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Setting Sun? Japan Anxiously Looks Ahead

thomas

Unswerving cyclist
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One of these days the NYT guys will sue me for copyright infringement...
:eek:

Setting Sun? Japan Anxiously Looks Ahead

By Howard W. French

Year in and year out since Japan's financial bubble burst in 1990, American presidents have needled and cajoled the country's leaders to fix their economy and restore Japan to its rightful place in the world.

Gradually, though, as this country has continued its drift, a more skeptical view has begun to gain ground: Japan is returning to its rightful place in the world, that of a middling country of vastly diminished and still declining importance in world affairs.

From the ashes of World War II, Japan enjoyed one of the fastest economic rises ever seen. Its successes made it widely envied by developing nations everywhere, as an example of how much a democratic, capitalistic country could achieve in a short period of time. Now, if its decline continues, it could have profound implications for American diplomatic and military policy in Asia.

Twelve years after its stock market collapsed, along with its dreams of superpower status, Japan is still frozen in denial about a dysfunctional political system built on institutionalized cronyism. By contrast, the United States is already seeing strong stirrings of reform just weeks into a crisis over business ethics.

Not everyone is ready to turn out the lights on Japan. The Hudson Institute, for example, has just published a book titled "The Re-Emergence of Japan as a Super State." In a recent opinion column in The Wall Street Journal, the institute's president, Herbert London, cited Japan's "100 percent literacy rate, stable leadership, products valued in world markets, mastery of Western management techniques and a belief in purposeful communal action," and concluded "it is not hard to be confident in Japan's future."

But recent signals from Washington suggest much greater skepticism, as diplomats say the Bush administration has increasing doubts that Japan will ever again become a global mover and shaker.

It is not just that Japan is not what it used to be. Some analysts say even its decline matters far less than it might once have, because it failed, when times were still good, to convert some of the immense wealth it had accumulated into more lasting power and influence.

"Looked at objectively, Japan is a rather insignificant power in terms of its contributions to the rest of the world," said Ronald A. Morse, a professor of Japanese studies at the University of California at Los Angeles who is also an executive with a telecommunications firm here. "If the country keeps receding, or even disappeared, there is hardly anything that would have a major negative impact abroad. The reason this sounds shocking is because everybody still remembers the Godzilla image of a Japan not so long ago that was going to swallow up America."

For other observers, however, Japan's long slide has huge implications for the future of Asia and beyond. Japan is a model for few in Asia these days, and with the country's diplomacy in disarray, those who take their cues from Tokyo are a fast dwindling number, leaving a vacuum that may be filled by less closely allied friends of the United States, or by outright rivals.

Indeed, from Central Asia to the Korean peninsula, many analysts believe the coming decades are shaping up to be a competition for diplomatic and economic sway between Russia and China. And if Moscow and Washington draw closer, that would only accelerate Japan's declining influence in Asia, and make Japan less able to serve as a counterweight to China.

IF the Japanese really lost hope, they might start thinking more about acquiescing in Chinese power," said Robyn Lim, an expert in international relations at Nanzan University in Nagoya, "so Japan's return to some semblance of economic health is a vital interest of the U.S. for both security and economic reasons.

"How to influence Japanese policy is the big problem, since the leadership is now completely paralyzed."

Japan's stalemate is especially striking when compared to the energetic diplomacy of Russia, another diminished Asian power, and one with virtually no economic hand to play. Still, by virtue of its nuclear prowess and proximity to central Asia, the Caucasus and eastern Europe, Russia has gone in the blink of an eye from nuclear enemy of the United States to strategic partner, even contemplating cooperation on missile shield development. Over that same stretch, Japan, which was disarmed by the United States in 1945 and remains pacifist, has never overcome its ambivalence about American missile shields, despite its longstanding alliance with Washington.

The rise of China presents Japan with its greatest challenge since the Second World War, but has left Tokyo seeming both intimidated and confused, shifting nervously between appeasement with generous development assistance, and provocations. These include visits by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to a controversial shrine, Japan's imperial army veterans and trade spats.

Japan's discomfort reflects what experts say are the painful choices that loom as its population shrinks and ages dramatically.

Some Japanese may be tempted to rearm and go it alone behind a leader like Tokyo's popular governor Shintaro Ishihara. Mr. Ishihara is a sort of East Asian Jean-Marie Le Pen, who demonizes ethnic minorities and taunts China as well as the West, as in his famous 1989 book, "The Japan That Can Say No." But with low economic growth its best-case outcome, realism will oblige Japan to cling ever more tightly to the United States for its security.

Japan's recent failure of dynamism is of a piece with a pattern seen at least since 1868, when the Meiji Restoration threw off feudalism and two centuries of isolationism to meet the challenge from the West. The country has veered between catastrophes, marshaling its energies fantastically well toward recovery, as after World War II, and then blindly holding on until the next crash.

What's changed is that the world moves far faster now, and squandered moments, even Japan's lost decade, may be irretrievable. The country's moment of truth may have been in the Persian Gulf war in 1991, when, as Yoichi Funabashi, the international affairs commentator of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, wrote, "Japan found itself merely an automatic teller machine, one that needed a kick before dispensing the cash."

