The Wall Street Journal
March 13, 2006, page A18
Japan Awaits a Democratic China
Contribution by Minister for
Foreign Affairs Taro Aso to the Wall Street
I am positive on China. Already the biggest
trading partner in our history if combined with
Hong Kong, China has powered our recent economic
recovery. Going forward, our codependence will
only become more pronounced. I welcome China's
return to center stage in East Asia -- as long as
China evolves into a liberal democracy. And I
believe it will.
Democracy in Asia is spreading. Not so long ago, a
Japanese prime minister would have to fly south
overnight to Canberra to meet our nearest
democratic neighbor. Now, he can fly west for only
two hours to Seoul, capital of one of the world's
most vibrant democracies.
China's turn is imminent, and I am positive on the
prospects for this evolution. Citizens of Japan,
South Korea and Indonesia can all attest that
prolonged economic development creates a stable
middle class, which in turn provides a springboard
for greater political representation. The question
is no longer "whether," but "at what speed" China
will metamorphose into a fully democratic nation.
I can assure our friends in China that Japan is
committed to China's success to that end.
Imagine: In 20 years, China's influence in Japan
will be enormous. Chinese holiday makers, from
students to the retired, will be the largest
consumers of Japanese tourism, filling favorite
tourist spots like Kyoto. Tokyo's taxi drivers
will speak Chinese, not English. China will be one
of the largest investors in Japan's economy. A
considerable proportion of the shares traded in
Tokyo will rest in Chinese hands. Today, Japanese
companies go to New York for investor marketing
trips -- soon, they will fly to Shanghai first.
In truth, there is little new or surprising about
these scenarios, considering Asia's historical
context. China is not emerging afresh as a world
power, as many claim; it is, in fact, reclaiming
its historical prominence. My hope is that China
recognizes that there is no longer a place for an
empire. Rather, the guiding principles in today's
world are global interdependence and the
international harmony that can engender.
China's history is one of extremes. In 1842, the
pendulum swung to one extreme when the Qing
dynasty was defeated in the Opium War and fell
under the coercive power of the West. In 1949, the
mainland swung to another extreme, as Mao Zedong
ushered in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural
Revolution -- both now seen as misguided policies.
Until recently, the Chinese did not have the
luxury of striking a balance between vision and
reality, between who they are and who they wish to
Crucially, China can learn from Japan's missteps
-- we have "been there, done that." Japan has
experienced extreme nationalism twice in the last
century. A telling incident occurred in 1964,
shortly before the opening of the Tokyo Olympic
Games, when a Japanese teenager stabbed Edwin O.
Reischauer, then American ambassador to Japan. At
the time, Japanese emotions still ran high at the
thought of U.S. power and influence. Beijing's
leaders can learn from such Japanese experiences
to better manage their own rising nationalism.
Environmental degradation, which suffocated Japan
in the 1960s and 1970s, is another area where
China can learn from Japan's mistakes, just as we
hope China is also inspired by our successes.
In terms of military presence, Japan is Asia's
natural stabilizer. The U.S. and Japan have the
world's longest-standing security partnership. It
is transparent and a relationship between two
democracies. Acting alone, the Japanese or the
Americans might raise a few eyebrows; acting
together, there is no room for misunderstanding.
China and every other Asian nation can continue to
count on the built-in stabilizer provided jointly
by Japan and America, a common good that is
readily available to Beijing. Hence my request
that Beijing fully disclose its defense spending,
which has remained opaque yet -- as Beijing admits
-- has more than trebled over the last 10 years.
A final reflection on Japan's post-war record: I
can say with confidence that, with a few
exceptions, Japan has conducted itself openly and
treated neighboring nations as peers. As a
self-proclaimed "techie," I have called the
attitude that Japan has shown toward its
neighboring nations one of "P2P," or peer-to-peer
I would like these thoughts to resonate widely,
especially with the citizens of China. For this
reason, I have asked my colleagues at the Japanese
Foreign Ministry to create a multi-year
student-exchange program that is absolutely
positive, like my vision of China's future.
I would very much like Japan's youth to look
warmly at China. The growth of China must hinder
no one's interests. Our new program will
facilitate the exchange of thousands of Japanese
and Chinese high school students, enabling these
young ambassadors to stay in ordinary homes in
each other's nations and planting the seeds of
mutual understanding. If our program is
successful, in 20 years' time Japanese men and
women with first-hand knowledge of China will view
the Chinese among their closest friends. And many
more Chinese will feel the same about Japan.