Friday, July 04, 2008

Nor anything that is thy neighbors

Let us say you are well-off, pink-hued, native-English speaking citizen of a Security Council P5 country, a country whose mottled history has left its Latin name often prefaced by the word "perfidious." Is there not something a little unseemly about trash talking in a lingua franca publication about Japan's invisibility on the international level?*

Japan goes missing: invisible host at the summit
Financial Times

By Philip Stephens - July 3 2008 19:18 - I have a question. Where is Japan? The world leaders and accompanying media hordes heading this weekend for the shores of Lake Toya need not turn to their atlases. The question is one of psychology rather than geography. Japan is still the world’s second most powerful economy. Politically, it is all but invisible.

(...)

This is all of a piece with its barely visible profile in the global arena. I spend a fair part of my life on the international conference circuit. Never before have governments – of rising as well as mature powers – devoted as much time to peering into their crystal balls in search of a new geopolitical landscape. By and large – I can think of one recent exception – Japan is absent from such events. What is more, Japan's place in the new order rarely merits mention by its peers.

(..)

Scroll back to the late 1980s. Japan was the rising power. Academics and journalists fell over themselves in the rush to predict that its economic might was destined to eclipse that of the US. When foreign policy experts declared that the 21st century would belong to Asia, they were not thinking about China and India.

Politicians in Washington fulminated as Japanese companies snapped up such American icons as New York’s Rockefeller Center and Hollywood's Columbia Pictures. US motorists swapped their Fords and Chevrolets for Toyotas.

And now? Well, western consumers still buy Toyotas; and Sony and Toshiba continue to produce all manner of electronic wizardry. But Japan has become an afterthought in the discourse about the fast-shifting balance of global power. The Asian century is about China and India...

What a wonderful thing it must be to be on the international conference circuit, on expenses-paid junkets from one hotel suite to the next, bumping into individuals as well-coiffed as oneself and, oddly, also on expenses-paid junkets; everyone milling about in hotel lobbies and banquet halls, reading from Powerpoint slides and thinking the big thoughts--never once feeling shame at the hard-earned money of citizens and end consumers supporting all this largesse being shoveled over to persons already rich!

Fie on you parasites! And blwklwdtmp on your thoughts!

First, as a point of rhetoric, can we quit it with the "Japan was a monster in the 1980s" comparative? It has been twenty years since the superwealth of the 1980s was exposed as a mirage, the result of some rather creative accounting by companies and dumb policy moves by the Bank of Japan and the Ministry of Finance. How can a columnist in the world's premier economics daily hearken back to the 1980s as if they were the salad days of Japanese dominance? (Oh, I know he caveats later in the text--but why bring it up at all if it it was mostly a sham?)

As for Japan's political invisibility and its being "an afterthought in the discourse about the fast-shifting balance of global power" - consider this: Japan did the stomping-all-about-the-globe-my-civilization-is-ahead-of-yours-so-I-know-what-is-good-for-you thing -- and lost.

Having lost the war, and finding itself in a neighborhood where everybody not only hated Japan but also had a different political system, democratic Japan learned to keep its head above water and its nose out of other people's business.

So Japan is not an active player the new imperium game, engaging itself in "the discourse about the fast-shifting balance of global power." So it prefers to stay on the sidelines as the new great powers clash.

This is bad?

So many on the international cocktail conference circuit seem to have bought into the rhetoric flashed by a tiny circle of English-language speaking imperial restoration wingers -- because it interlocked so well with their own plans :

"Oh, I know they say naughty things about the Chinese people and the War sometimes but to their credit they understand the world as it really is--the noontime buffet is being sponsored by EADS? Oh, BP. They're doing good stuff with solar, aren't they? Boy, the Russians giving them a time, eh? So EADS is tomorrow. Good. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, they know that the world is nasty, brutish and on the edge of chaos, demanding our attention, munificence and strong will."

The revisionists promised the conference circuit moochers veterans an upswelling of popular support for their realignment of Japan's habits and thoughts, making the Japanese people "proud" again, able to seize their "rightful place" in the international community and shoulder the burdens of an advanced nation.

But no.

Meiji is dead.

The covetousness--the horrible, gnawing desire "to have what other countries have" or just take for oneself, no matter the consequences -- the desire to acquire the trappings of power that drove both the early Meiji consensus and the later Great East Asian Co-prosperity consensuses -- that covetousness is restricted today to a hollow-eyed, empty-pupiled minority whose dreams of power and status are judged by decent folk to be unseemly.

Few in the Land of the Rising Sun dream of power and status as their ancestors did. Many if not most have found their own version of the Tenth Commandment, desiring only to get along. The limits of their purportedly ignoble existence are narrow: Study, Graduate, Work, Marry, Grow Old, Receive a Pension and Die in Bed.

Little point is there in clawing and scratching down down the road to glory.

Indeed, to even want to do so is a sin.

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* If you have something nasty to say about another country, make sure it is translated into the language of the people you are dumping on.


4 comments:

Martin J Frid said...

Maybe it is just envy. The British are longing for a (distant) past when their country was "Great" and can't really fathom that they are now "Little England".

Especially his take on the UK summit 3 years ago ("Britain trumpeted aid for Africa") was a giveaway. How proud they are of their glorious colonial past.

Anonymous said...

Your "list" misses the important element of existence. Yet, this oversight might be the problem.

A successful life is one in which one has loved and was loved.

This entails a degree of empathy, concern, and vulnerability that Japan is unwilling to pursue and, thus, a source of much of the distrust of Japan.

It is not that Japan does not harbor imperial ambitions, it is that its ambitions are parasitic and opaque. Tokyo's inaction globally has long looked like excuses born less of fear than of contempt.

Aceface said...

"It is not that Japan does not harbor imperial ambitions, it is that its ambitions are parasitic and opaque"

Switzerland is parasitic and opaque,but certainly doesn't seem to harbor any imperial ambitions.

"A successful life is one in which one has loved and was loved.

This entails a degree of empathy, concern, and vulnerability that Japan is unwilling to pursue and, thus, a source of much of the distrust of Japan."

Erase "Japan" and fill the blank with any names of G8,or China or India.

C'mon,anonymous.Don't be such a Japan exceptionalist.

Bryce said...

"This entails a degree of empathy, concern, and vulnerability that Japan is unwilling to pursue and, thus, a source of much of the distrust of Japan."

You weren't in the U.S. Senate during the 1980s, per chance?

That is all this article is. Recycled garbage. Remeber, it was the 1980s (when this reporter says Japan was an emerging power) when people were using phrases like "economic giant/political pygmy".

Personally, I'd take Japan's general commitment to the U.N. and recent moderate efforts in the area of peacekeeping as more 'empathetic' than the actions of some other nations I could name.