AS inadequate as mere checkbook diplomacy is, the Japan that is being written off today is increasingly unable even to play that game the way it once did because of its huge debt and pension woes. But even when Japan had wealth to spare, it was unable to overcome the deep historic wounds left over from its imperial conquests of the 1930's, or to systematically strengthen its political and economic ties with Asian neighbors.

"If you look beyond the United States, the countries that have been able to play a significant role in the world of ideas are all rather second-rate European countries: the British, the French, even the Swedish," said Sheldon M. Garon, a historian of Japan at Princeton University. "Japan has contributed very little to the discussion. They don't really have the vision to become world citizens, and have done a really horrible job of promoting alternatives to American dominance."

Perhaps the most essential element in Japan's relative decline is its insularity. Although familiar, this feature of the country reflects a great irony. With its mastery of the production and marketing of consumer electronics, Japan was an early mover in globalization. And yet here again it has failed to adjust, placing alongside isolated North Korea in international rankings of English-speaking ability. Meanwhile, even Japan's coming population crunch has failed to open the country to immigrants.

As the country's bureaucrats cook up one costly high tech plan after another in hopes of putting Japan back into the driver's seat, few here seem to have realized that money alone doesn't build Silicon Valleys. No, that is a task for open societies that draw on the world's best brains.

"I see only two things Japan can do, and they are inseparable: opening up the country and its institutions," said Jean-Pierre Lehmann, a longtime Japan specialist at I.M.D., a graduate management school in Lausanne, Switzerland. "But I don't see this happening, because Japan just doesn't want foreigners. Meanwhile, you can't rebel in Japan, so the most talented young people are leaving the country or are simply resigned."


Copyright © New York Times
 
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"I see only two things Japan can do, and they are inseparable: opening up the country and its institutions," said Jean-Pierre Lehmann, a longtime Japan specialist at I.M.D., a graduate management school in Lausanne, Switzerland. "But I don't see this happening, because Japan just doesn't want foreigners. Meanwhile, you can't rebel in Japan, so the most talented young people are leaving the country or are simply resigned."
I've had my share of run ins with local business organizations. Too many got their heads stuck in their desks doing redundant paperwork than trying to put together something useful.

Everything is so limited.:eek:

I mentioned to Sapporo that they could build a silicon valley here.
They young guy nodded his head. I should say his head was stuck up his arse.

I was talking with the [sho-go-kaigi-sho] "chamber of commerce" (for a lack of good translation) of a neighboring city. They've got all kinds of buildings empty and downtown is virtually a ghost town. I complained and said they should put even bound-to-fail businesses in. They smiled and said sure. Nobody is willing to do more than push a pencil and chuckle over gaijin suggestions.

gaijin don't understand japan :eek:
gaijin are just visitors :eek:

So, how can we be considered seriously?

I like Sapporo and want to give back to this city that has given me so much.
but, nobody takes me seriously :box:
 

Mike Cash

骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう
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I am struck by the humor of using all those cutesy smilies and then bemoaning not being taken seriously.
 

PaulTB

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mikecash said:
I am struck by the humor of using all those cutesy smilies and then bemoaning not being taken seriously.
I don't suppose that he takes the same approach to body language when talking to the local officials ... ?
 

ashuri2

me gots isshooz...
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mikecash said:
I am struck by the humor of using all those cutesy smilies and then bemoaning not being taken seriously.
mikecash, you're one of the few people on this forum who i think the title you chose to go under your username describes you exactly. :blush: :eek:
 
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thomas said:
One of these days the NYT guys will sue me for copyright infringement...

...It is not just that Japan is not what it used to be. Some analysts say even its decline matters far less than it might once have, because it failed, when times were still good, to convert some of the immense wealth it had accumulated into more lasting power and influence...

...Japan's stalemate is especially striking when compared to the energetic diplomacy of Russia, another diminished Asian power, and one with virtually no economic hand to play. Still, by virtue of its nuclear prowess and proximity to central Asia, the Caucasus and eastern Europe, Russia has gone in the blink of an eye from nuclear enemy of the United States to strategic partner, even contemplating cooperation on missile shield development. Over that same stretch, Japan, which was disarmed by the United States in 1945 and remains pacifist, has never overcome its ambivalence about American missile shields, despite its longstanding alliance with Washington.
Americans are nuts. Why would anyone necessarily want to convert their immense wealth into power and influence, when they can have a comfortable life instead? Is that what Bush is doing right now, as he pours billions down the drain in Iraq -- converting wealth into power?

And now Japan is being unfavourably compared with Russia -- a chaotic country overrun by violent gangsters and corrupt plutocrats, because Russian leaders push their weight around on the international stage and support American militarism*? The person who wrote this article is plumb crazy.

*Of course Russia didn't support the current Iraq war, while Japan bankrolled the previous one. Gratitude, eh?
 

Mike Cash

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ashuri2 said:
mikecash, you're one of the few people on this forum who i think the title you chose to go under your username describes you exactly. :blush: :eek:
Thank you. I wanted people to know right up front what they're dealing with.
 
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