Emerging Japan

ONE important development a new administration must take into account is the emergence of a new Japan. Until now, Japan's significance has been economic - its rise from a tattered land in the aftermath of World War II into an economic superpower. With that economic strength have come stirrings from within, and pressures from without, for Japan to assume a more significant political and diplomatic role internationally.

Japan is rich, and increasingly self-confident, the argument goes. It has benefited from defense spending substantially lower than that of other allies in the Western alliance. Now is the time, the argument goes on, for Japan to become a major political force.

That Japan's role is going to change, there seems little doubt. But how that role will take shape, and over what time period, is under debate.

How too, will such change affect the relationship between Japan and the United States? The US wants Japan to assume more of the economic burden of leadership. If Japan is to share more of the burden, it will want to share more of the power.

Questions like these were recently raised at a just-concluded conference here on the future of US-Japanese relations. Held behind closed doors to encourage frank discussion, it was convened by the Council on Foreign Relations of New York, and the Asia Pacific Association of Japan. A US delegation 13-strong met with a Japanese delegation of the same number. Participants included leading economists, academics, corporate executives, top present and former government officials, a few journalists, and military men.

It is not breaking the rules to predict that we will be seeing a more assertive Japan, intent on becoming a major player in international politics.

The extraordinary growth of Japan's economic power has convinced many Japanese leaders that their country can no longer remain relatively mute and withdrawn from the international scene. Thus, states a Japanese Foreign Ministry policy statement: ``Japan is truly at a major turning point in its history.'' There is need for Japan to take a long-term perspective and to play ``an important and responsible role as standard-bearer sustaining the international order.''

Unless something amounting to a military takeover occurs in Japan, this new assertiveness will not take a military form. Deep postwar pacifist and antinuclear trends exist in Japan. The Japanese military is limited to self-defense. Debate revolves around where to peg military spending between 1 and 1 percent of gross national product. There is no prospect of boosting military spending to between the 4 and 5 percent of GNP, which some US congressmen are demanding. Indeed, one expert has calculated that such a spending level would enable the Japanese to create 10 new carrier task forces and acquire nuclear weapons. Is that, he asks, what Americans really want the Japanese to do?

But there are other burdens aplenty in the world for the Japanese to share, and opportunities to explore. There is a Japanese role in the eradication of drugs, the improvement of education, the attack on AIDS, the utilization of superconductivity, the development of technology for the betterment of mankind.

There is a mammoth opportunity in peacekeeping - not only by diplomacy and with personnel, but with cold, hard cash. Peacekeeping in the Gulf for the next six months will run to about $74 million. The cost of reconstruction in Iran and Iraq boggles one's thinking. There is reconstruction to be paid for in Afghanistan, and peacekeeping and reconstruction in southwestern Africa and Cambodia.

In these ways, rather than in constructing carrier task forces, Japan should find its international role.

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