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'Business First' Can't Power Japan's Third Rise
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By Liu Junhong

With world attention focused on the rise of China and India, the fact that Japan's economy is once again on the rise seems to have slipped under many a radar screen.

Professor Joseph S. Nye Jr of Harvard University, a former US assistant secretary of defense, wrote in an article published on June 14 that Japan was going fast along the path of a "third rise" and expressed his deep concern about its nature, direction and "international contribution".

Where is Japan's "third rise" headed?

The international community has long reached consensus on Japan's first two rises and subsequent falls.

In 1868, Japan launched the Meiji Restoration (also known as Meiji Ishin, Revolution or Renewal). It plunged into the wave of globalization led by major powers, signaling it was on the road of rise characterized by leaving Asia to join Europe.

In a single step, Japan joined the ranks of international financial powers. It took 230 million silver taels from China as well as territorial concessions from the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). Then it defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 to emerge as a world-class military power. This first rise continued as Japan proceeded to colonize Korea and China's Taiwan in the early 20th century before joining the fascist Axis in the 1930s and 40s, leading to its first fall in modern history.

Following the end of World War II in 1945, Japan chose the "road of peaceful development" under US occupation and protection and consequently established its status as a world economic power.

This experience has come to be seen as Japan's second rise. However, since the mid-1980s, the Japanese economy found itself intoxicated by the illusion of financial expansion with economic bubbles. It was ultimately sucked into a 10-year recession sinkhole in the torrent of globalization following the end of the Cold War.

The year 2005 marked the 60th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II. This undoubtedly stood as a historic turning point for Japan, with the country's deeply held belief in the 60-year cycle (a concept from ancient Chinese chronology).

The Japanese government as well as the public hoped to leave behind the post-war period of depression and humiliation and start a new international political cycle on the road to Japan's emergence as a normal major power.

The past year can be seen as the beginning of a new 60-year cycle. When Shinzo Abe, who represents the emerging political force in Japan, succeeded Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister, he also assumed the leadership to steer Japan on its "third rise". But is Japan ready for its third rise?

Today, Japan is finally faced with the historic opportunity for another economic takeoff after a long and painful period of recession and reform. In early 2002, the Japanese economy hit rock bottom, followed by its rebound, with continued recovery over the past five years. It has now sustained its longest period of economic growth since the end of World War II.

During this period, Japan's current account surplus repeatedly broke historic records, as did its growing foreign reserve. The country regained its position of the world's leading creditor country.

At the same time, the nation's real estate prices and stock prices kept rising, while the value of private financial assets also reached historic highs. Citizens regained financial assets lost when the economic bubbles burst back in the 1990s.

Along with Japan's growing economic strength is its capabilities to intervene overseas.
Japan is now implementing a full-scale regional economic integration strategy based on its resurging economic strength. Its goal is to become the East Asian regional leader.

To this end, when Koizumi was prime minister, Japan announced its East Asia commonwealth strategy to build a base for global competition. Under Abe's administration, the Japanese government took one step further with its "gateway to Asia" concept. This was part of its bid to reinforce its position as Asia's boss with a whole package of systems and values.

This year marked the 60th anniversary of the adoption of Japan's post-war pacifist constitution. The Abe government has said it wants Japan to return to its post-war starting point to "change the post-war system", push for total constitutional reform, urge the parliament to pass the "citizen voting law" designed as a law for constitutional reform, and list constitutional reform as a core topic in the upcoming Senate elections. This is seen as a bid to start a groundswell for constitutional reform, which will lay the foundation for Japan's emergence as a major political power.
In military affairs, the Abe cabinet followed the Koizumi administration's successful revision of the emergency laws and the counter-terrorist special measures law as well as the historic breakthrough in sending defense forces overseas for non-combat missions.

The administration elevated the Defense Agency to Defense Ministry this year, completed a national defense system and laid the organizational and legal foundations for upgrading the self-defense forces to a bona fide military machine.

Meanwhile, in order to hold "the power to control national security policy by the prime minister-led government", the Abe administration is enthusiastically building a "national security committee" system to take command of intelligence gathering, foreign policy and security strategy along with efforts to seek leading roles in global environment, disaster reduction, counter-terrorism and nuclear issues.

In this sense, Japan has indeed embarked on its third rise, which has shown different characteristics from the second rise following World War II.

Japan has yet to clearly decide on a political direction for national development, which is a prerequisite for the rise of a nation.

Almost as soon as he took office, Prime Minister Abe published his theory of "building a beautiful country", advocating the "concept of universal values" and stressing "value diplomacy", but all without a clear recognition of history.

His neo-conservative and neo-nationalist personality is at odds with the globalization and regionalization of the times. His brand of "sense of territory and state" and "Japanese-style democratic values" is also out of sync with current ideas of Asian economic cooperation characterized by equality and mutual benefit accompanied by reciprocity and joint development.

Noted Japanese economist Naoki Tanaka writes in his new book, Beyond an Anti-Japanese Asia, that, if Japan wants to lead Asia, it must have the "power to mobilize Asia" or "regional appeal".

The problem is that it is very difficult for any country to build up its political authority as a nation, let alone political authority based on justice if its national appeal relies solely on supremacy in technology, capital and military power.

Without a just recognition of history and a full sense of regional responsibility, it is natural for Japan to feel frustrated in its goal of regional mobilization of power by clinging to the principle of business first.

Obviously, the absence of political authority has been the cause of Japan's lack of regional appeal. It is therefore bound to experience ups and downs in its third rise as it finds itself desperately groping for a clear direction.

It is also unclear what impact Japan's bearingless yet over-fueled third rise will have on the peace, development and stability of China and the rest of Asia. This is perhaps the ultimate reason for professor Nye's questioning the "international contribution" of Japan's third rise.

The author is an associate researcher with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

(China Daily July 3, 2007)

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