New Directions in Japan under the Abe Government: Constitution, Defence and Nationalism – Prof. J.A.A. Stockwin

July 18, 2014

David Cameron, as leader of the opposition, once famously told Tony Blair at Prime Minister’s Questions: “You were the future, once”. In 1979, the Harvard scholar Ezra Vogel published a book entitled Japan as Number One, arguing that the political economy of Japan, and indeed Japan as a country, was the wave of the future, and that the United States should sit up, take notice and reform its own systems to match this up-and-coming superpower, if it wanted to stay ahead.

Yes, Japan was the future, once. The Japanese economy in the 1980s seemed unstoppable, Japanese companies were buying choice pieces of real estate and famous companies in the US and elsewhere, economic growth rates were the envy of the world and the value of all land and buildings in Tokyo’s central business and government district was said to be the equivalent of all the land and buildings in Canada. All this came crashing down at the beginning of the 1990s with the collapse of a monstrous asset bubble, the banking system struggled under a mountain of toxic debt, and the ‘lost decade’ (so described by the Tokyo University economist Professor Yoshikawa Hiroshi), began. Only the lost decade moved into a second lost decade, serious deflation set in, and the process may not have stopped even now, although the business world has become more bullish.

What a difference 25 years can make! Japan is now portrayed by some as an aging society, economically stagnant, with a declining population, internationally famous firms are said to have lost their entrepreneurial spirit, complacency and inward looking attitudes seem to prevail, and Japan is threatened by a resurgent China having designs on territory Japan regards as its own. In 1990 Chinese GDP was around 25% of that of Japan. Today China has pushed the economy of Japan from second into third place in world rankings and is continuing to widen the gap. Very recently, the Japanese Government announced a policy to ensure that in 50 years the population, now under 127 million and falling, will not have dipped below 100 million. But Japanese women have gone on a ‘birth strike’ and what can the government do about that? The population of China is more than ten times that of the present population of Japan, though China is also beginning to face population growth slowdown, partly as a result of the one child policy, now being relaxed.

But in Japan something of great significance occurred as the result of general elections held in December 2012, now 18 months ago. This was the election by an impressive majority of a government based largely on the venerable Liberal Democratic Party (which was out of power for just over three years but had been dominant for almost all the years since the 1950s), now led by an ambitious right wing radical, Mr Abe Shinzō.

“But certain aspects of the present government’s reform agenda cause me deep disquiet, and I know that this is shared by many of my friends in Japan.”

It is the Abe Government that is the subject of this lecture. I think that I should lay my cards on the table and say where I am coming from in terms of my perceptions of Japan. Having been studying the country and its politics now for a half century and more, I consider myself a friend of Japan, an admirer of a people that succeeded in overcoming the catastrophe of war in China and the Pacific between 1937 (the Marco Polo Incident and start of Japan’s China war) and defeat in 1945, then building a democratic, peaceful and prosperous society based on a rich culture, a dynamic economy and functioning institutions. Problems during the lost decades have been serious, but Japan still works well in many areas, so that an intelligent, far-sighted, radically reformist approach to a difficult situation should be welcome. But certain aspects of the present government’s reform agenda cause me deep disquiet, and I know that this is shared by many of my friends in Japan.

In so far as Mr Abe’s reforms concern economics I welcome his attempts to grapple with deep-seated issues through what has come to be called ‘Abenomics’, though I have some doubts about whether these policies can succeed in their entirety.

What I want to focus on are three areas of concern. The first is the political system and successive attempts to reform it, culminating in the current situation under the Abe Government. The second is the ‘Peace Constitution’, defence and foreign policy, where I shall attempt to assess the present government’s strategy of constitutional revision, whether by textual revision or by reinterpretation (which is highly topical). In this section I shall also briefly discuss relations with China and with Korea. And thirdly I shall touch on human rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression.

