Japan's Daunting Challenge
By Daniel Sneider, Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Stanford)
Reviewed by John Sylvester
China’s rise has ironically strengthened Japan’s role in the balance of power. Since the implosion of the bubble in the 1990’s, and the recent string of short term prime ministers, Japan has been in the shadow of world affairs. It still remains, however the third economy of the world, and a critical ally for our country. The heightened quarrel with China over the rocky Senkaku islets poses new dangers.
Daniel Sneider asks what direction the once-again Prime Minister Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party will take their country. “Abe’s cabinet includes supporters of a return to old-style pork-barrel spending and export-led growth policies. But it also includes reformers who favor deregulation and open markets to force Japan to compete more efficiently in the global economy. In foreign policy, the cabinet encompasses pragmatic realists who want to expand Japan’s security role in close coordination with the United States as well as revisionist nationalists who hanker for a face-off with China and express provocatively unrepentant views about Japan’s wartime record.” Sneider comments that Abe has nor clarified where he stands on these issues.
Like all peoples, Japanese have well divided opinions. There is a camp of Asianists, some still favorable to the pre-1945 Japanese-led Greater East Asia concept, but others favor a milder policy of priority now on East Asian regionalism. Similarly, on security issues, while reliance on the alliance with the U.S. is still the dominant view, there is a disturbing resurgence of right-wing opinion that Imperial Japan was correct in its mission. They feel Japan should now confront and contain China, pressing ahead with a military build-up and abandoning Japan’s nuclear allergy.
“[M]any Japanese of all political stripes were never comfortable with a strategy of reflexive dependence on the United States.” There is a growing consensus that Japan should be a “normal” nation, with the weaponry and independence of action that implies.
Even so, Sneider believes Abe will once again exhibit the pragmatism he evidenced during his first time in office, since “[h]e can’t afford signs of distance between Tokyo and Washington over crisis management in the region.”