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No.6
Politics, No.6  Jun. 2, 2011

3/11 AND 9/11–THOUGHTS OF DISCONTINUITY AND A DESIRE FOR PERMANENCE

Major incidents named after a date The day that the Great East Japan Earthquake struck has come to be called 3/11. I don’t know who first started referring to the incident in this way. Is it an association with 9/11? If so, what is the association? I can still see the cover of the September 13 issue of The Economist, published in London, which was issued immediately after the September 11 attacks. The phrase “The day the world changed” appears on a photo of The World Trade Center in New York, which is issuing columns of smoke. That definition of September 11 by the magazine, which is widely read by intellectuals around the world, has entered into common use. Influenced by the discussion of those who read The Economist, people have come to share an awareness that the world did indeed change on that ... ... [Read more]

No.6
Politics, No.6  Jun. 1, 2011

THE GRAND COALITION AND QUALIFICATIONS OF A PRIME MINISTER

SHINOHARA Fumiya: I volunteered to distribute meals in areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in mid-April. I saw devastation in areas including Ishinomaki and Onagawa and understood that a tragedy beyond imagining had occurred. FUKUDA Yasuo: The tsunami reached further inland than expected in those areas. The unexpected will happen. We must understand that. I recalled the Iwate-Miyagi Nairiku Earthquake on June 14, 2008, when you were prime minister. The earthquake was designated as a major disaster, although the scale is different from that of the Great East Japan Earthquake. What did you think then? I thought only about minimizing the number of casualties. I had... [Read more]

No.5
Politics, No.5  Mar. 28, 2011

JAPAN'S DIVIDED LEGISLATURE: THE VIEW FROM THE UPPER HOUSE

Ever since the Social Democratic Party withdrew from the ruling coalition in May 2010, Japan’s National Diet has been split, with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and People’s New Party holding a majority in the House of Representatives but not in the upper house, the House of Councillors. And the July 2010 election for the upper house further reduced the DPJ’s strength in the chamber. So securing passage of legislation through the House of Councillors has become a major issue, and attention has come to focus on this house’s role. Nishioka Takeo, who was elected president of the House of Councillors following the July 2010 election, has been commenting more openly than previous holders of this post about current political affairs. We asked him to be interviewed for Japan Echo Web, and he agreed. In this interview, I asked President Nishioka for his ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Jan. 30, 2011

OVERCOMING JAPAN'S CRISIS WITH POLITICAL REFORM

Japan is in a very difficult position, both domestically and internationally. On the external front we have seen a string of recent developments, notably the confrontation with China over the Senkaku Islands, the visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Kunashiri (one of the islands in the Northern Territories claimed by Japan), and the shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island by North Korea, along with the March 2010 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, all representing profound challenges to Japan’s foreign policy and national security. Domestically, we have accumulated a huge national debt, and taxes now account for only about 40% of the government’s total general revenues. Social security expenditures are rising by ¥1 trillion a year. To make ends meet, the government has been cutting back on spending in areas like science, culture, and education–money invested in... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Jan. 29, 2011

THE SWEEPING CHANGES IN JAPANESE POLITICS SINCE THE 1990S

In countries with well-established democratic political systems, major political reforms are unusual, and drastic reforms of a comprehensive or multifaceted nature are rare indeed.[1. James G. March and Johan P. Olsen, Rediscovering Institutions (New York: Free Press, 1989), pp. 166-172.] But during the 1990s, under governments led for the most part by the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Japan experienced a series of substantial changes in its political system, changes that together add up to what we may call a comprehensive overhaul. The most important change that has taken place in Japanese politics recently is the change of government that took place in 2009, when the Democratic Party of Japan took over from the LDP. In this article, however, I will attempt to make the case that the decisive changes in laws and rules, norms, and practices in postwar Japanese politics happened in the 1990s ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Jan. 27, 2011

THE LAUGHINGSTOCK OF EAST ASIA

North Korea launches an artillery bombardment against Yeonpyeong Island in South Korea, while a Chinese fishing trawler rams a Japanese Coast Guard patrol vessel in the seas off Japan’s Senkaku Islands. As if to mock the ineffectual blunderings of the Democratic Party of Japan government, the Russian president then visits the Northern Territories. Countries around the region are free to act with impunity in this way because Japan is powerless to react. The reason for this impotence is the rift that the DPJ government opened up in the Japan-US alliance by its behavior regarding the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa. Japan’s position in East Asia is likely to become even more unstable. Utterly lacking in strategy and expertise, the DPJ government can no longer be trusted with responsibility for Japan and Japanese diplomacy. North Korea Reads the Signs On November... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Jan. 26, 2011

FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS: AN URGENT PART OF JAPAN'S AGENDA

Emerging countries are enjoying robust growth that contrasts sharply with the increasingly uncertain outlook among advanced countries. In relation to this, we need to remind ourselves that Japan occupies a very favorable geopolitical position, given its location on the eastern edge of the East Asian region, which is at the center of the global growth among emerging nations. Today Japan requires a strategy that will allow it to incorporate the demand arising from the enormous population of the Asian market, which numbers around 3.5 billion, as well as the broader Asia-Pacific market, with some 4 billion people, as one part of what might be called its own domestic demand. During its modern history, Japan has faced two great moments of opening up to the rest of the world: the period beginning with the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and the period following World War II. ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Jan. 25, 2011

TOKYO'S CHINA PROBLEM: CLAIMING THE HIGH GROUND

In 2010, China overtook Japan in gross domestic product to become the world’s second-largest economy–a distinction Japan had held for nearly 50 years. But this ballyhooed “reversal” is a purely economic phenomenon. There is no reason why it should mean any fundamental change in the role that Japan plays to bring about peace and prosperity as a member of the international community. The real question for Japan today is whether the country can adopt a global perspective on the changes that are already underway, as symbolized by this latest “reversal,” and whether it can succeed in rebuilding an effective and viable international role for itself in the years ahead. The basic focus of that role should be the preservation of a liberal, open international order. After a Chinese fishing trawler rammed two Japanese coast guard vessels in the waters around the Senkaku Islands last ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Dec. 5, 2010

A PRINCIPLED STANCE IN RELATIONS WITH CHINA

TAHARA SŌICHIRŌ In mid-October, when the Sino-Japanese diplomatic situation finally seemed to be calming down after the September 7 collision of a Chinese trawler into two Japan Coast Guard vessels, large-scale anti-Japanese demonstrations broke out in cities around China. Why do you think these protests took place at that time? MAEHARA SEIJI Reports said that most of the protestors were young people responding to calls on the Internet to take part in the demonstrations, but I can’t really see how that could be the case. I should note that Japan received credible assurances through diplomatic channels that the Chinese government was working to cool off these protests as soon as they began cropping up. TAHARA Ties between Japan and China seemed recently to be heading toward normalcy. Is there any chance that they could worsen once again?... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Dec. 4, 2010

PROTECTING THE SEAS

INTERVIEWER What is your view of the recent flap over the Senkaku Islands from your perspective as an expert on international maritime law? A problem also emerged in 2005 involving a dispute between Japan and China over development of gas fields in the East China Sea. What sort of legal framework exists for settling disputes over territory and resources? KURIBAYASHI TADAO International law recognizes the right of each sovereign state to protect the territory to which it can assert a legitimate claim and the surrounding waters so as to assure its existence and the survival of its people. When it comes to sovereignty over the Senkakus, though there is room for dispute on a number of points under international law, I believe that most international legal scholars in Japan currently support the Japanese claim. But it’s extremely difficult to rely on judicial procedures for ... ... [Read more]