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Map of countries with diplomatic missions of Japan shown in blue
Map of countries with diplomatic missions of Japan shown in blue

The foreign relations of Japan (日本の国際関係, Nihon no kokusai kankei) are handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Japanese foreign relations had earliest beginnings in 14th century and after their opening to the world in 1854 with the Convention of Kanagawa, but the relations begin anew in 1945, when the Empire of Japan was defeated and consequently dissolved in war and stripped of all of its foreign conquests and possessions. See History of Japanese foreign relations. The United States, acting for the Allied powers, occupied Japan 1945–51. Following gaining full independence with the Treaty of San Francisco, Japanese diplomatic policy has been based on close partnership with the United States and the emphasis on the international cooperation such as the United Nations. In the Cold War, Japan took a part in the Western world's confrontation of the Soviet Union in East Asia. In the rapid economic developments in the 1960s and 1970s, Japan recovered its influences and became regarded as one of the major powers in the world, although Japanese influences are regarded as negative by two particular countries: China and South Korea.[1]

During the Cold War, unlike most Asian countries at the time, the Japanese foreign policy was not self-assertive due to its poor supplies, relatively focused on their economic growth, and it was only at the end of the Cold War and the bitter lessons from the Gulf War which slowly changed this policy. Japanese government didn't hesitate to participate in the Peacekeeping operations by the UN, and sent their troops to Cambodia, Mozambique, Golan Heights and the East Timor in the 1990s and 2000s.[2] After the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, Japanese naval vessels have been assigned to resupply duties in the Indian Ocean to the present date. The Ground Self-Defense Force also dispatched their troops to Southern Iraq for the restoration of basic infrastructures.

Beyond its immediate neighbors, Japan has pursued a more active foreign policy in recent years, recognizing the responsibility which accompanies its economic strength. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda stressed a changing direction in a policy speech to the National Diet: "Japan aspires to become a hub of human resource development as well as for research and intellectual contribution to further promote cooperation in the field of peace-building."[3] This follows the modest success of a Japanese-conceived peace plan which became the foundation for nationwide elections in Cambodia in 1998.



Japan is increasingly active in Africa. In May 2008, the first Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize will be awarded at Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV),[4] which signals a changing emphasis in bilateral relations.


Japan has continued to extend significant support to development and technical assistance projects in Latin America.[14]


By 1990 Japan's interaction with the vast majority of Asia-Pacific countries, especially its burgeoning economic exchanges, was multifaceted and increasingly important to the recipient countries. The developing countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regarded Japan as critical to their development. Japan's aid to the ASEAN countries totaled US$1.9 billion in Japanese fiscal year (FY) 1988 versus about US$333 million for the United States during U.S. FY 1988. Japan was the number one foreign investor in the ASEAN countries, with cumulative investment as of March 1989 of about US$14.5 billion, more than twice that of the United States. Japan's share of total foreign investment in ASEAN countries in the same period ranged from 70 to 80 percent in Thailand to 20 percent in Indonesia.

In the late 1980s, the Japanese government was making a concerted effort to enhance its diplomatic stature, especially in Asia. Toshiki Kaifu's much publicized spring 1991 tour of five Southeast Asian nations—Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines—culminated in a 3 May major foreign policy address in Singapore, in which he called for a new partnership with the ASEAN and pledged that Japan would go beyond the purely economic sphere to seek an "appropriate role in the political sphere as a nation of peace." As evidence of this new role, Japan took an active part in promoting negotiations to resolve the Cambodian conflict.

In 1997, the ASEAN member nations and the People's Republic of China, South Korea and Japan agreed to hold yearly talks to further strengthen regional cooperation, the ASEAN Plus Three meetings. In 2005 the ASEAN plus Three countries together with India, Australia and New Zealand held the inaugural East Asia Summit (EAS).

In South Asia, Japan's role is mainly that of an aid donor. Japan's aid to seven South Asian countries totaled US$1.1 billion in 1988 and 1989, dropping to just under US$900 million in 1990. Except for Pakistan, which received heavy inputs of aid from the United States, all other South Asian countries receive most of their aid from Japan. Four South Asian nations—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka—are in the top ten list of Tokyo's aid recipients worldwide. A point to note is that Indian Government has a no receive aid policy since the tsunami that struck India but Indian registered NGOs look to Japan for much investment in their projects

Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu signaled a broadening of Japan's interest in South Asia with his swing through the region in April 1990. In an address to the Indian parliament, Kaifu stressed the role of free markets and democracy in bringing about "a new international order," and he emphasized the need for a settlement of the Kashmir territorial dispute between India and Pakistan and for economic liberalization to attract foreign investment and promote dynamic growth. To India, which was very short of hard currency, Kaifu pledged a new concessional loan of ¥100 billion (about US$650 million) for the coming year.


