Nuke and Japan's dream of 'political power'

2012-10-19 01:35:00 GMT2012-10-19 09:35:00(Beijing Time)  SINA English

Sina English

Perhaps, Japan is still reeling from the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, and the nuclear crisis and huge leaks of radiation it set off.

The disaster led to soul searching in a nation already worn down by two lost decades of economic growth, a rapidly aging and shrinking population, political paralysis and national anxiety from the rapid rise of its longtime rival, China.

Turnabout on Plans to Abandon Nuclear Power by 2030s

In September 2012, in its first comprehensive energy review since the Fukushima disaster, Japan said that it would seek to phase out nuclear power by the end of the 2030s - but only after a longer-than-expected transition that would give power companies decades to recoup their investments and brace for a nonnuclear future.

The energy strategy, which would call for a 40-year life span for reactors and limit the construction of nuclear plants, reflected a historic shift away from nuclear power since the accident.

But it was abandoned less than a week later after vehement protests from business groups and communities that host the country’s nuclear plants.

Mr. Noda’s cabinet instead said only that the government would take the 2040 goal “into consideration,” and instead endorsed a vague promise to “engage in debate with local governments and international society and to gain public understanding” in deciding Japan’s economic future.

Before the accident, Japan depended on its reactors for about 30 percent of its electricity needs. It had planned to raise that share to more than 50 percent by 2030.

Japan clings to nuclear weapons to become a “political power”

Japan will not join an initiative led by 16 countries at the United Nations to make atomic weapons illegal, out of concern it would affect Tokyo's security arrangement under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The 16 nations drafted a statement for submission to the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly that calls on all states to "intensify their efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons," and asked Japan to endorse it earlier this week.

As expected, Tokyo has no courage to abandon nuclear weapons of its own and has to shiver under the wings of Uncle Sam. Japan has long been seeking to become a real power, and a “political power”, and Nuke would embolden the ambitious country much more than its powerful ally.

In September 2012, as tensions rose with China over territorial dispute on a string of rocky islands in the East China Sea, the country’s long-dysfunctional political system seemed close to grinding to a halt.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda fended off a challenge to his party leadership. But his victory was seen as likely to be short-lived amid a parliamentary impasse, a damaging feud with China and dismal poll ratings that bode ill for his party’s fortunes in the next elections. Indeed, Mr. Noda may have been elected simply to spare the Democrats the humiliation of burning through three prime ministers in three years.

He also faces a standoff in Parliament, where the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party has moved to block almost every policy move. He pushed through a contentious increase of the sales tax to 10 percent, but only after promising to dissolve Parliament and call nationwide elections “soon.”

That is a vote that the governing Democratic Party appears unlikely to survive. Mr. Noda’s popularity ratings are in the low 20s, hurt by his failure to break through the parliamentary gridlock, to stimulate the economy and, more recently, to take a decisive stand on Japan’s nuclear energy policy.

The Liberal Democrats in late September chose Shinzo Abe - a former prime minister and hard-line nationalist - to be their leader. As a result, both the Liberal Democrats and Democrats appear set to limp into elections that are shaping up to be a battle to be the least unpopular.

Dispute Reflects Japanese Fear of China’s Rise

As a result of the Diaoyu Islands dispute, a small number of Japanese nationalists have been pushing their country to boldly counter China’s economic rise.

The nationalists have gained traction for their cause by taking advantage of the government’s political weakness, forcing the governing party to take a tougher stand on the island dispute.

The ultra-rightists are also tapping into a widespread anxiety over China, which intensified two years ago during the last major flare-up over the Diaoyus. That anxiety became more pronounced in recent days when China takes countermeasures to Japan’s provocations by sending patrol boats to disputed waters.

There is still little appetite in pacifist Japan for a full-blown confrontation with China. But analysts say consensus is growing on the need to stand up to China as power in the region appears to slip further from economically fading Japan and the United States.

Opposition Party Picks hawkish Ex-Premier as Leader

Shinzo Abe, a nationalist former prime minister, won the race to lead Japan’s main opposition party in September 2012, giving him a chance of regaining the nation’s top job - a prospect that could exacerbate Tokyo’s tense relations with China and its other Asian neighbors.

Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is poised to make gains in nationwide elections expected soon, due in part to the unpopularity of Prime Minister Noda. Poll ratings for Mr. Noda and his Democratic Party have languished, thanks to the party’s handling of the disasters that struck Japan in 2011 and gridlock in Parliament that has crippled policy making.

It is a striking return to the spotlight for Mr. Abe, who called for a stronger and unapologetic Japan when he took office in 2006, but stepped down just a year later following a series of scandals and gaffes, citing an unspecified health problem.

During his brief term, he managed to anger China and South Korea with moves to change Japan’s pacifist Constitution, denials that Asian women were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during World War II, and efforts to alter school textbooks to present a whitewashed version of Japan’s wartime history.

At the time, Mr. Abe’s nationalist agenda seemed off the mark for a public that was more interested in jobs and economic recovery. And in some ways, he kept tensions with China from getting too far out of hand, picking Beijing for his first official trip overseas and refraining from visiting a contentious Tokyo war shrine.

But with emotions running high between Japan and China over a set of disputed islands, a return to office by Mr. Abe could help fuel more tension. Mr. Abe has veered further to the right since his stint as prime minister, suggesting that he intends to visit the Yasukuni war shrine if he becomes prime minister again and may even seek to nullify some of Japan’s war apologies.

Speaking to reporters on Sept. 26, Mr. Abe promised to take a strong stand in the dispute with Beijing over the islands if he became prime minister, even as he referred to Japan’s strong economic ties with China. He said he would also seek to strengthen Japan’s defense cooperation with the United States by taking a more active military role.

Political analysts had all but written Mr. Abe off after his abrupt resignation, which triggered much ridicule and greatly weakened the long-ruling Liberal Democrats. The party eventually lost to the Democrats in 2009, a historic defeat that ended a half-century of almost uninterrupted single-party rule.

But the Democratic Party has lost much of its support, having fallen short on many of their promises to change Japan’s postwar order by wrestling power away from the country’s powerful bureaucrats. The public has become increasingly disillusioned with what is seen as a directionless reconstruction effort following the 2011 tsunami and nuclear crisis, as well as the party’s failure to kick-start Japan’s moribund economy.

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Editor: Miao Miao
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