Disciplined Democracies and Japan’s values-based diplomacy


This report examines the Japanese government’s contribution to the liberal international order and assesses this contribution against what critics have identified as democratic backsliding under the Prime Ministership of Abe Shinzō.

The report finds that:

– Contrary to the Japanese government’s rhetoric of a ‘values-based diplomacy’, the Japanese government’s commitment to the spread of democracy and, in particular, its response to humanitarian crises in Southeast Asia has been limited. Indeed, the Japanese government under Prime Minister Abe actively supported authoritarian regimes.

– The Abe government’s support for the institutions of the liberal international order can also be questioned. Notably, to mask its indecisive response to the Covid-19 crisis, the Abe administration adopted a two-faced approach to the World Health Organization (WHO). On the one hand, the Abe government ignored WHO recommendations in pursuit of Japan’s national interests, especially in terms of Japan’s domestic economy and upcoming Olympic games. On the other hand, when Japan’s Covid response was found to be lacking, the Abe government either blamed the WHO or used WHO recommendations to try to legitimize government policy.

– The Abe government’s domestic policies also constitute democratic backsliding. In particular, the report examines the development of surveillance capabilities and legislation under the Abe government to better police domestic and foreign populations. The development of these surveillance capabilities and laws is not an isolated case, but one that connects to broader trends and policies designed to enhance the power of government at the expense of civil society and the general population.

– The Suga and Kishida administrations largely followed the line set by Prime Minister Abe. Democratic backsliding in Japan and a failure to exercise a leadership role in support of the liberal international order continue to threaten both the freedom and prosperity of Japanese and Asian citizens. iv

Going forward, the report encourages:

– Support for freedom of the press, judicial independence, and civil society organizations in Japan that can better hold the Japanese government to account.

– A reconsideration of rhetoric that designates Japan as ‘Asia’s liberal leader’ in view of its failures in the Covid-19 and Rohingya refugee crises.

– Pressure on the Japanese government to review its stringent refugee policy to accept more refugees, especially in times of humanitarian crises.

– An independent review of Japan’s surveillance policies and the establishment of an independent body to assess and remedy human rights infringements that result from Japan’s surveillance policy.

– Pressure on the Japanese government to invest in cyber security measures for its own systems, capable of protecting citizen’s data gathered from surveillance practices.

Read more about our experts Lindsay Black and Anoma van der Veere on their pages.

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Published On: December, 2023