AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Normalization

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 14, 2012

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Foreigners are making a big commotion about how Japan is moving to the right, but that’s all those people have been saying for the past 60 years. We’re not on some clock, and even if we are moving rightward, militarism is not going to return. So, just how far to the right is Japan moving then?

- The Tweeter known as Aceface

JAPAN will go to the polls on Sunday to select 480 members of the lower house of the Diet, and, as a consequence, a new government. This will be an important election for several reasons. One is that it will be the first election after the Democratic Party of Japan betrayed the public’s trust in the same way the Liberal-Democratic Party did post-Koizumi, while demonstrating unspeakable incompetence in the bargain. Thus, the politicians are facing an electorate who does not want to get fooled again.

Another is that it will be the expression of the political will of a younger generation of Japanese for whom debate of events several decades ago in a world long dead and gone has no meaning. Why should they? Their parents were born after the war. It is as of little interest to them as America’s victory in that war is for the Millennials in the United States, many of whom don’t know the difference between Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.

Regardless of who wins — and it looks now as if a negotiated coalition could result — there will be more people in the Diet representing ideas that make some people outside the country uncomfortable. There is growing interest in amending the Japanese Constitution to remove the indignity of Article 9, the peace clause. Everyone has the right to defend themselves, including the Japanese. Americans once thought, and many still do, that self-defense is a natural and inalienable right. Events over the years have shown the Japanese are no more likely to become involved in malevolent adventures abroad than any other country. Events in recent years have shown they are a lot less likely to become involved in those adventures than some of their neighbors.

Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru isn’t running for the Diet, but he —- and Chinese behavior — has made constitutional reform a legitimate issue for public discussion. Some detractors label him a dictator and use the word Hashism as a code word for his movement. That reaction to what he represents shares much in common with those in America who tar with the racist brush those who criticize Barack Obama for spending too much time on the golf course or employing the poison ball brand of Chicago politics he was schooled in.

Dictatorial? Mr. Hashimoto wants a national referendum on the question. What could be more democratic?

The Osaka mayor also said:

We must create the defensive capabilities and policies for Japan to defend its sovereignty and land by itself.

He and many like him would draw the line with China which needs to be drawn and continue cooperation with the United States. He’s written:

China has become a great power with responsibility, so it also has to behave responsibly. Demonstrations are one thing, but they have to stop the violence. It would also be a good idea to end the childish threats to cut off all relations whenever disputes occur. The international community jeers at them behind their back….

…Japan should be proud of the path it has taken in the postwar period. It should be proud of the more than JPY 3 trillion in ODA they’ve given to China. It should say what needs to be said to China. But we should also be aware that it won’t be so easy to wash away our past behavior.

As for other territorial disputes:

We cannot change South Korea’s effective control of Takeshima with military force.

He therefore proposed joint management of the islets while taking the case to the International Court of Justice. (Prime Minister Noda’s government is backing off their threat to do so. They’re waiting to see who wins the South Korean presidential election and thought sub-ministerial discussions with the Koreans have gone well lately. All of that is pointless considering the hard-wired Korean intransigence.)

He’s also in favor of downsizing government, rethinking the government’s social welfare responsibilities, decentralizing government authority, and controlling the out-of-control public sector unions.

Another result of the election is that Abe Shinzo, who also wants to amend the Constitution, and who passed the legislation enabling national referendums during his term as prime minister, might be serving a second term.

That the Chinese, the South Koreans, and some in the United States throw up their hands as if they were maidens threatened with violation and exclaim “extreme right wing!” or “nationalism!” says more about them than it does about the Japanese. Ending the renunciation of warfare and enforced pacifism is not right-wing, nationalistic, hawkish, or abnormal. The abnormality lies with those who object because they might lose their favorite diplomatic weapon. Are Japanese born with some geopolitical original sin that afflicts no one else?

The real complaint is that Japan is moving to end the postwar regime. That would inconvenience too many people not only in China and South Korea, but also the United States. Who knows? If they keep going down this road, Japan might actually start to tell the Americans no. Can’t have that, can we?

William Choong in the Straits Times of Singapore understands. He discusses both Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Abe in this article, and says:

(I)t is important to see things in perspective. Japan’s rightward shift does not mean that it will go all the way right and revert to its odious World War II-era aggression. Instead, Japan is moving right to the centre.

In the long run, Japan will become a “normal” country – it will retain the right to wage war, assemble a standing army (as opposed to self-defence forces), and contribute substantially to the provision of regional and global security.

(Forgive him the “all the way to the right” line. Pre-war Japan had fascist political tendencies, and those are always statist — and therefore of the left.)

Mr. Choong also quotes University of Macau Prof. Wang Jianwei on China’s proper response:

Japan should sign a formal statement of apology for its wartime crimes, ban visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by its prime ministers, relinquish its bid to control the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and resolve the dispute through negotiation.

If Japan were to agree to such conditions, China could, writes Prof Wang, recognize Japan’s “normal” country status and even support Tokyo’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Why the Chinese need another apology from the Japanese government after having received more than 20 already, JPY 3 trillion in ODA as de facto reparations, and signed a treaty normalizing relations that pledged to let bygones be bygones is not explained. In any event, China would be no more likely to keep its promise about supporting a Security Council seat than the South Koreans have kept their promises in bilateral negotiations over the years.

In a larger sense that few people outside the country can understand, Sunday’s election is not about government. Japan has all the government it needs, and like everyone else, needs a lot less of what it has.

Rather, the vote on Sunday will be another step in Japan’s reclamation of its nationhood. When that reclamation is complete, then it will be normal again.

*****
It’s been a long and winding road.

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One Response to “Normalization”

  1. I know its nitpicking but isn’t the fact that Hashimoto supports smaller government and less welfare make him a right-winger? I mean it might not make him a nationalist but someone wtih right-wing beliefs yes. Also your point on statism is correct but Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy were also Statist entitites but no one would deny that they were in the extreme right of the spectrum. Same as WW2 Japan. Also what is wrong with Article 9? Japan already possess awesome firepower with the SDF. Is it really main issue as you sugget with the whole “reeclaiming nationhood?” Surely the economy is off greater importance? Also why deny that Abe, Ishihara, and possbily Hashimoto are nationalist. Nationalists love using pharses like “restoring the country” etc something which Ishihara and co have been using for sometime now. Is it a dirty word to you? I personally find nothing wrong with the moderate nationalism they espouse as it doesnt invovle subjugating others. In fact a more “nationalist” Japan is needed to counter-balance China.

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