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Japan at risk if West unable to confront growing geopolitical threats, says analyst

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Staff Writer

The world can expect more geopolitical conflicts that will also impact Japan if Western powers fail to tackle global issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis and the rise of terrorism, according to leading political risk analyst Ian Bremmer.

“I think the real worry about the geopolitical environment is that we are setting in motion a world that is much more fragmented, a world where conflicts will grow and no one will respond to it effectively,” Bremmer, who heads research and consulting firm the Eurasia Group, told The Japan Times during the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, last week.

“I believe we are in this ‘G-zero world,’ so we are going to see much more geopolitical conflict,” said Bremmer, who coined the word “G-zero world,” which refers to a vacuum of power in international politics due to a decline in Western powers the G-7 and G-20.

Dominating last week’s discussion among leaders who gathered in Davos was the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, declining oil prices after Iran’s re-entry into the oil market, Britain’s possible exit from the European Union and China’s economic slowdown.

Due to growing opposition against its refugee intake, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a regular at the WEF’s annual meeting, canceled her trip to Davos.

In her place German President Joachim Gauck delivered a speech, saying Germany may introduce measures to limit the number of refugees entering the country in the near future. Such a strategy is “morally and politically necessary” to preserve the state’s ability to function, he said.

“Merkel is really losing leadership on refugees. . . (Gauck) basically gave permission to everyone in Merkel’s coalition to come out against her. This is a real problem,” Bremmer, who lives in New York and Washington, said.

He also pointed out that unlike the time when East and West Germany reunited in 1989, the U.S. was not providing enough support for Germany.

“Americans were there for Germany when the (Berlin) Wall came down. We were there, and the entire alliance really responded,” Bremmer said. “This was a tough thing to do and it took a lot of courage. It was enormously expensive, but everyone supported it. Now, we are not there and the walls are going up. Nobody is there for Merkel.”

Without a unifying sense of crisis among the U.S. and European countries, Japan’s biggest partners as industrial democracies, Japan will also be vulnerable in the long term, he warned.

China may be flexing its political muscle, but Beijing isn’t in the driver’s seat to tackle global issues, he said.

Bremmer said China may become a big risk to Japan in the next five to 10 years. China’s growth will be open to question, as it has many internal problems, including weak exports and investment, he said, questioning the Chinese government’s ability to control its economy and political forces in order to open its market.

China gross domestic product grew 6.9 percent in 2015, figures released last week show, slightly lower than the government’s forecast of 7 percent but a significant drop from the 7.3 percent growth in 2014.

“If China starts having serious problems in the medium to long term, not only will the Japanese economy be exposed to that, but you could also see the real rise of nationalism in China, which is very dangerous to (Japan),” he said.

Because of these uncertainties, Bremmer welcomed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent diplomatic efforts to reach out to India, Southeast Asia and other regions that provide alternatives to China.

In December, Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to introduce Japan’s bullet train technology to India, and formalized a civil nuclear cooperation pact.

“Abe really is reaching out to the Indian government at the recent summit, and I thought it was a big win for Japan,” Bremmer said. “I think it is really important for the Japanese to get India right. It’s a great edge and it’s also a great market for the Japanese in the long term.”