Mike Green's interesting post on the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe illustrates an important but oft-ignored principle of foreign policy: It takes two to tango. Too often, analysts focus on just one of the players, usually the president, and score the resulting foreign policy for good or ill based solely on that perspective. But as U.S.-Japan relations dramatize, the same president can have greater or lesser success pursuing much the same lines of policy with the same country depending on who is the counterpart. The Bush administration had fraught relations with France and Germany under Chirac and Schroeder respectively and most of the mainstream U.S. media laid the blame at President George W. Bush's feet. Yet the same Bush had excellent and cooperative relations with France and Germany under Sarkozy and Merkel. Likewise, Bush had excellent relations with Japan under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and for a while looked set to reprise that with Abe. Relations with Japan have suffered during Obama's tenure, but this is as much due to the problems inside Japan as to specific failings of the Obama administration.
Now, with Abe back in power, Green makes a compelling case that there is an opportunity for the Obama Administration to regain lost ground. Abe's "Japan is Back" speech was an ironic double-joke that was not lost on insiders. First, it was an obvious homage to Green's own "Japan is Back" article in Foreign Affairs, which analyzed Abe's foreign policy the last time Abe was in power. Second, it was a gesture to the oft-repeated boast by Obama administration officials that the United States was "back in Asia." Of course, Abe and his team knew what team Obama has been reluctant to admit: The United States never left Asia, and Obama inherited a strong Asia strategy with bipartisan support and significant momentum behind it and and upon which, after some stumbles, they have managed to build with new initiatives.
But perhaps Abe and his team are worried by what they might consider drift in Obama's Asia strategy. The much-ballyhooed Asia pivot has been looking more and more like an Asian pirouette of late. Secretary of State John Kerry has bent over backwards to underscore the differences between him and his predecessor, and the easiest contrast to draw thus far has been his prioritization of Europe and the Middle East over Asia. The top Asia hands have left government, and the departure of Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell in particular deprives the administration of someone whose stature in the region could compensate for the unintended side-effects of a perception that Kerry is preoccupied with other regions. Campbell spoke to my program at Duke last week and argued persuasively that the Obama administration should redouble its efforts in Asia in the second term and somewhat less persuasively that they will.
In Abe, the Obama Administration has a promising Asian partner. Will they hear the music and dance?
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In 2007, I published a review essay in Foreign Affairs explaining how then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was compensating for Japan's relative economic decline by reducing anachronistic constraints on the Japanese self-defense forces and aligning more closely with other maritime democracies, beginning with the U.S.-Japan alliance. Unfortunately for Japan -- and the shelf life of my piece -- Abe abruptly resigned a few months later after a sudden wave of missteps, political bad luck, and failing health. Over the next five years Japan suffered through multiple leadership transitions, with two Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) prime ministers and three Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) prime ministers all stumbling at the starting line because they were unable to make any headway with Japan's stagnant economy. Abe, meanwhile, kept a low profile.
But as China upped the pressure on Japan over the contested Senkaku Islands, the LDP turned to the hawkish former prime minister last year to help them retake the government and restore Japan's self-confidence. Learning from his past errors, Abe has focused his early months on jump-starting the economy through "Abenomics" -- a combination of quantitative easing, stimulus spending, and promises of structural reform to increase productivity. Thus far it has worked: The markets and business confidence are up and Abe is the first prime minister in memory to see his personal support rate actually rise in office (now at 75% in some polls). In an energetic speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Friday, he declared to the audience that "Japan is back."
Abe's return seemed initially to confuse the Obama administration. His values-based, balance of power approach resonated much more with George W. Bush's second inaugural than the minimalist and risk-averse foreign policy vision President Obama has put forth for his second term. The administration also appeared spooked by Abe's intemperate campaign comments about the need to revisit Japan's previous official apologies to China and Korea. Numerous stories emerged before his visit to Washington citing unnamed senior U.S. officials promising to publicly shame Japan if the Abe administration went too far with historical revisionism. The pattern looked eerily reminiscent of what happened between the Obama administration and Bibi Netanyahu in the first term. For its part, the Japanese side was equally uncertain about seeming wobbliness in U.S. declaratory policy on the Senkaku issue since Hillary Clinton's departure and by John Kerry's promise in his confirmation hearings to "grow the rebalance towards Beijing" (it did not help that Chinese official editorials praised Kerry for having the wisdom not to "meddle" in Far Eastern affairs the way his predecessor had).
