[OUTLOOK]Changing Japan from withinI heard a joke that an alien who came to Earth to find the most influential politician in Japan had to go back in vain. The political structure of Japan is traditionally decentralized. The political substance of the imperial system is ambiguous. A scholar once called it a “donut-shaped power structure,” with a hollow center. It is what political scientist Masao Maruyama calls a “system of irresponsibility.”
We certainly need to consider this perspective when we look at Japan’s inclination to the right. Today, there certainly are signs that the “peace constitution” of Japan is about to change rapidly. However, we cannot yet conclude that it is a systematic move of Japan as a whole. It is not easy to objectively confirm that it is a meticulously planned conspiracy.
The current problem of Japan is not in the “surplus” of consistent strategies but in the “absence” of general diplomatic strategies. While the nation’s foreign policies, which had long been controlled by bureaucrats, wandered around failing to keep up with post-Cold War changes, special interests of some parts of the society prevailed and swayed diplomacy. With all this instability, Japanese citizens are moved by emotional slogans instead of objective interests.
What have defined the direction of Japan’s foreign policy are the North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens, its wartime history, the Yasukuni Shrine visits and the Self-Defense Forces.
After the remains that North Korea provided last November turned out not to be those of a kidnapped Japanese woman, the negotiations between Tokyo and Pyongyang have been deadlocked, and the Japanese government has officially demanded an “immediate return” of its citizens it believes might still be alive in the North.
While the Japanese public increasingly called for economic sanctions against the North, Tokyo has been in a dilemma as the Bush administration shows signs of returning to negotiations with Pyongyang. In the course of diplomacy in Northeast Asia, the hard-line policy against North Korea is isolating Japan instead.
The matters of the Yasukuni Shrine visits and the country’s right-wing history textbooks are entangled with Japan’s domestic politics, conservative historical perspectives and the conservatives’ sense of crisis that stems from Japan’s loss of status in the region.
As the historical issue aggravates Japan’s relations with Korea and China, not only the Democratic Party but also some insiders of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are seeking an alternative to the Yasukuni Shrine visits and discussing a reorganization of East Asian foreign policy.
However, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is in a tight spot both domestically and internationally, might make a drastic move by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, the day Japan officially surrendered to the Allied forces in 1945.
The Husosha history textbook is expected to be used more widely than five years ago, and encouraged by the military strategy of the United States and the potential threat posed by North Korea, the Self-Defense Forces have gradually removed political and physical restrictions on the exercise of Japan’s military power.
However, the process is a part of a military consolidation between Japan and the United States, that is, Japan is being integrated into the United States militarily.
To Japan, the choice is a double-edged sword. Its concern is that there is no guarantee that a military consolidation will contribute to Japan’s best interests.
We need to devise various strategies to respond to Japan’s move to the right.
First of all, we need to consider “external pressure.” We still need to clearly define a principle for historical matters, including the Yasukuni Shrine visits, in order to properly raise these issues in Japan. It is true that the Korean government’s complaints regarding the historical matters have been short-lived and inconsistent.
Second, we need an engagement strategy. We should deliver critical messages to the Japanese public in a form and words that are persuasive to them. Also, we should appeal not only to the Japanese who have consciences but also to the political and economic leaders.
These attempts should embrace the future direction of Japan as a partner that will help guarantee regional security.
Thirdly, along with obtaining suffrage for local elections for the Koreans residing in Japan, we need to seek ways to change Japanese society from within. In that sense, Korea was right to take the initiative and give voting rights to resident foreigners.
The influence Korea can exercise over Japan’s direction is considerably diverse and significant.
* The author is a professor of international relations at Rikkyo University in Japan. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Jong-won