Political system reform

The political system that emerged from the Allied (largely American) Occupation between 1945 and 1952, was based on widely accepted democratic principles and marked a radical departure from the ‘authoritarianism with democratic elements’, characteristic of the pre-war period, culminating in the 1930s when the system was becoming more and more militarised. By the 1950s Japan had a bicameral elected parliament to which the prime minister and cabinet were directly responsible (and through it to the electorate), the Emperor was retained as ‘symbol of the State’, but stripped of all political power, the civil service was supposed to implement policies devised by prime minister and cabinet, while both chief executives and assemblies were chosen by election at local level.

Even though on paper this looked much like the British system, it developed its own characteristics. The civil service exercised a great deal of semi-autonomous power and for many years effectively manipulated cabinet. From the 1950s party politics was competitive in form but hardly in substance. The broadly right-of-centre Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won elections with monotonous regularity and formed nearly all governments, either on its own or in coalition with minor parties. It has often been compared with the Christian Democrats in Italy, though the Christian Democrats imploded but the LDP has survived. Opposition parties contested elections but were permanently out of power, until the 1990s. LDP political dominance combined with bureaucratic power facilitated an economic miracle between the 1950s and the 1980s, but the powers of the prime minister were restricted in practice. This didn’t matter much while the economy was forging ahead, but when the economy began to stall in the early 1990s, problems of weak leadership and endemic corruption became salient. The system was corrupt because it depended on powerful factions within the LDP, and on iron triangles linking LDP politicians with bureaucratic and private sector interests. The 1990s saw political turmoil and disillusion on the part of an electorate suddenly faced with an economy in serious disarray.

Important reforms were put in place in the late 1990s and early 2000s that enabled the talented, if maverick, right wing politician Koizumi Junichirō, to exercise leadership in the interests of greater economic efficiency. His neo-liberal reforms (including his flagship reforms to postal services, especially the enormous postal savings bank) came to be associated with longer term problems of inequality and loss of job security, but the economy began to grow again. But after he stepped down in 2006, much of his political momentum was dissipated by his successors, including the present Prime Minister Abe during his first term (2006-7). Such was the level of disillusion with government after the start of the global recession in 2008 that in the August 2009 elections the LDP was replaced by a new government based on the main opposition Democratic Party, formed only 13 years earlier, in 1996. The LDP languished in grumbling opposition between September 2009 and December 2012. The new Government was inexperienced, divided, and faced daunting problems, especially the triple disasters in northern Japan on 11th March 2011. The Democratic Party was routed in the 2012 elections.

“In the meantime, Mr Abe had reinvented himself after the failure of his first administration five years earlier, and became prime minister in circumstances where he could exercise far more power than most of his predecessors.”

In the meantime, Mr Abe had reinvented himself after the failure of his first administration five years earlier, and became prime minister in circumstances where he could exercise far more power than most of his predecessors. And he was hungry to exercise power in the interests of an ambitious and coherent right wing nationalist agenda.

Rather than seeking to reform the way politics was conducted, he was the beneficiary of reforms that had already taken place, particularly the strengthening of the prime minister and cabinet that had already benefited Koizumi in the early 2000s.

The ‘Peace Constitution’, defence and foreign policy

In April 2014, article 9 of the Japanese Constitution was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on the initiative of a group of Japanese women, in the name of the Japanese people. Apparently, the nomination has been accepted, and we shall know the result on 10th October. I am not quite sure how an article in a national constitution can receive a prize like this – you can’t exactly hang the prize round its neck – but the nomination indicates the seminal importance of the peace clause in the history of post-war Japan. Of course, the act of proposing it was deliberately provocative to Mr Abe and his government, but it shows just how controversial this issue is, and has been since 1947, when the present, still totally unrevised, Constitution came into force.

Article 9 reads as follows:

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognised”.

