Participated in an interesting roundtable discussion this morning organized by the Japan Society. I was told I could write about it but I couldn't attribute quotes without permission.
There were representatives from the US, China, Taiwan and Korea.
An interesting point that was raised was that the older generation conservatives in Japan were unrealistic because they had been protected by the US, whereas the conservatives in South Korea were realistic enough to deal with the unrealistic Japanese. On the other hand, the younger generation in South Korea were unrealistic because they had not experienced the Korea war and the threat of North Korea, whereas the Japanese younger generation seemed to be more realistic. The point was that when the South Korean younger generation became more realistic, a stronger tie to Japan might be realized.
I think it was the consensus of the group that the constitution of Japan should be revised to allow Japan to participate in peacekeeping operations, improve self-defense and improve the alliance with the US. Everyone agreed that the relationship with the US was in good shape right now, but that failure to deal with the North Korea situation could lead to a disagreement about whether Japan should go nuclear, the US should attack or a variety of issues on how to deal with North Korea. However, the North Korea crisis in any event is helping the US/Japan relationship for now and the trend is probably to push for strengthening the alliance and try to get Japan included in the US missile defense system. The other area where the relationship my become problematic is if the US is not supportive of Japan's efforts to help organize ASEAN+3 and other Asian economic trade organization that exclude the US. Both of these seemed to be manageable issues.
With respect to the "identity of Japan"... There was an opinion raised that Japan should push to democratize Asia as the leading democracy in Asia. There were some opinions that "democracy" was politically touchy since there were friendly non-democracies in ASEAN countries and words like "governance" or "open and tolerant societies" might be better. I argued (as usual) that Japan was not a democracy so it was strange for Japan to that democracy was Japan's identity. Also, democracy requires embracing diversity which we do not do at home. Until we embrace diversity at home, we will not be very convincing when going to try to promote democracy abroad. I said that we should focus on dealing with diversity and racism at home and become and example rather than trying to push it abroad. I said that I thought we shouldn't under-estimate the emotional rift between Japan and other Asian countries and that we needed to deal with this before trying to be an Asian leader.
I also pointed out that the baby boomers were still in power in Japan and the bureaucracy including the foreign ministry didn't represent the young people in Japan. I said that until the changing of the guard it was unlikely that things would really change much. I thought that social entrepreneurship, weblogs and other non-traditional foreign relations between young people was probably going to have a larger effect on reaching out to Asia. I asserted that I thought the grassroots movements and activating the voice of the people, not more bureaucratic deliberations about foreign policy were probably more important.
Also, the point of whether national identity should have anything to do with foreign policy was raised.