Unsurprisingly, Japanese voters are in a foul mood. New year, same old political complacency and indifference. The latest financial scandals have exacerbated the perception that Japan’s political system only serves itself.
Kishida’s bond with Biden is on a more equal footing, aimed at everything from supporting Taiwan and Ukraine to curbing Beijing’s access to vital technology. Yet what is this partnership worth as Kishida recedes into irrelevance?
“To the extent that a vibrant, technologically advanced Japan plays a heavier role in the region via its companies, FDI [foreign direct investment], and assorted free-trade agreements, an improved balance of economic power may limit what China can do and increase the possibility of Beijing returning to something closer to its past stance of a ‘peaceful rise’,” Richard Katz writes in his new book The Contest for Japan’s Economic Future. “So far, Japan’s economic travails have reduced its influence in Asia, and hence its ability to act as a counterweight to China.”
Consider this window closed. Kishida has virtually zero political capital to prod change-averse lawmakers to rekindle entrepreneurship and productivity, slash bureaucracy, catalyse a start-up boom, empower women or reposition Tokyo as an Asian financial centre with which to be reckoned.
But the LDP’s failure to increase competitiveness or welcome disruption is malpractice of the first order. The longer Tokyo takes to reanimate its economy, the greater the advantage to Xi’s China. And the greater the disappointment for Asian governments seeking growth engines as China sputters. From South Korea to Indonesia, the spectre of Japan dragging on regional growth will dim economic prospects.
A bigger win, arguably, is how Biden has worked to restore ties with Asian economies that had a rough experience during Trump’s tenure. Along with Japan, they include South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Yet, as Biden seeks to strengthen efforts to limit China’s influence in East Asia, Kishida is becoming less of a functioning partner. Unfortunate news for Washington, but some of the best Beijing has had in a long while.
William Pesek is a Tokyo-based journalist and author of “Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades”