Thu, Jun 14, 2007 - Page 8 News List

The steady rise of liberal Japan

By Joseph Nye

Most people looking at the rise of Asian power focus on China and India. They often forget that Japan’s US$5 trillion economy is the second-largest in the world — bigger than those of China and India combined — with a per capita income that is 10 times that of China. In addition, Japan spends US$40 billion annually on defense, and has one of the top five military forces in the world.

China’s economy is growing more rapidly, and its total size will probably overtake Japan’s in a decade or two, but any serious analysis of power in East Asia must include Japan as a major factor.

Japan has played a unique role in world history. It was the first Asian country to encounter the forces of globalization, master them and then make them serve its own interests.

Moreover, Japan has reinvented itself twice. During the Meiji restoration of the 19th century, Japan scoured the world for ideas and technologies that allowed it to defeat a European great power in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. Unfortunately, Japan moved on to militaristic imperialism in the 1930s, which eventually led to its surrender and occupation in 1945.

But in the post-World War II period, Japan again used the forces of globalization to reinvent itself as an economic superpower that became the envy of the world. As Kenneth Pyle argues in his interesting new book Japan Rising, these reinventions were responses to external shifts in world politics. Now, with the growth of Chinese power, one of the great questions for this century will be how Japan responds.

The Japanese are currently debating their role in global politics. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken a more nationalistic stance than most of his predecessors, and his Liberal Democratic Party is committed to revising Article 9 of the Constitution, which limits Japan’s forces to self-defense. Public opinion is divided on the issue, and polls vary according to how the questions are asked. Nonetheless, many astute analysts believe that the Constitution will be amended within the coming decade.

While Abe wisely visited China and smoothed over relations ruffled by his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, who repeatedly visited the Yasukuni shrine, many people are uncertain about his long-term vision. As one well-known Japanese intellectual told me during a recent visit to Tokyo, “I can accept constitutional revision in the long run, but not while Abe is prime minister.”

Last month the Asahi Shimbun, a major newspaper known for its left/liberal inclination, proposed an alternative vision for 21st century Japan in a series of 21 editorials. Asahi rejected the idea of revising Article 9, and proposed instead that the Japanese Diet legalize the role of the Self-Defense Forces. The editorials accepted the treaty with the US that serves as a basis for Japanese security, but rejected the idea that Japan has a right to collective self-defense.

Interestingly, one of the reasons given for retaining Article 9 was that it would better enable Japan to resist US pressures to engage in military “coalitions of the willing” far from Japan’s shores. Asahi worried about the precedent set when Koizumi sent Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to Iraq, albeit in a non-combatant role, to please US President George W. Bush. Conservative voices argue just the opposite — that abolishing Article 9 is important for exactly such reasons.

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