electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies
Article 5 in 2008
The Japan Foundation in China
An Agent of Japan's Soft Power?
Utpal VyasAbout the Author
Key Words: Japan; soft power; China; cultural diplomacy; international relations; Japan Foundation
Changes in communications and transportation technology, and the subsequent development of a vast and expanding network of international connections between countries around the world have accelerated the processes behind globalisation over the last few decades. This in turn has led to a previously neglected form of power being recognised as a formidable factor influencing countries' political relations with each other. This has most appropriately been termed 'soft power', and it is increasingly being studied by governments and other institutions as being an important part of today's international system.
This article first considers the meaning of soft power, and thereafter analyses the use of some kinds of soft power by a state, Japan, which has been in a position whereby it had to make the best use possible of its non-hard power resources, due to restrictions placed on its military after the Second World War. Specifically, the article looks at the activities in China of one of the state's internationally active agents, the Japan Foundation, a nominally independent cultural agency supervised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA). The article then goes on to consider problems the Foundation has had in carrying out its work as a state agency, and finally whether the Foundation can be considered an agent of Japan's soft power.
Soft Power Theory
Soft power is a term coined by Joseph Nye in his 1990 Foreign Policy article (Nye 1990a) of the same title, and expanded upon in further works (Nye 1990b, 1991, 2002, 2004), where he contrasted it to hard or 'command' power:
Nye's distinction between soft power and hard power has been criticised as simplistic, a restatement of traditional ideas of diplomacy (Melissen 2005), or even a misrepresentation of the idea of power (Mattern 2005). As Ogoura (2006) notes, the original ideas have been twisted and misstated in academic and journalistic articles, so that any non-military action has been construed as 'soft'; this misses the point of the difference between coercive and cooperative actions that Nye made; economic actions (sanctions) diplomatic actions (implied threats) and information spreading activities (propaganda) can all be examples of hard power. While it is true that Nye's original exposition of the idea did not adequately explain a theoretical basis for soft power, an explanation of the processes behind it can be attempted by using ideas from constructivist theories in international relations (Hopf 1998) as well as ideas from theories of the effects of international communications on international affairs (Taylor 1997, Wasburn 1992).
In order to distinguish between soft and hard power, it is necessary to consider carefully what the terms mean. An obvious example of hard power would be military action, while a clear example of soft power may be the attractiveness of a country's cultural exports, such as Hollywood films or Japanese anime cartoons (Shiraishi 1997, McGray 2002, Iwabuchi 2003). However, in many cases it is not easy to separate hard and soft power. The degree of acceptance or encouragement among the people affected by the use of this power could be regarded as an indicator of softness.
For example, the use of some kinds of ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) by a country such as Japan in another country such as China could be considered a less soft form of power than the active consumption of Japanese cultural products by Chinese people (Arase 1995, Austin and Harris 2001). In the former case, China wants the aid Japan can supply. On the other hand, it also realises that taking the aid may enable Japan to influence its development and economy (as much ODA is contingent upon services or goods from the contributing country being bought with it), a process with which it is unlikely to be content, when one considers their past enmity.
In the case of cultural products, Chinese people want to buy Japanese products or emulate Japanese lifestyles purely because they are attractive; the degree of influence Japan may or may not accrue due to Chinese people's consumption patterns is of little concern to these Chinese consumers. They encourage Japanese companies to sell more Japanese-style goods by buying more of them. Therefore, it could be said that in this case the influence of Japan on Chinese people's lives is less obviously intentional, and so softer. In the case of ODA, Japan's intention to influence the affairs of another country is more pointed, and so less soft. Hence, it could be said that soft power consists of ideas which are either passively or positively accepted and integrated by the people receiving the ideas into their society, or consciousness. Mattern (2005) argues that this kind of subtle 'persuasion' of a subject through attraction can not be considered soft, but is a form of 'representational force' and hence ultimately a coercive method of conducting relations; however this argument relies on people's 'ontological insecurity' and therefore fails to acknowledge the ability of people to make decisions according to their own free will. Additionally, the argument fails to consider the ability of people, in cultures where advertising and propaganda is common, to recognise when they are being persuaded against their own will (i.e. being coerced into accepting some information or idea) (Friestad and Wright 1994, Holt 2002).
A country's soft power depends greatly upon its identity or identities, as perceived by people in other countries. A country's identity is constructed by its people's cultures, beliefs, habits, norms and ideology, and the attractiveness and effects of these ideas upon other countries can be seen as a basis of soft power. Thus, the concept of soft power coincides strongly with the precepts of constructivism in international relations. The presumption that information in the form of ideas and identities, or actions which cause information to be produced, affect relations between societies is at the heart of both soft power and constructivist thought (Hopf 1998, Wendt 1999, Lukes 2005, Goldstein 1993), and is supported by research on the media's influence on international politics in the field of media and communications theory (Taylor 1997, Wasburn 1992, Thompson 1990).
To mobilise this pool of soft power consisting of ideas and information within a country, agents which function internationally are required. Agents are actors within the country which have purpose based upon their structural context (Wendt 1987, Giddens 1979, Meyer and Jepperson 2000, Hays 1994, Emirbayer and Mische 1998); in this case, the agents create links between actors in different countries through which information and ideas can flow, thus allowing the soft power of one country to flow into another and affect it. The major agents which can create a substantial volume of links and thereby enable a country's soft power to take effect include the central government and its various arms, local authorities and internationally active non-state organisations such as companies and NGOs, which can each channel Japan's soft power in unique ways, or otherwise create environments to increase the number and breadth of conduits for information flow between countries.
While it would be highly informative to examine all the above agents of soft power, such a broad study is beyond the scope of this article. In general the budgets of state agents of soft power tend to be much greater than any other single agent, and so cover a wide range of activities which could be thought of as enabling the use of soft power. Japan as a country has been restrained from using other harder forms of power by its post-war pacifist constitution (Hook and McCormack 2001) and by the need to repair relations in a sensitive manner with its neighbours, and so its state agencies are of particular interest as agents of soft power. Hence, this article will focus on the use of soft power ideas by a Japanese state-level agent, namely the Japan Foundation.
