Japan on right path to become 'normal country'

Japan on right path to become 'normal country'

Richard Haass - president of the Council on Foreign Relations that publishes "Foreign Affairs," a leading magazine on foreign policy - offered his insights into Japan's future international role.

The following are excerpts of an interview with Haass, who recently visited Japan for an international forum in Tokyo.

Abe's security policy

Q. I've heard you've been to Japan 15 to 20 times. Do you feel some change of political atmosphere, especially under the Abe administration?

A. I feel a sense of Japan being more confident, slightly more forceful, both domestically in terms of the economy, but also in terms of the region. Just a somewhat more assertive Japan. It is Japan with a stronger personality.

Q. Do you think it is a positive change?

A. In principle, yes. When I was in government, I have long encouraged Japan to become a more normal country. I thought it was time for Japan to become a post, post-World War II country.

Q. How do you evaluate the Abe administration's security policy?

A. In principle, I applaud the idea of Japan playing a larger role. Now, the question of what it does legally and politically to enable that is for the Japanese to decide.

But, to me, the most significant thing is that Japan is willing and able to play a larger role in the region and the world. Japan has the world's third-largest economy. It has one of the top five or so militaries in the world.

Japan has, however, been unwilling to do so - not unable, but unwilling - given its politics. And on one hand, I totally am respectful of it because of the post-World War II legacy and inheritance.

On the other hand, there needs to be a gradual process of Japanese entry and involvement in addressing the world's problems. The problems are many and large.

And we don't have the luxury of doing without Japan's participation. We - the United States - need partners, and we need capable partners.

What makes the US-Japanese relationship so important and so special to me is that we are both democracies, and there is a willingness on both sides to back up commitments.

Our commitments to each other are more than rhetorical, but they are real. One of the things I applaud about Mr. Abe is a willingness to see Japan play a larger role in the region and the world.

Q. Are things moving in the right direction for Japan?

A. Yes, absolutely. What is holding it back is that there's still a lot of domestic resistance to the idea of Japan playing a larger role. But what I think is good about what Prime Minister Abe has done is to place this issue firmly on the agenda.

It will take time and there will be steps back as well as steps forward. It'll be controversial. But, however long Prime Minister Abe is prime minister, when he leaves, his successor will inherit a different situation.

And things that people couldn't say five or 10 years ago, now they can say openly. That's interesting to me as an observer. That's a welcome development. It's healthy.

What Japan has to work on, particularly regionally, is, given the historical issues, it has got to be sensitive to how a more assertive Japan will be received.

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