Hated by its geographically closest neighbors, China and Korea, Japan is going through a national crisis with rapid changes in economic, social and political sectors. Its major trading partner, the United States (U.S.) is also raising its eyebrows about the extreme politically sensitive remarks and unresponsive and hostile attitudes toward its neighbors. With the sudden change in the political regime after the election in 2012, everyone is asking, what is wrong with Japan?
▲ Picture of Shizo Abe, the current prime minister of Japan.Provided by http://live.joins.com/news/article/article.asp?total_id=12126838&ctg=1300&tm=n_int
In the past decade, Japan has been going through several crises nonstop, such as the continuation of economic stagnation, the 2011 nuclear incident of Fukushima, icy cold relations with neighboring countries and harsh criticism from the international society for not admitting the faults from World War II. Many assume that such actions come from a desperate need for change and action from the government that is pushing off the logistics of their actions; but is it? Or does the government have a good reason behind their behaviors?
Problems Faced by Japan
In the recent decade, after the 20 years of deflation and stagnation, it has been perceived as a fact that Japan is no longer the most powerful economy in Asia. With the rise of economies in China, Korea and other Southeast nations, Japan has suffered relatively low growth in addition to the effects of the economic bubble burst of 1992. “Japan is trying its best to get back on track in the world economy. Unfortunately, it had chosen a wrong decade with the wrong economy,” said Ryan Villanueva, the founder of Best Delegate.
Instead of loosening up regulations and attracting foreign investments, which are the conventional solutions to solve economic problems, Japan decided to deny reform and borrow more money. Adding to the problem, the global financial crisis hit in 2008 and Japan now stands as one of the highest public debt owning countries in the world.
Politically, Japan has been going through a major dispute with its closest neighbors, China and Korea. Japan has been increasingly revoking China and Korea about the territorial and historical conflicts. The newly elected prime minister, Shinzo Abe has especially been criticized for denying that the Japanese military forced Chinese and Korean women to be used for sexual slavery. Additionally, in territorial disputes, such as the Senkaku islands with China, the South Kuril Islands with Russia and Dokdo island with Korea, have also been rising in tension.
Refusing to make negotiations with any of the three countries regarding the island disputes and with Abe’s extreme right wing views, the atmosphere of enmity has been flowing in the North Asia region. There were numerous revolts in mainland China as well as Korea whenever Japan made politically sensitive and often insulting remarks. “It is amazing that Japan can be so bold in their political stance with the strongest growing countries,” said Villanueva.
Since the Fukushima nuclear facility crisis happened in 2011, environmental and health problems have also risen as colossal concerns. It has now become clear that the nuclear radiation water is flowing into the sea with no clear boundaries or regulations. Additionally, nuclear power technology, which Japan had pride in, miserably fell apart with 100,000 people evacuating their homes immediately. Health problems of the Japanese people, as well as the people of neighboring countries, became a huge concern because the radiation spread through the sea and also by air. “Our family planned a trip to Japan but since the incident, I do not want to go even near Japan,” said Lee Jung Hah (’12, English Language Education)
Changes in Japanese Government
Traditionally, Japanese politics were considered insignificant with prime ministers who come and go with no noteworthy change. However, since the people were losing faith to in the traditional Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), this gave more pressure for the newly elected prime minister from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Shinzo Abe, to bring about changes in the Japanese politics and economies with his strong leadership.
The LDP was not successful in elections for the past five years. With its conservative ideologies that include valuing their own traditions and cultures while opening up to economic liberalization, this conservative color often reflected populism in the society. Especially since the unprecedented economic growth in the 1970s to 1980s, the LDP was seen as the hero party for reviving the atmosphere of Japan. Now that the Democratic Party, which has been ruling for the last five years, has shown little or no progress in Japan’s political and economical situation, the people have turned towards the historically proven party, LDP.
When Abe was elected in 2012 as Prime Minister, the atmosphere of Japanese politics dramatically shifted. Economically, Abe declared the “third arrow” of Abenomics that pumped out vast quantities of money into the economy in order to end the unending deflation. He convened a series of reformed committees and tackled Japan’s labour market which bans employees from being fired. “It was definitely a valiant move that could be risky and hopeful at the same time,” said Villanueva. Although the radical ideas that were put forth by Abe failed to make it into the strategy announcement, the ambitious moves definitely reflected the changes the Japanese government is trying to reach.
Such bold actions were also shown in politics where Abe and the LDP made exceedingly controversial comments and portrayed extreme rightest attitudes to its geographically closest neighbors. For instance, on July 24th 2013, Abe declared that the flag of the rising sun, a flag that was used to symbolize the colonization of Asia, had no problems of being used even though this use was condemned, for it showed no sorrow or regret for its past actions of brutally colonizing numerous Asian countries, including China, Malaysia, Korea and Brunei.
Additionally, since the recent death of Lee Yong Nyu, one of the few living proof of Japanese forced sexual slavery in Korea who was not able to get a proper apology by the Japanese government even after 50 years, the international society is condemning the inhumane and rather arrogant attitude of Japan. The Japanese government continuously asked foreign governments, such as the U.S., to take down the comfort woman statue that was being built in Glendale, a city in California, which also made people wonder where the Japanese government was heading in its political strategy.
The question that the world is now having asking is, "What does Abe want?" The change in the Japanese government, unlike the past, is not only about the change in parties but about actual policies and attitudes. Considering the fact that Japan has been going through extreme economical, political and environmental problems, it is considered to be a gateway to show actual change to the world. Instead of being stagnant and forgotten by the international society, experts assume that such recent radical and risky actions were an outcry for change. Whether the changes in policies will positively benefit Japan is still unknown, but it is definite that Japan will not be watching its country fall apart.
▲ Japan flag burning picture in mainland ChinaChinese citizens angrily burning Japanese flag since the territorial dispute.Provided by: http://newswire.kulmun.be/practice_edition/oriental-powder-keg-what-has-been-going-on-in-asian- politics/china-japan-diplomacy-dispute/
▲ Japan Flag burning in South KoreaKorean politicians and citizens protesting against Japanese after its controversial claims about comfort women and dokdo territorial disputes.Provided by: http://newshopper.sulekha.com/south-korea-japan-protest_photo_1920010.htm