State-level Use of Soft Power: The Japan Foundation
State-level organs are often likely to try to use their country's existing soft power in order to facilitate their transactions and relationships with other countries. Governments trade on their countries' reputations and images in order to implement agreements with other countries, and to help them persuade other countries to follow certain paths. A prominent example is that of the EU member states persuading Eastern European countries to implement the EU's recommended economic policies based upon its member states' identities as fiscally prudent and prosperous states (Michalski 2005). Another example would be the US government using such tools as Radio Free Europe during the Cold War to broadcast ideas of American-style freedom and democracy to the Soviet Union (Schneider 2005, Wasburn 1992).
How is soft power utilised at the state level in Japan's case? Can a government body act as a useful conduit for soft power, even though it will clearly be associated with the state and its sometimes controversial foreign policies? Several governmental departments and agencies use Japan's soft power in their dealings with other countries, particularly those involved in foreign affairs, education, tourism, and industry. All of these agents attempt to use Japan's soft power to facilitate dealings with other countries, such as in attracting foreign students or tourists, in promoting Japanese diplomacy, or in helping Japanese companies prosper abroad.
The Japan Foundation is a pertinent example of a state-level agency which tries to utilise Japan's soft power. The Foundation was a special agency (tokushuhōjin) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan until October 2003, thereafter being reformed as a nominally more financially independent quasi-governmental agency (dokuritsu gyōsei hōjin) (Japan Foundation 2003a) (although it has yet to assert any independence from MOFA in terms of its policies). It not only tries to utilise Japan's soft power, but also tries to act as a 'catalyst' (Ishii 2002: 3) to develop Japan's image and relations with other countries through exchanges of people, and their ideas and information.
This study will focus on the Japan Foundation's activities in China as an example of the Japanese government's use of soft power. In the face of often frosty relations between Japan's and China's leaders, particularly during the recent incumbency of the Koizumi administration from 2001 to 2006, the Foundation has continued to enjoy political support in its endeavours to carry out long-term programmes of exchange with China and to promote Japan's image, while at the same time seeking to act in a non-coercive manner.
In order to understand how the organisation tries to maintain this difficult balance, this article will firstly analyse the purpose and role of the Japan Foundation, including the conditions under which it was established, and the changes it has experienced since that time. Secondly, it will investigate the content and purposes of the Foundation's activities in China. Finally, it will reflect upon whether and how the Foundation, through its activities, acts as an agent of Japan's soft power.
The Establishment of the Japan Foundation
The Japan Foundation's roots are in the Kokusai Bunka Shinkōkai (KBS), a Japanese government agency which had been set up by the military government in 1934 to help promote Japanese culture and the 'Greater East Asia Prosperity Sphere' (Takahashi 1998), including the production of language materials for the areas under Japanese occupation at the time. After the Second World War, its activities were drastically curtailed due to Japan's ruined financial position.
The KBS was relaunched after the war as a private foundation sponsored by the government, and it continued to promote Japanese culture to some extent, but it was clear that its budget was not sufficient; in 1953 it received 2.6 million yen in government money (Japan Foundation 1990). Considering the fact that the value of the yen had dropped precipitously from pre-war levels, this budget was about one-thirtieth of that of the pre-war body.
The establishment of an agency such as the Japan Foundation had been espoused for many years by politicians, and officials in the KBS before its eventual realisation in 1972. It was felt there was a need to supplement Japan's growing economic power with the means to project its ideas and thinking abroad in a commensurate manner (National Diet of Japan 1972a, b). This movement was particularly boosted by the US's unexpected moves to open diplomatic negotiations with China, and to unlink the dollar from the price of gold; the Japanese government had not been previously informed of either action. There was a real 'feeling of crisis that Japan would become isolated in international society' (Okamoto 2000: 12), due to the country having few close allies at that time.
The original stimulus for the creation of the Foundation from the government's point of view, therefore, seems to have been the need to deepen Japan-US relations, to avoid 'communications gaps' and cultural misunderstandings in the future (Zemans 1999, c.f. Katzenstein 2002). The more precise details of the Foundation's goals were to be formulated later, as the practicalities of setting up such an organisation were considered.
In MOFA, there was resistance to the idea of the Japan Foundation at first, as it was thought the Foundation would become a competitor in the creation of foreign policy (Umesao et al 2002). In the National Diet, the opposition parties agreed to support the setting up of the Foundation, with some reservations about where and how the Foundation's resources would be used; the only party which did not agree to the Foundation's establishment was the Japan Communist Party, which argued that it would just be a mouthpiece of MOFA, and that substantial actions were required to improve Japan's image, rather than just public relations exercises (Matsumoto 1972, National Diet of Japan 1972a, 1972b).
The Foundation's initial endowment was 10 billion yen, established by the government over two fiscal years, a figure which has grown through government top-ups and capital growth to 115.6 billion yen in 2006. The Foundation's budget grew from 183 million yen in 1972 to a record of 19.8 billion yen in 1992, thereafter falling to 11.8 billion yen in 2003 (See Fig. 5, p.10); this drop in income was a result of falling returns on the endowment's investments, as well as government budget restraints due to the increasing level of public debt.. As of 2006, it had risen again to 17.1 billion yen (Japan Foundation 2007a), along with the recovery in Japan's economy, and some additional allocations from the government.
