AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 173

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Session 173: Securing humans in the International Relations of East Asia: The Concept and Practice of Human Security in Japan and China’s domestic and foreign policies

Organizer: Lindsay O. Black, Leiden Institute of Area Studies, Netherlands

Human security is an alternative paradigm for understanding global vulnerabilities that challenges key concepts and approaches in ‘mainstream’ International Relations theory. Human security stresses that the primary security referent ought to be the individual rather than the state by focussing on ‘freedom from want’ and ‘freedom from fear’. In East Asia, academic and policy-making circles have readily accepted the concept, despite the fact that states in the region have traditionally focused on national security issues. This panel examines how policy makers and activists in China and Japan have employed this concept in their domestic and foreign policies; notably in response to the ban of cluster munitions, the Sichuan earthquake, and anti-government protests and natural disasters in Myanmar. As the definition and scope of human security is nebulous, incorporating competing and sometimes contradictory understandings of the term ‘human’ and ‘security’, so China and Japan have interpreted the concept in accordance with their respective historical legacies, political contexts, and above all, self-identifications. This panel thereby transcends the Western-centric discourse that perceives the evolution and application of the human security concept in terms of a Western-centric core attempting to socialise East Asian states into the norms of the international society. Instead, this panel asserts that China and Japan’s conceptualizations of human security and emergent non-Western International Relations theories provide new avenues to re-evaluate Western understandings of security and ‘mainstream’ theories. Presentations will be 10-15 minutes in length and full texts of papers will be posted in advance to maximize opportunities for discussion.

East Asian Approaches to Human Security – The Concept and Practice of Human Security in Japan and China’s International Relations
Yih-Jye Hwang, Leiden University, Netherlands

This paper examines how the concept of human security – of which it presumes that the concerns of security ought to be the individual rather than the state, and people-centred rather than national – has been received and developed in East Asia, in particular, in the case of China and Japan. The paper firstly argues that, at an international level, a West-dominated international society has sought to embed China and Japan in particular human security discourses, so as to force China and Japan to abide by what the West views as superior norms. Secondly, at a domestic level however, China and Japan do not indiscriminately and unconditionally accept the concept of human security; rather, they selectively adopt and partially advocate certain components of human security against their respective historical experiences, political backgrounds, and above all, self-identifications. Thirdly, at a regional level, while the human security discourse has emerged from these diverse domestic contexts, both China and Japan have sought to fulfil their leadership ambitions in East Asia, via “soft” or civilian power paths rather than “hard” or military power. This article concludes with a suggestion that in order to truly secure human beings, a broader discourse must be fostered between the West and the “Rest,” and between governments and civil societies. Accordingly, this requires the expansion of channels of effective dialogue that encourage different parties to voice their concerns and challenge existing structures of domination to improve the collective well-being of humans domestically, regionally, and globally.

Securing children from natural disaster – responsibility to protect in the Sichuan earthquake
Annika Pissin, Lund University, Sweden

During the earthquake in Wenchuan thousands of school children were killed by collapsing school buildings. Due to China’s One Child policy, many of the children were the only child of their parents, who protested vehemently at the government’s failure to protect their children. In response, the government attempted to appease these parents with financial compensation and the right to create a second child. The government thus recognized that the children were injured or killed in a public building, though it did not formally admit its responsibility to secure children in public education, as human rights activist Tan Zuoren emphasized. This paper examines the Chinese government’s responsibility to protect children in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the pressure parents exerted on the government to accept liability for their offspring’s security. The paper explores the extent to which the Chinese government has adopted and applied the UN concepts of human security and responsibility to protect in line with its core policy of economic development. The central argument is that parents and the government, as the main agents responsible for child security, are imbedded in a tense, emotional and often acrimonious relationship that exposes the fissures in China’s development. Furthermore, by placing the reaction of parents and government in a historical context, this paper also elucidates China’s reaction to human rights activism and its ability to cope with disasters of this scale.

Japan Bans Cluster Munitions – The Role of Civil Society
Melanie Wacker, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany

On December 3rd 2008, 107 countries signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) which prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions. With 30 countries having ratified it by February 2010, including Japan, the CCM becomes binding international law on August 1st. Like the 1997 Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel Landmines, the CCM was reached through a political process initiated and driven by the concerted action of transnational civil society and a core group of states. The so-called Oslo Process grew out of the conviction of these transnational activists that cluster munitions cause unacceptable harm to humans; outweighing any argument of military utility. This logic shifts the referent of security from the state to the individual, from national to human security. Outside the formal UN framework of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, but with UN support, the Oslo Process succeeded in establishing a new norm against cluster munitions in international law. State-centric approaches cannot account for the salient role of transnational civil society actors. From a constructivist perspective, I examine how a Japanese NGO as part of transnational civil society pressured the Japanese government to ratify a cluster munitions ban. Tracing the ‘life cycle’ of the cluster munitions norm, I highlight that the Japanese political elite prioritized national defence over human security throughout the process. The full realization of human security as part of Japan’s foreign policy thus relies on the sedulous efforts of civil society.

Human (in)security in Great Power competition: China and Japan’s responses to anti-government protests and natural disasters in Myanmar
Lindsay O. Black, Leiden Institute of Area Studies, Netherlands

China and Japan are often portrayed in the International Relations and foreign policy literatures as competing both for Great Power status and for regional influence. Mainstream realist and liberalist accounts focus in particular on China and Japan’s relations with ‘rogue states’, such as Myanmar. In China’s case, the literature highlights China’s military rise and ambitions to develop its naval facilities in Myanmar, providing access to the Indian Ocean. For Japan, engaging Myanmar through its mercantilist aid policy has long provided an opportunity to counter growing Chinese influence in the country whilst bolstering economic opportunities for Japanese firms. Both China and Japan avoid implementing robust sanctions or critiquing the human rights situation in Myanmar even in the wake of anti-government protests in September 2007 or the junta’s inadequate response to Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. Such realist and liberalist accounts therefore emphasize China and Japan’s failure to adopt western practices in their international relations, thereby necessitating Western military and economic interventions to contain ‘rogue states’, such as Myanmar. In contrast to these ‘mainstream’ accounts, this paper adopts a critical approach that seeks to comprehend China and Japan’s relations with Myanmar through a human security lens. This critical approach employs the emerging China and Japan Schools of International Relations theory to demonstrate how humans are secured through China and Japan’s foreign policies. As a result, these non-Western International Relations theories reveal opportunities to engage with, rather than contain, ‘rogue states’, thereby raising the possibility of a more inclusionary international society.