In the end, though, the Abe-Obama summit on Feb. 22 was a success for both sides. Since coming to office, Abe has moderated his stance on history issues and was firm but gracious towards China and especially South Korea in his CSIS speech. In the Oval Office press availability, President Obama reaffirmed that Japan is the "central foundation" of U.S. security policy toward the Pacific (though he sounded like he was searching for a teleprompter when he said it). The two leaders echoed each other on the need for a UN Security Council Chapter 7 resolution to deal with North Korea's recent nuclear test and there was little outward sign of frustration over the usual irritants on Okinawa base realignment. Even on the trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), where expectations were low, there was much more substance than met the eye. In a skillfully worded joint statement on Japan's possible participation in TPP, the U.S. side reaffirmed its position that all sectors had to be on the table and Abe restated the LDP campaign pledge that Japan would not commit to opening all sectors. That little piece of kabuki now allows Abe to state that he will seek to protect the rice market in negotiations and the administration to claim that all sectors will indeed be subject to negotiation. The Japanese delegation had a quiet spring in their step after the summit and were keen to move on TPP in a matter of weeks, slowing down mainly to accommodate the administration's need to line up support on its side (though Abe will have his own challenges within the LDP, to be sure). While the U.S. press was generally confused by the language on TPP, Congressional opponents of free trade knew what the joint statement meant right away, expressing their alarm within hours of the bilateral summit.
Abe has a lot to deliver still, and he knows it. "Abenomics" will run out of steam without real deregulation and reform (hence the Japanese business community and bureaucracy's enthusiasm for TPP as an action-forcing agreement). He also has to win the Upper House election scheduled for July, since failure to control both houses of the Diet has done in every prime minister since Koizumi. But Abe has begun to build up a head of steam. I have sat across the table from the last six Japanese prime ministers, and I always watch the faces of the political aides and senior bureaucrats behind them. I haven't seen such confident expressions since Koizumi was in the job.
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2012 will end with Japan and Korea both choosing new governments as the leadership on Asia policy changes at the State Department. All three transitions could have an impact on the president's vaunted pivot to Asia.
In Japan the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just walloped the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) at the polls. On the one hand, this is nothing new. The last three Japanese elections (2005, 2009 and 2012) ended with lopsided victories as the frustrated Japanese electorate searched for leadership to get them out of their current doldrums. With the election of Shinzo Abe, however, the Western media and the left have hit general quarters. Time Magazine predicts dangerous new friction in Northeast Asia; the folks at Foreign Policy have featured analysis warning Japan could go nuclear; and within some quarters of the administration there is nervous chatter about whether Tokyo might provoke China too much.
Abe is a nationalist, to be sure, and he has said less than helpful things this election cycle about elevating attention to Japan's territorial dispute with Korea and revisiting a 1993 apology for treatment of the euphemistically-called "comfort women" who were sent to the rear areas of Japanese combat units during the war. On the whole, however, Abe is a good nationalist -- which is to say that he wants to project a Japan that is far more resolute than the flip-flopping of the past three years under the DPJ. At a time when Beijing thinks it is winning in its campaign to coerce maritime states on territorial issues, Abe has promised to increase spending on the Japanese navy and coast guard, to relax constraints on defense cooperation with the United States, and to strengthen security ties with the Philippines, Australia, India and others in Beijing's crosshairs. The United States should embrace this agenda. The problem is that any continuation of the nationalist rhetoric of the election campaign would drive a wedge between Japan and Korea, putting the United States and Japan in a weaker position to deal with a dangerous North Korea and an overbearing China. The administration should quietly explain the problem to the incoming team in Tokyo in exactly those strategic and national interest terms. In his last go as Prime Minister, Abe moved from nationalist to pragmatic statesman, improving ties with both China and Korea. As it became clear that LDP would win a landslide this time, he also began tempering his comments and stressing that he would rebuild the U.S.-Japan alliance and place importance on relations with China and Korea. His top advisors say privately not to worry. National security is all about worrying, though, so the administration will need the skill to construct a trusted private dialogue on the sensitive issues with Tokyo, backed by robust public support for Japan's security.
