What Is Japan’s Clout?


Lady Gaga’s Klout score is 93 out of 100. Many readers are probably familiar with Klout. For those who aren’t, Klout is a webpage that measures a person’s social media “clout” and assigns a numerical value to it. Anyone can check their Klout score to see whether it has decreased or increased within the last seven days, thirty days, or ninety days.

My Klout score, on the other hand, is merely 49. I was told by a social media expert that a minimum score of 50 is required to be considered an “influencer”. I tried not to take it personally.

In the world of social media, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are three of the principal sites that Klout analyzes to determine a person’s score. Similarly, in the world of geopolitics there are ways to measure a nation’s clout. Economic power, military power, and political power are three of the principal types of power that determine a nation’s clout.

So what is Japan’s clout these days? Is it decreasing or increasing?

Economic Clout: Japan’s postwar clout has come mainly from its economic power. We all know that it has slipped from being the second-largest to the third-largest economy in the world, but having the world’s third-largest economy is still very significant clout.

At the same time, Japan’s economic power has not grown significantly since the early 1990s. And that’s the problem. Japan has significant economic clout but it is not growing. Other neighbors, like China, have had robust growth, even though its per-capita income is a fraction of Japan’s. Likewise, in contrast to Japan, South Korea has taken serious steps to internationalize its economy by signing a historic free-trade pact with the United States. So Japan’s economic clout, while formidable, is not expanding when compared to its neighbors.

Military Clout: Japan has a modern military but its constitution restricts its ability to use it. Japan has been an important ally to the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan—and is second only to the United States in terms of funding provided in these countries for reconstruction. But that funding derives more from Japan’s economic clout than its military clout.

Also, a lot of Japan’s military clout derives from its alliance with the United States. Other Asian countries pay attention to Japan’s military clout because of its close relationship with the United States, which was strengthened under Operation Tomodachi.

Nevertheless, although Japan has a serious military, for the foreseeable future it will not be using that military clout to project power in the way that the United States, United Kingdom, or other nations are willing to do. It will only use it to defend itself. Thus, Japan has defensive clout not offensive clout.

Political Clout: Finally, there is political clout. Japan’s ongoing domestic political instability continues to undermine its political clout in its bilateral relationships. The merry-go-round of prime ministers and cabinet ministers is maddening. It is hard for the president of the United States to have a constructive relationship with the prime minister of Japan if they can’t get past the first date because there never is a second.

On the global stage, Japan remains rather passive compared to other nations. It often prefers a behind-the-scenes role rather than a leadership role. It just does not seem willing to take the risks that political leadership naturally entails.

Increasing Japan’s Clout: Japan’s overall clout derives heavily from its economic clout. Because its economy has been stalled for two decades, it is not surprising that its clout has not increased, and as a result its clout has fallen relative to other nations. Likewise, compared to other nations in the postwar era, Japan has not been seen as having particularly strong military or political clout. Japan’s military and political clout certainly hasn’t increased to a level to counteract its diminished economic clout. So overall, relative to other countries, Japan’s clout is down from two decades ago.

So what can Japan do to increase its clout? I encourage Japan to do the following:

First, Japan should capitalize more on its well-educated female work force to boost its economic clout. Japan’s population is shrinking and this means its economic clout will likely continue to fall. Japan often boasts that it is a country bereft of natural resources and that its people are its true natural resource. But Japan still maintains its strong preference for a rigid, male-dominated workplace that often pushes women to the sidelines.

Second, Japan should continue to move toward relaxing constitutional restrictions that hamstring it from projecting offensive military power. It is unlikely that Japan will ever be seen as having significant military clout if it cannot use it offensively.

Third, Japan should move aggressively toward joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Japan’s active, positive participation in this ambitious trade agreement would not only boost its economic clout but also its political clout. It would demonstrate Japan’s political will to further integrate itself into the world economy.

I think it is fair to say Japan’s clout is down. But the world would benefit from a Japan with more clout.

David Boling is deputy executive director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, where he oversees the U.S.-Japan Network for the Future Program. This piece originally appeared at Asia Unbound here.

Kim's Uncle
February 8, 2013 at 11:50

It seems some people are still stuck in the past by lumping modern day, democratic Japan with Imperial Japan ruled by militarists! If today’s Japan was like that of her imperial past, there would not be a China in existence today! They would have wiped you Maoists out long ago! So you Chinese wu maoers sound ridiculous and silly making such childish claims! Modern Japan is a respected democracy and has moved in from WWII! Chinese commies need to do the same! Scapegoating is for losers and crybabies!

Joe zhifu
January 30, 2014 at 17:12

Democratic for sure. One prime minister a year. Your turn will be soon.

Kim's Uncle
February 3, 2013 at 06:47

Mao’s heirs are threat to peace!

