The economic performance of Japan stunned the world in the 1970s and the 1980s. Many pundits, and more than a few academics, felt that the country was poised to replace the United States as the world's leading economic power. After a quarter-century of alternating stagnation and low growth, nobody has said that for a long time. Despite this, Japan is exerting its military power more forcefully than at any time since the Second World War and it remains the world's third largest economy. From this marvellously accessible and digestible edited volume on Japan's economic and security developments—entirely written by Japanese scholars—readers will gain insights into these issues. The book's first section confronts Japan's recent security policy. Kazuya Sakamoto suggests that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's effort to upgrade the Japanese–American alliance is the latest stage in increasing ‘mutuality’ (p. 4). Abe's controversial security legislation, enacted in 2015, emphasizes the alliance's global reach and allows for military cooperation outside Japan. Tokyo may use the Self-Defence Force (SDF) to protect US forces in areas outside Japan, and may resort to ‘collective defence’ as a justification for assistance to US forces, though this right is still limited (p. 11). Yoshihide Soeya asserts that China's programme to extend its power in east Asia under President Xi Jinping will only be successful in a context of equal relations within the region. Thus, he recommends that Japan strengthens its relations with South Korea, Australia and the member states of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). He also argues that recent interpretations about the right of collective defence continue to rely on the postwar paradigm of regional relations. The second section looks at the Japanese economy's interaction with the US and global economies. Jun Saito sketches the development of the postwar Japanese economy in a fairly conventional manner: from the occupation and reconstruction period in the late 1940s to mid-1950s, to the high-growth period up to 1970 and the bubble economy of the 1980s, the lost decade of the 1990s and the expansionary period that followed it (p. 42). He also feels that Japan's biggest challenges include its declining population and its status as a net receiver of goods and services. Saito believes that the Japanese–American economic relationship has been mostly positive and that occasional trade tensions merely reflect differences in economic trajectories. His conclusions gloss over the frequent complaints of unfair practices on both sides. Yoko Takeda explains in simple terms why Japan ‘lost its strength over the last two decades’ (p. 81), pointing to low numbers of start-up firms, ‘deterioration of human capital’ through a decline of educational quality, lack of investment in employee development by firms and the inflexibility of labour markets (p. 87). She lays out five key growth strategies: labour market dynamism, (gender) diversity, ‘destructive innovation’ through economic openness, decentralization away from Tokyo and the reduction of fiscal debt (pp. 104, 114, 120). While these are sensible steps, Japanese corporate and political leaders have shown little willingness to take them. Japan's role in multilateral institutions and its foreign aid policies feature in the third section. Akiko Fukushima believes that, contrary to international opinion in the 1980s and early 1990s, Japan played a positive and supportive role in international organizations. While Japan never expected to be a leader, it nonetheless assisted a variety of global institutions, through its ‘UN-centered diplomacy’ and, since the 1990s, UN peacekeeping operations (p. 136). Tokyo also actively encouraged Asian regional organizations, such as ASEAN and the ASEAN Regional Forum. It led ‘from behind’, encouraging other regional players to be more active while offering financial assistance (p. 144). The brevity of the book is both its strength and its weakness. More chapters on specific aspects of Japan's contemporary political economy or changed security calculus—such as its relations with other Asian countries, its efforts to build a world-class military or nationalism under Prime Minister Abe—would have added immeasurably to the volume; as would have a focus on Japanese society, such as the ongoing demographic meltdown and the need for greater gender equality. It would have been useful, too, for the editors to include other than conventional or conservative points of view on key issues, such as the value of the new security infrastructure and the rise of China. Nonetheless, the book is a good read. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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