Korea goes to the polls on Wednesday. Right now the conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, has a lead in most polls, but just inside the margin of error. Her opponent, Moon Jae-in, appears to have slight momentum on his side (Korean law limits polling in the final days of the election). Both are trying to appeal to the center without abandoning their bases. Park is the former daughter of strongman Park Chung Hee, while Moon was chief-of-staff and heir apparent to the former president, Roh Moo-hyun. Park's supporters are generally tougher on North Korea, more pro-U.S., and older. Moon's supporters are generally softer on North Korea and younger, but not gripped by the same anti-Americanism that helped Roh get elected in 2002. The younger voters' conversion is typified by Psy, the Gangnam-style rap artist who recently apologized for his crude anti-American songs from a decade ago. Moon himself is a pragmatist who appears to have learned the political and security consequences of the Roh administration's initial anti-Americanism. The problem is that Moon has surrounded himself with hardcore leftists who still believe that the right approach to North Korea is to buy their confidence with economic aid, even after (or they would argue especially after) Pyongyang has tested long-range missiles and possibly begun preparations for a third nuclear test. Needless to say, that policy would create considerable dissonance with Washington. Even Park, whose pro-alliance credentials are solid, has hinted that she will not be quite as tough with either Pyongyang or Beijing as the incumbent, Lee Myung-bak, has been.
Just as Japan and Korea enter these transitions, the Obama administration is losing its best stewards of Asia policy -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her assistant secretary for East Asia (and, truth in advertising, good friend to a number of us at Shadowgov), Kurt Campbell. There are other solid Asia hands in the administration, to be sure, but State has been particularly instrumental in managing U.S. alliances in the region. It is not hard to imagine an incoming team at State deciding that the highest priority in the second term must be modifying the harder edges of the pivot and quietly reassuring Beijing that the U.S. does not fully support Japan's new trajectory -- or worse, publicly walking away from a declaratory policy on the contested Senkaku Islands that suggests the U.S. is completely neutral (for three administration's the policy has been neutrality on the territorial claims, but clear signals that the United States would not be neutral if there were any military coercion by China). There are hints that some in the administration have already been shifting their public statements in this direction. Similarly, Korea-U.S. relations have prospered in the last four years, not because the Obama administration came in with any particular strategy for strengthening relations with Seoul, but because the President was personally captivated by President Lee Myung-bak's commitment to globalizing Korea's role and restoring trust in alliance relations with Washington. It is one thing to react to a dynamic ally, but quite another to put in the hard work of strengthening alliance ties when there are disagreements over North Korea policy or uncertainties in Seoul about how to deal with China in future.
The good news is that any new team will have to face confirmation hearings. In private calls and hearings, the Senate should be sure to take some time off from Iran, Syria and Afghanistan to verify the nominees' fundamental thinking about our alliances in Asia. These alliances do not run on auto-pilot, nor are they always easy. But as Lord Carrington once said about us as allies in the face of European criticism in the 1980s, "Yes ... yes ... all your complaints are true, but they are the only Americans we have."
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The National Intelligence Council's (NIC) just-released Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report identifies key meta-trends that will shape the future international system, including the explosion of the global middle class, the diffusion of power away from the West, and the rising likelihood of inter-state conflict. In no other region will these trends play a more decisive role than in Asia, where the NIC predicts China to emerge as the world's largest economy, India to become the biggest driver of middle-class growth on Earth, and conflict scenarios between a number of rising and established powers likely to put regional peace at risk. In no other region will the future of U.S. leadership in the international system be more decisively tested than in an Asia featuring rising giants like India and Indonesia, a fully emerged peer competitor in China, and the dramatic tilt in the international economy's center of gravity from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific.
What kind of role Asia will play in the world, and how it will relate to the United States and other Western powers, in turn will be determined by what form of regional order is operative in 2030. My last post described four broad pathways Asia could take over the next two decades. This one sketches out a more granular set of scenarios for Asia's future, identifying seven distinct possibilities that could emerge by 2030. That there are these many pathways demonstrates how unsettled regional power dynamics are -- and how much uncertainty remains around China's trajectory, U.S. staying power, Japan's strategic re-emergence, and the nature of Asian regionalism.
Headline scenarios for Asia in 2030 include:
More specifically, three forms of multipolarity in Asia seem possible: (1) a cooperative-competitive multipolar order in which the United States is the strongest power; (2) a fundamentally competitive multipolar order in which China is the strongest power; or (3) a liberal Concert of Asia in which multiple strong states organize themselves around cooperation rather than competition.
Alternatively, three forms of bipolarity seem possible: (1) an Asia split into two competitive blocs led by the United States and China; (2) a region featuring a withdrawn United States pitting a grouping led by China against a contending one led by Asia's other great and regional powers; and (3) a Sino-American condominium in which a cooperative bipolarity orders the region.
