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Tremble Not at the Rising Sun’s Decision to Bolster ‘Defense’



Pacific Perspectives , Tom Plate

Sure, we can blame Japan for everything that’s basically wrong in Asia, if that’s the game we want to play. Who is going to stop us?

But is this what we really want to do? Demonize the Japanese at virtually every turn?

Please reconsider because this wouldn’t be right nor would it be smart.

Take the bilious controversy over the decision of the current Japanese government to elevate its Defense Ministry to Cabinet-level status. Such Cabinet ranking is normal for any country.

But when Japan aims for the normal, it tends to trigger a storm of anguish from people who are convinced that Japan is hopelessly guided by devious intentions that should always be suspect.

This is wrong thinking. Consider Tokyo’s talk about loosening constitutional inhibitions on how Japan can deploy its armed forces.

Again, you would think we were on the edge of world war. In fact, such a revision would simply be consistent with Japan’s contributions to the U.S. war against Iraq.

However ill-conceived the latter, the former effort was entirely well-intentioned , basically, just one friend making a very public point of helping out another.

And please, let’s not conflate the controversy over the true history of Japan’s past wartime conduct toward its neighbors (Comfort Women, Rape of Nanking and Yasukuni Shrine controversies) with the issue of Japan’s current strategic evolution.


The Good German

For one thing, the average Japanese of today had absolutely nothing to do with the atrocities of the past and to seek to blame them reeks , to me, for one , of racism (i.e., there can be no such thing as a “good” German or a “good” Japanese).

For another, the effort of Japan to climb up to the next level is not just accepted by many in the West, but in fact is being robustly encouraged.

In the United States, it is not just neoconservative hawks that applaud Tokyo’s decision to move forward on the world stage, but in fact a very broad spectrum of American foreign-policy establishment opinion that does so.

World War II in Asia ended more than six decades ago, they say; it’s high time for Japan to become a “more normal nation,” in the present phraseology.

Even the most established in the U.S. foreign-policy establishment tremble not at the specter of the rising sun’s latest climb.

In the recent mega-report on American policy in the Asia-Pacific region, two of America’s leading foreign-policy plenipotentiaries endorse (in “The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Getting Asia Right Through 2020,” Center for International and Strategic Studies, Washington) the idea of a much bigger role for Japan.

They are Harvard University professor Joseph Nye, a top Department of Defense official in the Clinton administration; and Richard Armitage, No. 2 in the Bush administration’s Department of State.


Bow-Tie Types

This duo, joined by an oak-paneled conference room of other well-connected bow-tie types, concurs that an Asia without a strong Japan would prove less stable than an Asia with Japan grown up as a normal nation.

They assert: “Not to encourage Japan to play a more active role in support of international stability and security is to deny the international community Japan’s full potential.”

The panel praised the previous Japanese prime minister’s pushy lunge into geopolitical reality, especially the flashy Koizumi’s spot deployments of forces to the Indian Ocean, Iraq and other areas of the Middle East.

Asia leaders (especially those in China) who mistrust Japan’s latest moves as those of a recovering alcoholic hovering ominously near a liquor store will find little sympathy for that negative instinct in Washington.

It is the considered and consensus view of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment that it is not Japan that is potentially polarizing the Asia-Pacific region by continuing along the Koizumi path.

On the contrary, the feeling is that those who jerk their knee to oppose Japan’s every nudge may wind up having just such an unintended polarizing effect , as they will have to take on the United States in the bargain. Is this what Asia wants?


UCLA professor Tom Plate, a veteran journalist, is a member of the Pacific Council on International Relations.

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