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21.01.2014 г.

Japan's Soft Power in Central Asia

Olga Dobrinskaya

Soft power in modern international relations is a significant part of successful foreign policy. The notion of ‘soft power' which was introduced by the Harvard University professor Joseph Nye 1990 refers to the ability to achievethe desired outcome by the way of influencing the behavior of other actors not by the means of coercion but by the means of cooperation and persuasion.

The soft power of a countryrests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority).[1]

Japan as a country which has renounced the use of military force as a means of settling international disputes, and which rarely uses economic methods of coercion (sanctions) naturally relies on soft power. Its soft power potential includes traditional and contemporary culture, business model, innovations and other aspects.

Traditionally East Asia is the region where the main resources of Japanese soft power are directed. At the same time soft power is also an indispensable part of Japan's overall foreign policy strategy in Central Asia.

What are the characteristics of Japan's foreign policy in Central Asia? First, the history of its diplomatic ties with the countries of the region is rather short. The relations with the young republics of Central Asia were established in the early 1990s. In a rather short period of time Japan has aimed at securing its diplomatic positions in the region and managed to achieve positive results. Second, Japan has from the very beginning emphasized common Asian identity with the states of the region. Cultural and racial commonality and an emotional affinity resulting from it has become part of official rhetoric. Third, in contrast to East Asia, in this region Japan's reputation is not tarnished by the military aggression in the past. Moreover, some scholars even talk about‘warm memories in the region associated with Japan's victory over Russia in 1905'. [2]The people of Central Asia remember tens of thousands of the Japanese prisoners of war who were placed in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan after World War II. There still remain many buildings erected by them, such as Central telegraph and Ministry of culture in Tashkent, Academy of sciences in Almata, Farkhad hydroelectric power station in Tajikistan.[3]

Japan's interest towards Central Asia has along history. The first Japanese to visit the region was diplomat Nishi Tokujiro. In 1880 he made a trip across the Soviet Turkestan and in 1886 published a book called "Description of Central Asia". Central Asia attracted attention not only as a region where the Great Game between Russia and Great Britain unfolded, but also as a source of unexplored cultural wealth. There were three missions organized between 1902 and 1914 by the count OtaniKozui (1876-1948), 22-nd abbot of the Nishi Honganjitemple in Kyoto. These missions contributed greatly to the studies of the cultural and religious heritage of the Great Silk Road. Today the Otani collection is divided among museums in Tokyo and Kyoto, part of it is kept in China and Korea.

In the Soviet times the discovery of the Buddhist ruins of Ajina-tepa (south of Tajikistan 1960s), Kara-tepa near the town of Termez, Dalverzin-tepa in the south of Uzbekistan fostered interest towards the region, which reached its peak after the NHK documentary series "The Great Silk Road" was broadcasted in 1980s.From the late 1980s-early 1990s researchers from Japan began to take part in joint archeological expeditions to the region.[4]

It was cultural and historical significance of Central Asia as a route through which Buddhism came to Japan that lay groundwork for the first initiatives in the region[5].One of the men beyond Japan's diplomacy towards Central Asia T.Hirose point out that initially Tokyo underscored the ‘microcosmic character' of the region and its value in terms of human civilization. With the Eurasian diplomacy the emphasis was put on historical and cultural ties to Japan which became the rationale after the start of Silk Road diplomacy in 1997.[6]In a speech which gave a start to the Eurasian diplomacy former prime minister Hashimoto especially underlined "deep-rooted nostalgia in Japan for this region stemming from the glory of the days of the Silk Road".[7]

Efforts to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of Central Asia, in terms of its importance for the development of world civilization, has become an important task of Japan as a country aspiring to play a prominent role in the international cultural cooperation. Moreover, some saw this as its moral obligation towards the region: Japan as a country which benefited from the Great Silk Road in the past, today, having reached a high level of development and prosperity, must "repay" its debt to Central Asia.[8] Thus, the historical and cultural commonality has become an element of soft power in relations with countries of the region.