Finally, one form of unipolarity is possible (and only one): a form of Chinese primacy that reduces other states to lesser status and effectively excludes the United States from playing a leading regional role.
From the vantage point of 2012, the most likely Asian strategic futures for 2030 appear to be, in descending order: (1) multipolarity with a U.S. lead, (2) U.S.-China Cold War, (3) multipolarity with a Chinese lead, (4) Asia-China Cold War, (5) concert of Asia, (6) Sino-American condominium, and (7) new Middle Kingdom.
The key variable will be what role the United States chooses to play in Asia with respect to continued military presence and diplomatic/economic leadership (which themselves will derive in part from the ability of the United States to revitalize its domestic power resources); defense of its allies and deepening of strategic partnership with India; and the nature of its relationship with China. Other decisive variables will be the scope and pace of internal political change within China; the speed of India's economic and military rise; and the future of Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance.
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Today the U.S. National Intelligence Council releases its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report, authored by the NIC's resident thought leader and global futurist par excellence, Mat Burrows. Several of us in the Shadow Government stable contributed to the report in various ways over the past few years of its development .
Because Asia is the cockpit for so many macro drivers of the international system over the coming decades, it's worth considering the outsized role Asia's evolution will play in shaping the future world described in GT2030 -- and how that evolution in turn will impact key variables like the resilience of American power and the future of democracy.
At the macro level, four broad pathways for Asian order are possible through 2030. Which order prevails will have determinative effects on the kind of international system our children inherit.
A Lockean order
In the first scenario, continued American maritime preeminence and the U.S. alliance system sustain a security order in which China's "Prussianization," North Korea's nuclear mischief, and other potential security dilemmas in Asia are mitigated by the preponderance of power enjoyed by the United States and its allies, thereby deterring aggressive revisionism on the part of Beijing or Pyongyang and continuing to supply the public goods that underlie wider Asian prosperity. In such an order, Asian institutions could continue to sink roots, but on the basis of a trans-regional outlook in which the United States remains what then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates called a "resident power," with economic integration oriented around a Pacific rather than an exclusively Asian axis.
Great powers like Japan and India, secondary powers like South Korea and Australia, and the states of Southeast Asia could continue to engage economically and diplomatically with China, confident that their security ties with the United States constituted a hedge against falling under Beijing's sway. In turn, China's development would be shaped by the combination of engagement with the United States and its friends in Asia and Europe, and by the deterrent effect of America's forward military presence and alliance commitments. These raise the costs of Chinese adventurism, allowing Beijing to focus its resources on internal development and peaceful external engagement -- rather than on wielding its growing power to revise Asia's order through coercion.
A Hobbesian order
In the second scenario, a U.S. retreat into isolationism or accelerated material decline (induced by protectionism or failure to reverse America's alarming levels of national debt) would lead to the weakening of Washington's alliance commitments in East Asia and its willingness to remain the region's security guarantor. Such a regional order would be "ripe for rivalry," as forecast by realist scholars like Aaron Friedberg after the Cold War, when an American withdrawal from the region and raw balancing behavior in the midst of dynamic power shifts seemed likely to make Asia's future resemble Europe's war-prone past.
Such a balance-of-power order would feature self-help behavior by Asian states of the kind that has been mitigated to date by American defense commitments. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam might develop and deploy nuclear weapons as the only means of securing their autonomy against the Chinese military giant in their midst. Chinese leaders, no longer constrained by America's Seventh Fleet and robust alliance network, might find themselves free to pursue their declared revisionist aims in the South and East China Seas. Lesser Asian states whose territorial claims conflict with China's would find they had less ability to leverage a retreating America's support in their favor.
A Kantian order
In the third scenario, Asia would evolve in Europe's direction -- not the pre-1945 Europe of great-power balancing and war, but today's European Union, in which demilitarized societies between which war is inconceivable enjoy the fruits of democratic peace through institutional cooperation. Such a pathway for regional order presumes that Asian regionalism develops in a pluralistic way that preserves the autonomy of lesser Asian states, rather than deriving from a nonconsensual extension of China's sphere of influence. It also presumes a dovetailing of Asian regime types in a democratic direction. After all, it was only the resumption of democratic control over previously militaristic European regimes following their defeat in war that made possible the institutional deepening that has defined the post-World War II European project.
