Abe Wins Huge in Japan… and some thoughts on the coverage…
On Sunday, Abe and his party secured a victory to win landslide victories. According to Foreign Policy,
Riding a wave of stimulus money to the voting urns, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party secured a majority in both of the country’s legislative houses, delivering a stamp of approval for his economic policies and possibly setting up Japan for its most significant constitutional revision since World War II.
A man with deeply nationalist roots, Abe has embarked on a twin project of national renewal, launching an aggressive stimulus program – better known as “Abenomics” and which has injected a measure of dynamism to the sluggish Japanese economy – while also floating the idea of revising the country’s pacifist constitution. Abe’s military initiative comes in response to what many in Japan see as the danger of a rising China to the country’s west and the need for Japan not just to have a self defense force but a bona fide military to counter that threat. On Monday, Abe linked those two projects. “Economics is the source of national power. Without a strong economy, we cannot have diplomatic influence or dependable social security,” he said. “I want to make Japan’s presence felt in the world.”
But any revision to the Japanese constitution is unlikely in the short term. Abe reiterated on Monday his campaign pledge to hold off any constitutional revisions — but also found himself limited by the election results in his ability to do so. His party failed to secure the necessary two-thirds majority in the lower house in order to push through any changes. “Even to propose a revision requires two-thirds of the legislature, so even if we wanted to move forward, we can’t,” he said. “Politics is about what is achievable and realistic.”
For now, Abe’s front-burner initiatives remain focused on reforming Japan’s giant but sluggish economy. His chief challenge in the short run lies in securing support within his party for his aggressive program of economic reform, which includes efforts to expand free trade — the Trans Pacific Partnership is an Abe favorite and a hot button issue within the LDP — and deregulation.
OK summary. Except left out of the typical report about “landslides” is that Abe may not have the “mandate” he is portrayed to have. For despite the “landslide,” “Abe’s victory was shadowed by a low voter turnout as only 52 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, the third lowest turnout since the end of World War II.” Also in article after articles, (see also e.g. this NYT report), the narrative seems singularly to be a nation in distress, a nation trying very hard to fight itself way out of a slump, in the face of impending danger from rising China. Very little on the dangerous path Japan may be embracing in its foreign policy … a path that will bring it into conflict with many of its neighbors.
Whatever one may think of Abe, Abe hit it on the nail in saying “Economics is the source of national power. Without a strong economy, we cannot have diplomatic influence or dependable social security.”
Contrast that with the reports on China. Almost everyday, one reads about impending economic doom, about how scared the government officials are that gdp growth might drop, if only a bit. You see, for China, when Chinese government provides economic stewardship, it is painted in the most immoral ways. The legitimacy of the government is deemed to rest on economic performance alone. Without economic performance, the CCP has no legitimacy. (Left out is the legitimacy of the current government in uniting China, in making China independent, in making China a power to be recognized on the world stage, the social reforms brought about through the 60+ years of communist rule, etc. The economic growth of the last thirty years is cast as an oddity, an accident, and most importantly, a windfall for the CCP to stay in power.)
In fact, the more one thinks about the way China’s political legitimacy is cast, the more clearly one sees how odd it is. If people are truthful about how they characterize CCP in relation to the economic growth it has fostered, one might as well say that democracy (at least ones that work) in its very essence is about “buying off” the people. In fact, anything a responsive government (democratic or not) does to fill people’s desires, quench people’s voids, serve the people must be but tokens for “buying off” the people, keeping the people from revolt!
Viewed under that light, the prosperity of the modern world – West and Japan included – might be cast as the world’s biggest “buy off.” As Robert Samuelson has noted, economics progress may be most fundamental the underpin of modern society:
What we are witnessing in Europe — and what may loom for the United States — is the exhaustion of the modern social order. Since the early 1800s, industrial societies rested on a marriage of economic growth and political stability. Economic progress improved people’s lives and anchored their loyalty to the state. Wars, depressions, revolutions and class conflicts interrupted the cycle. But over time, prosperity fostered stable democracies in the United States, Europe and parts of Asia. The present economic crisis might reverse this virtuous process. Slower economic expansion would feed political instability and vice versa. This would be a historic and ominous break from the past.
Instead of painting CCP’s efforts and success in dubious terms, why not simply acknowledge the simple truth that the Chinese government is doing a good job serving its people. Why not also accept the basic truth that from the Chinese perspective, ”economics is the source of national power. Without a strong economy, we cannot have independence or prosperity at home”?
In light of his victory, Abe stated he wanted to “make Japan’s presence felt in the world.”
I wonder what kind of presence he wants. A benevolent one that comes from Japan peacefully integrated into the economy of Asia, anchored around a peaceful and prosperous China, or a militaristic one based on denying history and threatening and bashing its neighbors?
A large contingency of Western press seems giddy with Abe’s election. For example, Business Week reported:
With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party rolling to a big victory in elections over the weekend, one of the biggest losers could turn out to be the country’s regional rival, China.
I disagree. The election is Japan’s election. China is per se neutral about another nation’s domestic politics. However if Japanese people under Abe does allow Abe to turn the nation nationalistic and antagonistic toward its neighbors (and let’s make no mistake about it, China is Japan’s biggest and most important neighbor), the ultimate loser may not be China, Abe, Liberal Democratic Party, or the Democratic Party of Japan, but the Japanese people.