On the threshold of the 2000s, the Japanese ruling class found itself engaged in the frantic search for a new economic-social equilibrium in the face of the definitive decline of the Japanese development model, undermined during the nineties of the 20th century. the crisis in Asian economies and the growing inadequacy shown with respect to the challenges posed by the globalization of markets. The failure of the large national banks, the contraction of the production system and the consequent layoffs had in fact suddenly put an end to the expansion phase, which for over twenty years had guaranteed a homogeneous and widespread well-being, and had generated a profound state of uncertainty in civil society, contributing to the crisis of traditional values, within the Liberal Democratic Party the exponents most likely to introduce radical changes in the country’s economic system. It was one of the latter, Koizumi Jun̔ichirō, who took the leadership of the executive in April 2001 after the resignation of Mori Yoshirō (in office since April 2000), involved in a series of financial scandals. The new prime minister aimed at an acceleration of internal transformations, and in June 2001 he presented a program of economic reforms that provided for the privatization of some public services, the adoption of monetary policies aimed at rehabilitating the banking system and diversifying the capital market in order to incentivize loans to businesses, the revitalization of urban areas, the promotion of regional autonomy and the consequent fiscal decentralization, and the cutting of state expenses, also through the reduction of public works, used until then as a tool to support and expand domestic demand. Opposed by members of his own party, who considered his program too radical, Koizumi also encountered resistance from the powerful economic lobbies and the ministerial bureaucracy – whose interests were closely intertwined – both unwilling to accept the loss of their privileges. and with the reluctance of the population itself, reluctant to abandon an economic and social model that had guaranteed stability and material well-being for many years and had constituted a basic element in the process of building a national identity. Koizumi tried to overcome these obstacles by envisaging a new rebirth of the Japanese model through the relaunch of his international role, but despite being able to catalyze a growing consensus around him, he was forced to downsize his plans.
According to Allunitconverters, the privatization of the postal sector – an economic and financial colossus – which was one of the central points of Koizumi’s program, suffered severe slowdowns, as did the planned reforms of the health and pension system and of the banking sector. In the following years, while the economic situation remained difficult and the deflationary thrust was accentuated with heavy consequences for the occupation, the political debate was animated on the issues of national security. The commitment of the ‘self-defense forces’ (the armed forces) in the fight against international terrorism – ensured by the government, after the attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, with the enactment of a law (Oct.) which allowed for the first time foreign forces (albeit with exclusive logistical assistance tasks) – urgently re-proposed the problem of the country’s military policy, which Article 9 of the Constitution only allowed in a defensive key. Koizumi’s hypothesis of modifying the constitutional text to widen the possibilities of employment of the military and thus increase the contribution of Japan to international security (and consequently its influence at the diplomatic level), provoked the lively protest of large sectors of the public opinion, in which both genuinely pacifist instances and isolationist tendencies were mixed, reinforced by the difficult economic situation. Despite the protests, in June 2003 the Parliament approved the amendments to the Constitution, with the support also of the Democratic Party, while they voted against the Social Democrats, the Liberals and the Communists, for whom the new rules were in contrast with the pacifist principles of the Constitution; in July the proposal to send a peace contingent to ̔Irāq was approved, which left in January 2004.
In September 2003, the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party decided to unite to strengthen the opposition front in view of the upcoming legislative elections. Held in November, the consultations once again assigned the majority of seats to the Liberal Democrats (237), despite the good success of the Democratic Party which, by incorporating the votes of the Liberals, had risen to 177 seats; the ruling allies, the New Clean Government Party and the New Conservative Party, won 34 and 4 seats respectively, while the Social Democratic Party won 4 and the Communist Party 9. Although the low percentage of voters (59.9%) was interpreted by many observers as a clear signal of the electorate’s distrust of traditional political forces, Koizumi used the victory to continue on the path of reform, trying to hasten its execution. During 2004, the privatization policy of the major public companies was accelerated, the revision of the social security system, considered too burdensome for the State, was launched, and the tax exemption policy continued, which had hitherto been used to operate a more equitable redistribution of income. This produced an improvement in public finances and created the conditions for an economic recovery, but it helped to create a growing social divide, for the first time in traditionally egalitarian Japanese society, with the consequent marginalization of the weakest, middle and middle classes. workers, damaged by the liberalization of the labor market and by cuts in public spending.
In early 2005, strong opposition met the government’s decision to continue the reorganization and expansion of the national defense system and its proposal to further amend the Constitution to remove the last obstacles to the full realization of this project. The growing commitment in the military field reflected the new regional balances and the new strategy designed by the Koizumi government in foreign policy, in close agreement with the US ally. The relations of military cooperation between Washington and Tōkyō had in fact strengthened after the latter’s support for the fight against international terrorism, both in Afghānistān and in ̔Irāq; in February 2003 a treaty was stipulated which provided for the joint development of a missile defense system which was followed by new agreements in May 2006. The nuclear rearmament policy pursued by North Korea, which culminated in nuclear tests carried out in North Korea, also contributed to this. ‘October 2006 and following which the UN decided to impose economic and financial sanctions on the country. On the other hand, relations with China were more difficult, whose economic strengthening throughout the Asian area was considered a serious danger for the hegemony of Japan over the region, hitherto uncontested. The existence of close and solid commercial relations helped to smooth out the differences, but in the first five years of the 21st century. several episodes highlighted the growing conflict between the two states. Resentful protests from China occurred on the occasion of Koizumi’s repeated visits to the Yasukuni shrine in Tōkyō (where the remains of Japanese soldiers are kept, including those of some generals convicted of war crimes), and following the publication of new texts of history intended for compulsory schools, in which the brutality committed by the Japanese army during the war against China (1937-1945) was ignored; such texts had also been considered an open surrender to nationalist demands by many Japanese teachers’ associations. To reduce the tension, which had led to violent attacks on Japanese businesses in China, Koizumi presented in the
In August 2005, Koizumi, determined to relaunch the government’s reform policy and challenge the more conservative current of the party on this ground, which had voted in Parliament against the renewed proposal to privatize the entire postal system, dissolved Parliament and called elections. anticipated. Held in September of the same year, they sanctioned the clear victory of the Liberal Democratic Party (which obtained 296 seats against 113 of the Democratic Party, 9 of the Communist Party and 7 of the Social Democratic Party) and the personal success of Koizumi, who was reconfirmed first minister. However, in September 2006 Koizumi resigned, leaving the post to Abe Shinzō.