Japan’s fears in the short term, but that is not the whole story. People strongly feel the need for economic cooperation with China, too.”
Japan wants to be a leader in the region, but does not live up to it. Where does the defensive attitude come from?
“With their high incomes, the Japanese are self-content and want to maintain the status quo. Especially, they do not like to be actively involved with the outside world with a sense of responsibility and duty. They think that Japan played an important role in ending colonization during the Pacific War by fighting against Western countries. They only think of the sacrifice they made and turn their eyes away from the suffering and misery of other countries.
“This attitude is well reflected in the handling of foreign victims of the atomic bombs in World War II and the Japanese prime ministers’ visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. They do not make a conscious effort to look at their own suffering and damage from a universal perspective. Because of this, their assertions lack universality and are looked upon as a reflection of the attitude that Japan is an exception.”
He continued: “The time has passed for the state to continue exercising strong power. In the era of globalization and the post-Cold War, local political and economic units need to look beyond territorial boundaries. Decentralization can take the form of federalism. In Japan, five to six administrative units delegate their social and educational policies to local governments. The same thing will occur in Korea. The progress of federalism will weaken state power and make the region more meaningful.”
In the era of globalization and information flows, what meaning do the civilization and norms of Northeast Asia have in relation to an autonomous formation of a regional identity?
“Asian values may be an element of Northeast Asian civilization, but they do not occupy the same status as Christianity does in the European Community, nor are they manifested empirically. They were valid as a defensive voice against Western values after the Cold War, but today, few people believe in them. If Northeast Asian civilization is seen as a local or regional variation of world civilization, the commonalities between Korea, China, and Japan become clearer.”
Partners for a community need dialogue and the sincerity to accept each other and seek coexistence.
“When you think what others say is strange, you realize what you think is also strange, and then you keep thinking about it. Through this process, you understand each other better. It would be nice to have the feeling of a responsive community.”
by Jang In-sung
The interviewer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo. He has written many books, including “Topos” and “International Relations.”