Which way will Japan Swing?

12.16.12

Which way will Japan Swing?

12.16.12
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“I have experienced failure as a politician and for that very reason, I am ready to give everything for Japan.” – Shinzo Abe

The Meiji Period in Japan is known for having transformed the country’s social structure from feudalism to one based on market capitalism. Meiji the Great had realized that if Japan were to survive colonization, industrialization would be key. Japan would either have to reform or perish. Young Japanese students were sent to European nations to learn the tricks of their trade and what resulted was state investment in education and the transfer of science & technology to Nippon. Wealth and power soon followed and from a marginal presence in Asia, Japan rose to become the dominant non-European power on the continent. Japanese nationalism in this period served as an essential tool to beat back European powers.

Japan’s electorate has voted and it is suggested that the Liberal Democratic Party is coming back to power (after having left office only three years ago). The Liberal Democratic Party has ruled Japan for the majority of the country’s post-war history. Smacking of conservatism, the comeback of this centre-right political outfit may not be altogether unrelated to the steady rise of nationalism among the youth of the country. Earlier this year, the former Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, caused protests in neighboring China when he offered to buy the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu in China) Islands in the East China Sea–was he Emperor Meiji reincarnated? Well, not quite but he has since resigned and regenerated the old Sunrise Party.

Shinzo Abe, former prime minister of Japan and current president of the Liberal Democratic Party, has plans of revising certain provisions of the Japanese Constitution, most specifically Article 9 which was imposed on the country by the Americans in 1947. This specific article forbids Japan from ever making war again. China’s rather aggressive posturing and certain legal limitations, such as Article 9, placed on Japan by way of historical circumstances have caused disillusionment among people in the country. A feeble Japan is not what they want at the moment. The economy has shown no signs of recovery and the standard conservative call for increased protectionism is resonating among citizens.

Yoshihiko Noda, the current prime minister from the Democratic Party of Japan, is hoping to hold onto power amidst all the criticism that has come his way. The government’s decision to restart nuclear power plants after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster of March 2011 has also not gone down well with the Japanese. The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, have played it safe by choosing to remain ambiguous on the nuclear front.

Will a more assertive Japan be in our interests? It could, of course, act as somewhat of a check on China’s influence in Southeast Asia. The Americans might welcome that although in these times of economic crises, a distracted China may not be the best thing. The United States which occupied Japan for a few years after the Second World War has, in theory at least, continued to shield the country through the extended deterrence theory–Japan is not allowed to acquire nuclear weapons of its own but if it is ever under a nuclear threat, the American nuclear umbrella shall come to the country’s rescue. The over-reliance on the United States for security is not very popular today. The Japan-United States alliance in the general sense will, however, remain unaffected and is even expected to grow stronger should the conservatives form a government in the Diet.

The New Komeito Party, Shinzo Abe’s ally, although professing the same centre-right ideology, is more restrained in calling for changes to the post-war constitution. If the Liberal Democratic Party does come to power, the New Komeito Party could act as a wise check on their populist tendencies. Either way, the Uyoku dantai (right-wing extremists) on the streets will be watching.

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