December 23, 2012 at 16:44

Obviously a very provactive article bringing out alarming ultra-nationalist sympathies among some lunatic bloggers. Anyway, the keystone of peace ans stability in the Pacific is the U.S. – Japan security alliance and it has been since the peace treaty between Japan and the United States in 1951 or 1952.  Third rate powers like rok and to a certain extent rop are resentful of American hegemony but ignore that America's prsence in Eastern Asia stabilized a chaotic situation enflamed by extremist Maoist garbage emenating from China that could have been much worse than it ended up.  There was a brutal war in Vietnam, a genocide in Cambodia and other atrocities in Malaysia and Indonesia that were all in some way instigated by evil people who are Han supremicists in Beijing.
Maoist China was a destabilizinginfluence in Eastern Asia during the Cold War and unfortunately 'rising china' has dropped 'peaceful' from its self-manufactured label as it becomes more assertive and aggressive toward virtually all of its neighbors.  Watch out Japan, Philippines and Vietnam because China likes to throw around its weight and show it is bigger.  Other neighboring states should take note as China's arrogance and interests expand.  Don't worry about Cambodia though.  Cambodia has ben bought and paid for by the PRC an should now be considered China's newest province.
Modern, autocratic and nationalist/fascist China represents a threat to regional and even global peace and security.  It is for that reason that the U.S. military presence in the region and the U.S. – Japan security alliance in particular represent a crucial bulwark against Han supremicism.  For over sixty years that alliance has provided peace and stability to the region and has crrated an environment in which stable democracies have developed and emerged.  
The China option offers no plausible alternative.  China may have a market economy (although extremely corrupt) but it remains an oppressive dictatorship.  Countries like Myanmar and Cambodia have turned to China as an alternative to what they view as rediculously autocratic western intereference, but they are beginning to reconsider.  Myanmar's 'opening' is the culmination of rightful doubt about China's interests and the expense borne by Myanmar in achieving those interests.  The verdict is still out out on Cambodia.  The PM there is a serious China fan because they 'have no strings attached.'  But what is becoming increasingly clear is that there are strings attached.  Cambodia is quickly becoming a pathetic puppet of China and its former revolutionary rulers are allowing average Cambodian people to be perverbally raped by greedy Chinese in Beijing.
So the point is, resurgent Japanese military capacity is good and necessary in the current geo-political climate of Eastern Asia.  It will augment a critical relationship with the United States that has a proven record of ensuring peace and stability in the region.  There is no alternative.  China was viewed as a potential alternative, but the government in Beijing is increaingly asserive, aggressive and beligerant.  Moreover, Beijing has comfortable relationships with the likes of dprk, iran and what is left of the regime in syria.  In this day and age nationalistic/fascist Han China needs a counterbalance, and a normalized Japanese military is a crucial element in that counterbalance.  

To See Or Not To See?
December 18, 2012 at 19:22

You have all the right to see, Da-man but you need clean glasses first.  Otherwise you are just thinking you are seeing.  Just a blindman having delusions. 

dove & olive
December 18, 2012 at 12:40

Japan is a problematic country filled with idiots who believe that their emperor is an almighty God.
Japan must be obliterated else can expect  chaos in the world.
To do list For world peace,:
1) Obliterate Japan.
2) Obliterate Mecca
3) Obliterate USA.

December 18, 2012 at 04:19

Mr, what about you Chinese are doing in Tibet and Xinjian, sort of genocide, by making them minorities in their own countries. If China claims Senkaku islands, Tibetens and Ughiars need their land back form the  occupied forces. How did you guys felt when you guys were ruthlessly ruled by Japanese, the smae way Tibetens and Ughairs feal mr. 

December 18, 2012 at 03:52

east asia is east asia and southeast asia is southeast asia…. or is there a new south-east-east asia region now? or india might want to join in to form a south-south-east-east asia region?

December 18, 2012 at 02:36

If you can promise that the next Great War will stay within the confines of the Asia & Asia Pacific region, then everyone should stay out of it. But last I checked, WWII brought in all kinds of "outside" powers into play. I am from the Philippines and the way I see it, China is positioning itself to be the next "colonizer" of nations.

December 17, 2012 at 13:58

Japan can't make independent security policies as it relies on the U.S-Japan security treaty. This limits Japan's "clout".

John Chan
December 17, 2012 at 12:51

The current Japan is an extension of the Japan of the early 20th century and before that, it is an unapologetic war criminal because the USA shields its war criminal elements from being cleansed by the world court and its victims after the WWII.
The rise of neo fascism in Japan and its vigorous effort to white wash its war crimes in the text books is a proof that the current Japan is an extension of the earlier fascist imperial Japan.

Joe Zhifu
January 30, 2014 at 17:18

While we are focused on Clout can readers research into Fukushima nuclear incident and see what is happening there. The Japs are ignoring a real problem that is getting worse for themselves and the world.

major lowen gil marquez
December 17, 2012 at 07:48

The constitution of Japan although very strict about their military offensive, it can be develop thru the use of defensive posture of their military that will counter the offensive action of the communist invaders, it was just a matter of deepen stratagem, defensive mobility is nice stratagem..

"East Asia" Includes SE Asia
December 16, 2012 at 14:52

In today's broader nomenlature, "East Asia" includes SE Asia.  Just as "West Asia" includes NW Asians and SW Asians. Haven't you moved beyond your first undergrad program and English 101 yet?

