Power in Asia: Looking at the Power Shift in Japan
The end of August, 2009 was marked by a dramatic power shift for Japan when the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled for over fifty years, was deposed by the Democratic Party. Like the far more subtle political shift in the US, the Japanese people were looking for a change in direction after the unchecked free-market policies of American capitalism created the global recession.
Although this shift might mean an inconvenience for America leaders as we must now refine our relationship with our longtime ally, it also presents some new opportunities. As Japan strengthens its ties to Asia and takes on a more assertive stance, America may be getting a far more valuable coequal partner for improving US relations with the continent.
Since the end of the Cold War, the world has been steadily moving away from a US dominated international community to one where individual nations struggle to assert their independent wills. With the George W. Bush Administration advocating a policy of disengagement, a lack of global leadership has further encouraged descent from the will of the US and the international community.
Unfortunately, nations promoting anti-American, anti-Western views like Venezuela, North Korea, and Iran have created instability, so they can be the focus of this new world order. Although Japan is also following this trend, it has long been a responsible member of the international community and continues to espouse a pro-American, pro-Western stance, thus Japan's policy shift detracts from the misbehavior of troublesome nations.
Quite certainly, the takeover by the Democratic Party creates some anxiety as the new leadership plans to strengthen its relationships with neighbors like China. Meanwhile, Japan has indicated it intends to restructure its relationship with America. Fears stem from the potential for Japan to abandon its generally compliant relationship with America for a more submissive relationship with China.
In reality, any change will probably move Japan, as the second largest economy, toward a more coequal partnership with America and a stronger leadership role in Asia. Although until recently the American-Japanese relationship has benefited both nations greatly, it has disadvantaged Japan diplomatically.
Unfortunately, it is easy for Asians to view Japan as simply an extension of American interests, thus it cannot act as an honest mediator between Asia and the rest of the world.
By taking on a more coequal partnership, Japan has the ability to redefine its image. Furthermore, improving its relationships with its neighbors will give it even greater leverage over its neighbors. In turn, this will help America in its efforts to reengage Asia. The rise of China as a world power incites a great deal of anxiety, because the Communist nation has a very poor reputation when it comes to respecting the rights of its people, among other concerns.
For the US, it also means sharing world power. With a coequal partner in Asia, America would also have greater influence over China, thus the United States would have a much better outlook on resolving conflicts over Chinese action or inaction. A more assertive, influential Japan could help push China to act in threatening situations, such as the nuclearization of North Korea.
In all, a more assertive Japan could be very beneficial for the international community. Both the United States and the West need greater influence in Asia through improved relationships. The transition may be somewhat difficult for America, but directly engaging the new government of Japan and working toward a more coequal partnership will help create a better relationship.
Furthermore, a more assertive Japan may also signal that the Japanese are willing to take on a greater leadership role in the region. This would significantly lessen the diplomatic burden on America and create new opportunities in Asia for both nations. Overall, the power shift in Japan could represent a very helpful prospect as very serious future conflicts are likely to occur in Asia.