Based on this commonality, Japan aims to develop the most attractive aspects of its image. One of its components has long been its postwar development model. Former Foreign Minister T.Aso summarized its essence as "peace and happiness through economic prosperity and democracy".[9]

Faced with the necessity of choosingaway of economic development, Central Asian stateswhich had a tradition of planned economy of the socialist type were indeed interested in the Japanese variant which envisaged dominant role of state in economy. In turn, Tokyo repeatedly stressed the benefits of a smooth transition to a market economy, contrasting the "Japan-East Asian model" withthe "Anglo-Saxon". Japan dispatched experts, organized courses in economics and business management, so as to convey its own experience.[10].

The subject of democracy is constantly present in the agenda of relations between Japan and Central Asia. It was actively promoted byT.Aso, who conducted the "values-baseddiplomacy" towards the "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity", which included Central Asia. He believed that Japan could play an important role in nation-building and the promotion of democracy, peace and freedom, human rights, rule of law and a market economy in the region.

This can be considered an element of Japanese soft power, because the Japanese approach to the process of democratization is fundamentally different from the Western. Japan stands for "democracy through development," meaning that the rise of economic well-being will lead to improving the situation with democracy and human rights. This approach is partly attributed to the fact that democracy in Japan was brought in from outside during the postwar political reforms. Thus, promoting the idea of democracy in Central Asia, Japan portrays itself as a presenter of Western values with the Eastern specifics, and that is taken much more favorably by the local regimes than the rigid approach of Europe and the USA.

In addition to the economic development model, Japan's appeal lies in its status of the leader ininnovations.Both Japan and the countries of the region have repeatedly stressed that Japanese technology and natural resources of Central Asia are complementary. Information Technology Center operates in Kyrgyzstan and prospects for the creation of high-tech center in Turkmenistan are being discussed. Leaders of the Central Asian states are interested in Japanese innovation, and the population believes Japan is a desirable partner in terms of scientific and technological cooperation (according to the answers of 47% of respondents in Kazakhstan and 45% in Uzbekistan)[11].

This is connected with the image of Japan as a country which attaches particular importance to the environmental issues. Tokyo is actively involved in projects to save the Aral Sea, as well as to remove radioactive contamination in the Semipalatinsk region. International activities aimed against the climate change, the development of "green technologies", the established waste-free production not only reflect the experience of Japan, in the past faced with serious environmental problems, but are also based on the traditional Japanese concept of thrift (mottainai) ).[12] Lately, Japan has been promoting energy-saving technologies and renewable energy, which are of interest to Central Asia.

One of the most successful and visible examples of Japan's soft power tools is the Official Development Assistance[13]. Back in the early 1990s. Japan stated that "as an Asian country it will provide considerable assistance to the former Soviet states of Asia."[14]. Japan has long been the largest donor of ODA in the region, while stressing that the aid is not based on any selfish considerations,that Tokyo is not seeking access to natural resources in the region and is aiming primarily for the formation of long-term friendly relations with the countries of Central Asia.

One of the areas of assistance is addressing problems related to human security. They include poverty alleviation, disaster prevention, improving the level of medicine and health care, etc. For example, based on its experience as the only country that suffered atomic bombings, Japan took the initiative of holding a conference on Semipalatinsk in 1999 and has provided assistance in the field of medical services to residents of the area. Tokyo pays great attention to projects in education, assistance in the development of agriculture, etc. Thanks to these efforts an image of Japan as a provider of non-military security has firmly entrenched in Central Asia.

An important tool in the projection of soft power is cultural and public diplomacy. In Japan, they are closely related, in the Foreign Ministry in the materials they are marked as public cultural diplomacy (kohobunkagaiko). According to professor S.Kondo, Japanese excel at indirectly and quietly presentinga value system, which represents their soft power resources, through artistic expression and the creation of objects, while they are weak in projecting their philosophy directly and aggressively in the form of ideas and words[15]. Therefore, cultural diplomacy is of particular importance in understanding Japan's soft power.

Main directions of cultural diplomacy include the dissemination of information about Japan, introduction to traditional and modern culture, measures to promote the Japanese language, the organization of human exchanges and cooperation with international organizations in the field of culture[16].

