The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake: Unmitigated disaster followed by a New Deal-type reconstruction?Posted: March 13, 2011
Four moving tectonic plates crowd each other in the eastern vicinity of Japan, and on Friday 11 March at 2:45 in the afternoon Japan Standard Time, pressure that had built up between two of them for years, perhaps centuries, was suddenly released, causing one to slip under the other. The ocean above this rising sea floor also rose, and these displaced masses of water shortly after inundated the northeastern coats of Japan. Thousands of people in Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate prefectures - over 10.000 are estimated to have perished from the village of Minami Sanriku alone - may have drowned or been washed back out to sea. One 60-year-old man from S?ma City floating on a rooftop was rescued 15 kilometers from the coast Sunday 11:15 AM and then airlifted by helicopter to S?ma City hospital. The thorough destruction of villages, towns and infrastructures are visible now in the mounds of debris comprising crushed houses, cars and ships that now cover the Eastern Japan landscape several hundred meters inland.
At the Fukushima nuclear reactor 1, technicians are struggling to contain two or more partial meltdowns, and powerful aftershocks are still rattling the population as far away as Tokyo, over two hundred kilometers away. Some Tokyo residents, fearing the possibility of radiation exposure, prepare to evacuate to Osaka or Kyoto so as to be near an international airport.
The earthquake has also unsettled the political gamesmanship in Tokyo and could conceivably bring a bipartisan calm to the embattled Kan government. The earthquake struck on the day when Asahi Shinbun had published a report implicating prime minister Naoto Kan in a scandal (surrounding money contributions from non-citizen resident Koreans) that recently forced Maehara’s departure as Foreign minister and was now about to engulf Kan. Now sidetracked by the sudden natural disaster, this scandal may be replaced with a groundswell of goodwill towards the sitting government - if it shows strong leadership in handling the present mindboggling number problems. Evoking Japans long-standing problems, as well as present, and future challenges, an Asahi Shinbun editorial struck a positive note Friday 13 March: ‘Unsurprisingly, the disaster has finally created political momentum for bipartisan cooperation for the well-being of the nation.’
Sunday budding bipartisanship cooperation did, in fact, emerge, accompanied with new possible rifts between DPJ and LDP. The conservative Sankei Shinbun reported late Sunday evening that during a Sunday afternoon meeting on economy between prime minister Kan and LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu, the latter asserted that the issuance of government bonds would not cover reconstruction cost, and he therefore argued for a comprehensive reconstruction act that includes a time-limited tax increase. This tax increase should be positioned as a “Northeastern Japan Reconstruction New Deal” so as to mobilize all of Japan to join hands, he said. Kan agreed to work together henceforth. After the meeting Tanigaki noted that ‘if we maintain lavishing [funds on] child allowances and such, we cannot guarantee reconstruction funding. I propose that we begin to look into these issues.’
Then, Sunday evening Kan clarified his position: ’It is a terrible crisis, but it is also necessary to begin drawing up new economic plans so as to make a new start for the coming era.’ He added, however, that that ‘I also approve of a proactive reconstruction, but I have not in any way said that tax increases are necessary.’
At this very incipient moment, then, there appears to be agreement to work together and, perhaps, to tie the reconstruction in with ambitious New Deal-style economic reforms. We could ask here if LDP is willing to let Kan show leadership with their New Deal idea, or if this idea is even economically feasible. But fundamentally, whether the reconstruction turns out to be basic or visionary, the question of financing is the immediate stumbling block that needs to be cleared before the clean-up and the rebuilding can begin.
Karl Jakob Krogness,
Ph.D. Japanese studies,Copenhagen University
Researcher, NIAS-Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
Today, the 10th of March 2011, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama announced that he will transfer his formal authority to the leader that the exile-Tibetans chose in the upcoming elections for a Tibetan Prime Minister-in-Exile.
The exile-Tibetans have established a state-like polity in India and have since the sixties made efforts to democratise it. The dual role of the Dalai Lama, being both a religious and a political authority, may be seen, however, as an obstacle to democracy. He is a non-elected leader and his semi-divine position in Tibetan society is a source of democratic deficiencies. Some Tibetans also view the exalted position of the Dalai Lama as an obstacle to the emergence of new political leadership and sincere public debate in which people may oppose the guidelines of the Dalai Lama-two problems that the Fourteenth Dalai Lama himself has tried to mend by disentangling religion and politics.
Exile-Tibetans have overall been reluctant to get more political influence at the expense of the Dalai Lama’s power. For instance, the Eleventh Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, when it discussed the Charter of Tibetans-in-Exile in 1991, democratically decided that the Dalai Lama should hold a prominent position within exile-Tibetan governance. Several of the charter’s articles confirm this. In the democratic set-up, executive power is vested in the Dalai Lama according to article 19 of the Charter of Tibetans-in-Exile. He approves bills passed by the parliament, he can promulgate acts that have the force of law, and he can dissolve the parliament. Furthermore, article 36 on legislative power and article 55 on promulgation of ordinances state that legislation requires the Dalai Lama’s assent before it can become law.
The Dalai Lama has nevertheless insisted on reforms and compelled the exile-Tibetans to assume more responsibility and relieve him of political burdens, for instance, when the exile-Tibetans directly elected a prime minister-in-exile for the first time in 2001. Thus, the Dalai Lama’s own democratising efforts have led him into a paradoxical temporary position that he himself calls ‘semi-retirement’ now that the Tibetans hold democratic elections of their political leader, the prime minister. The idea of semi-retirement aptly captures the Dalai Lama’s efforts to separate his own political say from his religious authority, in that retirement from the political sphere allows him to dedicate his time to religious matters.
The Dalai Lama has increasingly distinguished between the religious and the political aspects of his authority as captured in the notion of semi-retirement. Now, in his March 10 speech this year, the Dalai Lama has stated that he will suggest changes to the charter that will allow him to completely withdraw from politics. He stated: “During the forthcoming eleventh session of the fourteenth Tibetan Parliament in Exile, which begins on 14th March, I will formally propose that the necessary amendments be made to the Charter for Tibetans in Exile, reflecting my decision to devolve my formal authority to the elected leader.” Let us see whether the new leadership emerging from the March 2011 elections will press for such changes or if the exile-Tibetans again will vote against the Dalai Lama’s wish of retirement from politics.
PhD, Assistant Professor in Tibetology and China Studies
Asian Studies Section
ToRS – Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
University of Copenhagen
Office phone: +45 35 32 88 32