The KBS, in contrast, had received 236 million yen in 1970, and in 1971 it received 265 million yen; a level of funding which clearly had not been sufficient to sustain enough activity. As the KBS was to be dissolved at the same time as the Foundation was to be established, it was decided that the Foundation would take control of the KBS' branch offices in Rome, Cologne, New York and London. Regarding the KBS staff, MOFA was at first reluctant to consider moving them all to the new Foundation, as it wanted the Foundation to represent a fresh start, but strong representations by the KBS' union ensured that most staff were moved to the Japan Foundation, (Japan Foundation 1990: 18n3). Thus, there was inevitably continuation between the two organisations, although in the government there seems to have been a genuine intention to establish the Japan Foundation as a completely new agency.
After its creation, the Japan Foundation developed into a credible cultural relations organisation, with broad political support, and in close cooperation with MOFA (despite MOFA's original misgivings). Nevertheless, in comparison with similar state organs of other countries, its budget and staff numbers have been low, and the areas around the world where it works have been restricted. Although growing strongly after its establishment (Figs. 1&2, below) until 1991, its budget stabilised during the mid-1990s when the Japanese Government's finances started coming under strain from the prolonged recession. Due to public spending cuts, and poor returns on investments, the Foundation's budgets started to decline in the late 1990s. By 1997, the Foundation's general budget was 20.6 billion yen, comparable to the German Goethe Institute's 25.6 billion yen (Fig. 1), but still far behind the British Council's 49.0 billion yen. The number of staff members had increased to 237 people (Fig. 2), against the Institute's 2602 people, and the Council's 5188 people. The Foundation had 18 offices abroad, the Institute 140 offices, and the Council 221 offices (Japan Foundation 1997).
In the last ten years, the Foundation's budget has not increased notably, due to the government's ongoing fiscal problems brought about by the long period of economic stagnation in the 1990s. Both the Goethe Institute and British Council (as well as the Alliance Francaise) derive significant proportions of their budgets from providing language instruction to individuals and organisations in addition to other commercial services. The Japan Foundation, on the other hand, does not carry out such activities on a commercial scale, which explains partly its lower budget and relatively small numbers of staff. Although it must be noted that the British Council (established in 1934), the Alliance Francaise (established in 1883) and other cultural exchange organs of former imperial western powers have had a much longer time to establish offices, links and subsidiaries around the world, it can be seen that the relatively small scale of the Japan Foundation's activities reflects upon Japan's comparatively narrow range of interests in other countries, and the relative determination of the British Council and Alliance Francaise to promote their countries' languages as world languages (Phillipson 1992, Taylor 1997).
In recent years the Foundation, in common with some other government agencies (Dokuritsu Gyōsei Hōjin Seido Kenkyūkai 2001), has gone through some administrative changes which have culminated in its formal status changing in 2003 from a 'special corporation (tokushuhōjin)' to an 'independent administrative corporation (dokuritsu gyōsei hōjin)'. Although these reforms are in some ways intended to enhance the independence of the organisation, the major reasons the reforms were carried out were to increase administrative efficiency, to align the Foundation's activities more with MOFA policies, and to enable the Foundation to attract more funds from outside the government (National Diet of Japan 2002). The reforms were not carried out to distance the organisation from the government, and the Foundation still works closely with MOFA in order to coordinate its programmes with government policy (Interview No.1, 3 August 2005, Japan Foundation 2003b). Therefore the status of the Japan Foundation as a state-level government agency has not changed.
Fig. 1 Japan Foundation Actual Expenditure.
Source: Japan Foundation (2003a).
Fig. 2 Number of Staff at the Japan Foundation.
Source: MOFA, MIC, Japan Foundation (2006).
Considering that the Japanese economy is about twice the size of the UK's, and about 1.5 times the size of Germany's, it can be seen that Japan still spends relatively little on cultural diplomacy (although this is difficult to judge definitively as other cultural exchanges are funded by different agencies and departments of the state, such as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology). Nevertheless, in recent years as the economy has begun to recover, the central government has again begun talking about expanding cultural diplomacy (e.g. Asahi Shimbun, 22 December 2005, Asō 2006), although the actual reality is still a situation of rationalisation and re-entrenchment at the Foundation.
The Purpose of the Japan Foundation
Article 1 of the Japan Foundation Law (No.48, 1st June 1972) states:
The structure and purpose of the Foundation were decided after officials had studied similar cultural promotion organs of other countries, such as the Goethe Institute of Germany (Katzenstein 2002) the British Council (Phillipson 1992, Taylor 1999, Leonard et al 2005, Vickers 2004 and Vaughan 2005), and the Alliance Francaise (Hirano 2002). These institutes are all state agents of their respective countries' soft power; they help channel ideas and information into other countries, although their methods and areas of focus differ substantially (Umesao et al. 2002). All of these organisations have similar, somewhat nebulously stated aims. Kagawa Takaaki, an official at the Foreign Ministry who was called on to supplement Foreign Minister Fukuda Takeo's responses in Diet questions on the setting up of the Foundation at the time, stated that
In other words, one reason for the setting up of the Foundation was in order to emulate other countries' methods.
It was emphasised at the start by officials that 'we should put human exchange at the centre' of the Japan Foundation. However, the people involved should be 'not politicians or foreign ministry officials, but people who can move opinion in their countries at an intellectual level' (Umesao et al. 2002: 7). This kind of comment suggests a slightly different purpose than that outlined in the original Japan Foundation law, which has a more lofty aim of 'increasing mutual understanding and contributing to the improvement of world culture'. In fact, the aim of a state-sponsored organ such as the Foundation is inevitably linked with the national interest and benefit; the official's comments show that the Foundation aimed to change opinions about Japan in other countries through exchanges.