In what became known as the Tenshō embassy, the first ambassadors from Japan to European powers reached Lisbon, Portugal in August 1584. From Lisbon, the ambassadors left for the Vatican in Rome, which was the main goal of their journey. The embassy returned to Japan in 1590, after which time the four nobleman ambassadors were ordained by Alessandro Valignano as the first Japanese Jesuit fathers.

A second embassy, headed by Hasekura Tsunenaga and sponsored by Date Masamune, was also a diplomatic mission to the Vatican. The embassy left 28 October 1613 from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, in the northern Tōhoku region of Japan, where Date was daimyō. It traveled to Europe by way of New Spain, arriving in Acapulco on 25 January 1614, Mexico City in March, Havana in July, and finally Seville on 23 October 1614. After a short stop-over in France, the embassy reached Rome in November 1615, where it was received by Pope Paul V. After return travel by way of New Spain and the Philippines, the embassy reached the harbor of Nagasaki in August 1620. While the embassy was gone, Japan had undergone significant change, starting with the 1614 Osaka Rebellion, leading to a 1616 decree from the Tokugawa shogunate that all interaction with non-Chinese foreigners was confined to Hirado and Nagasaki. In fact, the only western country that was allowed to trade with Japan was the Dutch Republic. This was the beginning of "sakoku", where Japan was essentially closed to the western world until 1854.

The cultural and non-economic ties with Western Europe grew significantly during the 1980s, although the economic nexus remained by far the most important element of Japanese – West European relations throughout the decade. Events in West European relations, as well as political, economic, or even military matters, were topics of concern to most Japanese commentators because of the immediate implications for Japan. The major issues centred on the effect of the coming West European economic unification on Japan's trade, investment, and other opportunities in Western Europe. Some West European leaders were anxious to restrict Japanese access to the newly integrated European Union, but others appeared open to Japanese trade and investment. In partial response to the strengthening economic ties among nations in Western Europe and to the United States–Canada–Mexico North American Free Trade Agreement, Japan and other countries along the Asia-Pacific rim began moving in the late 1980s toward greater economic cooperation.

On 18 July 1991, after several months of difficult negotiations, Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu signed a joint statement with the Dutch prime minister and head of the European Community Council, Ruud Lubbers, and with the European Commission president, Jacques Delors, pledging closer Japanese – European Community consultations on foreign relations, scientific and technological cooperation, assistance to developing countries, and efforts to reduce trade conflicts. Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials hoped that this agreement would help to broaden Japanese – European Community political links and raise them above the narrow confines of trade disputes.


Debates and frictions

Japan has formally issued apologies for its military occupations before and during World War II, but that has done little in helping to improve its relations with its neighbors, especially China, North Korea and South Korea. They still insist that Japan has yet to formally express remorse for its wrongdoings in the 20th century, despite some formal statements of regret from Prime Ministers Hosokawa Morihiro and Murayama Tomiichi. Japan's official stance claims that all war-related reparation claims have been resolved (except with North Korea). Unofficial visits to the controversial Yasukuni Jinja by past Prime Ministers belonging to the Liberal Democratic Party and the exclusion or generalization of some elements of Japan's military history in a number school textbooks have also clouded the issue. In 2004, China and the two Koreas criticized Japan for sending its Ground Self Defence Forces to Iraq, which was seen as signalling a return to militarism. The government of Japan claimed that its forces would only participate in reconstruction and humanitarian aid missions.

As a result, there is a strong anti-Japanese sentiment in China and the two Koreas, although Antagonism is not inevitable. Both Japan and South Korea successfully hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup, bridging a physical and political gap between the two countries. Additionally, the great popularity in Japan of Bae Yong-joon, a South Korean actor, has also been seen as a sign that the two countries have moved closer together.

Disputed territories

Japan has several territorial disputes with its neighbors concerning the control of certain outlying islands.

Japan contests Russia's control of the Southern Kuril Islands (including Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomai group) which were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945.[92] South Korea's assertions concerning Liancourt Rocks (Japanese: "Takeshima", Korean: "Dokdo") are acknowledged, but not accepted by Japan.[93] Japan has strained relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) over the Senkaku Islands;[94] and with the People's Republic of China over the status of Okinotorishima.

These disputes are in part about irredentism; and they are also about the control of marine and natural resources, such as possible reserves of crude oil and natural gas.

See also

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