Shinzo Abe and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s diplomatic relations are operating within the memory of anti-western aspirations and the rhetoric of Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian visions of a world order rooted in the Meiji restoration and the Young Turk modernisation.
Turkish – Japanese intimacy in manufacturing, energy and diplomacy attracts many analysts, yet in their endeavours many fail to contextualise these two countries’ bilateral relations in terms of international political economy and international Realpolitik.
Boosting Japanese Economy
Chinese ambitions to establish hegemony in East Asia and American isolationism, which has reached its peak during the Obama Administration, have spurred Japan to reconfigure its foreign policy. Given the fall of its birth rate and domestic economic scale along with its population aging, Japan is attempting to boost its economy by encouraging Japanese companies to invest in emerging markets such as Turkey, the Philippines and Indonesia, as it sees their demand for infrastructure and technological expertise as an opportunity to augment Japanese economic growth.
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In the post-World War II period, to repress the institutional and cultural traces of Japanese imperialism, the US stripped Japan of its military capacity although Japan’s current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is very much eager to change this. China’s territorial claims over the Senkaku Islands, South Korea’s claims over the Liancourt Rocks, and other North Korean and Russian territorial claims in the waters north of Japan constitute the backbone of Abe’s efforts to nationalise the Japanese military.
Abe’s foreign policy goals are legitimate for the Japanese citizens to the extent that they further in domestic economic growth. Between 1993 and 2012, real GDP growth in Japan averaged around 0.8 per cent as the country withstood two decades of stagnation and deflation. In early 2013, Japan enacted a monetary regime change as the Bank of Japan engaged in aggressive monetary easing under an economic approach that has come to be known “Abenomics”.
Abenomics is based on three primary pillars: Unconventional monetary policy, expansionary fiscal policy, and economic growth strategies to encourage private investment. The Bank of Japan set a two per cent inflation target and specified concrete actions to achieve this goal while the Abe’s policy agenda supported this change with fiscal policy and planned structural reforms.
His policy agenda involves the task of pulling the Japanese economy out of its deflationary stalemate and devaluing the yen to favour Japanese exporters. Both the stock and the foreign exchange markets reacted very favourably to these changes despite the fact that Abe’s growth strategy and fiscal consolidation have been taking place concurrently with disaster-recovery efforts in the wake of the Tohoku Tsunami and resultant Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown.
In this regard, Japan’s engagement with emerging markets is an aspect of a larger policy goal, as it is sought to provide a getaway from the long-lasting disputes of East Asia. Japan invested heavily in the construction of the İstanbul Marmaray undersea tunnel, which was inaugurated on 29 October 2013 on the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey.
The Bank of Japan covered a substantial portion of the project’s $4.5 billion cost. The tunnel’s physical construction was executed by Japan’s Taisei as well as its Turkish project partners Nurol and Gama. The project, a historical dream of Ottoman Sultans and first conceived by Sultan Abdulmecid in 1860, was completed with Japan’s funding utilising the country’s experience in constructing the Bay Aqua-Line in Tokyo as well as the Seikan Tunnel.
Aside from the Marmaray undersea tunnel project, Sumitomo Rubber, a company that has shared organic ties with the Japanese bureaucratic establishment since the Meiji Restoration, also invested in industrial parks in three provinces in Turkey – Çankırı, Aksaray, and Osmaniye. Sumitomo Rubber is a part of Sumitomo group, which used to be a zaibatsu (conglomerate), but after Japan had lost World War II, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) ordered its dissolution for its alleged connection to the Japanese imperial politics of the inter-war period and its domination of the Japanese military industry. Despite its dissolution, Sumitomo still exerts great influence over the current Japanese government – thanks to its well-established internal bureaucracy, deep connections with Japan’s ruling elites and its profuse financial resources.
Turkey’s Nuclear Energy
While low- cost labour and government endorsed tax incentives attracted the Japanese manufacturer Sumitomo to invest in Turkey, Mitsibushi Heavy Industries penetrated into Turkey’s nuclear energy market with its plans to construct a nuclear power plant in the Black Sea city of Sinop. Japan has been cultivating its expertise in nuclear technology since the establishment of its first nuclear plant in Tokai in1963.
After the Fukushima disaster, nuclear energy has become a source of suspicion and controversy in Japanese public opinion, thus leading the Japanese government to utilise its nuclear expertise in overseas markets. In this regard, the Turkish government’s 2023 goals in meeting the country’s energy demand created an opportunity for Japan to export its nuclear technology. Such a manoeuvre has also enabled the containment of Russian and Azerbaijani aggression in energy politics while also allowing Japan to re-balance its financial relations with China.
Aside from functioning in accordance with the principles of the international political economy and Realpolitik, Japanese-Turkish relations have another dimension which is often overlooked by western analysts. Here it should be noted that Shinzo Abe and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s diplomatic relations are operating within the memory of anti-western aspirations and the rhetoric of Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian visions of a world order rooted in the Meiji restoration and the Young Turk modernisation. Dating back to the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, the triumph of the yellow over the white race has been met with great enthusiasm by the peoples of non-western societies.