Japan and Sino-Japanese Relations

Southeast Asian Affairs, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Japan and Sino-Japanese Relations


Japan and Sino-Japanese Relations36

With its economy in stagnation for more than a decade, it is easy to underestimate Japan's power and influence in Asia and its crucial role in the past in the economic development of Southeast Asia. Japan remains the world's second biggest economy, the biggest in Asia, and several times larger than the Chinese economy.

Nonetheless, the prolonged economic malaise, the blow to its self-perception as an economic leader and pace-setter for Asia in the "flying geese model", and a sense of loss of its privileged position with the United States on matters dealing with Asia (in view of the importance attached to China by the Clinton Administration) have contributed to a collective self-doubt and increased questioning, especially among the younger generation, of the economic and political assumptions of the previous half century.37 Developments on the Korean peninsula, the rise of China and its attitude to Japan, and the dynamics of American policy will interact with the profound changes under way in the Japanese economy and society to eventually forge a new consensus on Japan's role.

The younger generation of Japanese scholars, politicians, and officials are inclined to favour Japan becoming a more "normal" country, willing to assume a role in security affairs, such as United Nations peacekeeping, and participation in regional activities like anti-piracy operations. Constitutional issues, including the possible revision of Article 9 (which forbids the country from waging war), are openly discussed, as is the long-term viability of the U.S.-Japan security partnership. There is a stronger sentiment in favour of greater equality in the alliance with the United States. Though support for the alliance remains strong, there seems to be an accelerated questioning among the younger generation about the desirability and necessity of having foreign soldiers based on Japanese soil. Japanese nationalism, sublimated until the 1990s by the country's spectacular economic achievements, is coming more to the fore in response to the prolonged economic distress and troubling perceptions of Japan's place in the world.

Likewise, in this context, the year 2000 saw a hardening of the official Japanese policy towards China in response to the views of a new generation of politicians, academics, and journalists. They resent continuous Chinese hectoring about Tokyo's World War II misdeeds, which they see as an attempt to keep contemporary Japan down, and China's unwillingness to accept that Japan too has legitimate security concerns and can play a positive regional role.

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