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Home » Archives » December 2006 » Foreign Minister Taro Aso Announces "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity."

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

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1 comments so far post your own

1 | At 12:21am on Dec 03 2006, Jas wrote:
When I read between the lines it seems to me that Japan is getting very concerned for its future supplies of oil. Expect a fight with China over control of the energy deposits in the North China Sea.

We hear a lot about "blood for oil" but to be practicle we must consider that Japan imports about 95% of its energy needs in the form of oil. How much blood will it cost Japan to loose energy security? A worst case situation might be total economic collapse resulting in a major demographic collapse but realistically I would expect severe economic problems as a minimum.

Much of Japan's oil comes from Alaska but central asia controls much of the future world oil supply. Russia has the world's largest supply of natural gas but is unreliable politicaly, just ask western Europeans about their experience from last winter.

I have heard about the potential for shortages of natural gas in the northeastern US. If there is a severe cold lasting more than a couple of weeks the gas supply could run out and cause rolling blackouts during the most severe weather. Potentially many deaths could result from the cold. Last summer California had rolling blackouts because of tight energy supplies during the peak season for air conditioning.

Many people on both US coasts are fighting agaist contruction of LNG terminals but I wonder if the protestors are considering the alternative. IMHO when it comes to vital energy supplies the many people are living in a fantasy world.

Make no mistake, Japan went to war in the twentieth century to obtain a secure supply of oil and other resources from southeast asia. This is very serious matter but consider the alternative for Japan. When it comes to national or personal survival most will not choose to go quietly.
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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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