井の中の蛙

7/16/2009

ASPAC Blogging: Japan’s Political Present and Future

Fauna of Soka - Squirrel standingMy copanelists on Saturday were political scientists, and it was a good update for me on what what’s going on with Japan in the last ten years or so. “Normalization” is the name of the game: Japan’s political spectrum and international relations are starting to look a lot less like Yoshida’s vision and a lot more like a pretty normal regional power.

Keiko Hirata from CSU Northridge looked at the basic divisions between political theories at work in Japan. Many political scientists have divided them into four groups: pacifist (isolationists), mercantilists (internationalist), normalists (internationalist) and nationalists (isolationist, sort of). Yoshida’s domestic economic and non-entanglement orientation makes him a mercantilist, but the normalists are the group which seems to be in ascendance at the moment. Though Hirata didn’t talk about this, it seems to me that the nationalists are the group which has made that possible: their extreme views on remilitarization and national identity have made the gradual remilitarization and international engagement of the normalists seem, well, normal.1 The most interest aspect of the categories as far as I was concerned is that they have widely disparate views of history: The pacifists, of course, emphasize the irresponsibility and horror of WWII; mercantilists emphasize the post-war recovery, seeing the war as a period of national destruction; the normalists take a kind of “dark valley” approach; the nationalists see the early 20th century as a period of healthy growth and cultural pride.

Gaye Christoffersen, one of Soka’s own, presented a surprisingly interesting look at the issue of multilateral maritime security. This has become pretty hot lately, what with the Somali pirate situation, and the multilateral, bottom-up coalition which has been solving the problem out there actually has its roots in the coalition which has taken responsibility for the Malacca Straights. There, the US tried to organize a top-down security system, but failed, while China and Japan led a slower, but more successful, bottom-up group. The punch line to this is that Japan’s Coast Guard has been spearheading things, because it isn’t bound by the Naval SDF’s limitations on the use of force; to equalize things, Japan just last week passed an anti-piracy bill allowing multilateral agreements and the use of force on the high seas. Normalization continues. China’s concerns about Japan’s normalization are a big deal still, but in multilateral/regional situations, they seem to be able to work together.

Hideyuki Sakai talked about “minilateralism,” which apparently is a kind of high-level collusion among a few members used to save multilateral agreements and regimes. Japan, it seems, excels at these kinds of negotiations, especially on environmental issues. Interestingly, in the next session, Tsuneo Akaha talked about international migration and human security issues, and the problem of protecting migrants, especially illegal ones, given legal and economic regimes that criminalize but also exploit their presence. In this case, multi-lateralism is proceeding very slowly, and Japan’s role in the process has not been all that helpful, since it has a very narrow view of migration and migrant rights. That’s not really news, of course, but it does demonstrate something useful about the direction things might still have to go, and the issues on which “bottom-up” and minilateralism aren’t going to be all that effective.

As Tsuneo noted in the discussion period, North Korea was kind of the elephant in the living room through these discussions….

  1. I was a little surprised that she didn’t reference the “Overton Window,” but maybe I’ve been reading too much ScienceBlogs lately. []

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