Book review: Victor Teo. 2019. Japan’s Arduous Rejuvenation as a Global Power: Democratic Resilience and the US–China Challenge

AuthorAlice Dell’Era
Published date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
436 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 8(3)
Porkkodi Ganeshpandian
Martin, B. K. (2004). Under the loving care of the fatherly leader: North Korea and the
Kim Dynasty. St. Martin’s Grifn.
Myers, B. R. (2010). The cleanest race: How the North Koreans see themselves and why it
matters. Melville House Publishing.
Porkkodi Ganeshpandian
Madras Christian College
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
Victor Teo. 2019. Japan’s Arduous Rejuvenation as a Global Power:
Democratic Resilience and the USChina Challenge. Singapore: Palgrave
Macmillan. 242 pp. ISBN 978-981-13-6189-0.
DOI: 10.1177/23477970211039153
Over the last few decades, Japan’s effort to become a ‘normal’ nation by
removing the pacifist constitutional clauses which constrain the use of its Self
Defence Force (SDF) has garnered the interest of scholars and policy experts.
Japan’s quest for normalcy is conventionally tied to a military dimension. Hence,
the country’s aspirations to become a normal nation are generally understood and
assessed in light of efforts to acquire military capabilities commensurate with
Japan’s economic power. Moving beyond this narrow interpretation, Japan’s
Arduous Rejuvenation as a Global Power by Victor Teo advances an original
and subtle conceptualisation, one according to which normalisation is strongly
intertwined with a domestic desire to achieve the international status of a great
power. For Teo, Japan’s path to normalcy entails a process of rejuvenation to
restore the country as the ‘nation-state par excellence’ (pp. 6–14). Teo argues
that this goal is not merely a response to the changing external environment,
but that it is consistent with the broader evolution of Japan’s distinctive political
and philosophical thought. ‘Status’, Teo contends, ‘is something that Japan has
craved since the fifteenth century and continues to be one of the most important
but understated drivers of Japanese political behavior’ (p. 14).
Throughout the book, Teo discusses a variety of challenges that Japan faces in
pursuing its combined goals of normalcy and rejuvenation. Domestically, these
two objectives are engrained in the core agenda of leading conservative,
neoconservative and nationalist elites, groups which Teo carefully distinguishes,
albeit at times inconsistently. Rather than representing a recent shift to the right,
Teo perceives these groups’ agenda as the result of a long-standing trajectory as

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