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  • Apr 25, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion

World may suffer for China's distorted view that Japan is on the slide

Tom Plate says China's newfound assertiveness in its territorial disputes with Japan rests on a misguided belief that its rival is in decline - a mistake the world may have to pay for

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 3:58am

Try it, you might like it: a sense of proportion. Avoid the extreme cry of apocalypse now - or, at least, of apocalypse soon. Stretch your intellectual and historical horizons to appreciate Japan as an expanse of more than just a few decades, or of even just a few centuries. It is a culture and a people that will endure.

Here are some obvious points. Japan is not about to tip over and fall into the Sea of Japan, not to mention into the East China Sea. It is millenniums old and culturally deep - as rooted as any society we have on earth. It is an archipelago of almost 7,000 islands, with a population of nearly 130 million. It may be ageing, as is much of Asia, but it is anything but unproductive or spent or destitute.

As Chris Patten, now chancellor of Oxford University and Britain's last governor of Hong Kong, rightly notes in reviewing a significant new book on Japan: "Japan's real per capita income has risen 0.9 per cent a year since 2002, faster than the US and Britain; unemployment even in the worst years of recession never rose above 5.5 per cent and was at 4.1 per cent at the end of 2012; social cohesion remains strong; its companies are more global than ever with huge overseas investments. Japan is still by a comfortable margin the third-largest economy in the world, with citizens on average eight times wealthier than the Chinese."

Japan may be ageing, as is much of Asia, but it is anything but unproductive or spent or destitute

These observations correctly reflect the theme and tenor of David Pilling's excellent new book, Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival. Pilling takes the long view about Japan: as it were, reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew - who, at 90, lived through the Japanese occupation, its second world war devastation and its relentless return to prominence - rightly notes that it would be "madness" to ever count the Japanese out. But with the mass international news media, still influential despite the splintering by social media, measured assessments are often rare.

Remember this? In the 1980s, Japan, the economic powerhouse, was "taking over" the world. But, by the next decade, debt-laden Japan was reported to be utterly "lost". How is such a sharp plunge from near-dominance into near-oblivion possible? It makes no sense. It is media yin-yang at its silliest.

But at least one major actor bought into the decline line: Beijing. As China's return to prominence on the world stage was cheered as historic, Japan's decline was framed in almost funereal terms. As if actually believing that win-lose narrative, Beijing began reasserting old claims almost fearlessly.

When you consider the risks of conflict between the globe's second- and third-largest economies, not just for East Asia but also for the world, is there any bilateral tension as idiotic and pathetic as two elephants shaking their tusks in a dumb quarrel over rocks named Senkaku (Japanese) or Diaoyu (Chinese)?

And, yet, that is where the sumo mat has been put down. As Beijing has been brassily advertising its air and sea territorial claims for all the world to see, in Tokyo, the government of Shinzo Abe has been rocking its tusks back in response. If compromise is in the air, it is not visible. Collision seems probable.

This could put at risk China's astonishing economic rise, and Japan's core relationship with the United States, which for the time being at least has no appetite for jumping into a serious conflict in East Asia. Yet Tokyo stubbornly digs in as China stubbornly persists. Neither political culture appears capable of facing reality, only saving face.

It is impossible to observe the Abe government without worrying about whether Japan will now take a bad turn. Let's face it: for two decades, its political culture has veered close to the resolutely unimaginative.

You wonder how such a fabulous country that has spawned the most skilful multinational corporations and universally admired technological products (not to mention phenomenal literature and awesome art, design and film) can throw up prime ministers and governments of such rigidity and banality as would challenge a satirist to further caricature.

One feels great sympathy for the population, which for decades has remained admirably and even stoically pacifist. But it now faces the reality of a China that has risen from a long sleep with pent-up energies eager to settle old scores.

And so the Japanese are weighed down with a shogun power culture underlying the structure of their dysfunctional party system.

The only obvious transformative option would be a reversion to imperial authoritarianism. That would surely prove a cure worse than the disease. But it could just be that China's new assertiveness will help push Japan in that direction faster than anyone realises.

