Published in Chinese Politics Journal, 1997 Fall

Motofumi Asai, _The Choice of the Giant Japan -- The UN Security Council and Japan (Taikoku Nihon no Sentaku -- Kokuren Anzenhosho Rijikai to Nihon)_, 339 pages, Rodojupo Press, Tokyo, 1995

Japan has become a powerful giant on the world's stage. However, according to Motofumi Asai's new book, Japan acts less like a giant but more like a political "infant." Citing just a few examples of this behavior, Asai points to the ludicrous performance of the Diet's adoption of the "Denouncement of War Resolution" and the government's hypocritical treatment of the issues of "forced prostitution" (ianfu) and "forced labor" (p.6). More fundamentally, Asai sharply criticizes a wide array of Japanese political institutions: the Peacekeeping Operation (PKO) Bill authorizing the use of the Self Defense Forces (SDF) units abroad, the bureaucracy's maneuver to pursue permanent status on the UN Security Council, the small district election system,* the backward implementation of "administrative and financial reform," the attacks on education and local autonomy, and finally, the revision of the constitution. In this book, Asai tries to answer the following questions: what stance should Japan take relative to the international community, and what role does the international community expect of Japan? In the past, government authorities and the mass media have largely succeeded in shielding the public from a critical appraisal of these questions. As a result, these issues have only been argued from the conservative side, epitomized by Ozawa Ichiro's _Blueprint for a new Japan : the rethinking of a nation_. Since the 1990 Gulf Crisis, conservatives have argued that Japan should make military "contributions" to the U.S.-led international initiatives. They believe only in power: power is justice and justice equals power (p.80), and their purpose is to hasten Japan's conversion from an economic giant into a military power (pp.6-7).

In the first chapter, Asai discusses the arrival of Japan as a giant on the international political stage. He stresses the importance of the constitution distorted by U.S. occupation policy and the influence of Japanese conservatives (p.32). Ozawa labeled the general feeling of Japan's armament refusal as "pacifism for only one country," "isolating Japan from the international world," thus making any refutation impossible (p.45). Asai argues that the conservatives' stress on military power flows from Japan's observations of another giant power, the Chinese empire which for a long history was the "international world" for Japan, and its treatment of small dependent kingdoms (Korea, Ryukyu). Asai suggests that Japan should learn more from China's contemporary foreign policy, whose "five principles of peaceful coexistence," derived from China's miserable experience in the modern era, is much more equal and progressive (p.48-49). As Japan's former China Section chief of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Asai's observations are uniquely persuasive, despite the obvious failures of aspects of China's foreign policy. However, I find it curious that Asai does not discuss the Japanese government's response to the Tiananmen Incident of June 4, 1989. In my opinion, recent Japanese political changes stemmed from this incident.

Chapter 2 discusses Japan's interventions in the realm of international diplomacy and conflict. Asai points out that the postwar Japanese political rulers are drawn from the same stock as the conservative wartime leaders, except for their sharply different attitude toward the U.S. Following the wishes of the U.S., the Japanese government repeatedly changed its definition of "military forces" in order to circumvent constitutional "limitations" on building up military power. As an example, the standards governing deployment of the SDF abroad have been modified as an "international contribution" has evolved. In the early 1980s, the Japanese government allowed for military development so long as these forces did not violate the criterion that they were "not for the purpose of war" (the government made an official statement to this effect on October 28, 1980). Fourteen years later, in their "basic agreements" (April 22, 1994), the allied parties of the Hata Cabinet (including the Socialist Party) claimed that "the Japanese constitution is based on the concept of the UN common security." They then creatively reinterpreted this "concept" to mean the "international collective right to self-defense." By doing so, they could promise the U.S. that Japan would fight with the U.S. against North Korea, using the banner of "collective self-defense" instead of having to pursue the more onerous political route of receiving a UN clearance for such a deployment (pp.192-193). Compared with the Kaifu Cabinet's reluctance during the 1990 Gulf Crisis, the Hata Cabinet was prepared to take preemptive actions to intervene in the daily lives of Koreans living in Japan. Asai concludes, "Whether or not there is an outcry of Japanese people against such bankrupt notion of 'collective self-defense' will determine Japan's future" (p.194).

