Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Reviving Japanese Diplomacy
HYODO Nagao / Professor of Tokyo Keizai University

October 28, 2003
Japanese diplomacy has been on the receiving end of harsh criticism and demands both at home and abroad. In particular, criticism and accusations directed at the Foreign Ministry, the central player of diplomacy, have persisted within Japan. Regrettably, the ministry certainly doesn't appear to have shed its antiquated ways. But even if it succeeded in rectifying itself, that alone will not ensure a revival of Japanese diplomacy.

Today, the domestic and diplomatic agendas have become increasingly intertwined, and we cannot expect a revival in diplomacy unless changes are made on the domestic front. What I am alarmed in the international conferences I've attended lately is the dilution of Japanese presence in the discussions, with the exception of economic issues. The times have changed from 'Japan bashing' to 'Japan passing,' and nowadays even to 'Japan nothing,' according to some self-scorning Japanese. This is a reflection of the current deadlock in Japan and the lack of positive specific results that could lead to a breakthrough. In the final analysis, any escape from this misery depends on the outcome of Koizumi’s reforms.

I think his structural reform is on the right track in terms of its basic understanding and direction. The problem lies with the forces of resistance within Koizumi's own party that stand in the way of progress. The greatest curse against Japan's revival is the collusive structure of the 'iron triangle' comprising so-called 'zoku' (tribal) legislators of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who cater to vested interests, industry and bureaucrats. And the latest fiasco surrounding the privatization of the Japan Highway Public Corporation and dismissal of its president offers a symbolic example. This is a typical case in which excellent bureaucrats who had contributed so much to the post-war reconstruction of Japan had lost their sense of mission to become 'zoku' bureaucrats who indulge in privileges and ignore the national interest by resisting reform.

Their counterparts, the 'zoku' members of the LDP, are meanwhile counting on getting re-elected in the coming general elections by riding the favorable winds of Koizumi's popularity. But they will shed their reformist appearances once elections are over, and are certain to put up a violent fight when the time comes to actually privatizing the National Highway Corporation and the postal service and decentralizing power. This is tantamount to a betrayal that ridicules the people. The majority of Japanese voters have no party allegiance, testifying to the despair they feel towards the current state of politics.

At the collapsed WTO ministerial negotiations in Mexico, Japan struck conspicuously a defensive position by insisting on protecting its agriculture centered on rice. The outcome of the Doha Round holds a critical importance for a trading nation like Japan. But nowadays there is no sign of the vigor Japan demonstrated in leading the Tokyo Round. Here again, the collusive structure of the iron triangle in the agricultural area is casting its dark shadow.

Calls for a third reform to follow the Meiji Restoration and the post-war reforms have been forthcoming for a long time now, but outpaced by slogans and rhetoric, only they have so far been in vain. Reforms led by then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, which were to revive the bureaucratic system, ended in a mere play of numbers and fiddling of organizational structures, leaving the collusive structure of the bureaucracy intact.

Unfortunately, the established recognition in the world is that Japanese diplomacy closely toes the U.S. line. In its manifesto for the general elections in November, the Democratic Party advocates pursuing diplomacy independent of the United States, with an emphasis on "expressing objections where necessary and taking action where cooperation is warranted." The problem is, until now Japan has been unable to act appropriately with regard to the United States and the global community, and there is still so much that it cannot do. In the global community, words alone don't count for much when it comes to persuasion.

Ultimately, the revival of Japanese diplomacy depends on whether or not Japan succeeds in implementing structural reforms equivalent to the Meiji Restoration.

The writer is Professor of Tokyo Keizai University. He is a former Ambassador to Belgium.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

兵藤 長雄 / 東京経済大学教授

2003年 10月 28日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