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H. D. P. Envall

This chapter investigates the reception of narratives about the rise of a multipolar order in Japan, a state once touted as a potential pole of power in a post-Cold War multipolar order in its own right. Instead, the chapter argues that the central framing of debates over multipolarity today in Tokyo is one of fear – fear of the end of unipolarity and the rise of multipolarity signalling an end to the assured peacefulness and prosperity of Northeast Asia, Japan’s immediate neighbourhood. It argues that there is a complex and important interaction between the explanatory and normative sides of the Japanese discourse on multipolarity. How the global distribution of power does and should manifest itself in polarity terms is often difficult to disentangle. Significantly, the chapter highlights the larger debates about order – in particular a specific conception of a liberal rules-based order – that Japanese decision-makers and analysts bring to bear on debates about a future multipolar distribution of power. This implies that the unipolar, US-led order is itself defined by a liberal outlook that needs to be preserved as the global order becomes increasingly multipolar. This chapter highlights the difficulties for Tokyo in holding on to this narrative through the Trump administration’s decidedly illiberal path in its foreign policy and its aftermath.

in National perspectives on a multipolar order