Panel 7: Neighborliness across Borders: The Neighbor as a Political Problem

Chair: Abdallah Soufan (Orient-Institut Beirut)

Roula Abi Habib Khoury (Saint-Joseph University Beirut):
Cross-Border Neighborliness Between Lebanon and Syria: a Sociological Perspective

Noriko Kawamura (Washington State University):
A Historical Inquiry into Neighborliness and the Shifting Boundaries Surrounding Japan

How can a historian of international relations focusing on the Asian Pacific world contribute to an inquiry into the concept of neighborliness? This paper will focus on Japan’s international relations with its neighbors—China, Korea, Russia/the Soviet Union, and the United States across the Pacific—since the age of imperialism and explore what the idea of territorial proximity (or propinquity) meant to the region. The paper will trace the historical trajectory of how Japan followed the Western imperial powers’ use of the concept of territorial propinquity (voisin) and asserted Japan’s special interests and supremacy in the bordering space (both land and sea) until the end of World War II. The paper will examine a number of diplomatic negotiations between Japan and the Western powers, such as the Anglo-Japanese Alliance (1902-1922), Japan’s ententes with Russia and France (1907), the Katsura-Taft memorandum (1905), the Root-Takahira Agreement (1907), and the Lansing-Ishii Agreement (1917). It will explore how Japan utilized the concept of territorial propinquity in its diplomatic exchanges to attempt to secure the Western powers’ recognition of Japan’s supremacy in the region. This paved the way for the Japanese Empire’s territorial expansion in the Asian continent. However, in the 1930s Japan’s aggressive expansion into Manchuria and China collided with the Open Door doctrine in China advocated by the United States, and the Japanese military opted for military solutions,  which eventually led to Japan’s defeat in World War II.
In the wake of World War II, a demilitarized and democratized Japan, whose territory was reduced to the four main islands, pursued peaceful relations with its neighbors under the so-call Peace Constitution of Japan renouncing war as a means to settle international disputes. However, Japan was also placed under the nuclear umbrella of the United States, and allowed the United States to establish military bases throughout Japan. Moreover, postwar Japan has three outstanding territorial disputes with its neighbors—the Kurile Islands with Russia, the Senkaku Islands with the People’s Republic of China, and the Takeshima Islands with South Korea. Japan’s challenge, thus, is to reach peaceful settlements of these disputes with those nations without resorting to armed conflicts or threats of the use of armed forces. Constrained by the so-called Peace Constitution, Japan does not possess a full-fledged military force, while its counterparts maintain formidable military forces capable of being used if necessary. Is there any change in Japan’s understanding of the concept of territorial proximity under the altered circumstances in the postwar years?