It is the fierce ambition of Prime Minister Abe to revise the post-war Constitution so as to make Japan a ‘normal country’ able to project military power outside Japan. His biggest obstacle is article 96 of the Constitution, which makes it difficult to revise (though not as difficult as revising the US Constitution). You require a two thirds majority of members of the House of Representatives, a two thirds majority of members of the House of Councillors and a simple majority in a referendum of the people. At one stage, the idea was to revise article 96 to make its conditions easier, and then go for a substantive amendment proposal, but this now seems to have been dropped. Parliamentary arithmetic now suggests that a two thirds majority in Parliament might be feasible, but public opinion polls indicate that reaching a simple majority in a referendum would be problematic. Moreover, the Buddhist-based Kōmeitō, junior partner in the Abe coalition government, is ambiguous in its views on revision. In his first administration, however, Mr Abe steered through Parliament a bill institutionalising procedures for a popular referendum, showing he is serious about wanting to revise the Constitution.

Through legal reasoning that would take too long to explain, article 9 has been interpreted to allow the euphemistically named land, sea and air Self-Defence Forces, which are no mean military force, closely aligned with US forces under the Japan-US Mutual Security Treaty. Successive governments, however, have interpreted the ‘peace clause’ as limiting the Self Defence Forces to defence of Japanese territory, and denying them the right to engage in ‘collective defence’, even by cooperating with US military actions in the region. Several kinds of military capacity deemed ‘offensive’ are banned under current constitutional interpretation. Such interpretation has been in the hands of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, which until the second Abe Government has ruled collective defence impermissible under the terms of the ‘peace clause’. Mr Abe has now appointed an official sympathetic to his views to head this Bureau.

Mr Abe has established a National Security Council and other institutions dealing with defence issues. The Constitution’s text being hard to revise, he is pursuing a different strategy, to revise it by reinterpretation. On 15th May this year, a committee set up by the Prime Minister (the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security) recommended that collective security should be permitted under certain conditions. These included:

1) That a close partner to Japan (read ‘US’) should be under illegal attack.
2) That such use of force posed a clear threat to Japanese security.
3) That a request from the partner had been received, even if Japan were not directly attacked.
4) That taking action should not undermine trust in the Japan-US alliance.
5) That Japan had permission from other states to transit their territory if necessary.
6) That the use of collective defence was approved by Parliament.
7) That the level of use of force was judged by the National Security Council as necessary and proportional, given that collective self-defence was a right, not an obligation.

The Prime Minister welcomed the report, which he would study, and promised to boost military capacity to deal with ‘grey zone’ situations, including a possible armed landing on the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands (which he referred to as “Japan’s remote islands”). He also pledged at his press conference to “defend the peace ideal (heiwashugi) proclaimed by the Constitution”, and argued that “by increasing deterrent power, conflict can be avoided and the prospects of Japan becoming involved in war will be lessened”. (Asahi, 16 May 2014). On 1st July, a bill to allow collective defence was adopted by Cabinet, to the dismay of its opponents.

“Mr Abe was at pains to dissipate the fear that Japan might be dragged into a war not of its own making by engaging in collective security with the United States.”

Mr Abe was at pains to dissipate the fear that Japan might be dragged into a war not of its own making by engaging in collective security with the United States. The contrast between the six decades of peace and prosperity since 1945 and regular large scale warfare from the 1860s to 1945, ending in colossal destruction, the fire bombing of major cities and nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a theme etched deeply into the Japanese consciousness. A poll in the Asahi newspaper in April this year showed 63% of those polled opposing collective defence. I recommend to you an interview in The Guardian for 1st July with Professor Ishida Takeshi, who fought in the last stages of the Second World War, and was so appalled with the militarist attitudes he encountered at that time that he has devoted the rest of his long life to defence of the ‘peace constitution’. In the article he is quote as saying: “Not killing anyone abroad is, in a sense, a precious part of our heritage. Why should we have to throw it away on the orders of one man rather than through the will of the people?”

