Greater political stability under Abe is encouraging interest from German officials

Most experts agree that the general image of Japan among German officials is positive, as it has been for some time, though there is a certain amount of disinterest from officials, excepting those few with personal ties or an affinity with Japan. Japan is seen as being similar to Germany and facing similar economic, social and ecological problems. Furthermore, it has a similar view on the international relations and similar values: peace, stability, free world trade, market economy, sustainability.

Japan is generally viewed rather as an economic player then a political one. In the long run there has been a change in the view of Japan as an economic player. It is still seen as being similar to Germany in many economic aspects: a market economy, strongly interested in international trade and the global development of the economy. Japanese and German companies are simultaneously in competition and cooperation, as they are active in many of the same industrial sectors.

In the 1980s Japan was a role model for economic success but now that the Japanese economy is in recession the measures it takes to fight against it are being evaluated. Abenomics gained a lot of attention in Germany but many measures were viewed critically.

On foreign policy, though the general view of Japan as a political partner is positive, particularly in contrast to China, experts noted that, although present in multilateral forums, Japan seems to lacks its own profile and is seen as a country that seeks to avoid contentious issues. Therefore, even though Japan remains a strong partner of the USA, it doesn´t appear to Germans as a big international player. Constant changes in key figures within the Japanese government have, historically, made personal diplomacy difficult between Germany and Japan, although the greater stability in the administration under Abe have made this easier and holds the promise of greater cooperation going forward.

The most widely reported on Japanese security issue in Germany is the reinterpretation of Article 9, Japan’s pacifistic constitutional clause. The German public is very sceptical about these changes with the media heavily influenced by the image of Abe as a right-wing nationalist. On the contrary, German decision makers understand the changes in security laws under Abe administration as a normalisation process, similar to the one that Germany went through.

There is a broad agreement between the experts that Japanese soft power, understood as cultural influence, is present and well received in Germany. Culturally, Japan has a very positive image of a country of sushi, manga, robots, gadgets, fashion, and computer games. The interviewees stress that this is more a question of cultural globalisation and consumption rather than of a bilateral relationship between Germany and Japan. However, Japan is not seen as a soft power in the sense of a modern political power, as an actor creating international norms and social models. The cultural influence is not mirrored by a political one.

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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.