Another necessary, and often unstated, condition for the development of Europe's Kantian order of perpetual peace has been the American security umbrella. It has created a security cocoon within which European governments can dedicate national resources to domestic welfare rather than military defense and maneuvering against potential adversaries. Ironically, then, the development of a pluralistic and peace-loving East Asian community along the lines of the European Union may require the continued role of the United States as the region's security guarantor. Such a role would naturally be more amenable to Washington's leading regional competitor, China, should that country pursue the political liberalization that would make an Asian democratic peace both possible and self-reinforcing.
A Sinocentric order
In the fourth scenario, an East Asian community of economic interdependence and pan-regional cooperation would develop not along lines of democratic pluralism but as an extension of an increasingly dominant China. Rather than the horizontal sovereignty between states that developed in post-Westphalian Europe through the institution of the balance of power, such a regional order would feature hierarchical relations of suzerainty and submission of the kind that characterized pre-modern East Asia when China's Middle Kingdom was strong and cohesive, and lesser neighboring states paid ritualized forms of tribute to it. A Sinocentric East Asia could emerge out of this historical past; it could also emerge through what neorealist international relations scholars like John Mearsheimer define as the imperative of great powers to enjoy regional hegemony. The Monroe Doctrine and its Roosevelt Corollary epitomized this process in the 19th and early 20th centuries with respect to the United States and Latin America.
A Chinese sphere of influence encompassing East Asia and Southeast Asia presumes that states like Japan and South Korea would bandwagon with, rather than balance against, Chinese power. This could follow from either a lack of external alliance options or out of a reemergent pan-Asian identity; in a scenario in which they were economically and geopolitically "Finlandized," these countries might have no choice. An Asian system in which China sat at the summit of a hierarchical regional order presumes that Asian institution-building develops along closed lines of Asian exclusivity, rather than through the open trans-Pacific regionalism that has been the dominant impulse behind Asian community-building since the early 1990s.
In my next post, I'll describe some more specific scenarios for Asian order in 2030, from an Asian Cold War to a New Middle Kingdom.
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While there is no scarcity of trouble in the Sino-American relationship, special attention should be paid to the unfolding Sino-Japanese contretemps over the Senkakus (which China and the Republic of China call the Diaoyutais). During the last few years the bulk of Washington's attention has been focused on disputes between China and Vietnam and China and the Philippines. Obviously, these are important. Manila is a treaty ally, and Vietnam is a potential strategic partner. In both cases we have dual interests in de-escalation and in helping the two countries stand up for their rights and interests.
But Japan is different. It is arguably Washington's most important ally. A successful Asia strategy is impossible without a strong alliance with Japan. Japan's location makes it essential to any U.S. military operation in Asia. Its strength and resilience make it a reliable partner. Its shared sense of interests and values cement our bond. And, Japan is still a very strong and militarily capable country.
China's incessant incursions into Japanese and disputed waters, and its bullying and badgering of Japan over the Senkakus, have prompted an unproductive nationalist response among some politicians in Japan. But it is Beijing that has created a vicious cycle. Its provocation leads to nationalism. Japanese nationalism in turn sparks strong emotions among the Chinese people. But the Chinese Communist Party also looked the other way as Japanese businesses in China were ransacked and boycotted.
While the United States affirmed that the U.S.-Japan treaty covers the Senkakus, there still is a disagreement between Washington and Tokyo over who has sovereignty over the islands. This disagreement dates back to the 1970s and is yet another manifestation of the careless and rushed way in which Washington handled its normalization with China.
Japan feels isolated, and cannot understand why Washington remains neutral over this sovereignty dispute. Japan has a point. The United States has dined out on a neutral stance -- falling back on apathy toward the outcomes of territorial disputes throughout Asia, as long as they are "resolved peacefully" -- for a long time. This position was reasonable enough when China was weak and unable to press its claims, but those days are over. Is the United States really agnostic about the outcome of territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas? Of course not. It does not want conflict, but neither does it want China to control territories that sit along important sea lanes.
Washington also wants to side with its allies. The time has come to assess how we really want the various sovereignty disputes in key waters to be resolved. The assessment should be based both on calculated geostrategic interests as well as the interest we have in supporting friends and allies.
The Sino-Japanese dispute may be the most important test for the United States in Asia in the coming year. The tension between two very powerful countries shows no signs of abating. Japan will not back down from its sovereignty claim. In this case, Beijing is playing with fire. While ambiguity is sometimes necessary, the need for clarity from the United States is pressing. As China challenges the established order -- one that has kept the peace in Asia for three decades -- the United States must take the lead in defending that order. That means standing by an ally. Perhaps even more daunting, it also means the time has come to define our preferred outcomes in territorial disputes between China and our friends.
