Japan’s New Start
Expectations Rising to Open Era of Regional Cooperation
The new Japanese cabinet started work Wednesday with a firm ― rather grim ― determination to change the country's history. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) should now set about what Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama described as the ``state remodeling for the first time in 141 years," in reference to the Meiji Restoration. We hope Tokyo will succeed in attaining the historical task, but it will take enormous pains and efforts, nothing short of a second birth.
While Japan's slogan of 1868 was ``Out of Asia, Toward Europe," that of the Hatoyama cabinet seems to be ``Out of America, Back to Asia." In economy, the new leader seeks to get out of Anglo-American neo-liberalism to inject greater egalitarianism into the existing free market capitalism under his ``fraternity" concept. In politics, too, Hatoyama calls for a ``more equal," partnership with the United States, although he hurriedly added that the U.S.-Japan alliance is the basis of his government's diplomacy.
For Japan's neighbors, these should be welcome changes in the world's second-largest economy, which has so far acted as if it were a ``Western country displaced in the East." Other Asian countries will have their fingers crossed that this ― along with DPJ's platform for an East Asian Union ― is not the kind of ``Greater East Asian Sphere for Co-prosperity" that was seen during the first half of the 20th century.
The signs are quite promising, for now, in this regard. The new Japanese leader vowed not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine where 14 Class-A war criminals lie dead, and set up a new national war memorial. He also said Japan would apologize and make proper compensation for the ``comfort women" of wartime sex slaves.
Tokyo, however, should go further from this to step up diplomatic efforts to normalize the relationship with North Korea by tiding over the abductees issue sooner rather than later. As long as Tokyo and Pyongyang remain estranged from each other diplomatically, peace and cooperation in East Asia can't help but ring hollow.
Another stumbling block standing in the way to Hatoyama's efforts to come to terms with Japan's historical wrongdoing is the territorial issue over the Dokdo islets. If the new Japanese leader is genuinely determined to admit his country's past mistakes, he should acknowledge Korea's sovereignty over the rocky outcroppings, as they would not have become the subject of dispute had Japan not colonized Korea in the first place.
President Lee Myung-bak must also have had these in mind when he invited Japanese Emperor Akihito to visit Seoul on Tuesday, saying, ``There is no reason the Japanese emperor should not visit Korea. But what's more important is under what conditions he would visit."
The time has long past for the two countries to be mired in the historical and territorial squabbles of the past. They need to move toward more futuristic cooperation. The past, however, will keep haunting the East Asian neighbors unless Tokyo makes its position firm and clear on its previous mistakes. Hatoyama's vision for the East Asian Union will not be able to materialize without Japan's sincere reflections on the past, as the European Union is based on Germany's unequivocal remorse and restart.
All this would take a long time, but if Japan clearly sets its direction in this way, its neighbors will ― and should ― show willingness to give it a chance.