Post-Disaster Japan & Neighbors

The disaster of Japan is likely to yield positive change in her relationship with foreign countries particularly China, South Korea and Russia. The March 11 tragedy triggered by 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resultant tsunami is now estimated to cost more than $ 300 bn. for Japan’s economy. With new rating of the severity of nuclear crisis in Fukushima nuclear facility, Japan is now at par with Chernobyl accident. There is silver lining in Japan’s future relations with important neighbors.

Japan’s relations with China have been characterized by ups and downs though hopes were generated that they would be heading to consolidation after the Democratic Party of Japan succeeded more conservative Liberal Democratic Party leadership in Tokyo.  For the first time in the history of Japan-China relations, a Chinese rescue team with humanitarian assistance went to Japan in March.  Needless to say that China has been the beneficiary of Japanese largesse during times of natural catastrophes.

History testifies that Japan-South Korea bilateral relationship was marred by enmity. Japan colonized South Korea for many years till the end of World War II. Until the natural calamity wrought destruction to Japan the so-called South Korean comfort women used to demonstrate for compensation in front of Japan’s embassy in Seoul. But North Korea’s sinking of South Korean ship in March last year and also attacks on a disputed island resulting in the death of South Korean inhabitants have prompted closer Japan-South Korea relations.

No wonder in December, 2010 South Korea, Japan and the U.S. were almost issuing a collective security statement declaring that an attack on one party by North Korea would be viewed as an attack on all three.

One of the immediate fallouts of damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima has been Japan’s desperate search for alternative energy, which is hydrocarbon to the disappointment of global environmentalists. In the present circumstances Japan will have to rely more on liquefied natural gas, which Russia has in abundance and can thus supply in required quantities. The exigencies of Japan to import Russian gas will have a positive impact on their bilateral relations.

Moreover, both policy makers in Tokyo and Moscow have used negotiations on gas exports to better strategic relations, which they believe are needed to respond to China’s growing power. Many neighbors of China have not overcome their qualms about China’s peaceful rise. The Chinese recent aggressive patrolling in East China Sea has only lent credence to this perception.

Japan’s dependence on foreign oil will help deepen the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance as argued by Michael J. Green in his Foreign Affairs article “How will March 11 Disaster Change Japan”? According to him Japanese public belief has been reinforced about U.S. ability to protect sea-lanes and Japanese interests as far as the Persian Gulf.

Arguably, Japan is constrained to face challenges imposed by its demographics. Nonetheless, the urgency of reconstruction accompanied by Japanese national determination can contribute significantly to the economy. The International Monetary Fund estimates that Japan has ample domestic savings to finance rebuilding and will return to growth within the year.

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