In a recent article in The Diplomat (June 2014) the Australian scholar Aurelia George Mulgan argues that in analysing the argument about collective defence two distinctions need to be made. The first is that current attempts by the Abe Government to relax what she describes as “some of the tightest rules and regulations [imposed] on any military in the world” should be distinguished from 1930s militarism, where warfare was “built into the very ethos of the state”. The second is that Prime Minister Abe’s aspirations to enable Japan to escape from some of the constitutional constraints on the use of the Self Defence Forces in cooperation with US forces ought not to be confused with the ultra-conservative policies of Mr Abe in other areas. Collective security, or freedom to cooperate fully with the Americans in deterrence against China, is much needed, in her opinion, whereas other areas of government policy may be far less admirable.

But in an interesting qualification of her argument she maintains that if ‘collective defence’ means “participating in combat ‘outside the territory’, [it] does not necessarily enhance Japan’s ability to defend itself… [It may indeed] damage Japan’s security further by drawing it into conflict that it might otherwise have avoided”. She also concludes that at present the Abe and Obama administrations, despite the imperative for them to cooperate in containing China, do not particularly like each other.

This seems to me to reach the nub of the issue. While I think that there might be a case to be made for collective defence in Japan’s current circumstances, the ideological character of the Abe Government gives me cogent grounds for concern. While collective defence and the Abe ideology can be separated theoretically, in practice they are all too likely to fall over each other and become intertwined. Putting it another way, if this were a liberally minded government with firm democratic credentials, a proposal to amend constitutional interpretation in favour of collective defence would be somewhat less worrying. But for reasons that I shall discuss, it is difficult to characterise the Abe Government in such terms.

“It has long been argued by various observers that Japan has a ‘Galapagos complex’ that fights against globalising tendencies”

At this point it is worth citing an interesting point made by the Swedish scholar Linus Hagström concerning Japanese exceptionalism. It has long been argued by various observers that Japan has a ‘Galapagos complex’ that fights against globalising tendencies and is passionate about maintaining a special kind of political culture and outlook. In Hagström’s opinion, the radical pacifism of the left wing since the 1950s is an obvious manifestation of this exceptionalism. But he also identifies a sharply contrasting form of exceptionalism, that associated with the far right, revisionist about Japanese war responsibility, uncomfortable about war apologies made by earlier leaders, in denial about the veracity of the Nanjing massacre of 1937, and regarding large scale forced prostitution conducted by the Imperial forces during the war as natural and common to most wars (East Asia Forum, 23rd June 2014).

A former Australian Ambassador to Japan, John Menadue, who writes a regular blog on matters Australian and Japanese, in a recent piece expresses his grave disquiet about actions by Mr Abe, including his appointments to senior positions in the national broadcaster NHK of several individuals who in public statements have made extreme statements insulting to the memories of hundreds of thousands of Chinese who died in the Nanjing massacre, to the ‘comfort women’, many of them Korean and some still alive, who were forced to serve in Japanese army brothels during the war, and also harmful to the principle of moderation in relations with neighbouring states. Mr Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013, though not unprecedented, was the first time that a prime minister had done so since Koizumi who visited the shrine several times during his term of office between 2001 and 2006.

“Why is the Yasukuni Shrine so controversial?”

Why is the Yasukuni Shrine so controversial? Is it not a functional equivalent of the Cenotaph and perhaps the Imperial War Museum in London, the Arlington cemetery in Washington D.C., or the Australian War Memorial in Canberra? There are two reasons for concern about the nature and purpose of the Yasukuni Shrine. The first is that the Shrine complex includes a war museum, known as the Yūshūkan, whose displays give a largely benign, even enthusiastic, picture of the Japanese war effort between 1937 and 1945, and plays down the sufferings of Japan’s wartime opponents. In parentheses here, I should mention that the Atomic Bomb Museum in Hiroshima, though it has occasionally been criticised for deploying a ‘Japan as victim’ message, makes a genuine and for the most part convincing effort to put the tragedy of the atomic bombing into a balanced historical context. It is also a place of immense emotional power, as I have myself experienced, first in 1971, and most recently in 2009.

