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Japan and the Rise of China: What’s the Rumpus?

SNA (Tokyo) — Gökberk Durmaz of the University of Tsukuba joins What’s the Rumpus to discuss the potential threat to Japan which is inherent in the rise of China.


Michael Penn: Welcome to another episode of What’s the Rumpus. My name is Michael Penn, and I’ll be your host today once again and today I have a fellow here who’s name is Gökberk. First of all, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself? Let the audience know who you are and why we’re talking to you.

Gökberk Durmaz: I am a second year PhD candidate at the University of Tsukuba, my studies focus on Japanese foreign policy and international migration towards Japan, and how the Japanese government attracts those immigrants into the country, and current Prime Minister Abe’s policies on it.

Michael Penn: And your name seems kind of Turkish, are you from Turkey?

Gökberk Durmaz: Yes, I am from Turkey.

Michael Penn: From Istanbul, Ankara, or…?

Gökberk Durmaz: Ankara.

Michael Penn: Ok I see. Well, thank you for joining us, and so how long have you been in Japan by the way?

Gökberk Durmaz: I’ve been in this country for more than two years. I finished my Master’s in this country, and now I’m working on my PhD dissertation.

Michael Penn: Ok we’ll start with a rather simple question, or a broad one, how appropriate do you find Japanese foreign policy to be in general in the Asian region to what Japan’s diplomatic needs are?

Gökberk Durmaz: Well, first of all, to state the obstacles in Japanese foreign policies, currently the Japanese government tries to extend their sole power on the other Asian countries because of the aging society, and the stabilizing economy, and the economic overtake by China. Therefore, the Japanese government tries to extend their influence on developing countries, especially in the East Asian and Southeast Asian region. So the reason why the Japanese government needs to extend its policies towards so called “third countries” is because of the rising economic and military power of China. So, all of them influence the Japanese foreign policy as well as the economic attractions. The Japanese government currently really struggles with their stabilizing economy, because of the aging society effect on it, they really need to make new entrepreneurship in their country because the production line has been changed after the Industrial Revolution, based on mass production, and Japan was one of the really successful countries after the Second World War. However, currently the Japanese government needs to change these policies because if you look at the top companies on the earth most of them are IT companies or software companies. Therefore, the production method has been changed. So, in order to adapt to these changing economical behaviors and the economical line, the Japanese government also needs to change policies towards modernizing countries and the modernizing system. Therefore, in that sense, China’s production is really mass, and they’re a huge exporter to countries all around the world. Which makes China stronger in the sense of economy as well as their military power. That’s not a one sided danger for Japan, it’s a danger for both sides.

Michael Penn: Well I certainly agree with you that with China’s large population and its potential military strength and the size and scope of the country and the talents of the people it certainly seems to have a future of being a larger power than Japan, certainly economically and militarily. One thing where I sometimes disagree with a lot of analysts is, “So what?” Let’s say that China is more powerful than Japan, let’s say it’s considerably more powerful, why does that necessarily have to be seen as a threat? Why can’t it be seen as an opportunity for both countries to prosper?

Gökberk Durmaz: Well, we have talked about only the economical powers and issues in both countries. However on the other hand, one of the main struggling points of Japan I guess is military power and their pacifist constitution which was made by the Alliance after 1946. This constitution actually doesn’t allow Japan to use it’s military power in the way they want. Therefore, a rising Chinese danger is not only danger for their economy and their business but it is the potential danger of their military and their defense. Because currently, even last year, North Korea has been threatening Japan repeatedly. China is one of the biggest supporters of North Korea in business, not maybe militarily but economically. This danger is also important for military relations and sustainable defense of Japan.

Michael Penn: Ok, so if we’re shifting now a little bit towards the military idea, again I think probably most analysts, especially sort of conventional analysts, will agree with what you’re saying much more than they’ll agree with me. But since I do have a minority point of view on this, let me kind of express it and see what your reaction to it is. My feeling is that even on the military side, there really isn’t a serious Chinese military threat to Japan now or within the next, foreseeable future. Particularly because there’s a rising India coming up in the south which China has to continue to deal with. There’s always Russia in the north, and most importantly of all Japan is and will remain an absolutely crucial trading partner to China. So this idea that China is going to launch some invasion of Japanese territory doesn’t stand to reason to me because China would be damaged by such a war equally as much as they would damage Japan if not more. Particularly because their political system may be more fragile than Japan’s. So, although there is this talk of Chinese military threat, I don’t see any rational motivation for the Chinese to engage in some kind of an attack on Japan.

Gökberk Durmaz: I might agree that at some point the way of the countries fighting each other has already been changed, and the countries don’t prefer the conventional methods. Also they’re economical and high tech military powers will have an effect. However, last month, Russia and China made a huge deal in Vladivostok, which is on the Pacific coast of Russia, and they invited Prime Minister Abe to this deal, and we might see that there was a yes to high tech productions but also many conventional weapons. This invitation was a kind of show off. I think we need to interpret it as one. After that, Prime Minister Abe has attended different drills of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Actually the Self-Defense Forces are a little bit beyond a self defense force, because of the number of the soldiers. However, still the Constitution Article Nine is really a big obstacle in front of Japan. Therefore, Abe’s government is trying to change this article. If we come back to your question, yes, there is not maybe potential Chinese threat in near future, but no one can actually assume what could happen twenty or thirty years later. Yes, those are strong partnerships, but we might say that historical problems have never been forgotten by both sides. Even though Japan is one of the biggest trade partners of China, the rising power of China is not really a desirable thing for Japan and the people of Japan.

Michael Penn: So if we were to kind of sum up your opinion, I guess what we’ve ended up talking more about in this particular episode is about the potential rise of China. Do you see any possibility on the other hand that China will not rise so much, so, for example, you know there’s a possibility of an economic crisis or collapse in many countries, and China’s economic system is thought to be relatively fragile, its political system too could easily democratize in some way. Or, alternatively, China will face the same problem that Japan is, and it’s already starting to, which is that the population get older and more comfortable and the aging society basically overcomes this idea of this angry young China.

Gökberk Durmaz: If you need to group the problems of China, in the case of economy, they are pretty good at mass production. However, the quality of their products usually is questioned by customers and consumers when they compare those products with other products made by Japan, or the US, or European countries. However, it also has been changing because Chinese production systems and the quality of their products are increasing. It was a potential danger that there might be a collapse of mass production because of low quality, but we can’t say this anymore because the quality is increasing. And the second thing, in case of the population aging, we cannot compare this with Japan because up until very recently China had the one child policy. However, they have recently abolished this in order to help their population increase. Another thing, yes, the population is aging. However, around 1.7 billion people live there. The population is almost thirteen or fourteen times Japan’s. I guess in that sense the potential danger of aging population in both countries is not comparable.

Michael Penn: Alright, well thank you for joining us for another episode of What’s the Rumpus. I think that this is an issue which is a hot button issue for anybody in Asian studies and I think that it’s a good thing that my guest and I today had somewhat contrasting views because that allows people to get the outlines of what the debate is in this issue. So, thank you again for joining us, we will be coming up soon with fresh issues of What’s the Rumpus, so see y’all later.

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