Generating a Reform of the BRI from the Inside: Japan's Contribution Via Soft Law Diplomacy

Author Name Alisher UMIRDINOV (Nagoya University of Economics)
Creation Date/NO. September 2019 19-E-076
Research Project Comprehensive Research on the Current International Trade/Investment System (pt. IV)
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This paper investigates whether there is space for Japan to maneuver soft law mechanisms regarding China to ensure conformance of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects to high-level standards. The author posits that with its unique geographic position, sharp rivalry in ASEAN, and strongly intertwined and complementary market with China, Japan's potential to reform the BRI from the inside should not be underestimated. Rather, by stubbornly adhering to high-level "Quality Infrastructure Investment" (QII) principles promoted by the G7 countries in the last three years, Japan has successfully pulled China toward these principles, enabling it to endorse the notion of high-quality infrastructure in the second BRI forum. Under Japanese presidency, the G20 Osaka summit also vastly contributed to upgrading the level and normative content of the QII principles. Moreover, despite its soft law and less-institutional nature, effective utilization of the Japan-China Memorandum on Business Cooperation in Third Countries can provide Japan with some new tactics that can restrain harmful economic activities of Chinese companies in its markets. At this point, the Sino-Japanese collaboration in Thailand's East-West Economic Corridor Program will test whether the Chinese government is sincerely marketing "Third Party Market Cooperation" or if it is just another futile attempt.