Chapter 3 takes up the relationship of the giant Japan to the UN and argues that Japan should not become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The Japanese government stated that Japan would make contributions to world armament control and reduction once Japan became a permanent member of the UN Security Council. However, the Japanese government certainly knew that there were several reasons for the UN Security Council not to deal with this issue (first of all, the U.S. and other powers were against to do so), and hence their promise was fairly meaningless (p.239). Japan began to pursue its global giant status during Nakasone's premier-ship in 1982-87, but at that time the UN Security Council did not function very efficiently. After the decline of the former Soviet Union, the U.S. could utilize the UN Security Council to pursue its international strategy with even less resistance. To support this strategy in an era of tighter budgets, the U.S. began to request that its allies, especially Japan, undertake more military subdivisions (p.270). "It is in U.S. interests to promote and help Japan to play a global leading role" (Mondale's statement to a U.S. Congressional hearing on his appointment to Japanese Ambassador on July 28, 1993). "Japan's willingness to participate in all UN peace-keeping activities is the precondition for the U.S. support for Japan to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council" (a unanimous Senate decision on July 14, 1994). In his first US-Japan Summit with Premier Miyazawa on April 16, 1993, President Clinton formally expressed that the U.S. supports Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Asai mentions that the Japanese conservatives were puzzled by this request: Japan can assist the U.S. if the U.S. acts under the name of the UN, otherwise, Japan will lose trust of "the international community" and cause great damage to the U.S.-Japan relationship due to the constitution's prohibiting Japan to use military forces in international disputes. Once Japan becomes a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Asai argues, the Japanese government will participate in various military operations under the name of the UN by misrepresenting UN decisions and neglecting the existence of the constitution. He examines a recent international crisis to prove the point: for the purpose of sending the SDF to Zaire, the Japanese government utilized the excuse that UN High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) had asked Japan to rescue refugees there. Apparently, UNHCR's Ogata abused her power to help her country in pursuing a military power status because UNHCR cannot ask governments for assistance without the decision of the UN General Conference (p.279). MOFA bureaucracy went so far as to conceal from Premier Murayama evidence that the U.S. opposed sending the SDF to Zaire, and distorted the field research report (p.284). If Asai refers here to the fact that the Japanese government ignored advice from UNHCR to protect Asian refugees within its own sovereignty (and in fact cooperated with the Chinese government by expelling Chinese pro-democracy and human rights activists from Japan), the real meaning of Japan's "international contribution" becomes all the more clear. The conservative maxim of justice is power and power equals justice is reinforced in all of its hypocrisy.

The last chapter reviews the fiftieth anniversary of the end of WW II and assesses Japan's future in this context. Asai points out that, due to the sudden end of the Cold War and the subsequent shifts in international politics, Japan is mired in a deep dilemma: while democracy has taken root in Japanese society, the conservative ruling forces have become stronger and more severe (p.338). Both the allied ruling LDP (plus the SDPJ and the Sakigake) and the opposition Shinshinto are pushing Japan in a military direction. Again, Asai concludes that the extent of U.S. pressure on Japan's conservative leaders and the response of the Japanese people against such reactionary policies will determine Japan's future.

It is a pleasure to read such clearly argued judgments from a Japanese researcher and veteran diplomat, though it is difficult to draw definite conclusions about Japan's future international performance from this book. As stated above, the issue of Japan's international role has previously been presented from the conservative end of the political spectrum. It is refreshing to hear another perspective like that of Professor Asai. My only dissatisfaction is that perhaps non-Japanese readers will find that this book lacks a sufficiently deep analysis of recent Japanese politics-the arguments are too condensed or too simplified, not to mention that the oral Japanese expressions seem redundant for reading. Asai's other book, _International and Domestic Common Sense_ (Kashiwa shobo, 1994), discusses Japan's domestic affairs more directly. I hope that Asai produces more work directed an international readership, because his voice deserves a broader hearing at this critical juncture in Japanese history.


* In the October 20, 1996 election of the House of the Representatives (the first election under the small district election system), the LDP took 239 (48%) seats, the Shinshinto 156 (31%), and the newly established Democratic Party of Japan 52 (10%). This result means that conservative forces occupy much more than two-thirds of all seats. They dare not promote revisionism right now only because they know that they cannot get the support from more than half of the people. According to an Asahi Daily opinion poll conducted on January 1, 1995, reasons given for Japan's postwar peace and prosperity were as follows: 25% answered the constitution, 24% answered the war experience, while 17% answered the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

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