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美國.洛杉磯

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IS JAPAN ABOUT TO STUMBLE AGAIN?

 TOM PLATE

          China is like the relatively new baby on the block that the neighbors fawn over, mostly ignoring any negatives, acting as if it’s the perfect child, as the other children are unceremoniously pushed into the background.  Overlooked, they occasionally fling their rattles out of the playpen to get at least a measure of the attention that they had grown used to getting.

          This is the growing morose and neglected feeling in Japan today. So we had better watch out for that rattle.

          You don’t even have to be rooted in Japan to understand the Japanese malaise. Even here in Southern California you can feel it. At the recent annual fundraising dinner of the Asia Society Southern California at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, a Japanese diplomat --- whom everyone greatly respects -- quietly muttered to me about how the Asia Society has practically been kidnapped by the Chinese. “It’s all about China these days." he complained. “It’s like Japan doesn’t even exist any more."

          In reality, Japan not only exists but it’s now economically resurgent.  The years of domestic torpor are long gone; the country is on the move again. Its markets are popping and domestic reforms are actually happening.

          People tend to forget that even with all of China’s phenomenal growth, Japan still has the world’s second largest economy. China is coming on strong, to be sure, but it’s not exactly there yet.

          And Japan is not going to take the passing lying down, especially if its
political system can some put up another domestic genius like Junichiro Koizumi--- but that might take a miracle. The current prime minister, due to step down in September, is not your typical Japanese politician. Instead of consensus, he prefers confrontation; instead of the oh-so slow Japanese style, he’s all for the go-go.  It is remarkable how this unorthodox and extremely strong-willed political character has grabbed the frozen tundra of Japanese domestic politics and stuck a blow-torch
under its belly. His place in Asia’s history is secure.

          But before long he will be gone, by his own graceful and oft-repeated vow
not to extend his presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party and his PM-ship beyond two terms.

          He leaves behind not just a landlubber’s shoes to fill but boat-size pontoons.

          Who’s next in line? Alas, the most charismatic of the available successors is also the least desirable from a number of perspectives. He is Shinzo Abe, the cabinet secretary.  He is sharp and strong-willed, similar to Koizumi, though softer spoken.  But just like Koizumi he is a hawk on the war-shrine-visitation psychodrama. Every time the stubborn PM showed up at the shrine, he handed China’s own hawks a resounding sledgehammer of an issue with which to pummel Japan’s image and remind all of Asia anew of how cruel the Japanese army was over 60 years ago.

          Thus, a slow-moving consensus is growing in Tokyo (and in Washington, as
a matter of fact) that the better move would be to sidetrack the Shinzo Abe bandwagon for a few years and turn to a transition-figure PM so that Asia can get beyond the shrine-visitation issue and Japan-China relations can be smoothed over.  And so even though Abe recently showered the question of whether shrine visitations would proceed apace were he Koizumi’s successor with a cloudburst of deliberate ambiguity, public sentiment seems to be moving toward the need for an older, quieter, more diplomatic transition figure.

          That right now looks to be veteran lawmaker Yasuo Fukuda. This 69-year-old gentleman is an advocate of improved ties with China and South Korea, both of which have been at Koizumi’s throat; current polling suggests the Japanese regard him as a capable diplomat.

          A Fukuda Prime Ministership could put Japan in a serious dilemma, however. Koizumi has managed to give his country’s domestic reform effort substantial forward momentum. Anyone substantially less flamboyant and steely-eyed than he in this tough political area could wind up presiding over a Japan that would be slowing down to a crawl again.

          Everyone will blame Koizumi’s successor for this. But in fact the fault will lie with Super-K himself. By digging in his heels on shrine visits, he created unfavorable conditions for a successor more or less in his mold to come to power.

          This is a pity. All the cheerleading for the so-far peaceful and somewhat breathtaking rise of China notwithstanding, there is only one number-two economy in the world, and it’s Japan.  What happens in the geographically tiny country of 127.4 million over-achievers is not just important, it is vitally significant -- especially if Japan were to slow down again.

          All eyes may be on China these days, but you’d better keep a watch out
for Japan. One feels the coming of some kind of whistling rattle.
 

UCLA Prof. Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is a veteran American journalist, Tom plate, 2006. Distributed by the UCLA Media Center.

 

(歡迎不同意見,請在《自由言論》上暢所欲言。)

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