What are the problems Japan is facing

Asia's future

Manfred Pohl

To person

Dr. phil, born in 1943, full professor at the University of Hamburg at the Asia-Africa Institute, Japan department.
Address: University of Hamburg, Von-Melle-Park 6, 20146 Hamburg.
Email: [email protected]

Publications a.o .: (Ed.) Japan - Politik und Wirtschaft, Hamburg: Institute for Asian Studies, since 1976; (together with M. Jürgen Mayer) Country Report Japan, ed. from the Federal Agency for Civic Education, Bonn 19962; Japan, Munich 19983; History of Japan, Munich 2002.

The "Japanese model" has been thoroughly disenchanted in the last decade. As in Germany, the social and economic groups in Japan are largely unable to meet the economic and socio-political challenges of globalization.

Germany and Japan today - a comparison is worthwhile

A "lost decade" can be reported in which the "Japanese model" was thoroughly disenchanted - if there ever was one. The conclusion of the nineties of the 20th century is sobering: The curve of domestic political, economic and social development in Japan spans from the dynamic awakening in 1993/94 (after overcoming severe corruption crises) to a crippling reform backlog at the beginning of the 21st century. Japan these days is facing the same problems that the two most successful and seemingly unbeatable "post-war models" suffer from. Countries that won peace after 1945 - Japan and Germany - are today in their social and economic groups largely incapable (and, last but not least, probably unwilling) to meet the economic and socio-political challenges of globalization and at the same time to have their own security policy profile develop. Japan and Germany in particular have to reorganize their economic structures and corporate constitutions: The US is completely redefining its global role regardless of the national interests of its most important allies, and so Germany and Japan are unexpectedly faced with the task of making a choice between unreserved support for any American Position and an independent strategy, possibly also against the foreign policy and global economic positions of the USA. To be mentioned here are Middle East politics, the war against Iraq and, last but not least, global environmental politics. Japan and Germany suddenly had to take on global responsibility, for which they were insufficiently prepared due to the tradition of their political culture. The key date for Japan was September 11, 2001, for Germany the emancipation of security policy began with the various crises in the Balkans. The "giant dwarfs" Japan and Germany inevitably became largely independent and thus acting equally on the global stage - alongside the USA and with new, unexpected responsibilities. Germany has accepted this challenge of an independent policy within the EU with all the consequences - Japan, under Prime Minister Junichirô Koizumi, decided to join forces with the USA unconditionally. It should be emphasized that Japan ultimately has only one guarantee in terms of security policy: the bilateral alliance treaty with the USA, while Germany is integrated into a number of (collective) alliance systems.

It became clear (and is also evident today in Iraq) that a single remaining superpower cannot build and control a new world order on its own; rather, medium-sized and economically powerful states are also indispensable for the USA as an ally. In the first Gulf War, Japan and Germany were the pariah who refused to take part in the acts of war against Saddam Hussein, much reviled by the "patriotic mass media" of their respective allies. It will be shown in the following that Japan is not just "the ATM that needs a kick to spit out money" [1]: Japan's already fragile political culture received another crack in 2003 when the Koizumi government made it way ahead in the ranks of the "willing" and finally in July 2003 was even ready to send 1,000 men of the so-called "Self-Defense Forces" (SDF) to Iraq - against the express will of the majority of the population.

Far too often and far too easily the term "model Japan" used to appear in comparative economic analyzes. Observers of Asian developments in particular were tempted to use this term because politicians in the region kept talking about wanting to follow the "Japanese model". Perhaps best known is the Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir, who raised Japan to a model with his "Look East!" Policy. But even before him, the founder of Singapore and tough advocate of "Asian values", Lee Kuan Yew, drove the citizens of his city-state into a successful modernization, following the example of Japan. Whoever spoke of a "Japanese model" had their own view of it - and hardly any of these views ever really corresponded to reality. But they had one thing in common: the advocates of the "model Japan" instrumentalized this term in order to implement development strategies in their countries from which they hoped to achieve economic successes comparable to those in Japan. In doing so, they often overlooked the serious historical, cultural and social differences to Japan or deliberately played them down when the "Japanese model" was used.

In the first years of the 21st century, the Japanese model lost its luster; it too obviously belongs to another, clearly bygone era of economic development strategies. However, it would be a serious mistake to overlook the economic performance of both countries in view of the structural crises in Japan and Germany: "Japan AG" as well as "Rhenish Capitalism" have created the conditions that Japan and Germany continue to do in their regions make the strongest economies; Japan remains in second place as an economic nation after the USA. A little cynical could be said: Japan and Germany have big problems, but they are on a high level.