Japan from the inside out

Lee Teng-hui on Japan’s foreign policy

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, January 28, 2010

FORMER PRESIDENT of the Republic of China, Lee Teng-hui has always had an affinity for Japan. He enlisted as a second lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army during the war, helped clean up Tokyo after the March 1945 firebombing, and graduated from Kyoto University in 1946.

Mr. Lee was the first native Taiwanese to hold the office of president. A democratic reformer, he was reelected in that country’s first direct presidential election.

He was in Japan for a week last fall during which he visited several cities and delivered an address at a symposium. In one part of that speech, he offered the Japanese some advice for their conduct of foreign affairs.

The Japanese should take it to heart. Here it is in English.


It seems to me that Japanese foreign policy has yet to break free from the spirit of self-flagellation and self-denial caused by the trauma that resulted from its defeat in the war. Self-reflection is very important, but when taken to extremes, it turns to self-flagellation and abjection. It is impossible to conduct a sound foreign policy in the spirit of self-flagellation and abjection. That sort of thinking will only be mocked by the rest of the world. In fact, I have yet to hear anyone utter the phrase, “A Japan that can be respected”.

Unconditional submission to the United States and an abject, kowtowing policy for the People’s Republic of China—in other words, a foreign policy of pressing one’s forehead to the earth in veneration–is inappropriate for a Japan that has built the second-ranked country in the world.

In particular, the relationship between Japan and the People’s Republic of China in the future must be one in which a clear line is drawn, as expressed by the words of (the novelist) Mushakoji Saneatsu: “You are you, and I am I, so let us get on well with each other.”

The other day, I used those words in a speech in which I said that relations between Taiwan and China must be based on drawing the same clear line. Considering the uncertainty that clouds China’s future, neither Japan nor Taiwan should be dazzled by the carrot that the Chinese are holding in front of our eyes. I think it is necessary to build good relations while maintaining a resolute attitude of independence that asserts, “I am I”.

It seems to me that in the past, Japan’s approach to foreign relations has been to submissively accept the assertions of the other party and to be careful so as to make as few waves as possible.

Unfortunately, however, no matter how much you humble yourselves, that will not be understood by foreigners. On the contrary, all of you must clearly recognize that stance will be scorned and despised.

Indeed, it is now time for Japan to have a proactive and bold foreign policy based on self-driven vigor and self-reliance.

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