There has been a lot of commentary on the Obama administration's "pivot" (or "rebalance") to Asia here at Shadow Government. Most commentators have praised Secretary Clinton's activism towards Southeast Asia, but pointed out that the rhetoric of the pivot will look hollow without a real trade strategy and adequate resourcing for our forward military forces. This past month it looks like the wheels may have started coming off on the trade strategy axle.
In early September regional leaders met at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting in Vladivostok, sans Barack Obama who was unwilling to skip town in election season, and courtesy of Vladmir Putin who was unwilling to schedule the meeting at a time the U.S. President could attend. President Obama's absence was not the end of the world: Bill Clinton skipped two APEC summits and managed to compensate the next year (for the record, George W. Bush missed none...but that was before we were "back in Asia" as the current White House likes to say). The real problem at Vladivostok was the hallway banter by the other delegates about TPP -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- that forms the core of the administration's strategy for building a regional economic architecture that includes us and strives for WTO-consistent trade liberalization and rule-making. The overall critique in Vladivostok was that the U.S. side is playing small ball on TPP, to the frustration of multiple stakeholders. The U.S. business community is worried at the lack of market access in the negotiations; the Australians and Singaporeans are hedging with Asian-only negotiations because of what they see as incrementalism by USTR; and Japanese officials are dismayed by administration signals discouraging Tokyo from expressing readiness to join TPP.
This all matters because of the other summitry gossip that is coming out of Asia. On November 18-20, the Cambodians will be hosting the East Asia Summit, which President Obama joined with great fanfare last year and which the president will be able to attend this year because it is after the U.S. elections. The main deliverable on economics at that summit will be a decision within the region to proceed with the RCEP -- an Asian "Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership" that includes the ten ASEAN states, Japan, China, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand -- and does not include the United States. The Cambodians' current plan for the November summit is to hold an RCEP inaugural meeting while President Obama waits outside the room cooling his heels with Vladmir Putin (since Russia is also not included in the regional trade deal). Stunningly, our allies Japan, Australia ,and Korea all appear to be on board with this scenario.
At one level this resembles the silliness of a junior high school prom, but at another level it could be the moment people start writing the obituary for the "pivot." To prevent that, a returning Obama administration or a new Romney administration has to put more oomph into the current anemic U.S. trade strategy. The RCEP launch will be embarrassing, but since those talks have no prospect of hitting a WTO-compliant level of trade liberalization, the United States can retake center stage again by showing that it can form an even more impressive coalition of trade liberalizing states. This means getting Japan in to TPP; leveraging Canada and Mexico in the TPP process (which will also help us counter Brazilian efforts to separate South America from us); and beginning to move on a complementary trans-Atlantic FTA process. The "pivot" was never sustainable without like-minded allies in our hemisphere and Europe and now is the time to recognize that and develop a strategy accordingly.
The next administration will also have to demonstrate credibility by moving to secure trade promotion authority (TPA) from the Congress (just can't get around Article One Section Eight of the Constitution). Finally, the administration had better start thinking about new ways to engage on economic issues within the EAS that keep us in the regional dialogue without requiring a high-standard FTA with countries like Laos or Burma. Bob Zoellick was a master of that art at USTR when he pioneered the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative -- a flexible framework that allowed a la carte participation by countries ranging from an FTA (Singapore) to establishing very basic economic dialogues (Cambodia).
In short, for trade to continue underpinning U.S. leadership in Asia, we will have to go global, be agile within the region, and give a shot of adrenaline to USTR. Otherwise, the "pivot" will be a minor footnote in the textbooks.
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I have been cautious about predicting the longer-term strategic implications of the massive earthquakes and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11. To begin with, years ago I lived for a summer in the part of Japan that has born the brunt of this disaster, interviewing farmers and politicians for a column I struggled to write each week in Japanese for the local Iwate Nippo Newspaper. The images of death and destruction, especially to the beautiful Sanriku Coast, have been heartbreaking for me to watch. A second reason for caution is the lesson many of us learned trying to anticipate the longer-term impact of the December 2004 Asian Tsunami. Most of us in government at the time expected that the civil war in Sri Lanka would end because the tsunami had destroyed the Tamil Tigers' fleet and coastal bases, but that the insurgency in Aceh, Indonesia would grow worse because the tsunami had destroyed the Indonesian Army's bases and lines of supply. The exact opposite occurred -- the Sri Lankan civil war dragged violently on for five more years, but Indonesian President Susilu Bambang Yudyuhono managed to sign a peace agreement with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) within six months of the disaster. A final reason for caution is that the scope of the disaster is not yet clear -- particularly at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, where a few dozen engineers bravely remain to cool the reactor cores.
