TOKYO – Kokka no Hinkaku, The Dignity of a State, is the title of a recent book by the Japanese mathematician Masahiko Fujiwara that has sold three million copies. Talk about the book in Japan is so fervid that the term “dignity” (hinkaku) has become a buzzword.
That Japan’s dignity is now a central issue should surprise no one. For this is a moment when Japan must chart its course – either decline or dignity – as a “state” (kokka) in relation to its giant neighbor, China.
The issue of relations with China crystallized in September, when the Japanese Coast Guard arrested the captain of a Chinese trawler after his ship hit two Japanese patrol boats near the Senkaku Islands, which are part of Japan and within its territorial waters. Tension between Japan and China – which claims the islands – immediately soared.
For many years, Japanese governments have taken a “let-sleeping-dogs-lie” approach to territorial disputes over the islands, ignoring repeated provocations by China (and Taiwan). But that ended with the election of September 2009, which ushered in the pro-China administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.