This point of view is also clearly visible in the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee's (Shūgiin Gaimuiinkai) debates regarding the Foundation's establishment in the Diet, where both the party in government (the LDP) and opposition parties (such as the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ, Nihonshakaitō) and the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP, Shamintō) viewed the new entity as such a tool; for example, Sone Eki, a committee member from the DSP stated that
In its own comments on the Japan Foundation's proposed activities, MOFA noted,
This statement shows how the Japanese government was trying to construct the Foundation as a somewhat independent organ which would focus on long term goals, rather than merely a tool of current government policy. Debates in the Japanese Diet in the months before the establishment of the Foundation, however, record that opposition members of the Diet were concerned about the lack of a clear direction and clashes between different factions of government on policies. Members of the SDPJ and the DSP were concerned about the fact that the Foundation's activities were to be biased towards the US and certain South-east Asian countries, while ignoring the Communist-bloc countries (National Diet of Japan 1972a, 1972b).
Hirano (1990) notes that cultural exchange in the past has not necessarily been associated with peaceful or egalitarian intentions; governments used state organs to promote their culture as being superior to other countries' cultures, for the purpose of their own aggrandisement as in the case of the pre-war Japanese government. It is also clear from looking at similar cultural bodies in other countries such as the British Council, that their primary purpose is to spread ideas and values from the home country into other countries; Phillipson (1992) goes as far as labelling this a continuation of imperialism through more modern and subtle means. The Japan Foundation equally focuses on spreading Japanese ideas and values, although it does facilitate the importing of ideas from outside Japan to a small extent, for example through its support for foreign scholars' public lectures in Japan.
Even with cultural exchange that is ultimately being promoted by a state, the methods of exchange show which kind of process is happening; even a state organ can enable the bottom-up type of exchange. If the cultural exchange is pushed too much by the state in a top-down approach, there is more of a danger that the policy will be coercive, not co-optive, that is to say an example of hard power rather than soft power. The Japan Foundation has tried to increase the involvement of private groups and organisations in its activities (Interview No.1, 3 August 2005) in order to encourage exchanges in which it does not dominate; however this facet of its programmes is still minimal. In order for cultural exchange to be effective, it is best carried out with a view to the long-term benefits; if programmes are carried out independently of short-term government policies and with consistent aims they will have a better chance of showing results (Sugiyama 1990, Taylor 1997). Cultural programmes carried out on a short-term basis including those which each new Japanese Prime Minister has a tendency to establish (Katzenstein 2002: 18) in order to leave a legacy are unlikely to produce a sufficient exchange of ideas and information in the desired manner, as the routes over which these ideas travel take time to build and maintain. In the three decades since the Japan Foundation was established, it has developed a core of activities in which it specialises, and expanded its programmes around the world, although as noted previously, the number of branch offices in different countries it possesses is relatively small, and concentrated in the regions in which Japanese governments have placed most diplomatic importance North America, Europe and East Asia.
In East Asian countries, the Foundation's resources are mostly spent on Japanese language teaching activities (see Fig.3, below), in particular training teachers and producing teaching materials. In the USA and Europe, more of its resources are used in holding exhibitions, and organising other cultural exchange activities. Although the best way for a state cultural body to spread information and ideas about its home country is to promote its home language (Phillipson 1992), there is a lack of demand in Western countries for Japanese language teaching in comparison to East Asian countries; however, the numbers of people learning Japanese in Western countries has been increasing gradually in the last twenty years, in particular in Australia and New Zealand (Japan Foundation 2003a).
Fig. 3 Japan Foundation expenditure by activity and region.
Source: Japan Foundation (2003a).
In East Asia, the Foundation responded opportunistically to high demand when it expanded its language teaching activities, which was created by the growth of interest in Japanese ideas and information, and due to the growing number of Japanese companies entering the region. In order to facilitate the teaching of Japanese, the Foundation concentrated on training local Japanese teachers to be able to train their colleagues, rather than sending many native Japanese teachers. This was seen as an effective use of resources as it would not have been possible financially to send large numbers of native Japanese teachers to every country which asked for them (Umesao et al 2002). This can also be seen as an efficient way of enabling the flow of soft power through the processes described earlier; the people teaching Japanese are effectively agents for Japan's soft power, who create links and connections between Japan and its people, and their students. Therefore, sending a limited number of Japanese teachers would only enable a limited number of links, and hence a limited transfer of soft power. Training many hundreds or thousands of foreign teachers of Japanese increases the number of links between Japan and other countries, which is the key to increasing the transmission of soft power.
Fig. 4 - Japan Foundation Expenditure (Leading Countries).
Data source: Japan Foundation (2003a, 2004, 2005)
Therefore, one of the purposes of the Japan Foundation until now has been, as it states, to further mutual understanding between other countries and Japan. But inevitably, as a state agency under the jurisdiction of MOFA, its main purpose has been to promote Japanese language and culture, ideas and information, and to enable smooth relations between countries for the furtherance of MOFA's foreign policies and Japan's general international relations. From MOFA's point of view, it is easier to deal with leaders who understand the cultural background of its diplomatic policies and positions, and it is also easier to conduct public diplomacy in other countries where many people have some understanding of Japanese culture (Melissen 2005).
In recent years the Foundation has experimented with devoting more resources to more multilateral understanding; the promotion not just of understanding of Japan, but also using Japan's soft power and its own reputation to organise meetings between other countries, especially in the East Asia region. As Yamazaki notes,
This more regional way of conducting cultural exchanges was possible due to the Japan Foundation using a facet of Japan's soft power which has been built up in the post-war era; its reputation as a possible mediator or initiator of meetings between groups of other countries (Dobson 2003). Nevertheless, since the Foundation's reorganisation in 2003, the Asia Centre, along with many other activities which were not deemed to be helping MOFA's foreign policies, was closed in order to reduce debts and rationalise the organisation (Japan Foundation 2004) another indication of the limited extent to which a state agency can conduct a soft power programme.
The Japan Foundation and China
In 1972, after the first 'Nixon shock' to Japan of the USA establishing diplomatic contact with China, Japan itself quickly moved to establish its own relations, with the Prime Minister at the time, Tanaka Kakuei, going to Beijing to establish diplomatic relations soon after the USA. This move was further encouraged by the second 'Nixon shock' the drastic reduction in the value of the dollar against the yen (and other currencies) at the same time, without prior US consultation with Japan. Japan knew that it would have to reduce its dependence on the US market, and establish an economic relationship with China in order to help its own economy in the future.
