[OUTLOOK]Japan must rejoin AsiaA farce is always staged when a new cabinet comes into office in Japan. The Prime Minister and other ministers don swallow-tailed coats, which hardly suit the Japanese physique, and line up on the steps of the Prime Minister’s residence for a photo shoot. In this era of casual dress, dress coats can hardly be found even in Europe.
However, the Cabinet has stuck with the aristocratic dress code since the Meiji Restoration, suggesting the Japanese admiration for the West. As we look at the ministers dressed in tailcoats and the Koizumi government’s policies underrating Asia, Japan might still be pursuing the Datsua Nyuo Theory of Yukichi Fukuzawa, who argued that Japan should “leave Asia and enter Europe.”
Mr. Fukuzawa was the most prominent enlightenment philosopher in modern Japan and his portrait can be found on the 10,000 yen bill today. He supported Kim Ok-gyun and other reformists of the late Joseon dynasty and, when their Gapsin coup failed in 1884, Mr. Fukuzawa wrote an article titled “Datsua Ron,” or “Leaving Asia Theory,” for a newspaper called the Jiji Simpo in 1885.
He wrote that Japan could not afford to wait for the enlightenment of Korea and China so as to pursue the prosperity of Asia together. Japan needed to part with its neighbors and move into line with the civilized nations of the West. If you have bad friends, you will also be regarded badly, so Japan should deny those bad Asian friends. He also called the Sino-Japanese War a fight between the civilized and the savage.
Mr. Fukuzawa urged that Japan should not keep company with Korea and China, as you avoid poor relatives in rags, and only pursue modernization by accepting the ideologies and civilization from the West. His prescription was right for Japan at the time. But 120 years have since passed.
In the age of globalization, social, economic and cultural borders are disappearing and the same cultural codes pass through not just Korea, Japan and China but also almost every country in the world. Stock trading is done simultaneously in Seoul, New York, Tokyo and London. And Korea and China make no worse friends than Japan, neither are the two nations in rags.
Nevertheless, the evolution of the mindset of the likes of Junichiro Koizumi might be found in Mr. Fukuzawa’s Datsua Theory, which thrilled Japan in the late 19th century. Such signs can be detected outside the Japanese government as well. Last spring, representatives from the United Nations Associations of Korea, China and Japan gathered in Beijing for a forum. While the theme of the forum was the reform of the United Nations, the focus was Japan’s chance of becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The Japanese representative, a veteran diplomat, flatly said that Japan would be accepted as planned, no matter how much Korea and China opposed its candidacy. Japan must have trusted in the support of many African nations and the United States. The representative showed an attitude that Japan could become a leader of the world while it still pursued its intention of “leaving Asia.”
After World War II, Japan’s wish to enter Europe changed to a desire to join America. However, its perception and attitude towards other countries reveals that it still wants to leave Asia.
If not, there is no way to explain the obsession of Mr. Koizumi and his followers over Yasukuni Shrine visits, which will, without a doubt, become an obstacle in relations with Korea and China.
Most Japanese citizens are concerned that the shrine visits will exert a negative influence on Tokyo’s Asian diplomacy, and therefore, the government’s justification that the visits will help the ruling party garner more votes is not persuasive. Even nationalism fails to explain the obsession. Mr. Koizumi is so pro-American that he is derided as “America’s puppy.” In short, he is soft in front of strength but intimidating to the weak.
While Japan has left Asia and is wooing the West, the status of Japan in Asia is bound to diminish. Chinese President Hu Jintao has been shunning Mr. Koizumi altogether since the controversy over the latest Yasukuni Shrine visit. Seoul wants the heads of state and foreign ministers to meet only when necessary. While politics and the economy are separate , and diplomatic disputes do not influence economic trade much, there is a lot more to foreign relations than the economy. It is time for Japan to rediscover its identity as an Asian nation.
If Japan continues to hang on to the anachronistic Fukuzawa Theory and look away from Asia, it will have to pay a high price someday.
* The writer is an adviser and senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie