Monday, February 04, 2008

A New Deal in the Asia-Pacific

Keiō University professor Kokubun Ryōsei published a thought-provoking three fifths of an op-ed in the Asahi Shimbun a couple of weeks ago.

In his essays points out that far from being a time to be fearful, this might be an era with unprecendented prospects for peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region. A new whole crop of leaders is coming in, all of whom are far more committed to compromise, self-control and mutual respect than the leaders they are replacing.

To whit:

In South Korea, the relentlessly, almost comically anti-Japanese Roh Moo-hyun is being replaced by an Osaka-born businessman who has already stated his intent to discard the institutionalized organs of prejudice set up by his predecessor.

In China, the current leadership looks secure in its strong but increasingly humane grip on the levers of power - while the imperative of a successful hosting of the Olympic Games will serve as a break on adventurism by disgruntled elements.

In Taiwan- the feisty, pro-independence Chen Shu-bian will be out, almost certainly to be replaced by the more conciliatory Ma Ying-jeoh of the KMT. There are still opportunities renewed for Sino-Taiwan tension--like in the aftermath of the UN membership referendum--but both sides know the Democratic Progressive Party is in eclipse--and everyone just needs to keep a cool head.

In Thailand, democracy is being restored--though the military's fight with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is far from over.

In Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a Sinophile, has replaced the pugnaciously pro-American John Howard.

The United States is in the process of electing a new president--and dangnabbit anyone could handle the DPRK powderkeg better than G. W. Bush.

And in Japan, the current prime minister is careful not to trangress the sensitivities of Japan's closest geographic neighbors. The spectacular flameout of his predecessor has momentarily blunted the barbs of the more radical and vociferous of the self-proclaimed defenders of Japan's honor--and in their temporary retreat, Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo has had a chance to test the theory of "just being nice."

I say that Professor Kokubun has a good three fifths of an op-ed because in the latter paragraphs he offers three excrutiatingly conventional suggestions on how Japan can take advantage of this new order in Asia.

The first is to use the G8 summit as the springboard for Japan's reseizing of the role of the planet's environmental leader. How Japan can win recognition as the environment's champion when it is not meeting its own Kyoto obligations--and the Fisheries Agency is pissing of the Australians over whaling--is not clear.

The second is a national recommitment to be among the world leaders, if not the world leader, of Overseas Development Assistance. Unfortunately, in the present domestic political climate, where the populace is still trying to figure what Japan actually got in terms of international respect and affection in return for its earlier ODA largesse--and with the economy sliding toward malaise again it is unlikely that we will be seeing any increases in ODA anytime soon.

Finally, Japan must have policies that take advantage of this Pan-Asian thaw of mutual animosities. Yes, but what are those policies, precisely? What are the criteria we shall apply to confirm that they are indeed taking advantage of this situation? Professor Kokubun runs out of space before telling us.

Nevertheless, the initial paragraphs of Professor Kokubun's op-ed do make a great deal of sense--we will be damned fools if we do not take advantage or take enjoyment out of this opportunity for a less fractious and fractured Asia-Pacific region. Toss in Medvedev's likely election in Russia and the wobbly but continuing progress toward reining in the DPRK's nuclear program--and we may be entering something of a golden age of stability and mutual respect.


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