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East Asia has several economic powers and also some solid democracies. Japan is one of those that fulfills the double condition, such as South Korea and Taiwan, but it has the advantage of being a unified nation, without its final political status still dependent on resolving old problems inherited from the Cold War. It is also the country of the region with a longer democratic tradition, to be counted not only from the post-World War II Constitution but also from the Meiji Revolution of the late nineteenth century. From the economic point of view, Japan was also the first Asian country to develop and still has an average per capita income higher than South Korea and Taiwan and much higher than China.
Democratic and prosperous, Japan is in a position to be a leading actor in international relations. There is much debate today as to whether the country should strengthen its military power by overcoming the pacifist limits of the constitution offered by the americans after 1945. The nuclear threat from North Korea and China's new territorial ambitions provide arguments for those who want to re-arm Japan. But with an ageing population, social security is an area that justifies more budgetary reinforcement than defense. Thus, more than through hard-power, Japan must assert itself in the world using its soft-power. From the technology of Toyota or Sony to the popularity of manga and anime, going through the fashion of sushi, it has many strengths.
With prestige and means, Japan does well to seek prominence in the world of the twenty-first century. And it has good reason to apply for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council alongside India, Brazil and Germany. If the Indians have as their greatest asset the huge population, the Brazilians the continental leadership and the Germans the fact that they are the locomotive of the European Union, the Japanese can argue with their traditional generosity as financiers for the budget of the world organization: it is the second largest contributor, with 9.6% of the total, when its share of world wealth is around 6% and its share of the population is less than 2%.
But there is another argument to justify the special place Japan deserves in the international system: its double experience of atomic suffering, with the bombs launched in August 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Assuming that it had serious responsibilities in the so-called Pacific War, the country now lives with its atomic memory without revanchist feelings and considers itself a spokesman for all those who denounce the risks of proliferation of nuclear weapons.