11/13/2008, 00.00
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World economic crisis also a moral problem, says Nakasone

by Pino Cazzaniga
Former Japanese prime minister talks about the risks the crisis poses to humankind, points finger at the United States. He proposes US hegemony be replaced by G20 with Japan playing role of mediator between Asia and the West.
Tokyo (AsiaNews) – For Japanese ex Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone idolatry for money without morals is at the basis of the financial crisis that is affecting the world today. The 90-year-old made the point in a recent article published in Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun in which he argued a position that is more often associated with men of the cloth than with politicians. In his view US economic hegemony must give way to a condominium by the G20, representing the 20 most powerful economies in the world, a forum in which Japan can carve a space for itself as a mediator between the cultures of the West and the East.

No one can doubt Mr Nakasone’s standing in domestic and international politics. A Navy officer during the Second World War, he was elected to the House of Representatives (the lower house of the Japanese Diet) in 1947, retiring against his will only in 2003, nudged out by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

He was prime minister for five years (1982-1987) during which he further consolidated the US-Japan partnership, but also initiated friendly relations with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.

In his analysis of the worst crisis that the world has ever seen since the end of World War Two, Nakasone talks about a serious ailment whose virus is embedded in American society. “If we do not pay closer attention to the moral issue, humankind is in serious danger at the political, economic and social levels.” Given the fact that the former prime minister has always been an admirer of the United States, his opinion is above suspicions.

He is astonished that such a colossal implosion could take place in a country that has led the world in economic and financial matters since the end of the Second World War, a country that has been a model of democracy and humanism.

“American citizens are taught from an early age that debts must be paid,” he said; this means that they ought not to put themselves in a situation where they cannot pay. The failure in this moral principle is the root cause of this crisis. For him wealth and politics are without substance if they are not backed by moral principles.

Instead of tackling and solving the economic crisis the Bush administration got involved in the Iraq War and other disasters; in so doing it increased the debt. That administration is the by-product of a mindset that is widespread in American society as a whole, one in which the cult of economic efficiency and the outrage provoked by the terrorist attack against the Twin Towers prevailed over reason. Fortunately, it seems that America has awaken from a bad dream and has again come to realise the importance of moral principles.

At the same time the crisis is having a positive impact because it has highlighted the inevitable interdependence of the world’s nations, not only in economic terms, but also in terms of other issues like nuclear proliferation and global warming. For Nakasone we are on the cusp of a major historical turning point.

Replacing US leadership with that of the G20

The veteran Japanese politician is not a prophet of doom. Having identified the disease, he offers two therapies as a cure, a moral one and a political one.

First of all, the age when a single nation could wear the mantle of world leadership is gone, not only because it is no longer effective but also because it is harmful.

Now it is the time to shift from US unipolarity to a global institutional condominium. Many nations must work together if we are to put out a fire that could have catastrophic consequences for humankind. This however can only be achieved on the basis of shared moral principles.

As for the political therapy three international institutional settings are required in his opinion: the United Nations, the G7 and G20. Whilst not underestimating the effectiveness of the group of the most industrialised nations (G7), Nakasone underscores the importance of the G20 (the 19 largest economies in the world, plus the European Union), given cultural, political and economic differences among nations.

“It is desirable for the G20, as it consolidates itself, to take on more leading role in international affairs,” Nakasone said.

Here too shared moral principles are necessary; otherwise cooperation becomes impossible.

Japan as a bridge between Asia and the West

After looking at the global context he then turns his attention to Japan’s international responsibilities. Here, at the risk of being misunderstood, Nakasone focuses on Japan’s leadership role in Asia. His ideas are however diametrically opposed to the politics of domination he learnt as a young Japanese Imperial Navy officer. Indeed even as he stresses the importance of national identity, his emphasis is on the international responsibility of his and every other nation.

Japan’s new role is not one of domination but of service, acting as a cultural bridge between Asia and the West, a role that the Japanese nation can perform better than any other at this point in time given its economic strengths and secular relationship with the West. Asia’s philosophy is not that of West and cultural mediation is an indispensable element in developing shared principles.

Here too morals are fundamental. “If we consider these things from a moral perspective, petty nationalism will be rejected. We cannot go on without thinking about a universalistic perspective and reflect upon the fate of the world.”

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