Japan losing place on world stage, business leaders warn

by Eric Johnston

KYOTO — Kansai’s annual gathering of business leaders closed Friday in Kyoto, wrapping up two days of warnings that Japan is losing its place on the world stage due to the country’s political situation and because its people have become too inward-looking.

“Japan has a duty to join the international community in tackling problems such as international conflicts, nuclear weapons proliferation and global warming. But Japan’s contributions have been insufficient and the country’s international visibility is declining because Japanese have become self-centered and inward-looking,” Kansai Economic Federation Chairman Hiroshi Shimozuma said in his opening address Thursday to nearly 450 attendees.

Many participants complained bitterly about what they see as self-centered behavior by corporations and individuals, especially among the younger generation, leading one observer, U.S. Consul General Daniel Russel, to characterize the speeches and comments he heard as “dark.”

But politics, not economic or social issues, was the main concern of many participants.

Opposition party control of the Upper House since July has created political gridlock that is hurting Japan’s international reputation, participants said.

Solutions offered to break the deadlock were sometimes radical. Kyoto University professor Terumasa Nakanishi, a strong advocate of Japan having nuclear weapons, suggested the Upper House be abolished in its current form. More moderately, he also favors a coalition government.

“Two main parties, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan, forming a coalition government is the only way to break the stalemate,” Nakanishi said, to the approval of many of the senior business leaders present.

Plans to create such a coalition last November failed after members of the DPJ vetoed the idea. Media polls have shown large segments of the public are also opposed.

On Friday morning, the future of Japan’s international relations, especially U.S.-Japan relations after the recent passage of the antiterrorism bill, were the subject of discussions. Some participants said changing the Constitution, especially Article 9, should be given priority.

But Keiichiro Asao, the DPJ’s shadow defense minister, said the short-term prospects for constitutional revision were slim. He favors working within the Constitution by setting up a NATO-style military alliance for East Asia that would allow the Self-Defense Forces to more easily respond to regional security threats.