Will Japan Ever Be the Same?
One day it was bright and sunny. The next, the earth shook and a massive wall of water washed away whole cities. Now a power plant is fighting to prevent nuclear meltdown, millions are struggling to put their lives back together, one of the world’s greatest economies has been thrust into the risk zone, and tens of thousands of people are missing and dead.
Sadly, this is Japan. Earthquakes are its history, and—in a sense—a prophecy of its future.
“The natural history of the country [is] embedded in the social history and to some extent the political history of Japan,” says Kerry Smith, professor of history at Brown University. “[Earthquakes] are markers not just of disaster … but also of political change … and economic change as well.”
Massive shocks and crises often lead to big changes—and in the wake of the devastating March 11 magnitude-9.0 earthquake right off Japan’s coast that caused a killer tsunami, we can already see such big changes developing.
While the quake’s aftershocks have died down, the geopolitical and economic ramifications could continue for some time. And when we view these events in light of biblical prophecy, the full extent of their potential significance begins to come into view.
A Region Pulls Together
Consider this change brought about by the disaster: For the first time since World War ii, Japan’s military was deployed domestically to maintain order and help with rescues. This was a big event for a nation with a pacifist constitution. Japan’s self-defense forces are quickly shedding their postwar stigma.
Relationship changes are occurring with Japan’s neighbors, too.
When China’s Sichuan province was devastated by an earthquake in 2008, it was a historic event. Japan immediately offered and dispatched a rescue team. Japanese corporations like Honda and Panasonic donated millions to relief funds. Tokyo even sent a naval vessel to China—also for the first time since World War ii—to help. And China accepted Japan’s aid.
Now, with Japan struggling to recover from a similarly dire disaster, for the first time China has returned the gesture. And Japan has gratefully accepted. Officials in Tokyo and Beijing have put aside disagreements over historic disputes and come together in a common cause. Even Chinese newspapers stopped criticizing Japan and shifted to exploring what China could learn from Japan’s response.
“If Asia is going to increase regional cooperation, the leaders of Japan and China must have a decent working relationship,” wrote Bloomberg’s William Pesek. “Last week’s earthquake offers a chance for a fresh start” (March 13).
The earthquake may prove to be a significant turning point in regional cooperation.
Russia is the only country that Japan has not officially made peace with following World War ii. Yet after the quake struck, it was as if those international tensions were all but forgotten.
Due to the widespread infrastructure damage, and the uncertainty surrounding its nuclear industry, Japan is being forced to build further economic and political bridges to energy-laden Russia. Russia’s surge of goodwill and generosity—which included increased electrical transmission as well as coal and liquid natural gas deliveries—is sure to aid in ending their historical disputes. It is also likely to help pull energy-poor Japan into more of an Asia-first orientation.
South Korea stepped up as well, offering both financial aid and rescue teams. Russia and South Korea are some of the largest contributors of earthquake aid.
Old war memories are being forgotten. New alliances are being forged.
On the flip side, Japan’s relationship with America could be adversely affected.
In its immediate aftermath, the earthquake recalled some bitter history between the two countries. March 10 happened to be the anniversary of the great firebombing of Tokyo by American aircraft in the closing days of World War ii—where 100,000 people burned to death in the inferno that reduced the city to rubble. Amid the March 11 earthquake destruction, some unfavorable comparisons were made.
Far more importantly, however, Japan’s economic relationship with America is likely to suffer. Japan is America’s second-most important lender. It holds over $800 billion worth of U.S. government debt. Now, instead of being a reliable source of money for America, it will most likely be forced to sell its U.S. debt to fund its own reconstruction. If this happens to any significant degree, the U.S. dollar will experience its own mammoth earthquake.
Conversely, in the wake of this catastrophe it is easy to envision a scenario in which Japan would embrace a closer relationship with China—even if a subservient one.
A Diminished Role
Estimates suggest that infrastructure damage alone will cost Japan a sum approaching one third of a trillion dollars. But even this gargantuan figure does not include the economic loss due to power outages, lost jobs and lost exports.
Once the shock of the disaster subsides and reconstruction begins in earnest, Japan will desperately need foreign investment. The most obvious provider would be China, which would love to gain access to Japan’s large middle-class consumer market. The integration of the Japanese and Chinese markets would benefit both countries. China needs a developed export market to diversify away from its reliance on overly indebted American consumers—and Japan wants to rebuild and get its thrifty citizens spending money and its economy growing again.
The mammoth task of working to reconstruct what the violent waters washed away is certain to occupy Japan for some time to come. At least 27,000 people are missing or confirmed dead. Factories have shut down, ports are damaged, and hundreds of thousands are displaced. Stories chronicle desperate, shame-faced Japanese scrounging for food. Please don’t take my picture, says one in a quiet, embarrassed tone. My house was washed away, and the cash machines do not work. How severely will these problems affect the nation’s tax revenues? Despite Japan’s massive horde of U.S. treasuries, the government is already broke. It owes domestic lenders even more.
The Japanese economy has taken a tremendous battering from which it will not easily recover.
It could well be that, considering all these factors, and placing them in contrast to the region’s other major trend—the dramatic rise of China—Japan will not be quite the same again.
This event looks like it will notably accelerate the emergence of a new Asian order.
China is now the undisputed economic power in East Asia. Japan, once its chief rival and geopolitical counterbalance, is severely weakened. Going forward, Japan will need to adopt a much more friendly and conciliatory posture toward its Asian neighbor. That means the influence of America, Japan’s close ally, will shrink within the region. The Sendai earthquake may hasten the rapid decline of America’s importance to Japan.
The repercussions of this event are reverberating far beyond Japan. As ferocious as that 9.0 temblor was, the changes it precipitated represent a much bigger geopolitical earthquake shaking Asia and the world.
As is prophesied in the Bible, a giant Asian alliance—hostile to America—is forming. Russia, China and Japan are destined to unite as America, and its influence in Asia, falls. The tectonic fury unleashed on March 11 appears to have lurched the prophecy significantly forward.