To understand the second reason requires a bit of history. The shrine was first established in 1869 as a memorial to those who had fallen in the Boshin war, fought between embattled elements of the former Tokugawa regime and armies of the rebellion that had overthrown it and were setting up a new modernising order at the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Yasukuni’s status had been that of a national institution to glorify the souls of servicemen who had fallen in successive wars up to 1945, but the Allied Occupation after the war insisted that it should be privatised, in line with the disestablishment of the Shinto religion, which had been intertwined with nationalism up to the end of the war. And then in 1978 the head priest of the Yasukuni Shrine, in secret, enshrined the souls of 14 class-A war criminals as well as over 1,000 lesser war criminals – all so designated by the Tokyo war crimes trials after the war. It was from this point that the Shrine became politically controversial, with the right wing accusing the war crimes trials of dispensing victors’ justice, and moderates in Japan, as well as governments in China, Korea and elsewhere, objecting to the use of the Shrine by Japanese politicians to promote revisionist nationalism. Since the 1980s, official visits to the Shrine by leading politicians, especially prime ministers, have not ceased to enrage Japan’s neighbours, especially China and South Korea. After the 1978 enshrinement of war criminals, the Shōwa Emperor refused to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, and his son, the present Emperor, has consistently refused to do so.

A distinction that is quite frequently made is the contrast between the conciliatory handling by successive German governments of war memory and compensation issues, and the much more nationalistic and unsympathetic approaches to such questions in Japan. While this in no way excuses belligerent activities by China over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and other territories disputed with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea, prime ministerial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine are inflammatory in the context of unresolved war memory issues. A statement from the White House that Mr Abe’s December 2013 visit was “disappointing” registered high in the internationally understood scale of diplomatic protest language. It is also worth noting that since the Abe Government took office, not only have relations with China been strained (though that goes back well before 2012), but relations with South Korea remain frosty, with the Government of President Park Geun-Hye tapping a rich vein of anti-Japanese sentiment to boost her regime (which is currently at a low level of popularity following a terrible ferry disaster in April). She recently had to accept the withdrawal of her latest candidate for prime minister once the media discovered that he had given a church sermon saying that the Japanese occupation of Korea between 1910 and 1945 was “God’s will”, and on another occasion had said publicly that compensation for wartime ‘comfort women’ was ruled out under the terms of the 1965 Korea-Japan normalisation treaty.

A final question in this section that I need to address is that of Japanese public opinion. A book just out entitled Governing Insecurity in Japan, edited by Wilhelm Vosse, Reinhard Drifte and Verena Blechinger-Talcott (Routledge, 2014), examines an apparent contradiction evident in public opinion surveys, between increased feelings of insecurity in Japan over the past decade, and negative reaction to proposals for boosting military capacity or reducing restrictions on forward defence. Vosse constructed what he called a ‘militarism index’ based on questions concerning when war might be justified, whether war was inevitable, how defence spending should be viewed and whether enhanced defence capabilities could be expected to produce a peaceful outcome. Administering the survey in the United States and Japan, he formed a three-category table: those whose attitudes were essentially militarist, those who had mixed views and those whose views were broadly anti-militarist. The contrast between the American results and those from Japan is striking. ‘Militarists’ were 51% in the US, but a mere 8% in Japan, those with ‘mixed’ views 40% in the US and 47% in Japan, and ‘anti-militarists’ 9%t in the US but 45% in Japan (Vosse et al., p. 22). A chapter in the same book, by Paul Midford, shows (p. 35) that during a period when the successive governments of Koizumi and Abe were actively promoting constitutional revision, support for revision fell continuously from a high of 65% in 2004 to a low of 42.5% in 2008 (Yomiuri Shinbun polls). An NHK poll on 14 May 2013 showed that it had fallen even further, to 31%. Moreover, when asked what revision they wish for, some respondents cite the need for more generous human rights clauses and the like, rather than revising the peace clause. An Asahi poll in April showed 64% of those polled were against revision of the ‘peace clause’.