In particular, the death of Chairman Mao Zedong in 1976, and the rise to power of Deng Xiaoping, helped Japan to negotiate the Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty, which was finalised in 1978, under the leadership of Fukuda Takeo, who had become Prime Minister and established his 'Fukuda Doctrine' (Japan Foundation 1990: 37, Hook et al 2005) of nurturing closer ties with East Asian countries. As state agencies, the Japan Foundation and its predecessor the KBS had been unable to conduct exchanges with China while there was no diplomatic link, but the Japan Foundation was quick to establish links in China after the restoration of ties, and the first exchanges involved music and dance performance groups. Japan sent a Kabuki dance group to Beijing, and China sent a Beijing Opera group to Japan (Japan Foundation 1990: 36), under the Chinese condition of 'reciprocity' (Liu 2004: 397) whereby any cultural trip from Japan to China must be reciprocated by a trip from China to Japan. This condition was most likely due to a certain wariness on the Chinese side regarding cultural infiltration by Japan; during the Japanese occupation of China, Japanese culture had been forcibly introduced into China. The reciprocity condition therefore guaranteed that the cultural exchange would not be a one-way process. This condition in some ways was therefore an obstacle to Japan's soft power being channelled into China as the number of exchanges (and therefore links) was limited by the Chinese side's desire to promote cultural exchange rather than Japan's.
The Japan Foundation has, since then, tracked the development of China's society and economy with a view to conducting cultural exchanges, and finding opportunities to cultivate interest in Japanese culture in China. During the 1980s, there was a 'boom' in Chinese interest in Japan due to it being seen as a model of development for China. Therefore, the number of people wishing to learn Japanese and read Japanese materials increased rapidly until the 1990s, when Japan's economy was seen as stagnant and in trouble after the bursting of the economic 'bubble'. This period was arguably the most fruitful in recent years for Japan in terms of the willingness of Chinese people to accept and digest its ideas, information and culture. The Chinese government was not hostile to Japanese interests, and in fact was eager to encourage the import of Japanese ideas and information (Taylor 1996, Yokoi 1996, Jackson 1996) which would help China's development. Additionally, the Chinese respect for Japan's economic development and industry was at its peak. As has often been the case when good ties between the two countries are being encouraged by leaders, the historical cultural links between China and Japan were emphasised (although it may be more accurate to say that historically Japanese culture has been seen by the Chinese as a subset of Chinese culture (Wang 2005, Rose 1998)), and so this commonality was a useful foundation upon which to base the communication of Japan's modern ideas and information. Nevertheless, the bursting of the bubble in the Japanese economy undoubtedly tempered respect for Japan's ideas in China, as well as in other countries.
However, by this time, China's own economy had started to modernise, and the country was becoming much more open to a wide range of outside interests. With the restructuring of the Japanese economy, including the outsourcing of production to China, this provided opportunities for the Japan Foundation and other agents to build links to China, and for Japan's ideas and information to again be promoted in China. In its 1997 Annual Report, the Japan Foundation noted that,
By 1999, the Foundation was noting that,
This kind of development was and still is relevant to the Foundation, as the number of people who have the time and money to attend the courses it runs, its international cultural events, or to take up hobbies such as Japanese language learning increases. This in turn opens up opportunities for the Foundation to find ways to channel Japan's soft power, i.e. its ideas and information, towards these newly affluent people. Clearly, the Foundation, as with other agents of Japan's soft power, is in competition with agents from other countries; nevertheless, due to Japan's cultural and geographical proximity and its head start during the 1980s, the Foundation has had a number of successes despite Japan's so-called 'lost decade' of economic stagnation and restructuring.
A more apparent problem for the Foundation has been the recurring diplomatic spats between China and Japan regarding historical viewpoints; in particular the ever-present history textbook disagreements, visits to Yasukuni Shrine by prominent Japanese politicians and territorial disputes (Rose 2005, 1998, Ijiri 1996, Austin and Harris 2001, Howe 1996).
In its reports on the conditions of Japan-China relations, the Foundation has acknowledged the competitive international environment and difficult political context in which it is working. In 1999 it reflected that
and in 2002 it reported:
The fact that these problems have in some ways begun to affect the Foundation's own activities in Chinese universities in particular shows the difficulty it faces as a state agent of soft power; some universities are reluctant to advertise the fact that the Japan Foundation funds research widely. This is in contrast to funding made available by NGOs such as the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. There are also indications that research funding was withdrawn from Beijing University in recent years, possibly due to the Japanese government's poor image among students in China (Interview No.3, 13 March 2006).
Nevertheless, the Foundation is firm on the need to increase cultural exchange to alleviate the problems caused by 'a hardening [of attitudes] due to the influence of the mass media ' (Japan Foundation 2001:14). Comments such as these show that although the Foundation believes in the usefulness of cultural exchange and soft power, it realises that it has limited influence in such a large country as China, and very limited capacity to compete against the domestic mass media there, which is still mostly controlled by the state. Therefore it knows that the best way to maximise its resources and create the largest number of links between the two countries is to try to utilise and encourage trends which are seen as positive for Japan, which have resulted from Japan's soft power, such as the increasing number of people learning the Japanese language, and young people's interest in popular Japanese culture, such as music, animation, computer games and fashion.
The use of television and film media to disseminate ideas, as well as public conferences and seminars, has also been due to a mixture of demand from groups in China and Foundation initiatives, in particular for educational and research purposes. Although the overall numbers using the media, or becoming involved in the exchanges are small in relation to the populations of each country (Austin and Harris 2001), the people targeted are likely to be opinion formers and leaders, either currently or in the future. Additionally, the name of the Japan Foundation is attached to many events, and information about them is undoubtedly spread much more widely than among just the participants themselves.