Yet as Japanese scholars and citizens themselves begin considering the future -- and as American rating agencies and pundits hit a drumbeat of negative and often ill-informed predictions -- it seems both appropriate and necessary to at least frame the possibilities of what comes next for Japan.
The first thing that can be said about the disaster is that it has highlighted both the traditional strengths and the adaptability of Japanese society. The world press has marveled at the stoic resolve and orderliness of the Japanese public as they queue for hours for scarce supplies without breaking the rules or complaining. This is precisely the national character that allowed Japan to rebound from even greater disasters such as the Edo fire of 1657, the Kanto earthquake of 1923, and the aftermath of the Pacific War's end in 1945, when the Emperor announced that the Japanese people would have to "endure the unendurable"... and they did. The response has also highlighted the adaptability of Japan. After studying shortcomings in the response to the 1995 Kobe Earthquake, the Japanese government strengthened coordination with the Self-Defense Forces and created crisis management centers across central and local government. This preparation has saved countless lives, even as the government struggles on multiple fronts because of the scale of the disaster. Even more impressive has been the activism of Japanese civil society and especially of Japanese youth; frequently dismissed in recent press analysis as self-obsessed "herbivores," they have mobilized spontaneously through Facebook and other social media and have been shown carrying elderly citizens to high ground on their backs.
The disaster will likely have at least some impact on Japanese security and foreign policy. The government's poor response to the 1995 Kobe earthquake was seized upon by national security realists to argue for changes in emergency legislation and greater acceptance of the Self Defense Forces as an instrument of national power. Fiscal realities may keep defense spending below 1 percent of GDP, but the disaster will reinforce calls to remove impediments to the SDF's rules of engagement and for greater interoperability with the United States (Operation "Tomodachi" -- the relief effort by the 50,000 U.S. personnel in Japan -- is the largest joint and combined operation between the United States and Japan ever). Japan's relations with China and Russia, which were abysmal before the crisis, may thaw somewhat now. Beijing's 15-man rescue team could take some of the edge off of the Sino-Japanese tensions -- 86 percent of Japanese said in recent polls that they do not trust China -- though the root cause of the tensions, PLA operations around Japan, are unlikely to change. Putin's decision to set aside differences over the Northern Territories for now in order to help a "good neighbor" may have a more lasting effect, since the root causes of friction between Tokyo and Moscow were always more political than structural or strategic. Finally, many Japanese friends are telling me that the world's outpouring of support and assistance is reminding average citizens in Japan how important it is for Japan to also make its own "international contributions" in terms of ODA and security. Of course, this impulse will be in competition with the understandable desire to focus on reconstruction at home over the coming years.
Japanese economic production will definitely recover from the disaster. The damage estimates are generally well above US $150 billion, and Japanese business surveys are expecting a big hit on manufacturing output over the coming months. However, the economy is still expected to grow overall in JFY 2011 (April 2011-March 2012) once corporations adjust their supply chains and reconstruction spending begins. Moody's Investors Service is warning that the huge financing needs may erode investor confidence in the country's ability to repay its debts, but this underestimates the likelihood that Japanese citizens will buy reconstruction bonds (over 90 percent of Japanese debt is already domestically held) and ignores the huge amounts of cash Japanese banks and corporations have been sitting on the past year. (Moody's also downgraded South Korea's sovereign debt rating when Roh Moo Hyun came to power in 2003on the dubious logic that relations with the United States would deteriorate.) However, even if production recovers, that still leaves the question of whether Japan will revitalize its basic economic growth strategy. Phil Levy rightly pointed out in his post that the Japanese political classes could become addicted again to Keynesian approaches to growing the economy. On the other hand, Prime Minister Kan had already begun to embrace measures that would unleash greater competition in the Japanese economy, including participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations. That specific debate will probably be on hold for a few months, but the economic reformers behind it will seize on the reconstruction strategy to argue for even bolder measures to revitalize economic growth. Decisions about how to raise money for reconstruction -- for example, whether to include incentives for private equity and not just rely on debt -- will reveal the prevailing direction of the economic strategy debate in the coming months.
