Lessons of ‘Inter-connectedness’

August 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Nothing like a global economic meltdown to foster an appreciation for inter-connectedness. One of the best descriptions I’ve come across for inter-connectedness is to imagine taking a single piece of string and tying it around everyone’s wrist; when one moves all feel the tug of the string. Learning how to maneuver within inter-connectedness reminded me of piece I read earlier this summer by Swedish analyst Hagström on Japan’s use of ‘relational power’ to ‘exercise power over’ China. He was talking about relational power and soft power, but the lessons of inter-connectedness have broader application.

Linus Hagström is a Research Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Sweden. His piece, written in 2005,  analyzed two issues in Japan’s China policy: the negotiations for bilateral investment protection and interaction over the disputed Pinnacle (Senkaku or Diaoyu) Islands.

After reading the piece, several features stood out. Since all inter-related which suggest integrate approach, I’ll list features by what I noticed first.

Keen awareness of the Other and Relations with Other

Hagström’s analysis focuses on the goals or objective of the principal, in this case Japan. However I was struck by descriptions of China’s position, which conveyed if not respect for other at least a strong appreciation that the emotional sentiments of the other party was an integral piece of the equation.

Note emotional sentiment, not just political or economic interest.

“Chinese self-consciousness — the pride the country takes in being the ‘Middle Kingdom” (Roy, 1998: 6; Solomon, 1999: 28) — also means that it would be no simple task to try to affect it incompatibly with its interests (Rose, 1998: 124). Affecting China would moreover be a particularly difficult task for Japan (and the other way around), because both countries are acutely aware of their bilateral relationship (cf. Naughton, 1994: 66-67).” p. 404

1- Time

Time did not appear to be a pressing or even important ingredient.  Was reflecting on how I am so trained to focus on speed or efficiency – how quickly something be done is positive.  While reading the piece I was struck by a seeming disregard for time factor. That was my first impression. By end of article, I was reassessing my notion of time. Instead of viewing ‘delay’ as negative, it could be a positive, deliberate strategic move of calculated patience to achieve the desired outcome.


“the negotiations dragged on, it did not discourage China”… “gradual acceptance ” p.407

“[Japan] suggested a treaty, and then it didn’t make sufficient effort to conclude it” p.407

“after being interrupted for almost three years, this new situation combined with the ….”p. 408

Quote of a Chinese official was particularly telling:

“It does not matter if this question is shelved for some time, say, ten years. Our generation is not wise enough to find common language on this question. Our next generation will certainly be wiser. They will surely find a solution acceptable to all.” p.413

2- Interaction of multiple variables – beyond individual control

Hagstrom’s analysis was also interesting because of the way Japan handled the complexity of the issues.  Japan appeared to be very sensitive to the different variables. Yet, instead of trying to exercise control over or manipulate the variables, I got a sense of nudging or “stirring the soup” – letting the variable or ingredients cook together until the flavors blended.

After stating the steps Japan took and then waiting ….. “Japanese FDI to China thus  started to increase quite naturally.”

3- Non-confrontational method of ‘exercising power’

Interesting also was that that Japan exercised power through in-action (taking no action).  “Guarding” [watching and monitoring] was used as a means of “preserving the status quo.”  Japan even maintained an official position that “there was not a conflict,” even though the very act of guarding meant a contested presence.

“The strategy of ‘effective control’ crystallized as ideational statecraft (the large number of protests), diplomatic statecraft (non-action such as no compromise and no joint development), and military statecraft (the practice of maintenance of the status quo through guarding).

The strategy of ‘effective control’ supplemented in 1992 with a policy emphasizing the non-existence of a ‘dispute’ … since the country ‘exercises effective control’ there can be ‘no dispute’ .. the policy of ‘no dispute’ legitimized sustained Japanese non action” p.414

4- Relational power rests on sensitivity to Other

Before proceeding with the analysis and throughout the analysis,  Hagström repeatedly cited China’s position [and disposition even in emotional terms] and Japanese understanding of China’s position.

In same paragraph that explains ‘non-existence of ‘a dispute’ (Japan’s stance), there is the statement that gives China’s poisition:  ‘contrary to China’s revealed interests …” and “Actors on the Japanese side, on the other hand, have expressed awareness that the PRC does not ‘feel good’ about the present arrangement” p. 415

“Japan relied on the positive diplomatic instrument of maintaining a cautious attitude towards the PRC … While strongly protesting on the one hand, the government refrained from taking more provocative action on the other” p.415

Additionally, Hagström noted that China also took care “not to rock the boat.”

Which all goes back to initial observation of both being ‘acutely aware’ of their relationship together. That “acute awareness” is an appreciation of the idea of inter-connectedness.

Citation: Linus Hagström, National Power for Foreign Policy Analysis: Issues in Japan’s China Policy. European Journal of International Relations, 2005, 11 (3), 395- 430

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