If a sense of rising power is stimulating a new strategic discussion in India, a pervading sense of decline is fueling the same kind of discussion in Japan.
One one side of Japan’s discussion is a right-wing nationalist movement aimed at returning Japan to relevance, generally by putting up a hard front against an ascendant China. Reuters reports on a former military leader in Japan who is arguing against his country’s relatively pacifist international posture:
“In Japan, there are pro-China politicians and there are ‘conservatives’, but almost all of those are pro-American and say ‘let’s do what America tells us to do’,” said Tamogami, a former air force chief of staff who was sacked in 2008 for writing that Japan was ensnared into World War Two by the United States and was not an aggressor in the conflict in Asia.
“We need to have a political party that brings together ‘pro-Japan’ politicians. If we don’t, Japan will simply continue to decline,” said Tamogami, who for the past two years has headed the nationalist group “Ganbare Nippon” (“Stand Firm, Japan”).
Tamogami has found a suitable prize to fight China for—the disputed Senkaku Islands, which have been the source of considerable tension between China and Japan for the past few years:
Hoping to grab public attention, Tamogami’s group will sponsor a trip next month by parliamentarians, local lawmakers and others to waters near a chain of islets in the East China Sea at the heart of a worsening feud between China and Japan.
“By doing this, we want to raise the public awareness of the Senkaku Island issue,” Tamogami told Reuters, using the Japanese name for the islands, known as the Diaoyu in China, located near rich fishing grounds and potential maritime oil and gas reserves.
At present, groups like these are fringe movements with little chance of obtaining serious power in Japan’s notoriously incestuous political world. But movements like Tamogami’s reflect public opinion that could spur the ruling party to take action. Particularly when this action involves a potential conflict with China, we ought to take notice.
Indeed, Americans need follow these discussions—and similar discussions taking place in countries like Indonesia, Australia and Vietnam—much more closely than we currently do. Asia is changing rapidly, and we will need a solid understanding of the goals and worldview of the various states as we navigate the increasingly turbulent geopolitics of the region.