Sep 20 - A Beautiful Country?
On September 20, members of the governing Liberal Democratic Party of Japan will cast their vote to decide the next Party president, and, by default, the country's Prime Minister. Whoever wins, they will be replacing the radical, reformist, famous, and divisive Junichiro Koizumi as the international face of Japan.
RIP Steve Irwin
There is no question that Koizumi, during his tenure as PM, has made rapid inroads into changing Japan through his progressive and reformist policies - be it encouraging businessmen to leave their ties at home and go easy on the air-con in summer, or arguably ignoring the peace-protecting Constitution in sending Ground Self-Defence Forces into Iraq.
Koizumi's looks and personality had made him something of an idol, both within Japan and around the world. His policy was, from early in the piece, to stand up against the glacier-like Japanese status quo and force through several reforms, no matter how loathed the changes may be by the ruling elite, and, to an extent, the people of Japan. He had a strong view that Japan needed to change to keep up with the rest of the world in cultural, economic and military terms.
It's difficult to say for what he will be remembered best. As a very brief synopsis of some of his major achievements/goals:Japan Post
, while obviously also a postal carrier, handled at least some of the savings of the majority of Japanese people, and was (is), in effect, the wealthiest bank in the world. However, it was widely recognised that the bank's handling of loans and other savings-related matters was, and would continue to be, a stifling influence on Japan's economy. Koizumi's "pet project" was the reform of the postal giant, which he basically forced through Parliament, calling early elections to gain a mandate from the people and cutting off the so-called Postal Rebels within his party who opposed the reform. His stance at that stage was Bush-like: you're either with us, or against us. Needless to say, he won, and the reforms are in progress. People see this event in one of two ways - either that Koizumi was a stubborn dictator who misused his power to strike down any dissent; or that he was a strong reformist who refused to listen to the old guard and their vested interests. Without knowing his actual intentions, we can probably assume it was a bit of both.
Vote Gere 06!
He oversaw the dispatch of Japanese "Self-Defence" forces into Iraq. Article 9
of Japan's post-war constitution, drawn up under Allied occupation, bans Japan's use of force in international disputes. Arguably, only if Japan were directly attacked could it resort to deadly force. As a result, the Japanese armed forces have not killed a single enemy combatant since the Second World War. It was variously argued that the Constitution implicitly permits "Collective Self-Defence" - that is, the use of force to protect an ally; or that SDF troops could be sent overseas for purely humanitarian purposes - in Iraq, they were not involved in any combat, but at the same time they were effectively protected by other troops of the "Coalition of the Willing". Koizumi and other leading politicians on both sides of the House have called for a revision of Article 9 to clarify this issue and resolve any claims of unconstitutionality. Given the heated debate over the matter, it seems unavoidable that, at the very least, the Article will be expressed more clearly in the near future.
He pushed for Japan's admission into the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member alongside current members America, the UK, France, China and Russia - all on the winning side in WWII. Arguing that the current UNSC
reflects a world order that is no longer in force, and that Japan's amazing economic and political progress should afford it a permanent seat, Koizumi joined forces with Germany, India and Brazil in calling for UNSC reform. It seems fair enough that the world body should include, at the very least, countries from each continent, arbitrary as that may be (and ideally an Islamic member too - but that's another story). At any rate, Japan's appeals have so far been unanswered, except in the form of violent protests and resistance in especially South Korea and China - both victims of Japan's imperialist push and military atrocities leading up to and during WWII. They assert that a country that refuses to own up to it barbaric past has no place on the Council (see my post
on Mao Tse-Tung for more on that).
Which leads to a related, but distinct, issue - visits to Yasukuni Shrine
. This Tokyo site enshrines the souls of military personnel who were killed in battle fighting for their country - not such a problematic notion, it might seem, but for a few extra things. Among the war dead are included several figures who were judged by the Allied occupation to have been war criminals. Although rightist elements, including brochures available within the Shrine itself, continue to denounce these judgement as imposed by a vindictive outside power and innacurate, it is widely accepted that these people were, indeed, guilty. Some exhibits in the Shrine grounds are surprisingly uber-patriotic in this sense, which has added to the controversy.
Koizumi made it one of his campaign promises to visit Yasukuni on the day marking the War's end, which he finally did this year (his last chance) after visiting on other dates in the past. These visits have enraged belligerent voices in China and South Korea and have effectively led to the total breakdown in high-level communication between Japan and the two countries (the Korean PM has recently offered to meet Koizumi's successor, in a rare and admirable diplomatic move). Koizumi's line has basically been that his visits to the Shrine have nothing to do with any other country and has thus deflected (in his own eyes) their criticisms, while ignoring the fact that, in reality, his actions have helped to create the current deadlock. Although Koizumi has continued to show willingness to talk to the other parties, the situation is basically one in which no-one is willing to give an inch. It should be noted that Koizumi has, on several times, publicly expressed regret at Japan's past.
While all these specific matters have loomed large over Koizumi's tenure, for me, there has been one more general issue which has the potential to be most important, at least domestically. Koizumi, as I have said, was not afraid to attack the status quo, and part of that was that heavily entrenched habatsu
system, where, within the one party, exist several factions, each with their own benefactor (often a retired politician who desires to retain his influence) and own agenda. This whirlpool of mixed allegiances has been a major contributor to Japan's notorious political culture of corruption and kickbacks, but Koizumi has made a point of avoiding such traps and, to a large extent, appointing Ministers based on ablility and expertise rather than history and loyalty. I hope this continues to the next PM come late September.
A quiet day
Whew. That was quite hefty, more to clarify my own understanding than anything else, perhaps. Next episode, I'll run down (as in summarise, not as in with my car) the three candidates who are challenging to succeed Koizumi and who I predict, and prefer. Hopefully somebody, somewhere, will express some kind of interest in all this to make it seem worthwhile.