Views from the World
Stand up Japan! The world needs you (more than before)
Kornelius Purba, Senior Managing Editor, The Jakarta Post
(Keizai Koho, July 2012 issue)

The March 2011 tsunami disaster, which was followed the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, demonstrated to the world the unbelievable level of greatness of Japanese people in facing such a disastrous calamity. The people confronted the misery with great dignity. They proved to the world that they deserved a much higher and respected position in the global community. The private sector also demonstrated its high capacity and capability to recover at a high speed.

Unfortunately, this great nation can not get rid of their greedy and selfish politicians (like in my country), who are reluctant to reform the country’s political system because it could directly endanger their existence or at least their comfort zone.

So Japanese people have no other choice but declare to their leaders that enough is enough. It is very true is one of the world’s most advanced nation. But please forgive me if I make the conclusion that Japanese politicians share the mentality of politicians from the third world. Should Japan learn from Arab Spring or from what we experienced in 1998 when the nation forced Soeharto to end his iron-fisted ruling?

That was my conclusion after reading a very interesting book on Japan and the explanation of two Japanese prominent intellectuals from Tokyo.

The two Japanese people, a veteran journalist and an economic architect of the then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, briefed a small group of Indonesian scholars and journalists in Jakarta during the Golden Week moment in May. Yoichi Funabashi, former editor in chief of Asahi Shimbun and Heizo Takenaka talked about the English version of the book on the March 21, 2011, tsunami disaster entitled, “Lessons from the Disaster”. In the book both of them act as co-editors and also writers of the book along with other 9 Japanese scholars.

I was extremely impressed by the humble performance of Prof. Takenaka. During his presentation and from the book I got the impression that Mr. Takenaka, rightfully, tried to share his success story as an economist who held various positions in the Koizumi’s Cabinet.

My newspaper The Jakarta Post, regularly reprinted the insightful columns of Dr. Funabashi, as our two newspapers have a long-standing cooperation. (I have the impression that the senior journalist paid a serious attention on the need to maintain a strong relation between Japan and the US). During their two-hour presentation, the audience could get better understanding about what happened with the tsunami, and the human-made catastrophe, the nuclear mayhem.

A gloomy picture on Japan is very clear in scholars’ explanation, but they also had a strong message that the people are they key to the speedy recovery from the disaster, while the government and the political elites are the main stumbling blocks.

From the book the readers could also learn that the humiliating disasters could become a turning point for Japan’s revival as it had proved several times in the history. The nuclear disaster was a humiliation for several reasons, including the fact that the first concrete nuclear threats came from Japan, and not from North Korea. Of course North Korea’s nuclear weapon ambition should be stopped, but we can not deny it was Japan and not the North, at least so far, as the concrete source of nuclear dangers.

The book contains thorough explanation and analysis about the situation faced by Japan after the world’s second most dreadful nuclear accident after the Chernobyl nuclear doomsday in 1986. One of my strongest conclusions after reading the report is that “like in my country, Japanese politicians became the primary sources and creators of problems at the cost of the people have to suffer prolonged misery from their leaders’ irresponsible and selfish acts.”

Let me cite some of Mr. Takenaka’s remarks in the book.

Japan has been criticized for having “a strong private sector but a weak government sector” and for being “strong on the work floor but weak in the central management functions.” Under the extreme conditions of the March 11 catastrophe, this “strong private sector, weak government” situation has never been more clearly in evidence. Rebuilding the Japanese economy will require that these distortions be overcome. (Page 146)

In page 121, the former minister wrote, “After Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi left office, having built a long-lasting government that remain in power for five and a half years from 2001, the nation’s politics became increasingly unstable, with prime ministers coming and going every year. This made it impossible for political leaders to adopt the economic policies needed to respond to global growth rate.”

Mr. Funabashi concludes eloquently that “the people performed magnificently, but Japan’s politicians failed.” (Page 220)

As politics became a process of sharing pain, governments had to gain the people’s understanding for unpopular policies. But when their approval ratings fell, the politicians shelved these measures. This worsened the problem and caused governments to collapse. Succeeding administrations then had to implement even more unpopular policies. (page 235)

Amid China’s rapid economic expansion and its speedy military build up and its tendency to show off its muscles against its neighbours, the US continuous economic upheavals and the EU’s economic collapse, the world, especially Asian countries are now looking back at Japan to regain its locomotive role it played for decades to spur the global economic growth.

Many Asian countries, especially China’s smaller neighbours are beneficial with China’s mighty economy, but at the same time they feel intimidated by its military intimidation as showed in its efforts to press its sovereignty claim on the South China Sea.

China has replaced Japan’s position as the world’s second largest economy, and it is not impossible that China will also take over the US position as the world’s No. 1 in economy within few decades. EU will not likely be able to regain its strength soon.

The world is amazed by China as a gigantic global power. And we tend to ignore Japan because its stagnant economy although when we notice further China’s growth is inseparable from Japan’s factor. I believe the two countries’ economy has a strong inter-link.

The 2004 tsunami in Aceh has become a blessing disguise, because the mother of nature forced both the central government and Aceh rebels to end their decades-long war. Peace has now been fully restored in the province.

Japan is more than capable to restore its chaotic political system. Only Japanese people have the best knowledge to overcome the political stalemates. I do believe only after having a revolutionary political reform Japanese will be able to answer the world’s calling for a much greater role in creating prosperity and peace in this planet.

Wake up Japan!

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