Watershed - You coordinate the International Relations Research Nucleus (NUPRI), at the University of São Paulo. What is the purpose of this nucleus?
Alexandre Ratsuo Uehara - The International Relations Research Nucleus (NUPRI) was created in 1989, with the aim of developing knowledge on International Relations, by way of lectures, studies and support for researchers. With that, based on activities developed in the NUPRI, several researchers and professors graduated. I myself am one of the fruits of that work, I have participated since the start and from 1995, went on to become a researcher of the NUPRI, tutored by Professor José Augusto Guilhon Albuquerque, who was the general coordinator until 2004. After finishing my doctorate in 2001, I went on to the condition of Senior Researcher and in 2008 took over the coordination of the Group of Studies on Asia. Group of Studies on Asia, is one of the work groups inside the NUPRI, and is made up of graduates, postgraduates, masters and doctors and is active in carrying out the aims of NUPRI, albeit focusing on analyses of the Asian region.
WS - As coordinator of the International Relations course of the Faculdades Integradas Rio Branco, what are the professional prospects for those graduating in the area?
AU - The area of activity of a professional in International Relations is quite broad since the training is quite encompassing. The Faculdades Integradas Rio Branco course seeks to develop the analytical capacity of the professional so that they may have, independently of the function they may carry out, the possibility of assessing problems, constructing his own opinion and taking decisions. I believe that for this reason, I have seen various graduates taking up business management positions. However, I understand that we are seeing the construction of the International Relations profile. It cannot be said that there is an exact function that is the IR professional since in my opinion, companies are still learning to recognize the contribution that he can offer. With the passage of time, I understand that the opportunities will become clearer, even more so because the companies that have contracted an internationalist have shown satisfaction with the professional results obtained.
WS - Your research on economic integration and regional relationships is focused particularly on Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan. Why is this regional carve-out important and what are the directions of this integration over the long term?
AU - It is obvious that every researcher will prize his object of study. I could act no differently. However, I want to raise some factors that illustrate my motivation for studying the countries of this region. Presently, looking at the data on economic performance, it can be seen as the group of countries that present indicators of greatest dynamism are the Asian countries. Because of this economic dynamism, the world has gone on to give ever increasing importance to events in the nations of this region. Attention is given because it may be that the best opportunities in the world are there but also may be the origin of important problems. Opportunities because there are many developing countries in the Asian region, which means that income is still relatively low and therefore production costs in that region are lower, having attracted much foreign investment. This investment has brought an increase in the income of the population, which has led to an increase in the market and sales opportunities. At this moment, a virtuous circle has been observed in the Asian economies, led by China. The expectations are that at least in the medium term Asian economies will continue growing at a rate above that of the world economy, which projects a scenario of the possibility of a change in the axis of the world economy from the West to Asia. It is what I have termed the asianization of the world. With those expectations, it is important that Brazil (government and companies) not only monitor what is going on in Asian countries but also learn to relate to them so as not to lose business opportunities.
WS - Can one believe in a reunification of the two Koreas? What regional interests are in play?
AU - The reunification of the Koreas already has had promising moments, such as in the year 2000, when relations between the two countries were more friendly, with a meeting between their representatives and permission for reunions with relatives who had been separated since the 1950`s when the Korean War broke out. Presently there is a relation of animosity between the governments of the north and south that renders more difficult the thought of joining in the short term. Apart from that, one cannot see any interest in a unification from the actors with interests in the region. In the case of China, a continuation of the division is more interesting since unification would imply very probably a predominance of the south over the north by virtue of its larger economy. That could take the capitalist frontier up to Chinese territory, which strategically is a fear for the government of Beijing, since that could make access to that place by American troops possible. On the Japanese side also, there seems to be little interest in that unification since that would increase Korean economic growth and would be a threat to the status of Japan that has already dropped from second to third largest place in the world economy.
WS - From your experience as a visiting researcher in Japan, in what way do you compare the form and quality of studies on Asia realized in Japan with the ones developed in Brazil?
AU - One of the main points of difference that is found in the two realities is in resources. While in Japan, at least in the years I was there, there was a providing of bibliographical materials by the universities for the researchers, here in Brazil the researcher himself has to buy his books that often, in the case of International Relations are imported and therefore expensive. That ends up limiting the possibility of updating by the national researcher. In relation to the quality of research, therefore, I attribute occasional differences not to the researchers but to research conditions. As a researcher, I believe that Brazilians have, through their creativity, overcome their restrictions and developed research of very good quality.
