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Editorial: In an increasingly confusing world, Japan should focus on soft power

While competition between the U.S., China and Russia continues to affect the world, international cooperation has become more important than ever amid the coronavirus crisis. In this confused age, what role should Japan try to fulfill? We don't see a vision for it coming from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

    Since the end of the 20th century, after Japan ascended to the position of a major economic power, its course in the world has been unsettled and drifting. New national objectives, such as making Japan a science and technology-oriented nation and a major aid-giving country, have come and gone. What's attracting the attention of the world now is the technical prowess and economic support coming out of China.

    There is a renewed need to recast Japan's national vision.

    In the postwar period, which adhered to pacifism and made great advances in economic revitalization, Japan took a path that placed emphasis on the people. It seems the center of gravity has shifted to the state itself with the beginning of the 21st century.

    Welfare provisions to the people have been restrained, and a neoliberalist mindset that encourages self-help has become mainstream. In response to the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. and the rise of China, there is a trend toward strengthening Japan's combat capabilities.

    At the House of Representatives election just held, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) pledged for the first time to scrap rules capping Japan's defense spending at 1% of GDP, and bring it up to 2% or more. If the defense budget is doubled under the current circumstances, Japan will become the country with the third-strongest armed forces after the U.S. and China. Is this the path Kishida is aiming for?

    It is certainly the case that to exert influence on the international stage, a certain level of military power is required to back it up. But there are limits on the expansion of armed forces in place in Japan's Constitution. This is a prerequisite that cannot be neglected when outlining a vision for the country.

    The results achieved through economic development as a peaceful nation have been recognized across the world, and Japan's international contributions are also highly praised. This strength is what should be made use of.

    Japan can offer cooperation in a variety of fields, from manufacturing -- the foundation of industrial business -- to the environment and even in cutting-edge medical treatment. By improving quality of life, Japan can contribute to the security of humanity. Modern law and development practices can also help in ensuring the spread of democratic and law-based rule.

    But excellent technological capabilities and universal values shouldn't just be a means to counter China. These are Japan's soft power to appeal to the world.

    Kishida's political stance is moderate, middle-of-the-road conservatism -- a clear difference from an approach that throws around power. To move toward the construction of a new national vision, he should lead substantive debate on the issue.

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