The obscured ‘middle-way’ in Japanese politics: the transformative power of dialogue – with Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen
19 March 2018, London
Speaker: Dr Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen
“War” is the political ghost of the Japanese State. Any talk of changing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution will for many involve a complex set of sentiments, and distrust can easily arise as to the intentions of such talks. As a meta-signaller of ‘Japanese peace’, Article 9 also often intercept with an imagined relationship to the State as a moral one that automatically protects peace when opposing any changes to Article 9. Representations of security issues in relation to Article 9 have often been constructed as if binary, moral choices existed between a ‘pro-peace’ (‘the pacifists’ stance) or ‘pro-war’ (‘the nationalists’ stance). This greatly simplifies and obscures the many contradictions and overlaps in positions that in reality exist.
In my recent work I explore the highly charged political rhetoric that erupted with the Peace and Security Legislation debates between 2014 and 2016, which resulted in freezing debates at the level of being ‘anti-Abe’ meant being pro-peace, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presented by the opposition as the irredeemably ill-intentioned prime minister. This created a polarized political discourse that did not reflect the fact that the legislation was not a significant departure from Japan’s past policies or from its ‘self-defence-only-pacifism’.
Looking closely at the actual processes of negotiation and outcome of the bills, Komeito played an instrumental role in persuading the LDP to significantly change their initial security proposals. The legislation, arguable, increased the possibility of maintaining Article 9 and Japan’s self-defence only position rather than the opposite.
For Komeito, left-right ideology as a framework for critique has long been regarded as itself reactionary to the extent that it denies the possibility of change in the people with whom one may disagree. It has for long sought to move political debate beyond binary ideological approaches towards a focus on concrete proposals and a more conciliatory form of dialogue.
This presentation focuses on Komeito’s ‘middle-way’ politics that is driving a political agenda of complexity and concrete policy proposals, as well as direct engagement on the international scene. The ‘middle’ is not an easy pursuit amidst the current tendency to politicise debates into simplified, binary moral choices, not only in Japan but elsewhere as well. Komeito’s politics have often been invisible to the general public, or explained away by the mass media as simply ‘giving in’ or ‘compromising’ with the LDP.
The talk will focus on two specific issues: 1) the politics that surround the LDP-Komeito coalition government decision not to sign the 2017 United Nations global ban on nuclear weapons and Komeito’s long-standing political objective of abolishing nuclear weapons, an issue the party’s support base, the Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai has for decades been involved as one of most active global players, working closely with organisations such as ICAN that was this year’s Nobel Peace prize recipient; 2) Komeito’s long term direct engagement with China and what that may mean in Sino-Japanese relations today. Here I take an in depth look at the workings of politics to reveal the complexity of achieving ones’ objectives that goes far beyond simple statements of purpose that tends to be the focus of media speculation.
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Free – booking recommended