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Kansai business lobby calls for new diplomatic initiatives to strengthen ties with other Asian nations

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

One of the Kansai region’s leading business lobby groups has called for new diplomatic initiatives to strengthen Japan’s relations with other Asian nations, in a bid to reduce regional tensions and consider a defense policy more independent of the present close ties to the United States.

In a 26-page list of proposals released Wednesday, the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives recommended Japan take the initiative and recognize its role in Asia through active diplomacy. In a region marked by tensions over North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, the group also said a balance is needed between “hard power” aspects of the country’s diplomacy — such as Japan’s national military, economic and technical strength — and its “soft power” diplomacy, such as diplomatic initiatives in climate change, poverty eradication and combating illegal drugs.

The report was prepared by the association’s committee on security issues, which includes the heads of nearly three dozen major national and local corporations.

It emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship but also noted that new thinking on diplomatic issues is needed, despite what appears to be a robust personal relationship forged between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The U.S.-Japan security alliance functions as the basic order for the security system for Japan and the Asia-Pacific region, and good relations between the top leaders means U.S.-Japan relations as a whole are strong. However, the Trump administration’s policies of operation are unclear. We can’t deny there is a risk that Japan will get caught up in a sudden conflict,” the report said.

To improve and deepen relations with Asia, the report suggests that Japan not only step up its efforts to be a leader in enforcing the recently agreed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, from which the U.S. withdrew, but also take the lead on negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — another multilateral Asian trade agreement which, unlike the TPP, includes China.

At the same time, it calls for deeper defense relationships with five other countries.

“By establishing a diverse security treaty network that includes not just a bilateral relationship like the U.S.-Japan security alliance but also a multilateral security relationship with South Korea, India, Vietnam, the Philippines and Australia, the bonds of peace will be strengthened,” the association said.

There are specific bilateral proposals for improving diplomatic ties with China.

The association notes that the benefits stemming from China’s economic development boost Japan’s economic growth. They support Japan joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and becoming involved more with China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative to connect with about 60 countries, mostly in Europe, central, South, and Southeast Asia.

Finally, the proposals include specific suggestions for improving the caliber of Japanese diplomats.

These include creating a new system that allows private sector employees with critical foreign language abilities and overseas experience to more fully participate in official diplomatic efforts.