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First of all let me record my appreciation to the Japanese Government and Mr. Takashi Yokoyama, Director of the Japan Information Service at the Japanese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, for selecting me as a participant in the "Strengthening Advocacy: Building a multi-layered network of influential figures" project (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam). Given that I have studied at the international University of Japan in Niigata, Japan is hardly an enigma to me. Yet, the project allowed me to gain valuable insights to Japan's foreign policy orientation on several issues, namely on territorial disputes and Tokyo's current initiative to enable its Self-Defense Forces to take part in collective security actions. I believe that this project offers a valuable platform for ASEAN academics and personalities to disseminate Japan's basic position in security matters.
Malaysia-Japan relations are being strengthened in all sectors, especially now that Kuala Lumpur is interested in developing the 'Second Wave of Look East Policy' (LEP). Nevertheless, having listened to various briefings from officials of the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs as well as distinguished Japanese academics, I note that there is a slight difference in the issues focused by Japan and Malaysia. While Malaysia is concentrating on economic development in accordance to Prime Minister Najib's Economic Transformation program (ETP), Japan seems more interested in security matters. Recently, Prime Minister Abe proposed a Japan-Malaysia memorandum on defense exchanges in order to strengthen cooperation on maritime security. However, Malaysia has not made a formal decision due to regional sensitivities. Malaysian policymakers are cautious as they need to take into consideration the reactions of China, the Unites States and South Korea.
In my opinion, globally, there is not enough dissemination of Japan's new security policies, especially the reasons for the establishment of the National Security Council and the new constitutional interpretation that broadens the scope of Japan's self-defense forces. Given China's recent maritime aggressiveness, Tokyo has no choice but to assume a stronger role in ensuring its security. However, as mentioned earlier, lack of information usually results in negative perceptions, particularly due to Japan's past history of colonialism. To overcome any misinterpretations, I believe that Japan has to analyze the ways its policies are being interpreted by other states and develop tools of persuasion!
While many believe Japan is a great power, I adhere to Professor Soeya Yoshihide's (of Keio University) thesis that Japan is actually a middle power that is influential economically but does not seek to match the military might of the U.S. and/or China. Professor Soeya advocates that Japan work in concert with regional partners like South Korea, Australia and ASEAN in order to create a new "East Asian order." To conduct such diplomacy, these countries have to support the creation of middle power security cooperation.
Projects like the "Strengthening Advocacy: Building a multi-layered network of influential figures" which brings together prominent academics and personalities supplements traditional diplomacy. I believe, the continuation of such a project will advance the understanding of Japan among its neighbours, a development that is crucial to create a new "East Asian order" or at least some form of middle power security cooperation. Such public diplomacy is critical if Japan wants to move away from the negative history of World War II and bring sustainable peace and prosperity to the Asia Pacific region.