Marking the final stop on his 10-day tour of Asia, President Obama arrived Friday in the country that least fits his vision for the region. Obama speaks of Asia’s “amazing success stories and rapidly expanding markets,” but in Japan, those notions are memories rather than aspirations. He views Asia as a catalyst for the US economic recovery, but Japan’s economy serves more as a cautionary tale of mismanagement.
As host for both Obama’s visit and an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Yokohama this weekend, Japan finds itself in the spotlight, flaws on full display. Its alliance with the US still shows some bruise marks. Its ongoing territorial dispute with China has strained a vital economic relationship. Its GDP is crawling. Its population is shrinking. Its government appears increasingly at a loss for solutions.
If they see eye to eye on little else, Japan’s leaders agree that they are falling behind.
For Japan, playing catch-up is complicated, with even well-intentioned campaigns to adapt stalling amid acrimony. The challenges have been reflected most recently in rime Minister Naoto Kan’s attempts to endorse a key Pacific free-trade agreement, already backed by the United States, that would overhaul the way Japan does business in the region.
An editorial in the influential Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper not only advocated for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but also suggested that Kan should use the APEC summit to express Japan’s interest in joining. But that appears unlikely to happen.
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