Thursday, February 13, 2003

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THE ENIGMA THAT IS JAPAN: No one disputes that Japan has had thirteen years of economic stagnation since the 1980's property bubble burst. A key source of Japan's malaise has been its inability to clear up it's mostly insolvent banking sector. There is no doubt that such a step would be politically painful, which is why there's been such an unsatisfactory status quo.

What's weird about this is while Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi has essentially given up tackling the economic problem, he has been willing to expend political capital to alter Japan's status quo on foreign policy, as this Chicago Tribune story makes clear:

"Yearning to support the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq and feeling threatened by North Korea, Japan is stretching and challenging the meaning of its constitutional vow to renounce war forever so its forces might participate more actively in multinational military missions.

In the first significant breakthrough, a Japanese destroyer is cruising the Indian Ocean in support of the war on terrorism. In another, Japan's foreign minister has suggested allowing Japanese troops to join future United Nations peacekeeping missions.

For any other nation these would seem very modest actions. But for Japan to even suggest using the threat of force -- particularly if it conjures up images of Japanese soldiers patrolling foreign soil, as the foreign minister's suggestion does -- is extraordinarily sensitive because of the constitutional restraints and because memories of Japan's past aggressions are still raw in other Asian nations, such as South Korea and China."

Why would Koizumi try to dislodge a foreign policy status quo with formidable legal barriers while letting sleeping economic dogs lie? One answer is that it's always easier for an executive to deal with foreign policy issues than domestic economic ones. An extension of that answer is that if Koizumi can't or won't get any political credit for fixing the economy, at least he'll receive a boost from making Japan a more active player in world politics.

Assignment to readers: compare the Bush administration to the Koizumi government. Is the current administration:
a) pursuing similar strategies for similar reasons?
b) pursuing different strategies for similar reasons?
c) pursuing similar strategies for different reasons?
d) pursuing different strategies for different reasons?

UPDATE: Here's more proof that the Japanese are serious about changing their foreign policy doctrine.

posted by Dan on 02.13.03 at 10:01 AM