In a new Council on East Asian Community Commentary, Yasuji Ishigaki writes about the aid Japan received from its regional neighbors in an article entitled “We-feeling” of East Asian Countries as Seen in the Wake of the Great Earthquake. Ishigaki is a former Tokai University Law Professor and is a Japanese delegate to the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization. I’ve included some of the choice quotes below, but you can find the full PDF here.

Chinese FM Yang Jiechi (C) gives a statement, with Japanese FM Takeaki Matsumoto (L) and South Korean FM Kim Sung-Hwan (R), after their trilateral talks in Kyoto, March 19, 2011. (Source: Xinhua/Ji Chunpeng)

Chinese FM Yang Jiechi (C) gives a statement, with Japanese FM Takeaki Matsumoto (L) and South Korean FM Kim Sung-Hwan (R), after their trilateral talks in Kyoto, March 19, 2011. (Source: Xinhua/Ji Chunpeng)

Assistance at times of natural disasters has been called for as one of the pillars of what we call “non-traditional security” cooperation, which is expected to play a significant role in regional cooperation for building an East Asian Community. It should be particularly noted that despite there exist a number of difficult bilateral problems including territorial issues between Japan and East Asian countries, Korea and China sent their rescue teams to Japan immediately after the earthquake and engaged in relief operations respectively in Miyagi and in Iwate. Indonesia, Singapore, India, Australia and New Zealand also dispatched their rescue teamswhile others provided or proposed assistance in the form of various relief goods and other needed resources. Those countries might have just promptly acted as members of a community as offering helping hands is a natural deed whenever any other member suffers from a great disaster, even when they have some bilateral questions in dispute. Thus, the concerted efforts shown so admirably by all those countries to help Japan could be regarded as deriving out of the sense of regional solidarity or “We-feeling.”

I don’t believe Ishigaki’s assertion here that this aid is derived from some sort of regional solidarity. What would that say about the assistance of other countries in Europe or elsewhere? Japan’s neighbors are by definition much closer to the disaster and thus have less logistical obstacles. The entire world came out in support of Japan, there is nothing special about its Asian neighbors in this respect.

Ishigaki then discussed multilateral talks that continued in the wake of the disaster:

For one thing, it was noted that the consultative mechanism of Japan-China-ROK was functioning well in the midst of a disaster.

For another thing, the framework of dialogue between Japan and ASEAN is gradually developing to an action-oriented framework. More specifically, at the urgently convened ASEAN-Japan Ministerial Meeting on April 9 in Jakarta, guidelines for ASEAN’s support of Japan’s recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake were declared in the chairman’s statement. The guidelines would require the ASEAN Secretariat to play the role of a coordinator in adjusting the relief activities carried out separately by each member country of ASEAN in order to deliver assistance more effectively in accordance with the needs of Japan.

In both these cases, I’m not certain there is any sign of regional solidarity at play, just simple diplomacy. The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have held meetings with delegates all over the world, and I would hasten to add that it is Matsumoto’s job as Foreign Minister to help drum up aid – these meetings are part of that effort but also a reminder that government is compartmentalized and this helps its necessary continuation in the event of a national catastrophe that requires its attention.

On the other hand, Russian combat fighters entered the Air Defense Identification Zone of Japan in the aftermath of the disaster and a Chinese airplane attempted an unusually close approach to a Maritime Self-defense Force ship of Japan. All those seem to indicate that the countries involved have not changed their tough attitudes towards Japan as far as the “traditional security” aspect is concerned.

Finally Ishigaki reaches the guts of the issue: nothing has changed. If we are to give Ishigaki his claims of a nascent regionalism going on in East Asia, the fact that Japan’s largest neighbors are continuing to show signs of their usual belligerence suggests that it passed with the news cycle. It also shows that ‘hard security’ trumps ‘soft security’ regardless of whether the nation is hobbled with a disaster or not.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch