Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How China's rise is affecting Europe's view of Japan

Gabriel Domínguez,

Image from article, with caption: Japanese cultural symbols like cosplay, sushi, and anime are also overwhelmingly popular in Europe.

[T]here is a perception among European government officials, academics, the media and think-tanks that there is a lack of significant international cooperation between Europe and Japan, according to a recent survey conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo on Japan's image across Europe. ...
"The perception is that Japan is still punching below its weight in international politics," wrote Mathieu Duchâtel, deputy director of ECFR's Asia and China Program, in a commentary referring to the results of the audit, which was conducted in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The survey found that Japan - the world's third-largest economy - is overwhelmingly perceived as a trustworthy partner - a defining feature of Japan's image across European capitals. "This reliability comes with a reputation of high predictability and the perception that Japan, as a status quo power, is a stabilizing factor in the international order," wrote Duchâtel.
The Asia expert states that such a strong basis of mutual trust explains why despite occasional negative media coverage, the ongoing reforms of Japan's military policy are widely understood in Europe as a process of normalization. And that it may also be the basis for the ongoing expansion of Japan's military ties with the UK and France.
"Europeans tend to see the new national security posture of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe as a rational adaptation to a changing balance of military power in Asia. Clearly, Chinese public diplomacy efforts to depict the ongoing reforms as creeping right-wing remilitarization have not been successful in Europe," Duchâtel added.
The survey also highlighted that Japanese culture enjoys significant appeal in Europe. As Kristin Surak points out, Japan's cultural symbols are everywhere and overwhelmingly popular in Europe.
"Sushi chains are now a standard feature of the urban landscape, anime and cosplay are a well-recognized part of the youth subculture scene. Since the arrival of economic stagnation nearly 25 years ago, the more vituperative characterizations of the country have abated, and even the negative stereotypes about Japanese tourists have been replaced by ones about Chinese," Surak, a Japan expert at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, told DW.
Yet despite the cultural symbols and Europe's strategic trust in Japan, the ECFR audit also finds a scarceness of Japanese soft power in Europe. "Japan's cultural power does not shape the foreign policy preferences of European states, it does not provide a particularly relevant context for the conduct of Europe-Japan relations, and it has no measurable impact in terms of the capacity of Japanese diplomacy to gain support from Europe on specific issues," says Duchâtel.
A key factor behind this paradox, the ECFR expert argues, is the rise of China due to a "China-centric vision of Asia" across European capitals tends to push Japan out of the foreign policy debate. ...
So what can Japan do to improve its image? Experts argue that one small but important step Japan could take would be to encourage more young Japanese to study abroad at European universities. ...

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