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What in the World?

Japan no longer sitting on sidelines in global conflicts

Mar 30, 2023


For many decades, Japan’s military has taken a self-defense posture and limited its involvement in global conflicts. That stance changed late last year when it took the first step in developing first-strike capabilities. And in March 2023, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise trip to Ukraine to meet with Volodymyr Zelenskyy where he promised the president his continued support in Ukraine and talked of offering aid for reconstruction and humanitarian efforts.

To appreciate how significant this is, Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan says we need to take a look back at the overwhelmingly nationalistic history of Japan.

Excerpted from Peter’s March 29 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

As Japan prepares for the G7 Summit, the topic on everyone’s mind is the Ukraine War. By providing aid to the Ukrainians, the Japanese have given us a glimpse into how far the country has come and how they strategically positioned themselves for the years to come.

To appreciate how significant this is, we must look back on the overwhelmingly nationalistic history of Japan. The geographic separation of the country has always necessitated a robust naval presence, which naturally lent itself to rapid technological advancement and the development of a superiority complex. Conquering China and Taiwan and the attack on Pearl Harbor are just a few examples of this in practice.

Fast forward to the 90s and a financial crisis struck Japan, amplified by urbanization-induced demographic decline. Those nationalistic tendencies began to fade, and by the late 2010s, a new Japan was born.

The Japanese now realized how important it was to develop a strong relationship with the United States. By signing a (rather humiliating) trade deal while Trump was in office, they signaled to everyone that they understood where the world was headed. As other countries began to back away from their trade deals once Biden entered office, the Japanese doubled down.

Ten years ago, we would likely have seen the Japanese remain neutral in conflicts similar to the Ukraine War. Today, Japan’s support for Ukraine is just one example of how vital it is to understand deglobalization and the increase in global conflict.

Hey everybody, Peter Zion here coming to you from Harris saddle on New Zealand’s fame mystery burn track looks silly today. No stupid helicopters. Anyway, we’re going to talk about Japan, while I’m out here, the g7 is getting ready for their annual summit. And of course, the topic of the moment is Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine, and the Japanese have decided to belly up the bar with a significant amount of cash to support the polls who are in turn supporting the Ukrainians. Now, historically speaking, unless you’re talking about pure humanitarian relief for things like hunger, the Japanese have really had a really small footprint international relations, it has to do with geography. So it’s a series of volcanic islands that have little enclaves where people can live. So relatively weak infrastructure linking the sections, historically speaking, it’s really only in the modern age that that’s changed. But what that does mean is that the Japanese have always had to have a significant Navy, which means they’ve always been technologically advanced. And when that is kind of how you knit your homeland together, you can imagine how advanced you feel when you go out into you interact with countries that don’t have the infrastructure and don’t have the Navy and don’t have the technology. So the Japanese have always had a bit of a superiority complex. And that led them to basically colonize and conquer a number of countries, including China and Korea and Taiwan over the ages, and led them in World War Two to try to knock the US out of the war by destroying the fleet of Pearl Harbor. Now, obviously, history went a different direction. And the United States showed that even when it was fighting a land battle in Europe, that it was still able to float and sail a superior Navy to the Japanese, both in terms of technical acumen and tonnage. And so the Japanese were crushed in the war. And then of course, that was punctuated with the two atomic blast and Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Now, with that kind of in the back of your mind, you have to look forward, the Japanese know, in their bones, as much as they know anything that they will never be superior to the United States in terms of economic strength, naval power, and even now technology, their first world power, that is no joke. It’s the second most powerful navy in the world. I’m not trying to talk them down. But they realize that there’s a limit that they can’t go past number two, as long as the United States is in the game. And through the 50s and the 60s and 70s. In the 80s you had the strain of nationalism in Japan, that would talk about trying for it anyway, doing another chunk of World War Two former Tokyo Mayor Ishihara, I hope I got that name right. Apologies if I didn’t, can’t fact check out here advocated breaking the alliance and going its own way. Now, this was never viable. China is a naval power and its economy is based on the import of raw materials, especially energy and the export of finished goods. Sounds a little bit like China does it. And the United States was the power that was capable of patrolling the sea lanes and keeping safe keeping commerce safe for the Japanese. But by the time we got to the 90s, a couple things have changed. Number one, Japan entered into a protracted financial crisis that I would argue they will never recover from in kind of a weaker version, less intense version of the way that the Chinese do it. They’d print currency that issue loans to everyone that confiscate the savings of their population in order to make sure that there were sufficiently investment in jobs so that no one would rebel. They didn’t do this to the same just ridiculous stage that the Chinese have done. But it did build up trillions of dollars of equivalent of bad debt. And they have been trying to get under out from under that since the 1990s. So really, since things broke back in 1989, roughly, the Japanese economy has barely grown at all. In fact, I think it’s today less than 10%, larger than it was 30 years ago. I think maybe 93 was the last year they had any meaningful growth. So they know that the United States is on a continued growth spurt. It’s not rapid by first world standards. But it’s faster than anything of Japanese can manage so that the delta between the Americans and the Japanese keeps widening. The second big thing is demographics. Because of that oncologic geography. This is a very urbanized country, pretty much everybody lives in high rises. And in high rises, it’s hard to tell the kids to go play in the yard, so you just don’t have them. And so Japan has had one of the world’s lowest birth rates, not just for years, but for decades. And by the time they got into the 1990s, it was pushing towards retirement that even the nationalists in Japan are realized that the dream was really dead. And so throughout the 90s, and the 2000 and the 2010s, you had this increasing pragmatism in Japanese foreign policy, versus the United States versus Taiwan versus China versus Korea, where a lot of the more iconic class positions kind of faded away and the positions where the Japanese would try to be neutral because they didn’t want to repeat of World War Two are really how it ended. Kind of turn into bit by bit a little bit more proactivity and this culminated underdog Will Trump have all presidents when the Japanese came calling looking for a trade deal, and in the end, knowing that the United States was the demographic and the military superpower, they decided that they needed to seek a permanent alliance with the United States under Donald Trump figuring if they could do it with Trump, they could do it with anyone. And they prove that they could. And they cite a humiliating trade deal with Washington, which is enforced today. And unlike a lot of the other countries, I’m thinking here, Korea, Mexico, Canada, who signed trade deals with the Trump administration. And then in the first month of the Biden administration tried to back away from some of the more crushing details, the Japanese made it very clear that they were fine as it is, meaning that the Japanese are the only country that really sees where all of this is going with China, and broader conflict in the world, especially in terms of Commerce, in terms of demographics, and in terms of realizing that if you can’t get along with all stripes of Americans, you risk being left on the outside. So for the Japanese to step forward and say they’re going to be taking direct economic activity to directly buttress the European effort in Ukraine, Ukraine itself, that’s a big deal, because they are slightly out of region. And if this had happened just 10 years ago, the Japanese would be trying to find a middle ground that what would not offend anyone, but In for a penny in for a pound and the Japanese are in for a time. Okay, that’s it for me. Until the next video.

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