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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

East Asian Studies
University Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Politics and International Relations
Email address: 
+44 (0)1223 335172
Fellow of: 
Darwin College

John Nilsson-Wright is the Fuji Bank University Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Politics and International Relations and a Fellow of Darwin College. He read Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1984 to 1987 during which time he developed an interest in Japanese politics and foreign policy. From 1988 to 1989 he was a Monbusho visiting researcher at Kyoto University, where he worked under the guidance of Professor Masataka Kosaka, focusing on post-war relations between Japan and Korea.

From Japan he moved to the United States, where he completed an M.A. in International Relations (concentrating on East Asian studies) at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, in Washington, DC.

In 1991 he returned to Oxford, to St. Antony's college, for his D.Phil. in International Relations under the guidance of Professors Arthur Stockwin and Rosemary Foot. His research focused on early Cold War US-Japan foreign and security relations from 1945 to 1960, and involved extensive archival research both in the United States and in Japan, where he spent a ten month period as a visiting researcher at Tokyo University. His thesis was completed in 1997 and awarded the British International History Group (BIHG) annual dissertation prize.

In addition to his position at Cambridge, Dr Nilsson-Wright is also Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia at the Asia Programme at Chatham House which he previously directed as Head of Programme from March 2014 to October 2016.

He has been a Monbusho research fellow at Kyoto and Tokyo universities, and a visiting fellow at Tohoku University, Yonsei University, Korea University, and Seoul National University. He has also been a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Agenda Council (GAC) on Korea and is a director of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group. In 2014 he was a recipient of the Nakasone Yasuhiro Prize.

He comments regularly for the global media on the international relations of East Asia, with particular reference to Japan and the Korean Peninsula (see here for a representative selection of recent articles), and has testified to the House of Commons, Foreign Affairs Committee and the House of Commons, Defence Committee.

He is a member of the editorial board of Global Asia, and is a founding member of the European Japan Advanced Research Network (EJARN).

Teaching responsibilities: 

Dr Nilsson-Wright teaches courses relating East Asian politics and international relations, with a particular focus on North and South Korea.

Supervision information: 

Dr Nilsson-Wright is happy to supervise graduate students who wish to work on East Asian politics, international relations and diplomatic history, particularly with reference to Japan, North and South Korea and US relations with Northeast Asia.

Research interests: 

Dr Nilsson-Wright's recent work has continued to concentrate on the Cold War relationship between the United States and Northeast Asia, with particular reference to the security and political relationships between the United States and Japan and the two Koreas, but has expanded to include contemporary regional security issues and political change.

His early work focused on the US-Japan relationship, including a monograph published by Stanford University Press, entitled Unequal Allies? United States Security and Alliance Policy Towards Japan, 1945-1960 (March 2005), as well as an edited translation of a Japanese memoir dealing with the role of Okinawa in bilateral US-Japan relations - The Best Course Available. A Personal Account of the Secret US-Japan Okinawa Reversion Negotiations - written by the late Professor Kei Wakaizumi, and published by Hawai'i University Press in April, 2002.

Current PhD students

Ms Giulia Garbagni: Japan's Postwar Envoy Diplomacy in Southeast Asia Giulia’s PhD research topic will be looking at Japan's envoy diplomacy and its role in regional conflict mediation post-1945.
Mr Choongil (Peter) Han: North Korea’s Unification Policy Peter’s research interest is on the Korean unification question with a specific focus on North Korea’s unification program in the 1980s. His PhD research investigates how international, domestic and South Korean situation influenced Pyongyang’s approach toward unification. Peter is a Gates Cambridge scholar and serves as a member of the National Unification Advisory Council UK.
Miss Ria Roy: Charismatic leadership; North Korea; religion versus secularism. As a Gates Cambridge scholar and a PhD candidate in Korean history with a broader academic interest in Japan and East Asia, I am eager to delve deeper into the question of the manufacture of charisma in North Korea and to trace its transformation from a state committed to Marxist-Leninist views to one that propagates a semi-mystical view of leadership.
Mr Weijun Xu: Regime Legitimacy, Nationalism, and Foreign Policy Choices in Disputes My research focuses on the influence of nationalism on foreign policies. I’m trying to explain why a country/region whose regime legitimacy largely depends on nationalism sometimes adopt policies that are not in line with nationalist opinions when it falls into disputes with another country/region? And I mainly concern about the countries and regions in East Asia.
Miss Yang Jie: Morality in East Asian Politics Jie’s research explores whether morality plays a role in state interaction with one another in the East Asian region; and if it does, what are the specific moral principles and whether they are different with moral principles discussed in conventional (Western) International Relation Theory.

Articles, Book Chapters etc

Sino-Japanese Relations. Prospects for the Next Five Years Kerry Brown (ed.) The Critical Transition: China’s Priorities for 2021 (2018)
Creative Minilateralism in a Changing Asia: Opportunities for Security Convergence and Cooperation between Australia, India and Japan Chatham House, Asia Program, Research Paper (2017)
Brexit and its Consequences: Anglo-Japanese Relations in a Post-EU Referendum World Chatham House, Asia Program, Research Paper (2016)
Japan’s Abe Administration: Steering a course between pragmatism and extremism Chatham House, Asia Program, Research Paper (2015)
Japan’s Abe Administration: Steering a course between pragmatism and extremism Chatham House, Asia Program, Research Paper (2015)
The Asia-Pacific Power Balance: Beyond the US-China Narrative Chatham House, US Project and Asia Program, Research Paper (2015)
Park Geun-hye, Foreign Policy Innovation and Risk on the Korean Peninsula Andrew T.H. Tan (ed.) Security and Conflict in East Asia pp. 181-190 (2015)
Is Japan Truly ‘Back’: Prospects for a more Proactive Security Policy Chatham House Briefing Paper (2013)
Inter-Korean relations and the challenge of North-east Asian regional security Andrew T. H. Tan (ed.) East and South-East Asia International Relations and Security Perspectives (2013)
Crisis of Peace and Humanitarian Development in North Korea: Reflections on Life in North Korea During the MB Government John Swenson-Wright (ed.) & Chung-in Moon (ed.) Crisis of Peace and New Leadership in Korea: Lessons of Kim Dae-jung’s Legacies (2013)
The Role of Japan in the International Relations of East Asia John Swenson-Wright (ed.) & Ruediger Frank (ed.) Korea and East Asia: The Stony Road to Collective Security pp. 105-127 (2012)
Resurgent Trilateralism in Northeast Asia Chatham House, Asia Programme Paper (2011)
The Limits to 'Normalcy': Japanese-Korean post-Cold War Interactions, David Welch (ed.) & Yoshihide Soeya (ed.) & Masayuki Tadokoro (ed.) Japan as a 'Normal Country' (2010)
Contending with Regional Uncertainty: Japan’s Response to Contemporary East Asian Security Challenges Patricia Nelson (ed.) & Marie Sodeberg (ed.) Perspectives on Change in Japanese Politics and Economics (2010)
Sasakawa Ryouichi: Unravelling an Enigma Ryoichi Sasakawa (ed.) & Ken Hijino (ed.) Sugamo Diary (2010)
East Asia: Consistency and Sensitivity Needed in a Strategically Vital Region Robin Niblet (ed.) America and A Changed World: a Question of Leadership (2010)