We may conclude that constitutional revision is far from being a done deal, and that if a revision process is indeed put in train, it may well end in failure.

Human rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression

American critics have from time to time criticised the Japanese government for being too prone to leak secrets, in the absence of adequate legislation for the protection of secrets. Mr Abe was determined to remedy this, and in December 2013 the Japanese Parliament passed the Designated Secrets Law, designed to curb the leakage of State secrets. National security, diplomacy, ‘dangerous activities’ and counter-terrorism were the principal areas concerned.

Critics argued that the new law was a potential threat to basic democratic values, including press freedom. Structures for regular administration of the law were also criticised as too weak and have led to subsequent controversy. Perhaps the most controversial issue has been the harsh sentences proposed for government officials who leak (up to 10 years in gaol), and for journalists who obtain such information “in an inappropriate manner” (up to five years). By contrast with freedom of information legislation in the UK and elsewhere, government does not have to reveal secret information until 60 years have elapsed, and there seems to be no prohibition on destruction of documents. How the law will be administered is also controversial.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan declared:

“The current text of the bill [this was before it became law] seems to suggest that freedom of the press is no longer a constitutional right, but merely something for which government officials ‘must show sufficient consideration’”

On the other hand, a minority of Japanese constitutional law specialists, while regarding the nationalistic side of the Abe government as extremely dangerous, and opposing constitutional revision, wish to distinguish this from the actual text of the Secrets Law, which they regard as having merit (e.g. Kimura Sōta, private correspondence).

Revision of the 1947 Constitution is the touchstone of reform in the eyes of Japanese right wing conservatives, of whom Prime Minister Abe Shinzō is a typical but exceptionally motivated example. Within the constitutional revision movement revision of the ‘peace clause’ has always been the Holy Grail, with some nationalists arguing that the article was designed deliberately to keep Japan weak and under the thumb of the United States. There is an interesting contradiction here, because the LDP has been consistently in favour of the Japan-US Security Treaty as the best guarantee of Japanese security, whereas criticism of the Japan-US alliance has mainly been concentrated on the left. Nevertheless, criticism of over-dependence on the US does also exist on the right, and has its counterpart in occasional statements from American officials (mainly military, and in the past) that a secondary purpose of the Security Treaty is to contain Japan.

A less widely recognised, but extremely important, purpose of constitutional revision on the part of LDP right wingers is to modify the human rights clauses of the 1947 Constitution, seen as advanced at the time they were written. Some wish to revive parts of the human rights section of the 1889 Constitution, which was long on duties to the State and short on rights of the individual. This touches on a cultural agenda, asserting ‘traditional’ collective rather than individualistic values, boosting the family as a unit, emphasising ‘the public interest and public order’, as well as responsibilities and obligations in compensation for rights and freedoms. Members of a household (the traditional ie) would be obligated to help one another, there would be an obligation to respect the national flag and the (controversial) national anthem, and to obey commands from the State or subordinate officials in a time of emergency, as well as an obligation to uphold the Constitution as such. In other words the revision ideas embedded in the thinking of the nationalist right are in line with what Mr Abe has called (in the title of his 2006 book) “Japan as a beautiful country”. Some of this proposed language might seem innocuous enough, but in my view, and given what one knows about the ideological nostalgia for past times among Mr Abe and his supporters, the implications represent a serious danger for the health of democracy in Japan.

Towards a conclusion

There remain two issues which I need to discuss. The first is how far, as some now argue, Mr Abe learned important lessons from his first term in the office of prime minister, and has modified his earlier policies to conform with reality and public opinion. He is no doubt aware (in fact has remarked himself) that the hefty majority his party obtained in December 2012 was brought about more as a result of disillusionment with the failed Democratic Party Government as with enthusiasm for a second Abe administration. A salient issue during his first period in office was chaos in the bureaucracy dealing with the pensions system. But Abe at that time promoted his beloved nationalistic agenda rather than concentrating on sorting out the pensions fiasco.