WS - As a political and economic former analist of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), how do you see the initiatives of Brazilian government and companies in relation to Japan?
AU - Specifically, in Brazil-Japan bi-lateral relations, there have been no observable important actions of pro-activity in the political field and they have been very rare in the economic field. With that, despite being centennial, the bilateral relationship lost importance relative to Sino-Brazilian relations. In my modest opinion, the bilateral relations maintain the traditional characteristic, which means that both see each other as too distant for greater cooperation both in the political and economic fields. It cannot be seen that Brazil has dedicated any special attention to its relations with Asian countries with the exception of China.
WS - The image of the road that Japan reconstructed in just 6 days, after the earthquakes and the tsunami that destroyed part of the country, was the highlight of the global media last week. How will the process of reconstruction be?
AU - Japan has no technical or financial problems in reconstructing the affected areas, but the greatest barrier for Japanese reconstruction is the radiation control of the nuclear facility that was hit by the tidal wave (tsunami). As long as there is no control over the leakage of radiation, the reconstruction of the affected areas will be delayed.
WS - Were the Japanese in fact in a “comfort zone” as many analysts state?
AU - I do not believe that the Japanese felt themselves to be in a comfort zone. Much to the contrary, over the last years the population has pressured the government for measures to take the country out of the lethargy in which it finds itself. There is an economic stagnation that has been cause for concern, since this has led to a weakening of the country in its International Relations. There are concerns with the future of Japan as a whole, since the country is ageing and the costs of this process perceived at this moment since the number of retired people has increased and those actively employed have diminished. There is also very great discomfort in the energy field since the country is highly dependent on the import of fuels. In addition, in the last years the Japanese government has been investing in nuclear energy as a response to the lack of energy in the country, believing this to be a positive solution because of the fact that there are no greenhouse effect gases. However, with the present problems, Japanese energy policy will undergo a profound reflection.
WS - To what extent will the economy of Asia be affected by the disasters in Japan?
AU - Many companies from neighboring countries will have their trade with Japan affected, since there is a significant dependency for the import of raw materials. Parts and components manufactured by Japanese companies represent an important percentage in the motor industry in China and South Korea. The electro-electronic industry is another that has been affected by the drop in Japanese production and there is information that around 40% of the import of electronic components in South Korea comes from Japan. At the beginning, regional production will be affected because of this relationship of dependency on Japanese products. However, it is Japanese industry itself that will be most jeopardized, since the neighboring countries will be able to seek new suppliers, producing losses in Japanese foreign trade.
WS - How will the rise of China to the post of second economy in the world affect its relations with Japan?
AU - It is important to make a distinction between economic and political relations, since in the first we can expect a deepening and in the second a sharpening of divergences. China is presently the most important trading partner of Japan, both in the market for its exports and in the origin for its Chinese imports. Apart from that, a certain dynamism of the Japanese economy has been attributed to the maintenance of growth in the Chinese economy. There is therefore, a strong and important relation of interdependence between the two countries. In the political field, however, the loss by Japan of the condition of the second largest world economy is not comfortable. Apart from that, it is noticed that Chinese economic growth has caused countries that since the end of the Second World War had kept Japan as its main trading partner now have China as their main market and supplier. That has an impact on the perception of regional importance for Asian countries. Japan has lost spaces and it is seen that there are interests between Japanese politicians in avoiding a greater weakening. For that reason, it is possible to see Japan and China vying for international political spaces.
WS - Japan was seen as a probable idealizer of the TAV (High Speed Train), so dreamed of by the Brazilian government. Is it possible to visualize the continuity of this partnership, now that the Japanese need to be concerned with the internal reconstruction of the country?
AU - I believe that there is the possibility of a partnership but the projects and negotiations are not clear even in Brazil. There are doubts about the feasibility of the projects and the possibility of finishing the works before international events such as the World Cup and the Olympics. With that, or rather, not seeing the possibility of concluding the works before these events, it is possible that enthusiasm will die down and the projects are postponed with no defined time frame.
Interview by Rafael Gonçalves de Lima