[OUTLOOK]Japan opts for gradual reform

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[OUTLOOK]Japan opts for gradual reform

The philosophy that moves the system of Japanese society is the principle of long-term development through gradual evolution. The principle is that development can be guaranteed by pursuing long-term and gradual evolutionary reform through thorough preparation and by avoiding drastic changes.
The background of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s victory of a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections on Sept. 11 was predictable enough in the atmosphere prevalent in Japan, where this philosophical idea dominates. Mr. Koizumi’s victory was the result of the Japanese people’s preference for gradual and stable reform over the drastic change of power to the Democratic Party.
With a two-party system as its backbone, Japan’s political party system is thoroughly linked to the result of elections in the United States. If the Japanese people continue to want friendly relations between the United States and Japan to be maintained, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is highly likely to remain in Japan for as long as the Republican Party is in power in the United States.
The result of the election this time shows that at home the moderate to conservative forces that support reform have expanded and strengthened and that the Japanese people long for political reform within the Liberal Democratic Party, and for reform of the economic system with the focus on the privatization of the post office. In other words, the result can be seen as an expression of the collective hope of the Japanese people, who have suffered long-term economic stagnation, for an economic re-emergence, and the reconstruction of a strong Japan.
Naturally, there will be increased pressure for a constitutional revision, and Mr. Koizumi, who has become a strong leader, will have to cope with the economic recession that is Japan’s biggest crisis since the end of World War II, and diplomatic challenges, while reducing conflict with surrounding countries and satisfying the expectations of the Japanese.
The international implications of the parliamentary elections are that they reconfirmed the Japanese people’s wish to reinforce and maintain the U.S.-Japan alliance, and secured the basic continuance of Japanese diplomacy. The Northeast Asian policies of Japan and the United States work closely with each other. In this respect, the foreign policy of Koizumi’s third cabinet is likely to be similar to that of the second-term Bush administration. Just as the second-term Bush administration’s foreign policy has changed to a relatively moderate line, the foreign policy of Koizumi’s third cabinet will take a moderate line.
Keeping pace with the United States, Mr. Koizumi will take a negotiating attitude toward North Korea in the six-party talks, and a friendly and cooperative stance in his diplomacy toward Asian countries, including China and South Korea. Prime Minister Koizumi’s apology to Asian countries can be understood in this context.
Of course, Koizumi’s third cabinet should realize that Japan failed to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council because the country failed in its diplomacy toward Asian countries, particularly South Korea and China, and the United States did not show its approval of Japan’s strategy under these circumstances. Therefore, Mr. Koizumi should recognize that in his diplomacy toward Asian countries, it is important to maintain friendly and cooperative relations with them.
Koizumi’s overwhelming victory suggests a few points to Korea as well. Japan’s quest to be a military power and strengthen its alliance with the United States to hold China in check has become an established fact. For this reason, South Korea should reinforce cooperation with the United States and Japan to the extent that it does not harm the country’s friendly relations with China. For the resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem, the reconstruction of the North Korean economy and unification of the Korean Peninsula in the long term, cooperation with the United States and Japan is indispensable.
Also, it is desirable to solve conflict among the United States, China, Japan and both Koreas by establishing a multilateral security system in the Northeast Asian region, such as the six-party talks. Therefore, South Korea should avoid conflict with Japan and take steps toward cooperation. It is recommended that various current issues between South Korea and Japan be divided into subjects and solved at the proper time.
The issues over Japan’s past wrongdoings and the Dokdo islets should be dealt with on a long-term basis, and cultural exchanges, economic cooperation and a free trade agreement should be handled at the same time. Also, collaboration between South Korea and Japan should be particularly strengthened to achieve mutual cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan regarding the North Korean nuclear issue and the six-party talks. Under Koizumi’s strong leadership, Japan will not necessarily bring about conflict with South Korea and Northeast Asia. Mr. Koizumi should keep in mind that Japan’s stable prosperity depends on peaceful and friendly cooperation with South Korea and China.

* The writer is a researcher at the Sejong Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Sung-chul
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