Loyola Marymount Professor Tom Plate is the author of In the Middle of the Future: Tom Plate on Asia, as well as the Giants of Asia book series

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Stefan Bach
Life on earth is an eternal up and down. The intelligent ones want co-operation and co-existence as the most conducive state of existence.
"Why people making plans, which cost so much blood? We want to live and let live!
The first virtue of every honorable man must be humanity. The voice of nature, which is the foundation of humanity, wants that we all love each other and promote our mutual welfare." Frederick II. of Prussia
Yingnam Fong
China's 2013 GDP is about double of Japan's and the trend will most likely continue. Japan is going to lose edge on almost all fronts, not only its trade but also its HR pool and capability to develop. Japan's saving will still be steady for sometime to finance the debts and welfare expenses. Its GDP growth is not optimistic as I see it. As such, when anyone commenting on the race between the two nations of China and Japan, the factors as mentioned have to be taken into consideration seriously. Otherwise, the story will be ugly distorted and rejected by readers. Too much personal favoritism will do more harm than good. Readers want unbiased fact and trend as the basis for a good article!
pslhk
A realist British nationalist is invariably
an Uncle Sam **** kisser such as
Churchill, Blair and Patten
(CP is flattered for being lined up with his betters)
-
whymak is right about the economic ignorance of Pattern
whose myopic observation for HK at the onset of AFC 1997
was “You aim’t see nothing yet”
The Western engineered financial crisis was to be proved
a fire drill to prepare China and SE countries for the meltdown of 2008
It catapulted China to grow from strength to strength
and began the charming knell of libertarian market capitalism
-
In his review of DP’s Bending Adversity
CP misapplied Graham Allison and patronized Japan
about the need to follow the pied piper TPP
Abe, does you son has a seductive wife?
West Pacific can drown all imperial rats
Yingnam Fong
Japan's boom days no more! What has Japan got other than the human resources on its islands? China spends huge amount of money on its R&D to develop high tech commodities. Each year, China has an output of 7 million tertiary graduates. This will become a strong HR force to challenge Japan's leading role in high tech production sector. Each year, Japan's government spends more than it can get from its revenue. Its government and people alike are living on the saving. Japan has 130 million people. Discounting the old guys, how many young guys left to run the country? Japanese retail shops are noted to shrink continuously in Hong Kong. Apita in Taikoo Shing is a new example. Having said that, the overall situation should provide one clear indication: Japan cannot regain its glorious days found in the last few decades. China, Korea, India and others will continue to edge Japan out of the business market if not its islands. I hope the author can make the necessary adjustment in his mindset before writing any similar article on Japan with undue favoritism. The very true fact is that Japan situated in the corner of the East Asia will continue to be so, cornered and alone! By the way, when will the amazingly peace loving nation come to remove the huge ****nal of chemical war weapons now held in the northern part of China. Though the Chinese are no long the old Chinese and the Japanese are no longer the warriors, the huge bloody debts are still unsettled!
the sun also rises
I am sorry to point out the guy who appears both naive and ignorant in his view or knowledge of Japan is definitely this blind loyalist named 'whymak' a self-claimed alumni of St.Joseph's College. Japan is never a one-party government as the PRC does, it has the Democratic Party, the Liberal Democratic Party now led by her premier Abe and even some smaller political parties like Kung ming Party and Japan Communist Party as well.How can such a naive and ignorant guy like this blind loyalist 'whymak' publicly criticize others for being naive and ignorant why he himself is the one who has owned both qualities, i am sorry to point out.
the sun also rises
this guy down below named whymak used to blindly defend the autocratic ruling regime north across our border in Lowu and he has long been attacking the upcoming 'Occupy Central' campaign which is just a non-violent civil-disobedience movement to pursue our promised universal suffrage only. Now this guy is attacking the writer of the above article which praise Japan's economic strength and her unyielding efforts in revitalising her economy after decades-long recession.Now as all with sense well know, Japan's exports and tourism have both greatly benefitted from the weakened yen while the PRC's economy(especially the exports) is sliding and can hardly maintain an 8% yearly growth as before. Just wait and see what will take place in these two Asian neighbours in coming months or years.
whymak
SCMP opinion pieces are often not backed by facts and logic. Worse, writers quote falsehoods from “experts” and “politicians” to support their points of view.
Is Chris Patten an economics illiterate? If all that I have to go by is Mr. Plate’s quote, I am afraid there is prima facie.
