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

Japan’s Approach to Asian Development Merits Renewed Recognition
NISHIKAWA Megumi / Journalist

March 28, 2012
Japan’s Approach to Asian Development Merits Renewed Recognition
NISHIKAWA Megumi Journalist

A little over a year has passed since the Arab Spring. On the political front, there are encouraging signs in some countries, such as the holding of free elections and a shift toward democracy. Yet, on the economic front, we still find stagnation, while Syria remains in complete disarray. Confronted with this situation, I can't help thinking about the stark contrast with Asia. Why can't self-sustaining economies that guarantee jobs for youth develop in North Africa and the Middle East? Why do authoritarian regimes continue to remain in power? It makes me think of the different role played by the United States and Europe in North Africa and the Middle East and the role played by Japan in Asia.
In 2010, annual growth rates were 5.2% for Egypt and 3.7% for Tunisia. To absorb the rapid increase in young workers, these countries need growth of 10% and 6%, respectively. However, in reality the figures are only about half, and are expected to decline further in 2011 due to the confusion brought about by the Arab Spring.

Herein lies the problem - apart from a handful of countries such as Turkey, the market economy doesn't function in North Africa and the Middle East because deregulation hasn't taken place. Economic activity is dominated by privileged, exclusive companies operated by the state or the military, while the private sector remains fragile. This has prevented the development of a self-sustaining economy.

And that is where they differ most from Asia. In Southeast Asia, authoritarian rule continued in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia into the 1990's. However, with respect to the economy, the development of a functional market economy allowed the private sector to expand, leading to high economic growth. Economic development in turn encouraged political reforms, forcing some authoritarian rulers to make their exit, and many countries were eventually transformed into democracies.

Japan played an extremely important role in bringing about such development in Asia. In the post-WWII era, Japan applied the principle of economic development in approaching the Asian region that was crucial to its national security. This could be described as constructive involvement that stops short of interfering in domestic politics. Through this approach, Japan sought to build the country's economy by linking its technological and economic strengths with local human resources and other resources. Reinforcing a country’s economic foundation offered a faster way to ensuring national security – that was the logic at work.

Following Japan's example, South Korea, Southeast Asian countries and eventually China took flight, and this wild-geese formation of economic development enabled Asia as a whole to take off, generating a substantial middle-class population and creating a global center of growth.

In contrast, the approach adopted by the United States and Europe toward North Africa and the Middle East was one that focused on national security. To reign in Islamic extremists and ensure energy security, they forged close ties with authoritarian regimes that sometimes led to collusive relationships, offering support that included military aid and turning a blind eye to domestic corruption and repression. This is a remarkably different approach from that taken by Japan, which drew on Official Development Aid and private funding to deftly guide Asia towards economic development.

Up until the 1990's, the Japanese approach based on development was criticized by the United States and Europe for tolerating authoritarianism and disregarding civil rights such as human rights and democracy. In retrospect, however, democracy has steadily taken root in Asia. The recent move toward democracy in Myanmar is just another positive sign.

Watching the Syrian government of President Assad and the relentless pressure being applied against it by the United States and Europe amid a chorus of citizens demanding their governments to provide arms to the rebels, I realize anew the significance of the way Japan played its role in Asia. We must surely respect the values of human rights and democracy. However, they cannot be realized simply by delivering a chilly northern wind. This is a message that Japan can convey to the United States and Europe, with which we share the same values. The Japanese approach to Southeast Asia has been proven to be effective, and we should raise our voices to get that point across.

The writer is Expert Senior Writer on the Foreign News Desk at Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2012年 3月 28日









(筆者は毎日新聞 専門編集委員。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan’s Approach to Asian Development Merits Renewed Recognition