While it is still considered an important economy – the world’s third largest behind the US and China – Japan’s influence in the world seems to be on the decline. With China and India on the rise, Japan could conceivably be much diminished in stature in coming decades. In this 2009 Global Asia essay, Hitoshi Tanaka, senior fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange, who was deputy minister for foreign affairs until 2005, writes that Japan can “take advantage of its relative decline and remain a vital regional power.” The key, he reckons, “is creative leadership, the wise use of soft power and a firm commitment to regional interaction.” Concludes Tanaka:
Japan can and should reinvent itself as a regional and global leader outside the purely economic realm. The core objective of Japan’s policy toward East Asia should be to establish a new identity as an advanced democracy and a constructive leader. In order to achieve this goal, Japan must strengthen its policy tools and reinvigorate its diplomacy.
Can Japan forge this new leadership role in the Asia-Pacific – or is it destined to become a third-rate inward-looking country?