The best proxy to standard of living is probably GDP per capita adjusted for purchasing power parity. World Bank figures indicate that the ratio of Japan to China for this metric is 3.8 at the end of 2012. Taking only differential growth rate into consideration, this number has been narrowed to 3.56. But there is more.
Whereas yen has depreciated to 0.74 of its 2012 value, yuan exchange rate is up by 3.48%. The 2012 gap is now further eroded due to the low purchasing power of yen for imports.
Is this political “scientist” truly naïve about economics or cleverly disingenuous?
I agree Japanese are a great people with a derived Confucian culture. Japan has a one-party government rule like China’s but without the latter’s stable government, diversity in decision inputs and meritocratic rulers. That’s not to imply that China can’t learn from Japan, which still leads the former in many areas of technology.
Holding Japan accountable for electing criminal minded and history revisionists must not be mistaken as hostility toward Japanese people, among whom are some of my friends and role models.
Yingnam Fong
" As Beijing has been brassily advertising its air and sea territorial claims for all the world to see, in Tokyo, the government of Shinzo Abe has been rocking its tusks back in response. If compromise is in the air, it is not visible. Collision seems probable." Japan is not the victim to rock its tusks back in response. Japan has done something bad to formalize the occupation of the islands which should have been returned to China after the WWII, if not because of the cunning US's manipulation behind the situation. The author wants to confuse the readers by putting the blame on China to stir up the dispute. By the two international treaties signed after WWII, Japan should have returned all previously seized lands and islands back to China or any other victim countries. Up to now, these treaties have not been properly honored. Moreover, the recent trick played by the Japanese government to buy back the islands from the "owner" has enraged the real owner, China. The rage has the support of not only the mainland Chinese but all Chinese residing overseas. Abe is silly to ignore the feedback which should be loud and clear enough to ask Japan to stay away from the islands in dispute. Abe has put his country folks in a risky situation to confront China which has a strong and valid reason to face Japan though it is backed by the United States. The author should sort out the reasoning etc. correctly and make the necessary amendment for goodness sake.
the sun also rises
'Japan is not about to tip over and fall into the Sea of Japan, not to mention into the East China Sea. It is millenniums old and culturally deep - as rooted as any society we have on earth. It is an archipelago of almost 7,000 islands, with a population of nearly 130 million. It may be ageing, as is much of Asia, but it is anything but unproductive or spent or destitute.
As Chris Patten, now chancellor of Oxford University and Britain's last governor of Hong Kong, rightly notes in reviewing a significant new book on Japan: "Japan's real per capita income has risen 0.9 per cent a year since 2002, faster than the US and Britain; unemployment even in the worst years of recession never rose above 5.5 per cent and was at 4.1 per cent at the end of 2012; social cohesion remains strong; its companies are more global than ever with huge overseas investments. Japan is still by a comfortable margin the third-largest economy in the world, with citizens on average eight times wealthier than the Chinese."
so the downfall of tiny Japan as propagandaized by the furious Mainland Chinese is both ignorant and laughable.Right ?
Yingnam Fong
"Japan is still by a comfortable margin the third-largest economy in the world, with citizens on average eight times wealthier than the Chinese." Should the author have the responsibility to make a reference to <List of countries by GDP (PPP) ****en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)> for comparison from another perspective based on PPP. China is a huge country with 1.3b people, ten times more than Japan. Chinese people are also the finest people in the world, with no national criminal record in the last centuries. I believe the Chinese are more optimistic than the Japanese in the future prospect. China has already taken a large portion of low end consumer market from Japan and is moving on to produce mid end goods and so on to erode into Japan's overall market share. The battle in the economy has already started. The goal for the Chinese people is pretty clear. Out performing the Japanese is/will be the national glory for the Chinese nationals. Abe knows the critical situation well. That is why he has a very tight schedule in the coming months to travel to several countries to hard sell Japan as to counter China's everywhere influence. Unlike Qing Dynasty, China has learnt a lot about PR work and tasked the national agents (embassies) in the outposts to promote China's soft power. The battle field for the two countries is borderless. With better trained personnel, China's global stretching of power cannot be stalled as easy as in the past, by the west!

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