In the fundamentalist pursuit of capitalism people are treated not as an end but as a means. Consequently, human dignity is lost. How can we put an end to unrestrained market fundamentalism and financial capitalism, that are void of morals or moderation, in order to protect the finances and livelihoods of our citizens? That is the issue we are now facing.
In these times, we must return to the idea of fraternity — as in the French slogan “liberté, égalité, fraternité” — as a force for moderating the danger inherent within freedom. Fraternity as I mean it can be described as a principle that aims to adjust to the excesses of the current globalised brand of capitalism and accommodate the local economic practices that have been fostered through our traditions.
The recent economic crisis resulted from a way of thinking based on the idea that American-style free-market economics represents a universal and ideal economic order, and that all countries should modify the traditions and regulations governing their economies in line with global (or rather American) standards.
In Japan, opinion was divided on how far the trend toward globalisation should go. Some advocated the active embrace of globalism and leaving everything up to the dictates of the market. Others favoured a more reticent approach, believing that efforts should be made to expand the social safety net and protect our traditional economic activities.
Since the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (2001-2006), the Liberal Democratic Party has stressed the former, while we in the Democratic Party of Japan have tended toward the latter position.
The economic order in any country is built up over long years and reflects the influence of traditions, habits and national lifestyles. But globalism has progressed without any regard for non-economic values, or for environmental issues or problems of resource restriction.
If we look back on the changes in Japanese society since the end of the Cold War, I believe it is no exaggeration to say that the global economy has damaged traditional economic activities and destroyed local communities. In terms of market theory, people are simply personnel expenses. But in the real world people support the fabric of the local community and are the physical embodiment of its lifestyle, traditions and culture. An individual gains respect as a person by acquiring a job and a role within the local community and being able to maintain his family’s livelihood.
Under the principle of fraternity, we would not implement policies that leave areas relating to human lives and safety — such as agriculture, the environment and medicine — to the mercy of globalism.
Our responsibility as politicians is to refocus our attention on those non-economic values that have been thrown aside by the march of globalism. We must work on policies that regenerate the ties that bring people together, that take greater account of nature and the environment, that rebuild welfare and medical systems, that provide better education and child-rearing support, and that address wealth disparities.
Another national goal that emerges from the concept of fraternity is the creation of an East Asian community. Of course, the Japan-US security pact will continue to be the cornerstone of Japanese diplomatic policy.
But at the same time, we must not forget our identity as a nation located in Asia. I believe that the East Asian region, which is showing increasing vitality, must be recognised as Japan’s basic sphere of being. So we must continue to build frameworks for stable economic cooperation and security across the region.
The financial crisis has suggested to many that the era of US unilateralism may come to an end. It has also raised doubts about the permanence of the dollar as the key global currency.
I also feel that as a result of the failure of the Iraq war and the financial crisis, the era of US-led globalism is coming to an end and that we are moving toward an era of multipolarity. But at present no one country is ready to replace the United States as the dominant country. Nor is there a currency ready to replace the dollar as the world’s key currency. Although the influence of the US is declining, it will remain the world’s leading military and economic power for the next two to three decades.
Current developments show clearly that China will become one of the world’s leading economic nations while also continuing to expand its military power. The size of China’s economy will surpass that of Japan in the not-too-distant future.
How should Japan maintain its political and economic independence and protect its national interest when caught between the United States, which is fighting to retain its position as the world’s dominant power, and China, which is seeking ways to become dominant?
This is a question of concern not only to Japan but also to the small and medium-sized nations in Asia. They want the military power of the US to function effectively for the stability of the region but want to restrain US political and economic excesses. They also want to reduce the military threat posed by our neighbour China while ensuring that China’s expanding economy develops in an orderly fashion. These are major factors accelerating regional integration.
As we seek to build new structures for international cooperation, we must overcome excessive nationalism and go down a path toward rule-based economic cooperation and security.
Unlike Europe, the countries of this region differ in size, development stage and political system, so economic integration cannot be achieved over the short term. However, we should nonetheless aspire to move toward regional currency integration as a natural extension of the rapid economic growth begun by Japan, followed by South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and then achieved by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China. We must spare no effort to build the permanent security frameworks essential to underpinning currency integration.
ASEAN now account for one quarter of the world’s gross domestic product. The economic power of the East Asian region and the interdependent relationships within the region have grown wider and deeper. So the structures required for the formation of a regional economic bloc are already in place.
I believe that regional integration and collective security is the path we should follow toward realising the principles of pacifism and multilateral cooperation advocated by the Japanese Constitution. It is also the appropriate path for protecting Japan’s political and economic independence and pursuing our interests in our position between the US and China.
Let me conclude by quoting the words of Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, founder of the first popular movement for a united Europe, written 85 years ago in ‘Pan-Europa’: “All great historical ideas started as a utopian dream and ended with reality. Whether a particular idea remains as a utopian dream or becomes a reality depends on the number of people who believe in the ideal and their ability to act upon it.”