National maturity in Northeast Asia
Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 26, 2009
JOBU UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR Ikeda Nobuo has a blog in Japanese that I regularly read. The recent suicide of former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun prompted him to write a post titled The Country Incapable of Maturity and the Country That Is Too Mature.
One of my objectives for this website is to present information and viewpoints to a wider audience that are originally in Japanese and otherwise unavailable in English. For that reason, I’ve taken it upon myself to quickly translate and offer that post here in English. Prof. Ikeda is capable of doing this in English himself, but as far as I know, he hasn’t. The original Japanese language post is here, so if anyone wants to offer alternatives to this English, feel free to do so.
* It is not unusual for South Korean presidents to be prosecuted after they leave office, but this is the first time one has committed suicide. I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead, but this incident strengthens my feeling that South Korea is incapable of maturity.
* Japan and South Korea are like twin states in a controlled experiment. Despite having nearly identical genetic characteristics, they are opposites in their national traits. Japanese don’t show their emotions on the surface, nor are they self-assertive. South Koreans have abrupt emotional swings, however, and they unremittingly attack their enemies. Beginning with the Meiji period (in 1868), Japan was one of the few countries outside the West that modernized on its own. But the Yi Dynasty in Joseon was invaded by neighboring countries and eventually became a Japanese colony.
* That is ascribed to the fact that its governing mechanism, which should be termed Confucian Fundamentalism, lasted for more than 500 years. Confucianism envisions a class order that places the emperor and the bureaucracy at the top. China is too large to be capable of such a strictly defined class mechanism. In contrast, the Yi Dynasty was based on the extreme centralization of authority. The privileged class known as the yangban controlled politics and the economy. The factional feuds among the yangban meant that state revenue at the end of the Yi Dynasty totaled about seven million yen (1/40th that of Japan). There were few schools or roads. The population declined 7% in 100 years. It resembled the North Korea of today.
* That can be explained from the perspective of “ecological history” (the study of history based on geographical and climatic factors). Japan and Western Europe are on opposite sides of an arid Asian land mass, and neither was threatened by conquest from nomadic peoples. Therefore, the transitional changes of their civilizations were uninterrupted and unconstrained. This led to the development of farming villages, cities, and other communities. That development allowed decentralized governance by intermediate groups, which in turn enabled democracy and the market economy to become established. In contrast, Joseon was under direct Chinese domination, so it was always exposed to that threat and unable to mature as a state. The tragic North-South divide occurred after the war, and rule by military leaders ended after 1992.
* Roh Moo-hyun symbolized this immaturity. He was a creation of e-politics, but his political methods were old-school left wing populism. When his policy of settling the issues of the past (military rule) reached a dead end, he turned to demagoguery, made Japan an imaginary enemy, and rehashed such issues as the comfort women. He, like the military rulers, politically exploited anti-foreign chauvinism. He, like the military rulers, ran a crooked political operation behind the scenes. In the end, the Internet is just a tool. Bringing immature politics into the information age and putting it online does not change the content.
* Meanwhile, the postwar regime in Japan matured in the 1980s, and there has been nothing left to do for more than 20 years. The intermediate groups here have too much autonomy, so politicians can only harmonize competing interests. The Japanese political system continues on life support despite having long outlived its usefulness. That is in contrast to South Korea, where both political and economic conditions are in a constant state of flux. The Japanese system easily allows the false negative of suppressing required reforms to arise, but the South Korean system easily allows the false positive of excessive inconstancy and undependability to arise. I wonder—is there not a golden mean?
In the comments to his post, Prof. Ikeda also cites approvingly this blog post (somewhat long) at the Bronte Capital site called A Tale of Two Banking Crises: Japan and Korea, by John Hempton. Here’s how Mr. Hempton describes the content:
What I want to do here is give a stylised version of Japanese and Korean economic history and how it pertains to the banking crisis both countries had.
I think it is also worth taking the time to read.