No sooner had Japan’s opposition parties proffered their unity in the midst of the national emergency following last week’s powerful earthquake than the same players were resuming the finger pointing and sniping of old, nipping cheers over bipartisan cooperation in the bud and showing why Japan and other regional democracies have been at a standstill.
Initially there was reason for optimism that the political landscape could have been fundamentally altered after the magnitude of the catastrophe became more obvious to all. Amid what Tokyo has called the worst calamity to hit the nation since World War II, the Democratic Party of Japan and its main rival, the Liberal Democratic Party, decided to put differences aside and agreed to discuss an emergency tax increase to fund disaster relief.
As related bills must be passed by April 1 to ensure the swift implementation of the massive relief package that will be required for reconstruction, such unity was essential, and on Sunday Japan’s second-largest opposition party, the New Komeito, said it was also willing to cooperate.
This contrasted sharply with the situation on Friday, where hours before the magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit off the east coast of Japan, sparking a major tsunami, both opposition parties were calling for the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, seen as deeply unpopular and accused of illegally receiving campaign funds.
That came after weeks of political skirmishing that had prevented Kan — the fifth prime minister in Japan since 2006 — from crafting policies to fund the rising costs of a fast-ageing society, curb public debt twice the size of the economy and spur growth as the population shrinks.
Sunday’s unity, therefore, was reason for hope that parties would put their differences aside long enough to deal with the aftermath of the tsunami and the risks of a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station.
Sadly, even the likely 10,000-plus casualties were insufficient to make unity last, and hours later sniping resumed, this time over the Japanese government’s handling of the catastrophe and allegations that it had briefly covered up the threat emanating from the nuclear power station.
No wonder Japan has fallen behind and lost its dynamism of old, rife as it is with seeming unbridgeable divisions and endless infighting for short-term political gain. If a major catastrophe such as the one that hit on the weekend can only provide a brief hiatus in habitual sniping, then there is little reason not to believe that a few weeks hence Japan will return to its state of stupor, unable to make the contributions to the region that such a power should be making.
The quake will recede into memory, but the challenges to the region, from future natural catastrophes to the uncertainties created by China’s rise, will not disappear. Only when politicians put an end to their juvenile pitched battles, roll up their sleeves and strive toward a clearly defined goal can those challenges be met and surmounted.
Taiwan, which faces challenges of its own, has fared little better, and possibly even worse, than has Japan in terms of summoning unity in the face of natural crises. More often than not, its political forces have been divided and are canceling each other out for sheer political gain — usually the next local or national elections.
We should all bear in mind that future crises, from Chinese expansionism to the forces of nature, do not face such internal divisions and take advantage of factionalism in others.
On Friday, Mother Nature provided us yet another reminder of the risks of disunity. Will we ever learn?
Despite the complicated legacy of colonialism, relations between Taipei and Tokyo continue to blossom in these troubled times. As East Asia continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and struggles to contain an increasingly aggressive China, our democratic archipelago benefits from a new high in its security relations with Japan. Remarkably, with its generous vaccine diplomacy and the unprecedented explicit mention of the situation surrounding Taiwan in Japan’s annual defense white paper, Tokyo began to embrace a novel, two-track, comprehensive approach for engaging Taiwan. The first track deals with non-traditional security such as public health and vaccine donations. Japan has generously supported
As the incursions by China into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone intensify, the international community’s anxiety has risen over the question of whether the US military would become directly involved in the case of an attack on Taiwan. Washington’s long-held policy of “strategic ambiguity” does little to ease the trepidation. The rationale universally espoused on “strategic ambiguity” is that an announced commitment from Washington to directly defend Taiwan would encourage Taiwanese independence and consequently bring forth a Chinese military attack and a possible nuclear confrontation between two superpowers. However, this line of argument could soon lose steam if the subject is viewed from
Having deceived the world about its nuclear capabilities while preparing for an arms race, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now using its increasing nuclear forces for virtual nuclear coercion. This new threat will continue until the United States, Japan, and Taiwan can restore the CCP’s sense of fear. This dynamic is a familiar one for Taiwan. As the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) capabilities have grown, its inhibitions about conducting larger and more frequent coercive military demonstrations have shrunk. The PLA now more openly practices for the destruction of Taiwan’s democracy and the murder of its citizens. In the nuclear realm,
In an unprecedented move, a group of democratic nations led by the US, UK and EU in a joint statement on Tuesday accused the Chinese Ministry of State Security of having carried out a major cyberattack earlier this year and stealing data from at least 30,000 organizations worldwide, including governments, universities and firms in key industries. Western officials were reportedly perplexed by the attack’s brazen execution and unparalleled scale. In an article on the attack, BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera wrote: “Western spies are still struggling to understand why Chinese behavior has changed.” The attack raises the fear “that they [China]