There’s a host of news stories out of Japan that indicate the country is continuing normalization at a decent clip. As I’ve mentioned in many posts, I believe whether Japan becomes a normal country is the most important factor in determining how the first half of the 21st Century plays out. Due to their influence on India, they will also play a key role in encouraging that nation to join the US and Japan in keeping the second half of the 21st Century as peaceful and prosperous as possible.
The most important story is the upgrading of the Defense Agency to a full-fledged ministry. This editorial by the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri goes over the advantages this brings. The Defense Minister will now be able to directly call meetings and propose bills, instead of having to go through the Cabinet Office to do so. As the head of a ministry he will also have greater stature and be able to more effectively present the national security side of debates to the government. The upgrade will also see new sections added to the military such as a strategic planning section and a section to handle US-Japan military cooperation. This ends phase 1 of the necessary military expansion by Japan. Phase 2 and 3 will need to end the proscription of offensive military weapons and the 1% of GDP defense spending cap. Japan is simply too powerful of a country to not be helping us keep the secure global environment their economy heavily depends on secure.
The next important story is tied to the first. When the Japanese Diet past the bill to create the Defense Ministry, it also passed a bill that will have Japanese schools teach patriotism again. This will, over time, help to instill a level of confidence and willpower in the Japanese people that being an active global power requires. This is very important militarily as the amount of support from home has a major role in the effectiveness of the operation and diplomatically as an assertive willful nation needs to have a public that will stand by the government’s decisions. As more and more of our old allies, and perhaps even America herself, lose their national confidence and thereby their capability to do anything (only really Australia is left these days), this bill in Japan will become ever more important.
There are a group of stories that indicate Japan is becoming more active and assertive diplomatically and strategically. Since there are so many of them I’ll just list them in no particular order:
1) The ruling Liberal Democrat Party has made supporting visits to the Yasukuni Was Shrine part of its party platform. This is a signal to the East Asian countries, primarily China and South Korea, that Japan will not allow them to humiliate her over World War II and the Japanese Empire anymore. Japan will honor her war dead as she sees fit and if China or others have a problem with it then that’s their problem.
2) According to the China Daily (not sure how reputable they are) Japan will pass a law soon that opens an undersea gas field to Japanese development. The gas field is also claimed by China. Japan and China have been arguing over this gas field for some time. If the Japanese do pass the law and develop the gas field it would be another sign that Japan isn’t going to be pushed around anymore.
3) The government of Japan is doing more diplomatically than just reacting. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is currently on a diplomatic tour of Europe. He is in Europe to expand Japanese ties with the EU and NATO. The overall importance of the EU as a positive factor may be nil but its negative impact can be large as was seen a few years back French President Chirac and German Chancellor Schroeder attempted to end the arms ban imposed on China after Tiananmen Square in 1989. This would have allowed China access to some of the latest military technology and would have been very problematic for Japan. It’s important for Japan to have a voice at the EU if only to persuade the EU not to do anything bad. Having contacts with NATO has more obvious positive results for Japan. Abe will be the first Japanese Prime Minister to address the North Atlantic Council.
4) Japan is no longer handing out foreign aid based primarily on World War II. It is being re-oriented to line up with strategic interests instead. Prior foreign aid was predominately given to countries like China, South Korea, the Philippines, etc. who were occupied by Japan at one time or another. Now it will be focused on shoring up the Middle East and competing with Chinese foreign aid.
5) According to news reports a few days ago, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun proposed renaming the Sea of Japan to, ahem, “the Sea of Peace”. The Japanese government publicly rejected renaming the Sea of Japan. Later news stories have the South Korean President claiming to have informally offered several names like “Sea of Friendship” as a confidence building measure between Japan and South Korea. Either way, this is another sign that Japan will not be pushed around. I’d say China has two seas, Korea should ask to name one of those (yeah I know that won’t go anywhere).
6) Almost a month old, but Japan and India are developing a strategic partnership. The two countries have pledged to work together to maintain regional peace and security. This would include economic, military, and diplomatic cooperation. This is critical for us and the world since the ruling Congress Party in India was born and bred with anti-Americanism during the Cold War it makes it somewhat more difficult for us to make headway with India. When the Hindu nationalist BJP, which is much more pro-American, is in office we can work more closely with India. However, Japanese contact allows for continual alliance building with India even when the Congress Party is in power.
7) Japan continues to direct a large amount of her savings and investment to the US with the latest example being a plan to finance nuclear power plant construction in the US. Probably the most critical relationship in the global economy is between aging wealthy Japan and young growing America. As the only developed nation with a growing population and quickly growing economy, America needs large amounts of capital for investment. The Japanese need somewhere to put their massive pile of savings that will both earn a good return and be safe. This deal shows that this economic relationship will continue. We need large amounts of new power generation, Japan needs the profits they will generate, and we both need the close relationship it will develop.
A strong confident country with active diplomacy and a powerful military requires a strong economy to back it up (fukoku kyôhei for any Japanese readers out there). Japan has been a little weak in economic growth from 1990 to 2002 or so. The last few years have seen the Japanese economy grow around 2% a year. That sounds low but is pretty good for a country with a slowly shrinking workforce. The government expects the growth to continue into 2007. Renewed economic growth is important since it is the basis of all the things above. It helps the Japanese people feel proud and confident about their nation. It allows for active “Yen diplomacy” and makes access to the Japanese market more of an incentive. A powerful military needs a government with the tax revenue to properly fund it.
These news stories are mostly no more than 3 days old. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been setting a fairly hectic pace in his efforts to normalize Japan. So far he has been successful. He has some major challenges ahead such as adjusting the Japanese Constitution to reflect the reality of the world today. Hopefully for Japan, for the US, and for the world he will continue being as successful as he has.