Cultural diplomacy certainly plays a key role in bringing Japan and the Central Asian states closer, improving mutual understanding, maintaining emotional affinity. It comes both as a huge reservoir of traditional culture and as contemporary youth culture. Various events on Japantake place in Central Asia, they are held not only in capitals, but cover wide geography.

The Japanese government pays particular attention to educational programs aimed at young people as well as at professionals. There are English-language programs for students, trainees and researchers, training for teachers, a program called "young leaders" designed for government officials, experts in health care, industry, law who are regarded as promising future leaders of Asian countries, Masters programs in Japanese universities.[17]

At the same time there exists a developing network of intercollegiate ties. For example, Japanese Hosei University, Waseda University, Tsukuba University and others implement student exchange programs with leading educational institutions of the region. The International Centre for Central Asia, where joint research and development in the field of teaching is held, opened in September 2006 at the Tsukuba University.

The launch of the dialogue "Central Asia plus Japan" in 2004 contributed to the elaboration of a unified approach to cultural interaction with the countries of the region. First, cultural and humanitarian exchanges are highlighted as an independent direction. Second, in 2004 the Minister of Foreign Affairs Y.Kawaguchi announced plans to invite to Japan 1000 trainees from Central Asia in 3 years. Through educational programs Tokyo works with young people from the Central Asian countries, bringing up a new generation of political and business elite, familiar with the Country of the rising sun, ready and willing to cooperate with it.

It appears that the launch of Intellectual dialogue within the framework of the "Central Asia plus Japan" can be seen as a manifestation of the policy of soft power. It helps Japan engage experts, or opinion leaders, in the dialogue. Thus by combining work with youth and dialogue with members of the elite Tokyo strengthens soft power in the region.

An important element of this work is represented by measures aimed at promoting Japanese language. Japanese language teaching at universities of Central Asia has a relatively short history. First Japanese course was recruited in 1990 at the Oriental department of the Tashkent State University. In 1991 the teaching of Japanese began in Kyrgyzstan, and in 1992 - in Kazakhstan. Three Central Asian states - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan conduct the Japanese language proficiency test (Noryokushiken). Since 1997, these countries hold annual competition among Japanese language students from Central Asia. In Tajikistan, Turkmenistan the introduction of the Japanese language has begun only recently.

Using a range of activities related to the Japanese language, as well as providing support for the Japanese language teachers associations and other similar associations help form and support a network of communication, promote community -related interest in Japan and Japanese language

During the early years of Japanese language education in Central Asia its popularity has increased significantly, but today thetendency is negative. According to the 2009 survey Central Asia accounted to only about 0.3 % of the total number of total Japanese language institutions, which makes it the penultimate place in front of North Africa. As of 2009 students of Japanese in Central Asia accounted for 0.1 % of all Japanese language students in the world[18]. The growingnumber of students are selecting Chinese as a second foreign language in high school, some of them transitioning from Japanese to Chinese during their studies.

Reasons for the diminishing numbers of language students may be different. Perhaps after the "Japan boom" in the region has gradually subsided the situation is becomingmore stable. Japan is geographically distant from the region, the number of Japanese residents in Central Asia is small, which reduces the possibilities of the frequent use of the Japanese language. Japanese business is represented in the region modestly compared with the Chinese. In addition to that, companies may be reluctant to hire local staff with the knowledge of Japanese language. The flow of tourists from Japan to Central Asia is small. Opportunities to find a prestigious job in Japan for graduates from Central Asia are little. As for a teaching or researcher career, the terms of employment and wages do not suit everybody. Thus graduates with the knowledge of Japanese language can't always find an appropriate jobwhich would justify their expectations and effort. According to experts, in futurelearning Japanese language will likely gravitate toward two poles - education for thin layer of the country's elite, and learning Japanese as a hobby[19].

The implementation of the soft power policy occurs mainly through the embassies, as well as joint human resource development centers established by agreements between the governments of the Central Asian countries and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), also known as Japan centers.

 First Japanese Embassies in Central Asia opened in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in January 1993, followed by Tajikistan in January 2002, in Kyrgyzstan in January 2003, and in Turkmenistan in January 2005. Embassiesare in charge of outreach activities, as well as of the implementation of educational and cultural programs by the Japan Foundation.

