Japan can Isolate but not Detach Itself from Asia
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 9, 2013
Summary: Mainland China and South Korea are on the rise. Yet Japan continues to look down its nose at neighboring countries. It remains bent on distancing itself from Asia. The result will inevitably be self-isolation. Abe is driven by nationalism. He has worshipped at the Yasukuni Shrine. He has reinstituted Sovereign Anniversary Day. He is paving the way for future constitutional amendments. But these moves will only alienate Japan from its neighbors. They will not change the fact that Japan remains firmly located in Asia.
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Japanese Prime MInister Shinzo Abe said that when Japan amends its constitution, it need not explain itself to Mainland China and South Korea. Of course Japan need not explain itself to its Asian neighbors. After all, according to Abe, Japan ceased to be part of Asia long ago.
Since Abe took office, Japan has used nationalism to "break away from Asia." This has made its East Asian neighbors uneasy. Japan may be located in Asia. but it evinces very little Asian consciousness. Instead its consciousness betrays the narrow-minded superiority complex of an island nation.
As past experience shows, whenever Japan's political and economic strength waxes, it attempts to distance itself from Asia. Whenever its political and economic strength wanes, Japan returns to the Asian fold.
By 1885, Japan's Meiji Restoration was a success. Japanese strategic thinker Fukuzawa Yukichi published an article in the Jiji Shinpo ("Current Affairs News") entitled, "Leaving Asia and Joining Europe." Fukuzawa concluded it was not worth waiting for Japan's backward neighbors to undergo development and experience a resurgence. He concluded Japan would be better off abandoning the nations of Asia, and aligning itself with the practioners of Western imperialism. Fukuzawa's attitude reeked of military superiority. A century later, in 1986, Japan's bubble economy was at its peak. Right-wing Japanese pundit Keitaro Hasegawa published a book entitled, "Goodbye Asia," which depicted Japan's Asian neighbors as garbage dumps, and Japan as a gleaming high-rise building towering above this expanse of garbage. Hasegawa's attitude reeked of economic superiority.
Today however, the Japanese economy remains trapped in a "lost two decades." Its military remains bound by Japan's post-war "Peace Constitution." Both its economic superiority and military superiority have evaporated, simultaneously. So how precisely does Abe intend to extricate itself from Asia? The answer is nationalism. He is using nationalism to reclaim the Japanese Empire's past glory.
As Abe sees it, three pillars are essential for a resurgent Japan. The first pillar is Abe Economics. Abe must restore long-term economic growth. If he can, then the Abe regime's public support will remain strong. This will provide Abe with the popularity he needs. The second pillar is a hard-line policy on the Diaoyutai Islands territorial dispute. This means continued alarmism about a rising Mainland Chinese military threat. This will provide the Abe regime with the support that he needs from right-wing nationalists at home. This will provides Abe with the courage he needs. The third pillar is the support of the U.S. government. He must obtain the United States' one-sided support. He must obtain the support of Mainland China's neighbors. This will enable Abe to exert pressure on Mainland China. This will provide Abe with the resolve that he needs.
Right-wing nationalism has led Abe to three erroneous conclusions about Asia:
Abe's first error is to assume that a Japanese economic recovery does not require Asia. Abe Economics calls for currency devaluation and loose money. These policies may enable the Japanese economy to regain its strength, but only temporarily. They have also enabled Abe to delude himself, and to assume that Japan's economic recovery does not need Asia. In fact, employment and real wages in Japan have not improved. Mainland China remains Japan's largest trading partner. ASEAN is Japan's second largest trading partner. South Korea is Japan's second-largest export customer. Only by improving relations with neighboring countries, can Japan maintain long-term economic growth and prosperity.
Abe's second error is to conclude that by advocating nationalism, Japan can do without Asia. Nationalism is on the rise in Japan, stemming primarily from the expectations of right-wing groups who want to amend Japan's constitution. During a professional baseball awards ceremony, Abe donned a baseball uniform emblazoned with the number 96. Abe aggressively advocates amending Article 96 of Japan's constitution. He wants to reduce the threshold for a constitutional amendment. In Japan, there have been xenophobic outcries and public demonstrations calling for the murder of Koreans and other foreigners. In South Korea, over 80% of the Korean public dislike Japan. Japan's so-called "normalization of the nation" has touched off alarms in neighboring countries. Rising nationalism in Japan is undermining trust between Japan and its neighbos.
Abe's third and final error, is to assume that as long as Japan remains chummy with the US, it can distance itself from Asia. In order to confront Mainland China, Japan has strengthened its alliance with the US. It has appealed to nations that have territorial disputes with Mainland China. It refers to them as an "arc of freedom and prosperity." But these countries and Japan are merely fair weather friends. They have no desire to go head to head with Mainland China. United States support for Japan is conditional, It calls for a powerful Japan to confront Mainland China. It does not call for a Jingoistic Japan to destroy the balance of power in Asia.
As we can see, Mainland China and South Korea are on the rise. Yet Japan continues to look down its nose at neighboring countries. It remains bent on distancing itself from Asia. The result will inevitably be self-isolation. Abe is driven by nationalism. He has worshipped at the Yasukuni Shrine. He has reinstituted Sovereign Anniversary Day. He is paving the way for future constitutional amendments. But these moves will only alienate Japan from its neighbors. They will not change the fact that Japan remains firmly located in Asia.
Short-sighted politicians often bring disaster upon their country. Asia can tolerate an isolated Japan. But Japan cannot divorce itself from Asia.
2013.05.09 03:58 am