JAPAN: New Leader Must Set Clear Course for Regional Power
By Wendy Wilson
WASHINGTON, Apr 23 — Japan's dominant political party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), will vote on Tuesday (Apr 24) to replace its lame duck leader Yoshiro Mori.
Not too long ago, the process was a fairly predictable event. But the popularity of an LDP self-described "maverick", Junichiro Koizumi, has the country — and the world — watching more intently.
Koizumi's motto, "Change LDP! Change Japan!" has had a startlingly rousing effect on the typically conservative Japanese public.
No matter who wins the election, if change is what the Japanese want, change is what they are bound to see within the country and outside.
Across the Sea of Japan, the prospects for reconciliation between the "two Koreas" are competing with the growth of Chinese prominence and prosperity for Japan's attention.
Moreover, the United States continues to create political waves (and ill will), with incidents ranging from individual criminal acts of military personnel on Okinawa and Guam to the collision of a US submarine with a Japanese fishing boat, as well as the recent mid-air crash of a US surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet.
It may well be time for Japan to re-plot its own course diplomatically, but what should that course be?
According to Dr. Takashi Inoguchi, professor of Political Science at the University of Tokyo, "The majority of Japanese believe that it's wise for Japan to keep its friendship with the U.S., but not at any cost."
Inoguchi, president of the Japan Association of International Relations and an author of several books on foreign policy, spoke at a forum on Japan's Asia policy sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF) in Washington, D.C. on Apr 19.
Citing US President George Bush's emphasis on the US alliance with Japan, Inoguchi voiced a continuing anxiety regarding the new American administration's "get tough" approach to China.
"The Japanese government has welcomed the Bush policy in many ways, but it is quite apprehensive of the tough tasks that might be required of it. Many (U.S.) actions in Asia tend to originate in Okinawa, Japan."
Okinawa is home to 75 per cent of the 63,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan. The inference is that Japan might be held "guilty by association" for any negative American activity in the region.
Certainly, Japan has enough of its own issues in the region with which to contend, says Daniel Bob, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a specialist on Asian and Pacific affairs, who spoke at the same SPF forum.
"Some of the historical animosities China and Korea hold toward Japan have not been resolved. Until some of these issues are addressed, the particulars of Japan's becoming closer to either country is fraught with difficulty."
Japan acknowledges these problems, but as a result, is grappling with mixed emotions as far as its foreign policy is concerned.
An American military presence in the region gives Japan a greater comfort level, allowing it to be more comfortable with such possible changes as a Korean federation. On the other hand, the Japanese are jealous of, and on some level, feel threatened by America's wooing of China.
Speaking at the SPF forum, Dr. Robert Manning, an American who is Director of Asian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested that Japanese checkbook diplomacy toward China awakened the sleeping economic giant.
"With (China's resulting) economic growth and military modernisation, it became obvious that whatever happens in China (will be) a problem for Japan," he said.
Toss in China's burgeoning nationalism, and it has the potential to become a problem for everybody. "Nationalism is very dangerous for the Communist Party," said Wu Jiaxiang, a former senior official imprisoned after the Tiananmen massacre and quoted in the Apr 22 issue of New York Times.
"Because after you've created it, it grows stronger and stronger on its own until it is difficult to control."
Japan's dilemma is how to maintain its traditional distance and be friendly to China, while remaining an ally of the United States, analysts say.
"The experience over the last century is that Japan does best when it is allied with a distinct maritime power," said Manning.
As for a unified Korea, once that happens, "the Chinese will not be very happy with (an American military presence) going all the way up to the Yalu and Tumen Rivers," he added.
"Korea doesn't want to choose between the US and China. Where does Japan fit in?" Manning provocatively put forward a worst case scenario: a nuclear unified Korea aligned with China, with increasing dependence of the Japanese on the US, leading to a nuclear arms race in Asia.
But for now, the Japanese are hoping for another scenario, one that involves democratic peace pervasive throughout Southeast Asia.
To attain that, the country will have to abandon its "deer-in-the-headlights" foreign policy paralysis. Whoever wins the LDP election and becomes Japan's next prime minister, he better be prepared to deal with change. Unpredictable. Uncomfortable. Unavoidable. (IPS/2001)