One of the frequent catch-phrases in Japanese foreign policy discussions these days is 脱米入亜 datsu-Bei nyuu-A ‘leave America join Asia’, one of many trial balloons floated by the new DPJ-led government. This phrase (r)evokes an older formulation attributed to one of the most avid Westernizers of the Meiji era, Fukuzawa Yukichi, who must hold the world record in Sinographic neologism. (One of the neologisms sometimes attributed to him is minshuushugi [people-master-ism] ‘democracy’.) His policy prescription for Japan in the late 19th century was 脱亜入欧 datsu-A nyuu-Ou ‘leave Asia join Europe’.
How feasible for Japan is 脱米入亜 datsu-Bei nyuu-A ‘leave America join Asia’? Kyushu-based blogger Ampontan is translating and hosting a series of columns by Shimojo Masao, one of Japan’s top specialists on Korea (whose second language is Korean), who weighs in on the issue. Here is Ampontan’s translation of Shimojo’s first column, in its entirety.
The Preconditions for an East Asian Entity
There has been a change of government in Japan for the first time in half a century, and a Democratic Party of Japan administration has taken power under the leadership of Hatoyama Yukio. Among his policy initiatives, the concept of an East Asian entity or community similar to the European Union is receiving widespread attention. The alliance with the United States has been the cornerstone of international relations for Japan since the Liberal Democratic Party came to power. People are discussing whether the change of government might mean Japan has chosen to turn away from the U.S. and place a greater emphasis on Asia.
A full understanding of the distinctive historical characteristics of East Asia is required before embarking on such a course, however. While Japan, the Korean Peninsula, and China on the continent are close geographically, the history of their social systems is different. They have less in common than the members of the European Union, which had shared Christian beliefs and intermarriage of the ruling classes.
In Japan’s case, a social system that incorporated regional authority was formed after the establishment of the Kamakura Shogunate in the 12th century, and the foundation of a market economy was created. That is why Japan, with a system closely resembling capitalism, was quickly receptive to Western civilization after the Opium War of 1840.
In contrast, a system of centralized authority was maintained in China and on the Korean Peninsula despite the arrival of modernization. For many years, they had what amounted to planned economies. The history of Japan vis-à-vis China and the Korean Peninsula is that of relationships similar to the one between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The achievement of an East Asian entity depends on whether Prime Minister Hatoyama is possessed of the awareness of those historical differences and the insight to perceive what is necessary to overcome them.