Building North-east Asian maritime regimes : Will Japan take the lead?
There are several factors favouring a prominent role for Japan in a future North-east Asian maritime regime for fisheries and the environment: its economic and technological dominance, its knowledge and experience, its web of bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries, and its lack of the political dichotomies which hamper China and Korea. Leadership of such a regime might benefit Japan by delaying the implementation of EEZs by China and South Korea and the escalation of boundary disputes which would inevitably result. Benefits would also include conservation of fisheries resources, protection of the environment, elimination of the transaction costs and frustration entailed in annual bilateral fishing quota negotiations, and enhancement of Japan's status in the region. However, for the foreseeable future, there are strong factors mitigating against Japan assuming a leadership role. Internationally, the Kurile Islands dispute, the memories of Japan's expansionist wars, and Japan's propensity for placing economic gain above all else constrain its regional leadership possibilities. Bureaucratic inertia, resulting from the need for consensus among Japan's many domestic political entities forces Japan into a reactive rather than proactive role when maintenance of the status quo becomes no longer tenable. Nevertheless, the rapidly increasing density of unilateral, bilateral and multilateral pronouncements and agreements involving Japan show a distinct trend towards a nation which is becoming more comfortable with a larger role in the region.
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