The Japan Foundation has also tried to maximise its resources by making connections more directly with 'intellectuals' and 'young leaders'. The 'activity plans' reports from the Foundation's Beijing Culture Centre in recent years have often mentioned the need to make connections (paipuzukuri) with China's intellectual community, and in particular young leaders, in order to increase the flow of Japanese ideas and information to China. One report notes that,
The report goes on to emphasise the need to reach people who are members of influential think tanks and other intellectual agencies with these networks. One of the most potentially effective points about the Foundation's programmes in terms of utilising Japan's soft power is the fact that students who study on its programmes and courses are likely to be future business and political leaders (Betzler and Austin 1997). Even if the Foundation can not reach the greater mass of the public in China, if it can reach people who will be the most influential people in Chinese society in the future, it will have helped mutual understanding and bilateral relations between China and Japan by having cultivated Chinese with a good cultural understanding of Japan (whether the opposite will occur through the Foundation's current activities is, however, uncertain). Japan has generally had good relations with leaders in the region who have had contact with its society in their student days. Examples of leaders who have studied in Japan are Kim Dae Jung of South Korea, under whose leadership the South Korean economy was finally opened to Japanese cultural exports; Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, and Lee Teng-Hui of Taiwan also had extensive contacts with Japan. Even in China, the late Zhou Enlai had studied in Japan, which was undoubtedly an influence on his relatively positive efforts to promote mutual understanding between the two countries.
As the Japanese economy has picked up strength somewhat in recent years, and successive administrations pursue more assertive foreign policies, the Foundation's funding prospects may improve, although this must be set against the rationalisation occurring across the public sector due to heavy public debts. In any case, officials at the Foundation are considering seriously their future strategies to improve their ability to channel ideas and information from Japan to China. This includes such methods as using the media, in particular the Internet, (Japan Foundation China Center 2006) to a fuller degree to reach younger Chinese, and trying to contact Chinese students who have studied in Japan to form alumni networks in China (Interview No.2, 3 August 2005). If these methods are successful in channelling Japan's soft power into new areas of Chinese society, the Foundation will have carried out its role as an agent of Japan's soft power; however, it is questionable whether they will be successful if the Foundation is simply seen as acting as a propaganda agent of the Japanese state.
Over the last thirty years or so in China, the Japan Foundation has concentrated in particular on the encouragement of existing demand for Japanese language study and research on Japan. Related to this has been the exchange of people, in particular students and scholars, and support for the publishing of textbooks. In addition to these main activities, the Foundation has also provided support for exhibitions, artistic performances and media activities and arranged conferences in China and Japan. These activities correspond closely to the major ways of instrumentalising soft power postulated previously the use of communication links and people to move ideas and information. The following paragraphs will consider these activities and their significance in more detail.
Japanese Language and Japan Studies
One of the Japan Foundation's first areas of focus was to be in universities, through funding programmes for students who wished to study about Japan, and its language; a tactic which would relatively quickly increase the quality of information links between China and Japan, by targeting interested students who would become influential in years to come among the Chinese political and business elite. With the agreement of the Japanese and Chinese governments, and support from the University of Tokyo, in March 1979 a preparatory school (yobigakkō) was established in the Jilin Normal University in Changchun city in the northeast of China (a promising area to establish a school due to its proximity and historic links with Japan), along with a similar course in the Shanghai Graduate School of Foreign Languages the next year, to prepare students who wished to study in Japanese universities. The students would study Japanese language under the supervision of the Japan Foundation, and Japanese Ministry of Education, for one year before going to Japan. During the course of the next decade, the Foundation gradually extended support from undergraduate applicants to postgraduate students and post-doctorate scholars, in order to create a group of Chinese scholars with good knowledge and connections in Japan. By 2000, the school had trained over 3300 students, many of whom became leading researchers in their fields, in particular in education and the sciences (Okamoto and Zhang 2000) and helped to promote exchange of information and people between China and Japan. The Beijing Centre has also become a major publisher of books on Japan Studies, which include books about economics and management in Japan (Japan Foundation 2005).
In parallel with these activities the Foundation established a 'Japanese Language Studies Centre' in the Beijing Graduate Institute of Languages in 1980, with a public resource centre (Japan Foundation 1990: 62), for undergraduate and later postgraduate students, including support for six months' study in Japan. The purpose of this was to improve Japanese language teaching throughout China a longer term strategy to enable links between the two countries to grow. In China at that time, although the teaching of Japan Studies in universities was widespread, there were no examples of post-graduate courses in the subject (Xu 2002). The library at this centre contained over 70,000 books by 2002, making it one of the largest collections of Japanese texts, and therefore Japanese ideas (and soft power), in China.
Primary and secondary education
The Japan Foundation, in collaboration with local governments in the northeast of China, trains secondary school teachers to improve their Japanese language skills for two weeks in the summer holidays every year, starting from 1996 (Japan Foundation 2003b). The courses also include classes on new teaching methods and theory, discussion on current events and developments in Japan and involve the participation of teachers from Japan. The Foundation also sends young Japanese teachers from Japan to regional seminars, to hold discussions with local secondary school teachers about the central government's plans for Japanese education, and new teaching methods. Finally, the Foundation has been operating a programme to send about 20 secondary level teachers to Japan for training every year (Japan Foundation 1990, 2003b). These activities are also important for enabling current information about Japan to be taught to a wide range of school children across China, thereby providing access to Japanese ideas and enabling the action of soft power, although the numbers of teachers involved are small.
