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Contemporary Japan Series Part 5: Japan's public diplomacy and its practice of reconciliation

S-1.01 (first basement of the Strand Building
16/03/2017 (18:15-20:00)

nakamuraProfessor Toshiya Nakamura started by explaining that in postwar Japan, the main goals of public diplomacy have been related to its history of militarism. In order to recover from an image as a nation of militarism and to win an image as a pacifist and democratic nation, Japan has mainly used cultural exchanges. More recently, Japan’s public diplomacy has developed into its national branding of ‘Cool Japan’. Japan’s ongoing diplomacy based on common values including democracy has contributed to the strengthening of its soft power. Professor Nakamura’s presentation discusses the development of Japan’s postwar public diplomacy and recent events including the reconciliation with the US in the quest for promoting its soft power.

Professor Nakamura started his presentation by providing an overview of Japan’s reconciliation diplomacy. He analysed a number of cases, including Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, US perceptions of the atomic bombs launched in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Abe’s visit to Hawaii, and the Japanese emperor’s journeys to former battlefields. Specifically, he examined the perception gap between Japan and the US on the use of atomic bombs, the Japanese public opinion on the use of atomic bomb,s as well as the voices against US president’s Hiroshima visit. He further analysed Obama’s speech during his visit to Hiroshima and the reaction of Japan’s public, before turning to the discussion about Abe’s speech in Hawaii. The presenter showed that Abe’s speech attached great importance to the power of reconciliation, while emphasising that the US-Japan alliance is an ‘alliance of hope’. Professor Nakamura contended that, following the reciprocal visits to Hiroshima and Hawaii by political figures in Japan and the US, there has been a shift regarding Abe’s global image from a ‘nationalist’, especially after his visit to Yasukuni Shrine in 2013, to a ‘pragmatist. Besides, the presenter pointed out that, in terms of how to deal with the World War II legacy, a model of reconciliation between Japan and theUS has been developed. Although there has been no explicit apology from Japan or the US, both sides have made efforts to ameliorate the situation. In addition, Professor Nakamura argued that the Japanese emperor also plays an important role in reconciliation by enhancing mutual understanding and friendly relations at the societal level.

Subsequently, Professor Nakamura discussed how the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs restructured the public diplomacy strategy in 2002 and 2012, and how Japan’s public diplomacy has developed under Abe’s second term. He demonstrated that, during Abe’s second term, Japan has sought to increase its soft power by enhancing strategic domestic and overseas public relations through mass media and creating the image of ‘Cool Japan’. The government also made efforts to improve awareness about public diplomacy among politicians, as well as to strengthen relations with different Asian nations and other countries around the world. Japan also sought to strengthen its image as a stable democracy and a reliable security partner. In addition, the presenter showed that Japan’s pop culture constitutes an important recourse for Japan’s public diplomacy. 

Professor Nakamura then turned to a discussion about the implications of China’s rise and the administration of Trump on Japan’s public diplomacy. He pointed out that China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy behaviour has generated great challenges for Japan. The tension between China and Japan also derives from their different political systems and national objectives. He also argued that the Trump administration is likely to challenge the relationship between the US and Japan. In the concluding remarks, the presenter argued that Japan’s image has been restored and there has been a success in achieving reconciliation through different means. However, Japan’s future public diplomacy has to address a number of challenges including China’s anti-Japan sentiment, which is also present in Korea. In addition, he contended that there are still a lot of efforts to be made in terms of Japan’s reconciliation diplomacy in the future.

In the Q&A session, a member of the audience and Professor Nakamura discussed how Japan has reacted to China’s pressure through the use of economic statecraft (e.g., a ban on certain Japanese exports). Professor Nakamura contended that Japan has attempted to counterbalance China by closing down factories and using other technologies to compensate what China has banned in order to overcome this pressure. He further argued that, although there exists a good relationship between Japan and China in the economic dimension, many problems still remain unsolved in political terms. Issues regarding the alleged abuse of human rights in China or a lack of democracy and freedom of speech remain a point of stark disagreement between Japan and China. 

One member of the audience asked what the implications of China’s modernisation for Japan are. Professor Nakamura argued that China’s expansion of its military forces is a serious concern for both the US and Japan. Due to this concern, both countries continue to modernise their military capabilities. In addition, Japan is trying to strengthen its position through its allies in the region. He further pointed out that, as a result of numerous sensitive issues, it is difficult for Japan to strengthen its dialogue with China, and that Japan would therefore need to improve its military position. Another member of the audience and the presenter had a discussion about the particularity of Japan’s soft power. Professor Nakamura argued that, in comparison to that of the US or the European Union, Japan’s soft power has many special elements deriving from resources such as Japanese traditional literature and modern pop culture.

Summary prepared by Xuechen Chen

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