Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Japanese – Kyoudoutai

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Community, Japanese, Region, Security Community

共同体 (きょうどうたい)


Relates to community

The term is composed of three characters:

kyou – together; both; all; alike

dou – same; agree; equal

tai – body; substance; organisation

Literally, ‘cooperative body’ or ‘cooperative system’


This term is also used with reference to region and conveys the idea of community.  The origin of the characters are Chinese, however the term was derived from Japanese translations of the English word ‘community’. The term is believed not to be politically loaded although it does suggest a political framework and the idea of different units working together. The use of the ‘体tai morpheme implies the sense of the actors within the group/organisation functioning together like organs in a body. In this, it is an easy step towards an understanding of economic community, in which geographically dispersed supply chains are intimately linked in a functional, mutually dependent sense. It is considered the translational equivalent of ‘chiiki shakai’ (地域社会), which conveys the meaning of ‘regional community’ and literally translates as ‘regional society’. In present day, the term refers to a ‘local community’ possessing a relatively strong sense of ‘unity’, perhaps including shared values, physical similarity, and is now primarily used in the domestic sense, to refer to cities, towns, villages and municipalities. In contrast, any gathering at the international level is now called kyoudoutai (共同体).

Recently, in 2009, the term kyoudoutai was used in then-Prime Minister Hatoyama’s proposal for an ‘East Asia Community’(東アジア共同体 Higashi Ajia Kyoudoutai); the consequent debate surrounding this proposal revealed several Japanese attitudes towards regional cooperation. By employing the term, kyoudoutai, when naming his East Asian Community, the Prime Minister chose a word that implies a more general, looser ‘community’ than is suggested, for instance, in the expression chiiki shakai. The East Asian Community, it would seem, was not expected to possess this type of ‘natural unity’. Nevertheless, kyoudoutai (like the Chinese gongtongti, which uses the same characters 共同体) does carry the ideas of ‘togetherness’ and ‘similarity’. In contrast, APEC, which includes Australia and the United States (as well as Russia, Chile and Canada) by contrast, tends to be referred to not as a kyoudoutai but as a foorumu (‘forum’)[1] or wakagumi (‘framework’).[2] The United Nations is usually described as a rengou (union, alliance or combination).

Professor Kenji Takita from Chuo University discussed kyoudoutai and its nearest English equivalent ‘community’ at length in a lecture he gave on the ‘East Asian Community’ in 2010. The Professor insisted that the core meaning of the term be reaffirmed. The ‘East Asian Community’, he said, had been discussed in terms of “religion, culture, economics and other aspects that exist in a diverse Asia”, and he argued that unless the real meaning of kyoudoutai was understood it would not be possible to build a community like the European Union.  Originally, he explained, kyoodootai had been used to indicate a gemeinshafuto (from the German loanword gemeinschaft), a group which shares historical values and identity. However, kyoudoutai then became an ‘organisational tag’ and the characteristics that determined a strict sense of gemeinshafuto seemed no longer to be required.

Takita’s emphasis on the term gemeinschaft – famously analysed by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies – was clearly intended to help restore the earlier meaning of kyoudoutai. Takita sought to remind his audience of that earlier emphasis on what Tonnies called “unity of will”, along with a concern for common mores and a sense of responsibility of one member of an association toward another. [3] Given this framework, Takita then went on to argue that the East Asian Community should be restricted to the ASEAN+3 countries. To expand the East Asian Community proposal to include India, New Zealand and Australia – and then the United States – he believed would inevitably weaken the power of the kyoodootai.[4]

There is a clear suggestion here of a distinction between regional ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. This distinction was further developed by another academic, Itaru Okamoto of Bunkyo Gakuin College. In examining what kind of political system the East Asian Community should strive to become, Okamoto (like many other Japanese commentators) treated the EU as the benchmark, and in considering who should participate in the East Asian Community he made a distinction between two groups, ikinai (literally ‘those inside the region’) and ikigai, (literally ‘those outside the region’). China, Japan, South Korea and ASEAN he listed as ikinai; America, the EU and Australia as ikigai. This would appear to be consistent with the way Prime Minister Hatoyama had first proposed the East Asian Community. It is a reminder of what qualities are sought for in Japanese thinking about a community, and of the difficulty entailed in conceptualising a grouping.


アジア安全保障共同体 Ajia anzen hoshou kyoudoutai

“Asian Security Community

アジア (ajia) conveys the meaning of ‘Asia’. It is notable that this is a transliteration from the Latin and Greek term. There is not a directly analogous Japanese term for the geographic areas seen to fall under the Western-originated concept of the region.

安全保障共同体 (anzen hoshou kyoodoutai) conveys the meaning of ‘Security Community’. This term conveys the meaning of the theoretical word, ‘security community’, and is a direct translation of the English term, ‘security community’. The English term philosophically originates from Kant’s ideas of the democratic peace and economic interdependence. The notion expressed is that representative societies are more pacific by inclination; combined with the existence of valuable economic links between these states, there will less of an incentive to go to war.[5] These perspectives are widely understood in Japan. The term appears in a variety of contexts, not just in relation to Asia.

While a true anzen hoshou kyoudoutai cannot be said to exist in Asia at the present time, there are nascent signs of cooperation that may hold positive implications for the emergence of a future multilateral security order. Forums such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, cooperation via the Proliferation Security Initiative, and Track Two mechanisms such as the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific, have all provide greater opportunities for regional leaders and analysts to build professional and inter-personal relationships that assist in clarifying perceptions of regional security dynamics. Japan has actively embraced these and other forums. However, it does not view them as opposed to its bilateral relations, especially with the U.S. While shied from in public discourse, Japanese elites remain wedded to the fundamental security guaranteed by the American ‘nuclear umbrella’ (核傘 kaku kasa).

It does not appear that there is any consensus within Japan as to how best to approach the formation of an Ajia anzen hoshou kyoudoutai. Presumably, such an entity will evolve organically through deeper economic and political interactions, as well as through the development of formalised dialogue mechanisms and Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) designed to handle specific tensions, in particular those that involve territorial disputes. However, the concept of an anzen hoshou kyoudoutai is still quite alien, as in Japan and Asia, the concept of ‘security’ evokes a strong sense of self-defense and securing one’s own survival, as opposed to assisting in the defense of others.



[1] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan ‘APEC: Outline’, MOFA: Economy, gaiko/apec/soshiki/gaiyo.html.

[2] Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, ‘APEC: Overview’, METI: 2010 Japan APEC,

[3] Ferdinand Tönnies (ed. Jose Harris), Community and Civil Society, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p.22.

[4] Kenji Takita, ‘East Asian Community: Issues and Prospects’, United Nations University: 25th Global Seminar Shonan Session: Obstacles and New Initiatives for Regional Cooperation, Session 2: Lecture 6, 2 September 2009, Tokyo JAP: United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace, p.35 (own translation).

[5] Amitav Acharya, Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the problem of regional order (2nd edition) (New York, NY: Routledge, 2009), pp.33-36.


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