December 15, 2012 at 09:59

we support a re armed japan. the fil – american war killed more filipinos (1.4 million – a de facto genocide) than what the japanese killed during WW2. besides, the japanese have historically been the filipino's allies dating back as early as 1500's when japan committed to supply the filipino maharlika's (warrior class) with weapons to fight the spanish invaders. Japan must reawaken its warrior spirit if it wants to survive.

December 15, 2012 at 06:25

Don't you mean South Korea is the only one likely to oppose Japan's re-arming? How about those from South-East Asia? Aren't they East Asians as well? Also, the Japan of today is not the Japan of the early 20th century.

A Japan With Clout Not A Given
December 14, 2012 at 22:19

Yeah, more clout to Japan so that it can invade China again and create another inhuman genocide.  Where were the european powers when Japan had too much clout then and grabbed Taiwan and the Daioyus and North East China?  No, this time, Japan the war criminal nation will NOT be allowed to gain power.  Any Chinese leader worth his salt will see to that on behalf of the Chinese people.  Otherwise the Chinese will see to that directly.  And vide nuclear tipped missiles if necessarily. 
For anyone who is not a East Asian recommending a militarized Japan is a meddler and seeking his own interest only. Not that many East Asians accept a remilitarized Japan, or a Japan with clout as you put it. Sorry bud, butt out and mind your own business.

December 14, 2012 at 19:33

"Japan Is Flexing Its Military Muscle to Counter a Rising China" The New York Times By MARTIN FACKLER Published: November 26, 2012
"…After years of watching its international influence eroded by a slow-motion economic decline, the pacifist nation of Japan is trying to raise its profile in a new way, offering military aid for the first time in decades and displaying its own armed forces in an effort to build regional alliances and shore up other countries’ defenses to counter a rising China…"
"…Japanese officials say their strategy is not to begin a race for influence with China, but to build up ties with other nations that share worries about their imposing neighbor. They acknowledge that even building the capacity of other nations’ coast guards is a way of strengthening those countries’ ability to stand up to any Chinese threat.
“We want to build our own coalition of the willing in Asia to prevent China from just running over us,” said Yoshihide Soeya, director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at Keio University in Tokyo…"
"…In a measure of the geopolitical changes roiling the region, however, concerns about any resurgent Japanese militarism appear to be fading in some countries embroiled in their own territorial disputes with China, like Vietnam and the Philippines, the scene of fierce fighting during the war.
Analysts there and elsewhere in the region said their countries welcomed, and sometimes invited, Japan’s help.
“We have already put aside our nightmares of World War II because of the threat posed by China,” said Rommel Banlaoi, a security expert at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research in Manila…"
"…“Japan is joining the United States and Australia in helping us face China,” said Mark Lim, an administrative officer from the Philippine Coast Guard who joined the cruise.
Japan is widely viewed as being the only nation in the region with a navy powerful enough to check China…"
"…“Our strategy is to offer hardware and training to create mini-Japanese coast guards and mini-Japanese Self-Defense Forces around the South China Sea,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a researcher at the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo.
Under the decade-old civilian aid program to build up regional coast guards, Japanese officials say they are in the final stages of what would be their biggest security-related aid package yet — to provide the Philippine Coast Guard with 10 cutters worth about $12 million each. Ministry officials say they may offer similar ships to Vietnam.
Japan’s Ministry of Defense said it planned to double its military aid program next year to help Indonesia and Vietnam. Vietnam could also be among the countries that Japan would allow to buy its submarines, according to a former defense minister, Toshimi Kitazawa, who named Australia and Malaysia as other possible buyers.
“Japan has been insensitive to the security needs of its regional neighbors,” Mr. Kitazawa said in a recent interview. “We can offer much to increase their peace of mind.”


"Philippines Backs Rearming of Japan" Financial Times Published: Sunday, 9 Dec 2012 | 6:21 PM ET By: David Pilling and Roel Landingin in Manila and Jonathan Soble in Tokyo
"…The Philippines would strongly support a rearmed Japan shorn of its pacifist constitution as a counterweight to the growing military assertiveness of China, according to the Philippine foreign minister.
"We would welcome that very much," Albert del Rosario told the Financial Times in an interview. "We are looking for balancing factors in the region and Japan could be a significant balancing factor"…"
"…A constitutional revision that upgraded Japan’s Self-Defence Forces to a fully fledged military would allow it far more freedom to operate and could change the military balance in Asia. In spite of its official pacifism, Japan’s armed forces do not lack for hardware. Its navy has about 50 large surface ships, compared with China’s 70-odd.
Support from other Asian nations for a rearmed Japan could embolden Mr Abe to change the constitution.
Beijing has long raised the spectre of a return of Japanese militarism. The attitude towards Japanese rearmament in the Philippines, itself colonised by Japan, suggests regional fears of an assertive China may be beginning to trump memories of Japan’s aggressive wartime actions."…"


December 14, 2012 at 08:25

What about the influence of soft power and "soft clout"? A nation that aggressively exports its cultural products reaps benefits and over time elevates its standing relative to other countries.  

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