Sunday 18 September 2016

Japan shows the way with Renho (Sunday Guardian)

The rise of China over the past decade has given a reality check to those Japanese in thrall to the myth of Japanese racial superiority.

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan has chosen Renho Murata (who goes simply by her first name) as its leader, in the process proving wrong those who regarded the lady’s half-Taiwanese heritage (her father comes from the island) and the fact of her gender as being sufficient to ensure her defeat in the party polls. Members of the Democratic Party lived up to their name and gave her an overwhelming victory in the election for chairperson of the party. Although Japan is known to be a society where concepts of “race” play an important role, in 2015 Ariana Miyamoto, who is half African-American, became Ms Universe-Japan, while this year, Priyanka Yoshikawa won the Ms World-Japan title. Both have had their share of problems in a country that has a slavish respect for those of European descent and contempt for anybody else, except to an extent themselves. Despite her obvious beauty, Priyanka was (in her own words) often made to feel “like a germ” by her fellow countrypersons, because of the fact that her father was from India. The rise of China has over the past decade given a reality check to those Japanese in thrall to the myth of Japanese racial superiority, as that country has now become a far more powerful country globally than Japan. From the 1930s till the close of the 1939-45 war, Japan was in occupation of large areas of China and was ruthless in its suppression of the local people, regarding them as serfs. However, Japanese wartime treatment of Indians was in several situations far better, including assisting Subhas Chandra Bose to set up the Indian National Army in Singapore, thereby giving a scare to both his rivals in the Congress Party as well as to the British.

Although pollsters are sceptical of the prospect of the telegenic Renho ever becoming the first female Prime Minister of Japan, this cannot be ruled out if the Shinzo Abe government is not able to improve economic prospects in the country. Voters are fickle, and yesterday’s hero can quickly morph into tomorrow’s villain, and Renho has a natural constituency in Japanese women, who are no longer willing to accept the overlordship of men, but are fighting for equality in the workplace. Close by, Yingluck Shinawatra was for a time the head of government in Thailand, but this was almost entirely due to the fact of her brother Thaksin remaining the most popular politician in the country despite being in exile. In the case of Renho, her rise owes nothing to anyone bar herself, unlike the numerous women leaders who have risen on the basis of marriage or birth certificates, a list that includes Sirimavo and Chandrika Bandaranaike, Indira and Sonia Gandhi, Khaleda Zia, Benazir Bhutto, Megawati Sukarnoputri and Sheikh Hasina Wajed. However, it must be added that several in this list acquitted themselves at least as well as the men, who had been their predecessors. Although the Democratic Party in Japan prided itself on being contemporary, for long it had been run by ageing patriarchs, who seemed, on the surface at least, very little different from the fading old men who were the faction leaders of the Liberal Party. That mould was broken by Junichiro Koizumi and now by Shinzo Abe, both of whom are wholly contemporary in their outward appearance, while at the same time showing their respect for tradition.

Had Renho’s father come from the other side of the Taiwan Straits, from Mainland China, it is doubtful whether she would have received the warm reception that the Taiwanese-Japanese has got in the country of her mother. The reality is that Japan and its people are becoming wary of China, and a close link with the mainland, through having a parent from there, would almost certainly have weakened Renho’s political prospects. However, to the Japanese, Taiwan is different, and there is a lot of romanticism about and appreciation for the beautiful island into which Chiang Kai-shek and hundreds of thousands of his defeated soldiers escaped in 1949. Despite the fact that Japan was the colonial master of Taiwan for a century, few people in the island share Mainland China’s distaste for the group of islands that emerged as a global power in 1904 after sinking the Imperial fleet of Russia off Tsushima, and which in 1941-44 made jelly out of British, French and Dutch troops, who had subjugated vast areas of Southeast Asia for more than a century, falling back only under the superior naval strength of the US, a country Japan unwisely attacked in 1941, thereby drawing the world’s newest and soon to be biggest economy into the war.

Will China follow Japan’s example and ensure that leaders from the minority communities are enabled to reach the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party? When will a Tibetan, for instance, be a member of the CCP Standing Committee, or indeed a woman? Till now, the apex body has been 100% male and 100% Han. And as for India, any feelings of moral superiority need to be tempered by the reality of the prevalence and indeed prominence of adult delinquents, who rough up fellow citizens from the Northeast and murder others on the suspicion that they have consumed beef, a food eaten in profusion across almost the entire globe.

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