ASCJ 2009
Session 30: Room 11-505

Japan and the Soviet Specter: Reconsidering the Image of the Soviet Union in Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy

Organizer: Akira Watanabe, Keio University
Chair: Shingo Yoshida, Keio University

The Russian Revolution in 1917 produced a state which was in the center of international relations for over 70 years. From the immediate post-WWII era, the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet Russia have played particularly incredibly important roles in the world, and even in Japanese politics. The political and economic importance of the Soviet Union was not always due to its actions, but rather sometimes because of a mysteriousness derived from its huge size, political system, and ideology; that is to say, its image. In the case of Japan, domestic politics and foreign relations were certainly affected by the image of the Soviet Union, and gaps between state images of Russia and those of individual Japanese citizens have not closed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This panel discusses relations between Japan and the Soviet Union in the 1920s to 1980s through consideration of the images of the Soviet Union, images which varied according to the situation, history, and ideology of the states or individuals, and asks how the changes in the image of the Soviet Union affected Japan and the Japanese people. In the context of such “image politics,” this panel reappraises relations between Japan and the Soviet Union, an issue of critical importance to foreign relations in Asia.

1) Makiko Ueda, Keio University / JSPS Research Fellow
Hitoshi Ashida’s Changing Views on the Soviet Union

During the turbulent 1930s and until the 1950s, one voice consistently called for the preservation of democracy in Japan. However this was also a period of intense international pressures on Japan, and its enormous northern neighbor was an important part of that pressure. This paper examines the frequently misunderstood Hitoshi Ashida, his understanding of the Soviet Union, an understanding which fundamentally changed in the postwar era, and the significant repercussions on his consistent liberalism and his ultimate support for the AS-Japan Alliance.

Ashida was one of the most effective liberal politicians, and was conversant in Russian. Initially he welcomed the Russian Revolution as an anti-Romonov democratization movement, however he soon came to feel that the Soviet Union and communism were threats to liberal democracy. During the war, Ashida feared fascism rather than communism, and was thus alarmed that Japanese politics and diplomacy might become committed to fascism. Ashida tried to protect the Japanese parliament, and opposed the alliance with fascist Germany and Italy.

At the beginning of the postwar occupation era, Ashida recognized the rise of communism and feared that the revolution would destroy democracy. The GHQ-directed democratization permitted communists to return to politics, so Ashida tried to steer a middle-course, and called for cooperation with the moderate left. However, as conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union became inevitable, Ashida’s middle-course politics collapsed. Ashida became more aggressive, advocating the Japan-U.S. alliance against Soviet communism and eventually insisting on Japan’s rearmament.

2) Akira Watanabe, Keio University
The Japan-US Alliance Formation and the Gaps of the Soviet Image

After its defeat in World War II, Japan was obliged to adopt fundamental domestic reforms, including amendment of the Constitution and demilitarization. Japan was not initially concerned and furthermore could not do much about international relations and the “Cold War” which had developed after the WWII, and thus Japan did not see the Soviet Union as an irreconcilable enemy. However, as the Cold War continued to develop, the United States saw Japan as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism, and Japan chose the United States as a strategic partner for its economic development and security. Such a process of Japan-US alliance formation was affected by the recognition of each party’s interests and the threat of the Soviet Union. Japan and the United States recognized that the Soviet Union would be a threat to their security, but there seem to have been gaps between these partners with respect to their perceptions of the Soviet Union.

How could Japan and the United States ally with each other and even establish a very strong partnership, although they had been enemies until 1945? Why has the Japan-US alliance persisted for over 50 years? Some explanations have proposed for these questions, but little attention has been paid to the politics of image related to three of the most influential countries in Asia: Japan, the United States, and the Soviet Union. This paper suggests that the image of the Soviet Union was one of the most important factors that determined the contents of the Japan-US alliance.

3) Miho Kimoto, Keio University
Gorbachev’s Public Relations for Japan

When Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, he introduced a new policy called perestroika to fundamentally restructure domestic policy. Gorbachev’s Perestroika was not only an ideologically new policy but was acceptable in Western countries. During the early Gorbachev era, Prime Minister Nakasone declared that Japan would follow US policy towards the Soviet Union, which was essentially strategic confrontation. The Soviet Union had made light of Japan, however, it gradually reconsidered relations with Japan because a strong security connection between the US and Japan was a significant threat for the Soviet Union.

With the initiation of a new Gorbachev policy for the Pacific liberalizing travel for Japanese to two disputed islands and leading to a visit to Japan by Gorbachev in 1991, the Japanese government faced a dilemma. Japan couldn’t begin economic support because politics and economics are inseparable, but it was economics vs. politics. In particular, the Japanese government didn’t want to admit that the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956 which promised eventual normalization of relations was already in effect, as it might affect the Northern Territories issue.

This paper will deal with this complex period of Japanese-Soviet relations, and Japanese views of the Soviet Union. How did Gorbachev’s perestroika influence the Japanese government? What the Japanese government does to create the appearance of an improvement of relations without resolution of the Northern Territories issue? How did the symbolic 1991 visit of Gorbachev affect Japanese policy and the status of the 1956 joint declaration?

Discussant: Mizuki Chuman, Keio University