Worth Noting, by Bill Wanlund: Japan's public diplomacy

PDCA’s January 9 First Monday Forum features Dr. Nancy Snow discussing Japanese Public Diplomacy and the Legacy of Shinzo Abe.

Abe – who was assassinated last July -- was Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister and served during China’s remarkable surge to cement its role as the Indo-Pacific region’s dominant political and economic player.  Wary of China’s intentions, Abe believed Japan needed the support of the United States to keep China at bay and tailored much of his foreign policy to strengthening that relationship.  Even after leaving office in 2020, Abe continued to promote his policies, and public diplomacy was important to his efforts.  Snow, an expert in Japan’s strategic communications and the first full-time PD professor appointed to a Japanese university, was uniquely positioned to observe and analyze Abe’s message and his techniques for delivering it.

To set the stage for our discussion with Dr. Snow, we’re presenting a sampling of reports and commentary that critique Abe’s eight-year (2012-2020) premiership.

First, a contribution from Dr. Snow herself, and it comes to us thanks to PDCA stalwart Joe Johnson, who called attention to her recent paper, “A Reliable Friend and Strategic Partner in the Indo-Pacific Region: Japan’s Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy.”

In that paper, Snow writes, “Unlike any prime minister before him and perhaps ever to follow, Abe had the personal charisma to use his confident personality to communicate a vision of a ‘beautiful Japan’ that projected its values and policies onto the global community.”  However, “Abe’s…record is mixed [when it comes to] threading the needle of Japan’s pre-war history into the present.”

"The government has not been able to reconcile today’s peaceful, hi-tech, “Cool Japan” with the country’s pre-1945 history of “war-making, occupation…and imperial ambitions,” Snow writes, adding that Japan is a “soft power cultural superpower,” but lags in its ability to deliver a policy message that appeals to its population.  Snow ends with a plug for making academic study of public relations and public diplomacy more available in Japanese higher education.

Snow’s study appears in “Reputational Security,” a compilation of papers for a conference on US Strategic Communications, held in November by the Robert M. Gates Global Policy Center in partnership with the College of William & Mary’s Global Research Institute.   Joe Johnson blogged about the report on the PDCA website; you can read Joe’s blog here, and find the PDF of the conference document here. [To read Snow’s contribution, open the PDF to page 3, “Research Papers,” scroll down to her paper (Number 7), and click.]

Others offered retrospective analyses of Abe’s premiership after his assassination last July, by a man who apparently felt Abe had discriminated against his church.

“Shinzo Abe saved the Japan-U.S. alliance from collapse,” principally by boosting Japan’s military capabilities, wrote foreign affairs analyst Hiroyuki Akita in the newspaper Nikkei.  Abe’s main fear was Chinese aggression and he saw the US as Japan’s indispensable ally – but he feared that “U.S. voters would not accept their government's commitment to protecting Japan if Japan neglects its own defense,” according to Akita.  Read his article here.

In another post-assassination analysis, the Congressional Research Service noted Abe’s championing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multilateral trade agreement that was the centerpiece of President Obama’s effort to advance US interests in the region and to counter China’s influence.  Abe “played a significant role in salvaging the deal” even after President Trump pulled the US out of the deal immediately after his inauguration.  Abe was a deft diplomat who managed to keep the relationship strong by shrugging off Trump’s occasional slights and insults.  He was a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Japan alliance, “who worked closely with Presidents Obama and Trump to strengthen the operational capabilities of the two militaries and align U.S. and Japanese strategies toward the Indo-Pacific,” CRS concluded.

The report, by CRS Asian Affairs specialists Emma Chanlett-Avery and Mark E. Manyin, can be found here.