In his second administration, Mr Abe has plainly learned the lessons of his earlier unhappy – some say disastrous – first period in office, especially by presenting an ambitious policy package designed to revive the economy, now dubbed ‘Abenomics’. There is a good deal of public opinion poll evidence suggesting that what the electorate is principally concerned about is economic revival, rather more than constitutional revision or collective defence. It seems likely that his government stands or falls on the success or otherwise of his economic policies, rather than on foreign and defence policy. The problem is that the pragmatism he has learned through experience coexists with a backward looking ideology that causes problems with neighbouring countries and is hardly to the taste of ordinary Japanese people who aspire to live in a free, modern and prosperous society where they see their children educated without them being subject to nationalistic indoctrination, where jobs are available, opportunities for career advancement are widely available, where social services work well, and where economic inequalities are kept within reasonable limits.

The second issue is how far in evaluating the policies of the Abe Government, we should separate out policy from ideology. In particular, should relaxing the constraints on forward defence maintained under the ‘peace clause’ be welcomed in the interests of greater national security without considering the ideological agenda of a government that is promoting such a change? This question is of particular relevance in the context of the collective defence issue. My own view is that despite the pressures to relax constitutional constraints on Self Defence Forces activities outside Japan, this is an option fraught with danger. Unfortunately, Mr Abe’s overtly nationalist agenda makes it difficult to separate concrete policy objectives from an ideological mind set on the part of the Prime Minister. This exacerbates tensions with neighbouring countries and may well make resolution of disputes much harder to achieve. I find the situation concerning.

Finally, I want to end on a rather more upbeat note. Japan is far too much ignored in this country, which may have something to do with the fact that the UK for several reasons is extraordinarily self-absorbed at the present time. But Japan has the third largest economy in the world, more than twice that of the UK, Japan is one of our major trading partners and to a remarkable degree admires and seeks to learn lessons from British institutions and practices. Despite current problems, including demographic and economic decline relative to China and elsewhere, Japan remains a basically stable, prosperous and sophisticated country, with deep-seated cultural values from which we should be able to learn much of value. Japanese relations with the UK, and more broadly with Europe of which we are an essential part, can function as an anchor for stability and common sense in a turbulent world. Japan was the future once, and could be again. But there are, it has to be admitted, dark clouds on the horizon.


Professor Stockwin presented this abridged paper as the Keynote Address at The European Conference on Politics, Economics and Law (ECPEL) 2014, in association with the IAFOR Japan Research Institute (JRI), in Brighton, United Kingdom on July 4, 2014.

Photography by Thaddeus Pope, IAFOR Media.

New Directions in Japan under the Abe Government: Constitution, Defence and Nationalism – Prof. J.A.A. Stockwin

About J.A.A. Stockwin

Professor Arthur Stockwin is Emeritus Fellow and Founding Director of the Nissan Institute for Japanese Studies at the University of Oxford. His first degree was in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford, and he received his doctorate in International Relations from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. Between 1964 and 1981 he taught courses, principally on Japanese politics, but also on Soviet politics and political sociology in the Department of Political Science at the ANU. For 10 months in 1975-6 he was seconded to the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs. Between 1982 and his retirement in 2003 he was Nissan Professor of Modern Japanese Studies and the founding Director of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies at the University of Oxford, where his teaching and research continued to focus on the modern and contemporary politics of Japan, of which he is a renowned expert. He is now an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College in the same university, where he was Sub-Warden in 1999-2001. Professor Stockwin holds numerous awards for his efforts to promote the understanding of Japan in the UK, including the Order of the Rising Sun, the Japan Foundation Award for Japanese Studies, and an OBE for services to academic excellence and the promotion of UK-Japanese understanding. In 1994-5 he was President of the British Association of Japanese Studies.

Latest Posts By J.A.A. Stockwin


    Asia, Featured, History, IAFOR Japan Research Institute, IAFOR Keynotes, In Depth, Politics, International Relations & Law, Subject Area, World


    , , , , , , , , , , ,