WASHINGTON – The State Department intelligence bureau recently held a confidential conference on Japan’s rising nationalism and its effects on the country’s foreign, security and economic policies, according to participants and U.S. government officials.
Japan experts within and outside the U.S. government, including analysts from the CIA, participated in the Sept. 26 meeting titled “Conference on Nationalism and Identity in Japan” in Washington, according to documents obtained by Kyodo News and accounts by participants.
The State Department made no official announcement of the meeting or its date and venue, following similar moves in the case of a controversial conference on “Anti-Americanism,” which is also said to have included both government and academic experts in early September.
“It’s part of a series of conferences that our Intelligence and Research Bureau holds,” a State Department official said on condition of anonymity. “It is not that Japan was singled out.
“There was a lot of discussion about what is in the minds of people in Japan, how they are looking at themselves, the world and their role in the world,” the official said. “It’s more about where people of Japan think it is right now and where it thinks it’s going, in light of contemporary developments.”
The State Department posed a three-part question to academics at the conference: whether prewar nationalism and national identity have relevance today, how national identity notions have influenced foreign, security, economic and domestic politics, and how they will shape future policy choices.
The participants were “a pretty stellar crowd,” said one academic who attended the meeting. It included such prominent Japan experts as John Dower, professor of history at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II.”
Though it is not yet clear to what extent U.S. officials are concerned about Japan’s current nationalism, the questions reveal their concerns, according to the participants.
“I think the conference was triggered by such phenomena as Tokyo Gov. (Shintaro) Ishihara’s high popularity and recent debate over history textbooks,” one of the few Japanese participants said.
” ‘Do you see something going (on) here that might make us think that we were looking at a new nationalist movement in Japan?’ and I think all of us came up with no as our answer,” said Sheila Smith, a research fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii. Smith was one of three panelists on the issue of Japanese nationalism’s contemporary influences on policies.
“The question I was interested in is ‘Is (Japan’s) identity changing?’ And my answer was no,” said Leonard Schoppa, an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia and a panelist.
The most interesting presentation was by Dower, some participants said. Dower reportedly told the participants that instead of singling out Japanese nationalism, they should be much more worried about American nationalism.
Dower made “interesting parallels” between the kinds of slogans in prewar Japan and some of those that have recently been employed in the United States, according to those participants.
Dower himself could not be reached for comment.
“The majority view was that there is growing dissatisfaction in Japan with its current constrained role in the world and I think that some of that frustration is related to American unilateralism, which is pushing Japan into the reactive role,” Schoppa said.
“What you do see in Japan is an increase in what I would call national-mindedness, perhaps a kind of assertiveness of Japanese values and identity — which I think one could confuse with nationalism,” said Andrew Oros, an assistant professor of political science at Washington College, who also took part in the meeting.
“Nationalism is a tricky term. My remarks were that I didn’t think that there was much of a concern of the rise of a kind of virulent nationalism in Japan in the next 10 years,” he said. “But I do give a lot of credit to the State Department to be asking these questions.
“As a political scientist, a question I find interesting is why there isn’t more of an active right, given circumstances in Japan such as recession.”
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