oct 16th, 2006
i am eagerly awaiting his new book on asia's juggernauts.
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Christian Science Monitor, October 16, 2006
Japan flexes its foreign-policy muscle
By Brahma Chellaney
Even before North Korea jolted the world with its nuclear test last
week, it was clear that the Sept. 26 election of Shinzo Abe as
postwar-Japan's youngest prime minister meant more than a change at
the helm. Mr. Abe's ascension not only symbolizes the generational
change in Japanese politics, but also the rise of an assertive Japan
eager to shape the evolving balance of power in Asia.
Faced immediately with the crisis triggered by Pyongyang's provocative
action, Abe is bound to accelerate the nationalist shift in policy
instituted by his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi.
Such is the international hype about China's growth that it is
frequently forgotten that Japan remains the world's largest economic
powerhouse after the United States, with an economy that is today more
than double the size of China's, with only a tenth of the population.
As Asia's first modern economic success story, Japan has always
inspired other Asian states. Now, with the emergence of new economic
tigers and the ascent of China and India, Asia collectively is
bouncing back from nearly two centuries of historical decline.
The most far-reaching but least-noticed development in Asia in the new
century has been Japan's political resurgence. With its pride and
assertiveness rising, the nationalist impulse has become conspicuous.
Tokyo is intent on influencing Asia's power balance so as to forestall
China's ambition to be the dominant power.
A series of subtle moves has already signaled Japan's aim to break out
of its postwar pacifist cocoon. Abe, the son of a former foreign
minister and grandson of a postwar prime minister who had earlier been
imprisoned by the Americans as a Class-A war criminal, plans to revise
Japan's US-imposed Constitution within five years, eliminating the
military proscription enshrined in Article IX.
In the past decade, Japan, the "Land of the Rising Sun," began feeling
threatened by the lengthening shadow of China's economic
modernization. As if to make this threat look real, China's bellicose
anti-Japanese rhetoric shook Tokyo out of its complacency and
diffidence, setting in motion Japan's political rise. Now the North
Korean nuclear test provides further justification for Japan to end
six decades of pacifism.
Tokyo may not share Beijing's obsession with measures of national
power, but Japan's military establishment, except in the nuclear
sphere, is already the most sophisticated in Asia.
Leading edge, not a breeding edge
Economic recovery is a major reason for Japan's rising confidence.
Leading-edge technologies and a commitment to craftsmanship will power
its future prosperity, just as they did its past growth.
Last spring, Tokyo unveiled a plan to invest 25 trillion yen ($209
billion) in science and technology in the next five years.
This competitive edge, however, is threatened by the economic and
social implications of a declining birthrate and aging population.
With a fertility rate of just 1.29 babies per woman - America's is 2.1
- Japanese deaths surpassed births for the first time ever last year.
One response to this trend is to open its universities and technology
centers to foreign researchers. This is no easy task for any of the
homogenized societies of East Asia. But just as Japan has come to live
with the discomforting fact that today's top sumo wrestlers are not
Japanese, it will have to open its research institutions to foreigners
in order to raise productivity through innovation.
Abe will surely build on Mr. Koizumi's efforts to make Japan's foreign
policy more muscular. He has derisively compared Japan's past
diplomacy to performing "sumo to please foreign countries on a ring
they made, abiding by their rules...."
Asian security will be greatly shaped by the relations among the
region's three main powers - Japan, China, and India - and their ties
to the United States. Booming trade won't guarantee better political
ties among these players.
Relations with China are crucial
Consider China. It is Japan's largest trade partner, but that has not
prevented Beijing from aggressively playing the history card against
Tokyo. China is India's fastest-growing trade partner, but that has
not halted its actions against Indian interests.
To maintain the peaceful environment that promotes security and
economic growth, Japan and China, and India and China, must build
stable political ties.
Sour relations with Beijing would increase Tokyo's or New Delhi's need
for strategic help from the US. For China, rising tensions with Japan
or India would undercut its Asian and international appeal, limiting
its geopolitical ambitions.
The emerging Japan is determined to take its rightful place in the
world by using its economic clout to raise its political profile. It
will stand up to a China that is keen to supplant America as the main
player in Asia. With the elevation of Abe, born after the end of US
occupation, Japan is now coming out of the postwar era.
• Brahma Chellaney, the author of "Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of
China, India and Japan," is a professor at the Center for Policy
Research in New Delhi.