Japanese language teaching aimed at adults
The Japan Foundation runs an international Japanese language test, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). First introduced in China by the Japan Foundation in 1986 for use only in educational institutions, from 1993, it was opened to anyone, and since then the number of applicants have risen from 4297 in 1993, to 145,270 people in 2005, in 29 cities (Okamoto and Zhang 2000, Japan Foundation 2007b). This continuous increase occurred despite the stagnation in numbers of people studying Japanese in China during the mid-1990s, caused by the Japanese recession and subsequent discrediting of its economic model. The increase in people taking the test suggests an increase in recognition of its value in proving proficiency in Japanese in China. The majority of students took the test at the higher levels of 1 and 2, from which it could be deduced that most students take the test for professional or educational qualifications, as these levels are more likely to be required for jobs or university courses.
In addition to this test, the Foundation has also supported the publishing of Japanese language textbooks aimed at ordinary people, as well as funding language programmes on television and radio (Japan Foundation 1990: 66), methods which were particularly useful during the 1980s, when few foreign materials were available, thereby ensuring that not only students and children but also others with an interest in Japan had access to resources about the country and its people, and could thereby be attracted by Japan's soft power.
These educational programmes and activities are designed to transmit information one-way, and demonstrate the state agent's emphasis on carrying out programmes which will benefit the Japanese state and its foreign policy goals, and on trying to enable Chinese people to understand Japanese society and culture better, rather than trying to increase mutual understanding.
Film, Television and Exhibitions
The Japan Foundation has also tried to use the mass media and exhibitions to bring Japanese culture to as wide an audience in China as possible given the constraints of its resources. In cooperation with Japanese companies and Chinese government bodies it has produced and distributed films and television programmes about Japanese customs and technology, Japanese people and life in Japan. Films with titles such as Japan's Salaryman, Japanese Young People Today and New Farm Management as well as several other agriculture-related titles, were distributed in China during the early and mid-1980s. In the 1970s and 1980s, a Japanese language boom led to demand for Japanese materials such as videos which would be helpful for language learners. The Japan Foundation made several programmes available in response to requests by China's government broadcaster, CCTV (Japan Foundation 1990).
In more recent years, the Foundation has held art exhibitions and film festivals, using the popularity of modern Japanese pop culture among a sections of Chinese youth to help spread ideas from Japan. In 2001, a film festival was held in co-operation with the Beijing Institute of Film. Two films which were included in the festival were Charisma by Kurosawa Kiyoshi, and Nakae Yūji's Nabii no Koi [Nabii's love]. The first is a subtle horror film about a man and a police-officer trying to defend a decaying forest against park rangers, while the second is set in Okinawa, about a sixty-year old married woman finding a long-lost love. It is clear that both these films show modern social problems, in the first case environmental, and in the second a traditional family culture coming to terms with a previously taboo relationship. The films were selected to appeal to Chinese now facing similar problems, and to enable a Chinese audience to connect with and understand modern Japanese culture, in the same way as the dramas previously mentioned.
According to the Japan Foundation, 'as the Chinese film industry rebuilds its system to deal with marketisation of the economy and WTO membership, Japan's independent films have shown new examples and choices ' (Japan Foundation 2001: 15). These comments reinforce the idea that the Foundation was trying to appeal to the young Chinese elite by referring to common social and environmental problems which both China and Japan face.
Live performances of music and drama are also supported by the Foundation in China. These often showcase a mixture of Japan's traditional culture and contrast it with its modern culture. An example of a Japanese music performance sent to China was in November 2002, as part of the Japan-China Year programme marking the 30th anniversary of restored relations between the two countries. The Foundation, in co-operation with local government exchange groups, supported a Japanese traditional music tour (hōgaku junkai kōen) which travelled to five major cities around China (Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Guangzhou). The performance consisted of two parts; the first part included the playing of Japanese instruments such as the shakuhachi (a bamboo flute), koto (thirteen stringed instrument), and biwa (a four-stringed lute). The second part consisted of an introduction to modern experimental music, with modern instruments collaborating with traditional ones (Japan Foundation 2002: 14). By supporting these kinds of performances, the Foundation has tried to introduce ideas of common historical culture between Japan and China, while at the same time emphasising Japan's modern cultural differences from China.
Support for Research
The Foundation also promotes seminars and conferences, as well as the publishing of academic works. Some conferences and seminars sponsored by the Japan Foundation in China and elsewhere in the region have tried to emphasise the role of regional dialogue and cooperation, such as the Japan-China-Korea Future Leaders Forum in 2002, held in three cities in the participating countries (MOFA 2003), and the Japan-China-Korea NPO (Non Profit Organisation) Seminar, held in March 2003 (Interview No.1, 3 August 2005). In these activities there is most potential for the promotion of mutual understanding, rather than one-way promotion of Japanese ideas, but in practice many seminars by foreign scholars sponsored by the Foundation are focussed on Japanese culture and society.
Academic work is also supported, and much research about Japanese society has been published through the Beijing Centre for Japanese studies, as well as many Japanese books being translated into Chinese. Studies on the development of the Japanese economy and society in the post-war period are popular targets for translation (Japan Foundation 2005), and original research on Japan also concentrates on societal problems in Japan which are being experienced now or will be experienced soon in China, such as aging rural populations and welfare problems (Beijing Ribenxue Yanjiu Zhongxin 2007). This dissemination of ideas and information on Japan acts to encourage interest in Japan amongst the educated Chinese elite, contributing to Japan's soft power in China.
The Japan Foundation's Problems as a State Agency
Despite the efforts of Japan Foundation staff in organising and carrying out the above-mentioned activities, there have been problems with the Foundation's realisation of its goals, many of which are directly related to its nature as a state organ. In an external evaluation of the Japan Foundation's performance undertaken in 2003, a committee of academics, and representative from companies and the media, stated with regard to its purpose,
In respect of its role and accountability, it was said,
In common with many other state cultural exchange agencies, the Foundation's goals are not clearly spelt out in its literature, and there has been a lack of transparency or accountability regarding the usefulness of its programmes in China. The lack of evaluation of the success or otherwise of its cultural activities, and an obvious vagueness regarding goals is evident upon questioning of Foundation staff, who are otherwise passionate about their work (Interviews 1& 2, 3 August 2005; Interviews 4 &5, 14 November 2007). In addition, the comments above also reflect the fact that the committee thought the Japan Foundation needed to become less a tool of the government, or an extension of the government's foreign policy, and more of an independent agent.
