Japan Desperately Needs A New National 'Vision'–But Not Abe's

I have previously cited the exceptionally thoughtful and insightful work of Seguchi Kiyoyuki, research director specializing in the Chinese economy and Japan-U.S.-China relations at the Canon Canon Institute for Global Studies (CIGS) in Tokyo. This week CIGS posted a brilliant and profoundly meaningful Seguchi essay (in Japanese) that warrants wide attention.

The essay’s title is “‘Red Ships’–A China-Forced Second Opening of the Country–The Importance of Throwing Off Dependency on America and Reconstructing a National Goal.”  

I agree with everything Seguchi says, and guess that I know what he left unsaid: That the national vision Japan should be perfecting a state and society dedicated to the principle of peace, abrogating the U.S.-Japan defense alliance, pursuing geopolitical neutrality between the contending U.S. and Chinese superpowers, and practicing and promoting pacifism, denuclearization, and humanitarianism in international affairs. 

Seguchi’s essay begins by describing the “First Opening” of Japan–a reversal of more than 250 years of “national isolation”–following the 1853 arrival of U.S. Commodore Perry’s “Black Ships.” Only 15 years later the Meiji government took power and the entire social, political, and economic  system of Japan began a transformation that changed Japan and Asia forever.

The Meiji government, Seguchi emphasizes, produced a clear ‘vision’ for the country, a vision that was embraced by the entire nation, and pursued this vision single-mindedly. That vision was to ‘catch up’ with the West in all ways, including in military and economic power. The primary means to this end was raising the level and quality of education, and modernizing political, economic, and social systems.

Seguchi senses that–through WWII defeat and recovery–Japan essentially held to the Meiji ‘vision’  until, in the 1980s, it finally did ‘catch up’ with the West. Having thus succeeded in a century-long quest, however, Japan’s leaders–and Japanese society as a whole–have since been bereft of any new ‘vision’ to impel, lead, and inspire the country forward.

Japan suffered from the collapse of the “bubble economy” in the 1990s and 2000s. But its more fundamental problem has been the lack of new national goals and a sense of direction. 

Why did this happen?  Normally national goals are formulated by political leaders while government bureaucrats formulate strategies and programs to achieve the goals. Private corporations play a crucial role in the economic realm.  

Seguchi observes that, entering the 1980s, when the need for setting new national goals arose, Japanese politicians, having not needed to set such goals for over 100 years, found themselves incapable of doing so. 

Under an unchanging set of national goals, Japanese politicians had relied upon elite government bureaucrats to formulate and implement policies and programs which–inevitably–kept politicians thinking and acting in terms of precedent and continuity, that is, resisting any fundamental change.

What should be the goals of Japan now?  Seguchi answers that Japan, clearly being an advanced nation, should join with the world’s other advanced nations to construct a peaceful global order and contribute to global economic development. Japan should seek to perform an autonomous,   distinctly Japanese, role, not a supporting role for others.

Here is the problem. First Japan needs to conceive a vision of the kind of world order it desires, a distinctly Japanese concept for world order, and for this Japan must have a vision for Japan itself.

History and Japanese psychology made this difficult. Since its recovery from WWII, Japan has depended economically and for national defense upon the United States. And while this dependency succeeded in delivering an economic “miracle,” it undermined and weakened Japan’s autonomy.  

The majority of Japanese politicians–whose duty was to formulate an autonomous vision for the world and Japan–abandoned any effort to do so; rather they continued to embrace a one-sided dependency on the U.S. in foreign and security policies, while adopting insular economic policies out-of-step with the competitive global marketplace.

When Japanese politicians visited the United States, it was almost never to promote ideas to American politicians and experts, but, rather, to listen to American thinking and to convey the ideas back to Japan.

Seguchi believes that the most important cause of Japan’s inability to regain economic vitality in during the past 25 years is the absence of a national vision.  He advocates seizing this year  to undertake a re-evaluation of Japan’s place in the modern world and a proper “vision” for its future. 

For Japan, the world re-ordering change is the spectacular and spectacularly rapid rise of Chinese economic, political, and military power–the portentousness of which is compounded because it has occurred during the period of Japan’s relative decline.  

Seguchi notes:  During the first half of the 1990s, China’s economy was one-eighth of Japan’s.  By 2000, it was about one-fourth. In 2009 China surpassed Japan; and in 2014 has become twice as large. By the year 2020 it will be three times Japan’s size.

The dramatic, world-altering rise of China should be greeted in Japan as a  second “Black Ships” event, propounds Seguchi. Using the term “Red Ships,” he calls for a “Second Opening” of Japan, by which he means another complete re-evaluation of Japan’s place in the world, its international relations, governance and economic systems. 

He is clear that continuing economic, political, and security dependency upon the United States is incompatible with (if not antithetical to) the new realities facing Japan and must be changed if Japan is to regain its vigor and self-confidence, and to find a proper place in the new world.  

What is imperative is forging viable, mutually beneficial, and dynamically productive relationship with China, a new China-influenced world and, especially, regional order. 

Accepting the “Red Ships” challenge is–or should be–the supreme endeavor of Japan’s leaders now, says Seguchi.  He hopes–no doubt wistfully–that Prime Minister Abe will offer evidence that he is engaged in this endeavor when he visits Washington, D.C. for commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat this May.  

Unfortunately, Abe shows no signs of grasping, much less acting upon, the points made by Seguchi.  Until a Japanese leader does both, we must expect the barren directionlessness to continue.

Source Article from http://www.forbes.com/sites/stephenharner/2015/01/27/japan-desperately-needs-a-new-national-vision-but-not-abes/
Japan Desperately Needs A New National 'Vision'–But Not Abe's
Japanese Education – Yahoo News Search Results
Japanese Education – Yahoo News Search Results

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