Since World War II, Japan has maintained a pro-Western foreign policy. In fact, Japan remains a cornerstone of U.S. efforts to maintain political stability in Asia. Despite hopes that Japan would lead the rest of Asia out the of Asian crisis, the opposite occurred. Japan has resorted to increasing exports to boost its economy because domestic demand continues to remain weak, much to the disappointment of Asian and Western leaders. Japan nevertheless continues to develop good relations with other nations regionally. Japan provides economic assistance to modernization projects in China and maintains bilateral trade agreements with Taiwan. Although Japan and Russia still dispute sovereignty of the four-island Northern Territories (Kuril Islands), the two countries have made progress in other areas of their relationship.
Japan has worked closely with the United States and South Korea on policy toward North Korea, particularly on the matter of nuclear nonproliferation. During Koizumi's time in office, the nuclear status of North Korea has reached crisis proportions. The North Korean nuclear program, a threat directed at South Korea, would obviously also threaten neighboring Japan. Koizumi has responded with a tireless schedule of shuttle diplomacy, meeting with Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Russian leaders, as well as flying to Texas for talks with U.S. president George W. Bush. When North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in early 2003, Koizumi and Russian president Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement of concern, while expressing hopes that negotiations could still convince North Korea to halt nuclear weapons development. In May 2003, Koizumi emphasized the need for a peaceful solution to the crisis and for international cooperation, stating, "Japan, the United States, and South Korea should continue to coordinate, and North Korea should take this seriously."
The issue of Japanese self-defense and security has become a matter of growing concern, particularly in light of Japan's willingness to participate in global efforts to fight terrorism and the North Korean crisis. Koizumi's government supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but in a non-combatant capacity, pledging US $70 million for reconstruction aid at the war's end. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution prohibits a Japanese role in international military affairs, but Japanese leaders are listening to rising popular support for the idea of a self-defense force for the nation. At present, the country continues to rely on the United States for strategic protection. In 2003 Koizumi was able to win approval for bills allowing the prime minister to invoke special powers if Japan were to be attacked. The North Korea crisis provided the impetus for the measure, which still worried many who believe that Japan should take no role in warfare. Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine (a symbol of Japan's World War II armed forces) during each of his years in office also raised concerns about a revival of militarism and offended the government of South Korea.