In contrast to this, the Japan Foundation's own internal report reflected upon the need to work closely with MOFA:
This position is reinforced by officials at the Foundation (Interviews 1&2, 3 August 2005), although they acknowledge the need to maintain some distance from the government's foreign policy objectives of the day. The fact that a part of the Japan Foundation's budget is derived from MOFA's ODA budget (Katzenstein 2002) reinforces the impression that its activities are purely to further MOFA's policies. Therefore, it is debatable as to whether the purpose of the Japan Foundation in the future is likely to be more as an agent of governmental policy, or more as an agent of the Japanese public in the form of interested groups and representatives, although current trends suggest the former is more likely. As Hirano has noted,
Hirano goes on to argue that the Foundation needs to become more transparent about its purpose and activities, so that the Japanese public can see how their taxes are being used.
Shiraishi (2002) also argues that the weakening of dictatorships across East Asia has enabled sudden growth in the middle classes, which has in turn led to the growth of NGOs and other private groups. This is also happening now in China's cities, the previously cited Japan-China-Korea seminar on NPOs being proof of this, and is a factor which the Japan Foundation knows it must take into account in its work.
Becoming more transparent and open would improve the Foundation's ability to act as an agent of the Japanese people's soft power. If it is identified only with the state, and the Japanese government, its ability to tap into the soft power of the wider Japanese culture may be limited. Recent indications that the some of the Foundation's funding activities may have suffered as a result of poor Sino-Japanese governmental relations are indicative of the problems of being too closely associated with the government of the day.
The reforms which are being undertaken by the Foundation's managers and its staff to become more transparent, more accountable, and less dependent upon public taxes for funds, are important steps towards these goals. By strengthening its legitimacy as an agent of the Japanese public, it can strengthen its role as an agent of Japan's soft power, whether in China or elsewhere. However, if it becomes no more than a tool of the government or of MOFA, then acceptance of its activities in China and elsewhere and Japan's soft power may suffer.
The aim of this article has been to consider the meaning of soft power, and the use of soft power by a state, namely Japan. It has done this by investigating the case of the Japan Foundation's activities in China.
The essence of soft power was determined to be ideas which are either passively or positively accepted and integrated by the people receiving the ideas into their consciousness or society. The Japan Foundation, as a cultural agency ultimately answerable to the Japanese government, was found to be enabling this process, to a limited extent, through a range of cultural activities. Arguably the Foundation's most successful activity has been its promotion of the Japanese language, especially in the early years after Japan and China reopened diplomatic relations in 1972, with the result that a pool of highly educated elite Chinese people have a knowledge of Japanese language which enables them to deepen their understanding of Japan and its culture, and thereby potentially absorb Japanese ideas and knowledge. Nevertheless, if Chinese people study Japanese purely to gain employment, rather than to engage with Japanese ideas and culture, the soft power effect may be limited.
The Japan Foundation as a cultural agency suffers from many problems common to other state cultural agencies; it is a mammoth task to promote one country's language and culture in a diverse world. Even its substantial activities in China are small in scale in such a large country. Its resources are necessarily limited, and again due to it being a somewhat monolithic state institution, it finds difficulty in embracing new ideas of intercultural dialogue, which may be more conducive to the transfer of ideas and knowledge to other countries (Hirano 2002, Riordan 2005, Interview No.1, 3 August 2005), preferring to use traditional methods of one-way cultural promotion, which are consistent with furthering the foreign policy goals of its supervisor, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On a positive note, by offering sponsorship and support to groups or individuals who request it, the Japan Foundation is adhering to the principles of soft power. The people who apply for grants or sponsorship are not being coerced to do so by the Foundation; they are being attracted by Japan's soft power, which is then utilised by the Foundation, to steer them towards a range of activities it will sponsor. Rather than prescribing a narrow range of activities which could show it as an organisation coercively trying to plant an image of Japan into Chinese people's minds, especially in recent years the Foundation has sponsored a broader range of activities and research, which allows people receiving the support to be in control.
The manner in which the Foundation has conducted the above activities is broadly consistent with the hypothesised process of soft power as described at the beginning of the article. That is to say, the Japan Foundation first identifies a soft power resource which can be transmitted to China; as outlined at the beginning of this article, these soft power resources consist of ideas and information related to culture (especially language), lifestyle, technical ideas, and the attractiveness of Japan's economic success. The Foundation then utilises people and various forms of media to create information links between Japan and China, and to transmit these ideas from Japan to China. The ideas then percolate into Chinese society over a long period of time, and help to increase the number of Chinese individuals who have a deeper understanding of Japan. While it is difficult to measure how much these increases have been helped directly by the Foundation's efforts, it is clear that the Foundation has had a significant role. However, while it can be said that the Japan Foundation has tried hard to be an agent of Japan's soft power in China, ultimately it has had varying degrees of success. Its problems in being an effective agent of Japan's soft power in a country as large as China are compounded by a lack of clear purpose or focus (a problem also faced by other state cultural agencies), and the lack of meaningful forms of evaluation of its activities.
The author would like to acknowledge the financial support of a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Postdoctoral Fellowship and of a Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT) Postgraduate Fellowship for supporting this research. In addition the author would like to thank Professor Glenn Hook, Professor Tarō Tsukimura, Dr Bhubhindar Singh and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
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Utpal Vyas is a JSPS (Japan Society of the Promotion of Science) Postdoctoral Fellow, based at Kobe University, Japan. He has a PhD and MSc from the School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield, and his current main research interests include Japan-China relations, East Asian Political Economy and the role of non-governmental actors in international relations.
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