Foreign Minister Taro Aso Announces "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity."
Saturday, December 2, 2006 Posted: 12:19 PM JST
The Daily Yomiuri today reports that Foreign Minister Taro Aso has unveiled "a new foreign policy vision that will help promote democracy and economic development in Southeast and Central Asia and Eastern Europe." Why does this make me feel so uneasy?
According to the article, the Japanese government will:
-- Employ "value diplomacy" that emphasizes "universal values" such as democracy, freedom, human rights, rule of law and a market economy.
-- Be actively involved in establishing the arc of freedom and prosperity, which will connect a band of emerging democracies around the Eurasian continent.
According to Aso, Japan's assistance in the regions would include "continued support for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam," "support for self-reliant development in Central Asia and the stabilization of Afghanistan," as well as the "stabilization of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova."
The article continues to say that the Japanese government will "promote cooperation with the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization while establishing a framework for dialogues with each country in the region."
This is something that Japan badly needed, and the policy certainly sounds like a positive development.
But Aso has decided to call this policy the "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity." The word "prosperity" was misused a lot in connection with other Asian countries during the 1940s, when Japan used the term "co-prosperity" as in "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." (大東亜共栄圏)
In addition to the re-use of the word "prosperity", "Arc" sounds like "Sphere" to me. In Japanese, the new term (自由と繁栄の弧) doesn't sound much like the one used in the 1940's. And the contents of the new announcement bears no resemblance to the announcement by Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka on August 1, 1940. We also live in very different times, of course.
Still, the use of the words "Prosperity" and "Arc" in combination with Japan's relationship with Asian countries makes me feel uneasy. Especially as it comes after the creation of many laws bolstering nationalism, such as the proposed new education law.
It also comes at a time when Japan is discussing increased powers for its military forces, and when Aso is repeatedly making statements about nuclear weapons. And he is not the first one to do so.
Admittedly, Aso says the Japanese government will uphold the country's three principles of not developing, possessing, or allowing nuclear weapons on its soil. But why is he bringing up the nuclear issue so often? Is he sending political messages (either for domestic or international consumption), is he testing the waters, or is he getting the public used to considering the nuclear option?
After all, this is the man who believes that the Emperor should visit Yasukuni Shrine, that Japanese colonization was good for Taiwan, that burakumin shouldn’t be in government, and that Japan is "one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture, one race, none of which can be found in any other country."
This is a man whose family's coal-mining firm exploited many thousands of Korean laborers in slave-like conditions during WWII. Aso has never apologized for this, nor were the laborers ever compensated for their suffering.
I think that the "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity" initiative is positive and good for all countries involved, but the naming and the originator of the policy make me feel extremely uneasy.
I am clearly not the only one to feel uneasy, and the uneasiness about the direction Japan is taking is not new (read this 2004 article in Japan Focus).
How about you?
Keywords: political_news opinion_item
* * *