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How does Hatoyama rank?

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The Foreign Policy magazine has just come out with its ranking of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.  As usual, Japan does not figure at all, while many “thinkers” from other Asian countries do.  What’s the problem?

Foreign Policy needs to update its own thinking, and wake up to the new Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, who is very impressive in his efforts to lead his unleadable fellow citizens, and to change the very conservative Japanese. 

But first, let’s have a look at Foreign Policy rankings.  US Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, comes first for “staving off a new Great Depression”, while US President, Barack Obama, ranks second, for reimagining America's role in the world.  Fair enough, they both inherited impossible situations in the form of a catastrophic financial crisis, and a country at war with the world.  And in less than a year, they have both steadied the ship, although it is still very much work in progress.

But these two did not, and could do it alone.  And so there are a string of other Americans who have played a major role in these troubled times, like: academic Nouriel Roubini (4th) who accurately forecast the global financial pandemic; Bill Clinton for redefining philanthropy in the modern era, and Hillary Rodham Clinton for giving "smart power" a star turn at the State Department (jointly 6th); Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler (jointly 7th) who wrote Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness which argues that human beings are far from the rational creatures upon which so much economic policy is based; and US Central Commander David Petraeus comes in 8th for for reshaping the way the U.S. military goes to war.

No such list would be complete without the following Americans: Bill Gates (12th) for taking the efficiency of Microsoft to the poorest of the poor; former US Vice President Dick Cheney (13th!) for his full-throated defense of American power; Obama’s Chief White House Economics Advisor, Larry Summers (14th), for being the brains behind Obama's economic policy; Thomas Friedman is 21st for his genius at popularizing complex ideas; Yale academic Robert Shiller is 22nd for warning us -- over and over -- about dangerous bubbles; Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is 25th for relentlessly questioning economic dogma; and Paul Krugman is 29th for proving that a Nobel Prize winner can also be a prolific pundit and unerringly correct doomsayer.

The US-centric Foreign Policy magazine does give some space to European thinkers like: Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf (15th); Pope Benedict XVI (17th); British sociobiologist Richard Dawkins (18th); Former Czech President Vaclav Havel (23rd); French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy (31st); climate change economist Nicholas Stern (35th); development economist Paul Collier (36th); British philosopher Nick Bostrom (73rd); British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (74th); and French intellectual Jacques Attali (86th).

As China is on the verge of becoming the world’s number 2 economy, you would expect a bunch of Chinese thinkers.  And sure enough, we have: the Governor of the People’s Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, at 9th, for reminding the world that we can't take the dollar for granted; legal activist Xu Zhiyong (62nd); journalist Hu Shuli (84th); and China scolar Minxin Pei is 90th.

From elsewhere in Asia, there are: Iran’s political reformer Zahra Rahnavard (3rd); India’s Rajendra Pachauri, who is Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is 5th ; former Afgan finance minister Ashraf Ghani (20th); Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi (26th); Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (32nd); Iranian religious philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush (45th); Bangladeshi banker to the poor, Muhammad Yunus (46th); Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid (51st); Indian economist/philosopher Amartya Sen (58th); Indian political scientist C. Raja Mohan (67th); Indian environmental activist Sunita Narain (88th); and Indonesia political scientist Rizal Sukma (92nd).

There are of course many others listed like: former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (11th); former US Secretary-General Kofi Annan (30th).

But our question today concerns Japan.  Why are there no Japanese in the list, and more specifically why has Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama not been ranked in the Top 100 Global Thinkers?

In three short months, Hatoyama has made quite a mark.  Immediately upon taking office, he committed his country to cutting carbon emissions by 25 per cent to the horror of Japan’s bureaucrats and business leaders. 

Hatoyama has been proposing an East Asian Community to his neighbours.  In this, he has clearly wrong-footed the Chinese leadership who would prefer to be a rival of Japan, and use criticism of Japan’s wartime past as fuel for domestic nationalism.

His foreign minister Okada upset the Americans by initially suggesting that the US would not be part of such an East Asian Community.  This pushed President Obama to say in his 14 November Tokyo speech that “As a Asia Pacific nation, the United States expects to be involved in the discussions that shape the future of this region, and to participate fully in appropriate organizations as they are established and evolve”.  And Hatoyama is fighting hard with the Americans to defend the interests of his Okinawan residents who are tired of having American bases on their crowded island, and above all are tired of the neverending antics of the rowdy American soldiers.

Right now, the Hatoyama government is hauling the bureaucrats across hot coals, as they are forced to justify their budget requests.  And what's more, this is all broadcast live in the Internet for the entertainment of Japanese citizens.  This is something they were not used in the closed-door, collusive politics under the Liberal Democratic Party.

In short, Hatoyama deserves recognition for his impressive leadership.  And above all, he deserves encouragement and support for the difficult challenge of modernizing Japan.  Japan is a country that craves international respect and approval.  If we give Hatoyama his well deserved recognition, it would only help him in his challenging mission, which is something in which we all have a stake. 

In fact, he needs all the help that he can get.  In typical Japanese fashion, the knives are already out, and after him.  Candidates to replace him are lining up.  He has had to admit that his political fund management organization made false reports in its fund statement, listing donations from people who did not donate money, including some people who are actually deceased.  There are also questions about immense donations from his hugely wealthy mother and sister.

It already seems like a return to the days of LDP infighting.  The Chinese must be laughing.  


Foreign Policy Magazine