Despite its current slow economic growth, Japan remains a major economic power both in the region and globally. Japan has diplomatic relations with nearly all independent nations and has been an active member of the United Nations since 1956. Japanese foreign policy has aimed to promote peace and prosperity for the Japanese people by working closely with the West and supporting the United Nations.
In recent years, the Japanese public has shown a substantially greater awareness of security issues and increasing support for the Self Defense Forces. This is in part due to its success in disaster relief efforts at home and its participation in peacekeeping operations in Cambodia in the early 1990s. However, there are still significant political and psychological constraints on strengthening Japan's defense.
Although a military role for Japan in international affairs is precluded by its constitution and government policy, Japanese cooperation with the United States through the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty has been important to the peace and stability of East Asia. Currently, there are domestic discussions about possible reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. All postwar Japanese governments have relied on a close relationship with the United States as the foundation of their foreign policy and have depended on the mutual security treaty for strategic protection.
While maintaining its relationship with the United States, Japan has diversified and expanded its ties with other nations. Good relations with its neighbors continue to be of vital interest. After the signing of a peace and friendship treaty with China in 1978, ties between the two countries developed rapidly. The Japanese extend significant economic assistance to the Chinese in various modernization projects. At the same time, Japan has maintained economic but not diplomatic relations with Taiwan, where a strong bilateral trade relationship thrives.
Japanese ties with South Korea have improved since an exchange of visits in the mid-1980s by their political leaders. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung had a very successful visit to Japan in October 1998. Japan has limited economic and commercial ties with North Korea. Japanese normalization talks halted when North Korea refused to discuss a number of issues with Japan.
Japan strongly supports the U.S. in its efforts to encourage Pyongyang to abide by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Despite the August 31, 1998 North Korean missile test which overflew the Home Islands, Japan has maintained its support for the Korean Energy Development Organization (KEDO) and the Agreed Framework, which seek to freeze the North Korean nuclear program. The U.S., Japan, and South Korean closely coordinate and consult trilaterally on policy toward North Korea.
Japan's relations with Russia are hampered by the two sides' inability to resolve their territorial dispute over the four islands that make up the Northern Territories (Kuriles) seized by the U.S.S.R. at the end of World War II. The stalemate has prevented conclusion of a peace treaty formally ending the war. The United States supports Japan on the Northern Territories issue and recognizes Japanese sovereignty over the islands. Despite the lack of progress in resolving the Northern Territories dispute, however, Japan and Russia have made some progress in developing other aspects of the relationship.
Beyond its immediate neighbors, Japan has pursued a more active foreign policy in recent years, recognizing the responsibility that accompanies its economic strength. It has expanded ties with the Middle East, which provides most of its oil. Japan increasingly is active in Africa and Latin America and has extended significant support to development projects in both regions. And a Japanese-conceived peace plan became the foundation for nationwide elections in Cambodia in 1998.
Disputes - international: islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomai group occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945, now administered by Russia, claimed by Japan; Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima/Tokdo) disputed with South Korea; Senkaku-shoto (Senkaku Islands) claimed by China and Taiwan