Joint centers for human resource development from the beginning of the 2000s operate in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Their main activities include business courses, language courses, computer classes, facilitating information and cultural exchange. The centers play an important role in spreading the Japanese language. At first Japanese was taught mainly in public institutions, and with the establishment of the centers it has become available to everyone. In addition, the centers support language teachers and educational institutions -they run courses for teachers, provide teaching materials. They carry out activities related to language, such as contests, themed meetings, lectures and exams for internships in Japan. There are no Japan centers in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

It is certain that soft power can't be reduced only to public policy. Non-state actors play a prominent role in its projection. In this regard, it is worth noting that at the initial stage of relations between Japan and Central Asia a personal factor playeda significant role. It was not only senior officials who stood for strengthening ties with specific countries ,but also prominent people of culture (famous artist Hirayama Ikuo, one of the sponsors of the idea of a cultural and educational center "International Karavansarai of Culture " in Uzbekistan ), as well as ordinary citizens, who made a significant contribution to strengthening of ties (engineer OsakiSigekatsuwho used his own money to build a language schoolin Uzbekistan "Noriko gakkyu"). The activities of these people can be regarded as a manifestation of soft power, because they have made a personal contribution to the formation of a favorable attitude toward their country in Central Asia.

In the years since the establishment of diplomatic relations, Japan has acquired a considerable potential of soft power in Central Asia. Popularity of Japanese culture and sports, successful work of the centers for human resource development, active cultural exchanges indicate the interest of the citizens of the region to this country. Japan's image as a technologically advanced country, a leader in addressing global challenges, a model of economic and democratic development ismakes a favorable impressiononthe countries of Central Asia.

At the same time, because of the nature of soft power policy which is more aimed at long-term goal of creating a favorable environment than on achieving quick results, its performance is quite difficult to measure. Public opinion polls, the popularity of Japanese centers and cultural activities do not give a clear picture, which would make it possible to assess the Japanese influence in the region. Moreover, soft power is most effective when it is supported by other factors of mutual interest, such as economic interest, and it should be considered in conjunction with other components of diplomacy. It can be assumed that the Japanese soft power in the region will be facing new challenges arising from active cultural diplomacy of China, as well as a growing presence of South Korea.

[1]Nye Joseph Jr. Soft power: the means to success in world politics. 2004. P.11.

[2]K.Togo. Japan's foreign policy 1945-2009.The quest for a proactive policy. Leiden. Boston. 2010. P.222.

[3]A.Tutov. Japanese prisoners of war in Uzbekistan. - (22.08.2011)

[4]K.Nakayama. Uzubekisutan-no sakura. P.134.

[5]K.Togo. Op.Cit.P.222.

[6]T.Hirose. Japan's diplomacy in Central Asia: the perspective of a working- level policymaker. //Japan's Silk Road diplomacy: paving the road ahead. P.180.

[7] Address by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to the Japan Association of Corporate Executives - 24 July 1997 [8]I.Hirayama. Waga e-no michi,ummei-no michi. //Gaikoforamu.№12, 1998. P.13.

[9]Central Asia as a Corridor of Peace and Stability.Speech by Mr. Taro Aso, Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Japan National Press Club.June 1, 2006. -


[11]Integration barometer EABD-2013.Eurasian Bank of Development.2013.P.56. -

[12]Yee-KuangHeng. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the softest of them all? Evaluating Japanese and Chinese strategies in the ‘soft' power competition era.//International relations of the Asia-Pacific. Vol.10, no.2,2010. P.289.

[13]T.Akaha. Japan's soft power-hard power balancing act. //The US-Japan alliance. Balancing soft and hard power in East Asia.Routledge. 2010.P.60.

[14]TheJapantimes. 29.10.1992

[15]S. Kondo.Wielding soft power: the key stages of transmission and reception.//Soft power superpowers.Cultural and national assets of Japan and the United States. New York. 2008. P.194.


[17] (29.01.2011)

[18]Results of "Survey on Japanese language education abroad 2009". July 29,2010. (29.01.2011)

[19]T.Sugiura.Kazafusutan-niokerunihongojyoiku-no genjo to kadai. 2007.P.126.
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