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First Person

Rising again

Kennedy School foreign policy expert Joseph S. Nye, 74, peers into Japan's post-quake future.

By Maria Cramer
March 27, 2011

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How does Japan even begin to rebuild?

The Japanese have an extraordinary capacity to rise to the occasion. They might turn this tragedy into such an occasion. At least I hope so.

How will this affect the long-suffering Japanese economy?

It will depend on how well the Japanese manage. This [massive reconstruction] could be the boost that the Japanese economy has been missing for the last decade or so.

Will this crisis reduce Japan’s political power?

Not necessarily. If they come through this, that success story will add to the narrative of a Japan that can do things and counterbalance what has been a gloomy picture of a Japanese economy that fizzled.

Are there qualities of the Japanese culture that could help the recovery?

The Japanese have a very strong sense of community and mutual obligation. You don’t see the kind of looting and corruption that you saw in other countries. There is the old story that if you leave your wallet on the Tokyo subway, someone is likely to return it with the money still in it.

What changed since the 1995 Kobe earthquake, when Japan accepted little foreign aid?

I think many Japanese realize the efforts to be proud was a mistake. In 2009, the Japanese elected a new party into leadership, the Democratic Party of Japan. The attitudes of many of these politicians are different.

Why should the US provide monetary aid to the world’s third largest economy?

I’m not sure we have to. [Japan] has a trillion dollars in international reserve. We have been providing humanitarian assistance, because of our concerns but also because Japan is a very close ally.

Will enthusiasm for nuclear energy, which powers much of Japan’s electricity, dampen?

Japan is going to find it difficult to get support for locating new nuclear reactors, and there may be pressure to have some of the old reactors shut down. They might try to increase their imports of natural gas [from] Indonesia, Russia, or the Middle East.

It was reported that President Obama almost appointed you ambassador to Japan in 2009. What happened?

It was a rumor, but it was never offered and never real.

Joseph S. Nye (Photograph by Shawn Henry)

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