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Happy Holidays from RantAWeek

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Hello, we here at RantAWeek typically take a short break over the holiday season.  We apologize for the lack of articles, but assure you we will be back in January with fresh analysis.

Sincerely,

The Editors

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Dec 19, 2013

Japan’s New Nationalism

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Japan has a bit of a commitment problem. They simply cannot seem to hold on to a Prime Minister for any long period of time. Once the honeymoon phase ends, it’s all downhill from there. Since 2007, Japan has had 6 Prime Ministers. Needless to say, they are simply unable to hold onto Prime Ministers for very long. This past December, they were at it again- getting back together with an ex and trying to make it work again. After being removed from a year term as Prime Minister in 2007 because of scandals and gaffes, Shinzo Abe was recently elected Prime Minister again. While generally the Prime Minister does not mean much for Japan, simply by nature of their short term in office, Abe’s election is significant for a few reasons.

The first is that Abe represents the rise of nationalism and of conservatism. Abe is a member of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party. Which while it sounds like it would be on the left on our spectrum, is in reality on the right of Japanese politics. In terms of economics, Abe may be just the man for Japan’s suffering economy. Since the Great Recession, and exacerbated by the 2011 earthquake an tsunami, Japan’s economy is nothing of what it used to be. Japan was once a very prospering economy, built around a strong export-driven economy. And under Abe, in his first term, Japan’s economy continued to prosper. Now, in his second term, Abe offers spending stimulus and deflation of Japan’s very strong Yen. Doing so will kick-start manufacturing and put people back to work. So on economics, Abe may bring Japan back to its former prosperity, yet he faces many other challenges.

When discussing Japan, it is inevitable to discuss the aging populace. It is estimated that over 23% of the Japanese population is over the age of 65. The unfortunate thing about having such an old population is simply that the workforce is considerably smaller. With a smaller workforce, Japan’s economic growth is limited, and this may be a problem that Abe (or his predecessor in a year or so) will face. Japan no longer has the same potential to be an economic engine as it formerly did.

While Abe’s economic policies are sound, though possibly limited, the biggest fear surrounding Abe is which direction he takes the foreign policy of Japan. Currently, Japan, China and the Philippines are locked  in a bitter dispute over a small set of rocky islands in the South China Sea. While these islands are only inhabitable by goats, they would extend the sea borders of whichever nation controlled them, giving that nation access to vast swathes of oil reserves. Now where Abe comes in is that his policies are generally incredibly nationalistic, and often rather aggressive. Meaning that if the tensions continue to rise as they have, when it comes down to it, Abe may be more willing to use military force against China to gain control over the islands. Throw in the fact that Abe is stepping up the defense budget and that Japan recently received support from the Philippines in the conflict, and it is clear that Abe is growing rather bold.

Abe brings a unique mix of qualities to the table for Japan. His economics are sound, and may be just what Japan needs. Over the course of the past few years, Japan’s standing in the world has declined, and thus they need economic growth. But this decline has also led the Japanese people to turn towards nationalism, and Abe satisfies just that need. If Abe can lead Japan successfully against China in the South China Sea, he would bring Japan up in the world and make his people proud. Yet in doing so, he takes a huge risk in that China is still an incredibly powerful nation. As things are now, tensions between Japan and China will continue to rise, but with Abe’s new nationalism, it may only be a matter of time before they spill over into a military conflict.

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Feb 9, 2013

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