When in doubt, talk about how to make Japan great again

Now the vote likely will pivot on scandal and mismanagement of the country’s enormous pension system. This is a shame. The election really should be about Mr. Abe’s vision for a more activist international role for Japan.”

So says Michael Auslin, AEI’s newest Japan scholar, whom I previously discussed in this post, in which I discussed his unquestioning acceptance of Prime Minister Abe’s “beautiful country” rhetoric.

Compared to Auslin’s latest — an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (available free here) — the earlier article was a work of inspired genius.

Let’s start with the above quote. Who is Michael Auslin — or Abe Shinzo, for the matter — to tell the Japanese people what the election should be about? Why is it a shame that the Japanese people are concerned about the responsiveness of the government to their very real quality of life concerns? Why should the voters ignore the government’s very real indifference to their concerns and vote on the basis of some abstract concern about Japan’s position in the world? And why does Auslin think that the Japanese people are just hankering for Japan to play a more significant global role as a US ally?

Once again, Auslin buys the rhetoric emanating from Tokyo: “Despite scandal and missteps, they might find that it is Mr. Abe who offers the most compelling vision of their country’s role in the world.”

What is Mr. Abe’s vision for Japan in the world, and how does Mr. Abe plan to achieve it without wide-scale reform of how Japan is governed? Japan, like Italy, Germany and other continental European countries, is trying to manage the difficult task of coping with an aging and shrinking population while at the same time transforming the economy to ensure survival and prosperity in a globalized economy. But Auslin believes none of the matters. All that matters are the superficial symbols of national power and Japan’s rhetorical commitment to the US, not the long-term future of Japan as a great power.

Who cares if swathes of the country are in terminal decline? Who cares if people cannot be certain that care for the elderly will be sufficient to handle the aging of baby boomers? Who cares if corruption and incompetence have shaken public trust in nearly every sector of Japanese life? Why should the election be decided based on these mundane issues when the Japanese people can use the election to acclaim Abe Shinzo as the leader who will make Japan great beautiful again!

The US should not want an ally that is incapable of responsible governance and unable to cope with the challenges that its society will face in the coming decade. And it should not want an ally that comes running whenever the US calls. It should want a country that is confident, well-governed, and a model to its neighbors, one that is a good-faith partner that honors its commitments to its allies, but only makes those commitments after an open discussion as to whether doing so is in its interests.

Before Japan can begin talking about leading in the region, it needs to sort out its numerous domestic governance issues. That is the criteria by which to judge Prime Minister Abe. In his nine months in office, what has he done to transform how the country is governed? Auslin does not address that question; the national referendum bill and the government’s stated intention to buy F-22s are apparently all that matter.

One thought on “When in doubt, talk about how to make Japan great again

  1. Lyons Wakeman

    Absolutely correct.The Auslin piece was baffling, embarrassing, and fundraising. AEI has a strong anti-China reputation in DC. I guess they needed to nail down Japanese funding, which has almost exclusively gravitated to CSIS and Mike Green.Where is MTC when we need him most?


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