The session on the second day of the Japan Society roundtable was amazing. It was so full of interesting opinions by so many experts that I really had very little to add. I uncharacteristically just sat there and took notes.

Here are some of the notes.

It appears that there are two risk scenarios for the ascension of China as a super-power. One risk is that it doesn't happen and a failure in the Chinese economy would cause a global crisis. The other risk is that China is so successful that it becomes so powerful that it is a threat to the region. It appears that the Chinese are much more worried of failing whereas the rest of the world is more afraid of their success.

Regarding US/Japan relations. There was an interesting opinion raised that some Japanese believe that the Chinese reaction to the Prime Minister visiting Yasukuni shrine is an over-reaction. They believe that the Chinese are intentionally difficult about historical issues to keep a rift between Japan and China for political and other purposes. The LDP which is based on economic grown and a strong relationship with the US has failed on the economy so is working very hard to deliver a good relationship with the US in light of the difficulty with China. Other people opined that relations between China and Japan have never been better in the last 100 years.

It was pointed out that 60% of people in Japan are against sending Japanese troops to Iraq. Koizumi has stated that he will definitely send troops to Iraq. Still, 60% of people support Koizumi.

Japanese people are generally supportive of the strong personal relationship between Bush and Koizumi.

Another interesting observation was that when Japan was confident and economically strong, many people were afraid of any addition expansion of the Japanese military. Now with Japan weaker and less confident, people seem to be positive of expanding Japan's role in security.

The issue of why Japan was so different from Germany in acknowledging history and deploy troops in peacekeeping operations was raised. The paradox of Japanese not feeling guilty for the war, yet being pacifist or negative about sending troops was raised. It was noted that this is an old discussion. There were arguments that Japan and Germany were actually very similar and other arguments that they were not. The regional difference of neighboring countries in in Europe urging Germany to participate in peacekeeping in Europe vs. most Asian countries relatively negative about the idea of rearming Japan also played a role.

One opinion about why the Japanese people do not want to expand the military was that the Japanese people did not feel that they could trust the government with addition power and did not like the image of the police state. In fact, they remember the pre-war Japanese police state and also the military being out of control. They feel that politicians and civilians can not control the bureaucracy. I personally feel this way.

The issue of the revisionist right wing text books was raised. One opinion was that these right wing revisionists were actually not the main stream, but a reaction. Only 0.3% of school actually ended up using the revised texts and the movement is considered a failure.

The issue of whether the strong US/Japan alliance was actually a good thing. Several people opined that allowing Japan to have more multilateral relationships might allow it to become more "normal." Everyone had difficulty defining "normal" but someone observed that "normal" usually meant countries willing to use force. Having said that, there were negative opinions about the UN as a multilateral relationship vehicle and the idea of a Pacific NATO like security organization was raised. Several people said that it was difficult since NATO was based on a very specific threat, the Soviet Union, which countries rallied under. There is really not a very strong trigger for such an organization now. Others disagreed. They felt that if the US was a referee and supported this in the way Clinton supported the formation of APEC, it might happen, but that the US didn't seem very interested.

It was pointed out that since Japan is aging so quickly, it can not be motivated very strongly to grow its military. Most countries which expanded security forces were usually countries that had a lot of young people. It was noted that the Kim Jon Il said during his trip across Russia on the train, that he had "too many people." This is one reason why he might be happier to send troops to war than Japan where there are so few young people. Another point was that people-to-people contact and tourism has increased significantly. Visas to Korea from Japan have been dropped and many people are traveling to China. The third point was that the economies were becoming increasingly integrated. For these reasons, it was unlikely that Japan would become a military threat or that a war in Asia was likely (other than the North Korea risk.) In counterpoint, another person pointed out that there were no visas and there was a great deal of economic interdependence in Europe right before World War I.

It was also pointed out that until 10 or 20 years ago, the Japanese were always forced to choose between interest in Asia or interest in the West. Recently this is no longer the case. Japan can be close to Asia as well as a strong US partner. In fact, a strong China/US/Japan multilateral relationship could be truly win-win.

We talked a lot about FTA's. An opinion was raised that if Koizumi was able to win this coming election, that he would probably have enough political power to push back on agriculture to open FTA and would revise the constitution.

1 Comment

Fascinating, Joi. Thanks for sharing the dialog with those that coudn't make it!

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Joi Ito.com: It appears that there are two risk scenarios for the ascension of China as a super-power. One risk is that it doesn't happen and a failure in the Chinese economy would cause a global crisis. The other risk... Read More

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