Numerous Japanese commentators had recently argued that the nation needed a shock to accelerate the kind of opening, reform and revitalization that Japan embraced after Commodore Perry's ships landed in Edo Bay on July 8, 1853 and the war ended in August, 1945. While no one could have anticipated or called for the enormity of the heart-wrenching human tragedy of March 11, the nation again finds itself at an important turning point. And history would strongly suggest that Japan will emerge stronger.
A calamity like Japan's massive 9.0 earthquake last week is certain to rock Japan's economy and, in turn, global commerce. There is no good way to put a number on this coming shock, though one early assessment was the fall of more than six percent in Japan's Nikkei stock market index on Monday.
Instead, we can sound a general alarm and suggest where the impacts are most likely to appear. Here are four broad areas likely to see significant repercussions:
Several years ago, there was talk of whether Asia's flourishing economies had "delinked" from the consumer-driven economies of the West. That talk faded away with the global financial crisis. A sharp downturn in the United States and Europe depressed global trade and buffeted Asia.
Now the question is how shocks are transmitted from Asia back to the West. Japan, a trade surplus country, has not been a major source of net demand for the world economy. But it is tightly interwoven into the global manufacturing network. It demands parts from around Asia and the rest of the world and is a supplier of key components. Thus, when Japanese factories shut down and supply chains are temporarily broken, this could well leave factories elsewhere with either a slimmed-down order book or with critical ingredients out of stock.
The nuclear plant crises that followed the tsunami damage have inevitably rekindled debates about the safety and desirability of nuclear power. These debates come at a time of high oil prices and a sustained push to move away from carbon fuels for environmental reasons. The problem is that modern economies run on energy, demand is expected to boom, and there are a finite number of economically viable alternatives. There have been arguments that rational economic calculations will drive decisions and that we just need to be cautious about the design maintenance and siting of nuclear reactors. As we all familiarize ourselves with the various degrees of nuclear plant meltdown, it will be interesting to see if the debate remains this dispassionate. A turn away from nuclear energy would effectively curtail global energy supplies in the medium to long run and have a negative effect on global growth.
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International Relations theorist Charles Glaser has joined a growing chorus calling for the abandonment of Taiwan. His take on why we should abandon the island is tucked into his "nuanced version of realism" argued on the pages of Foreign Affairs. As do most "abandon Taiwan" arguments, he begins with a "realist" argument for why war between the United States and China is unlikely. Why? Because besides Taiwan, Sino-U.S. interests are compatible.
Parting company with other "pessimistic" realists who believe that "power transitions" -- the historic condition of a rising power challenging the existing hegemon -- more often than not lead to war, Glaser believes that this time it is different. The security dilemma (in pursuing our security we take steps which decrease their security which leads them to take steps which decrease our security, a process that can end in conflict) in the Sino-U.S. case. The task for Beijing and Washington (but mostly Washington) is to trust that each country just wants security, not domination.
For example, the United States should not fear China's nuclear build-up because of Beijing's limited ability to strike the U.S. homeland. According to this logic, the United States should forego temptations to increase its own nuclear arsenal in response to China's own increases. All China is doing is increasing its security with a second strike capability. In turn, China should not fear U.S. conventional capabilities because most are resident across the Pacific.
But ultimately, the argument goes, it is up to the United States and not China, to make adjustments to its security posture and not exaggerate threats that China poses. The United States is safe because China will never have the means to destroy its deterrent.
Glaser concedes that this theory overlooks the fact that U.S. security alliances could seem threatening to China. Here we get to the nub of his argument. The United States must ask itself how important its security alliances are. Unlike "Neo-isolationists," Glaser, an advocate of "selective engagement," believes that the alliances with South Korea and Japan are important. And the United States could defend those alliances without creating a debilitating arms race if it provides just enough conventional deterrence, plus the threat of nuclear retaliation should those countries come under attack.
To Glaser, Taiwan is different. China's belief that Taiwan is part of it is non-negotiable, and Beijing and Washington have very different views of what constitutes the status quo across the Strait. The Taiwan dispute has no diplomatic solution and the risks of nuclear war are getting too high, particularly with China's advancing second strike capability. His answer is for the United States to make the necessary "adjustments" and abandon Taiwan.
He acknowledges potential critics who may say appeasement usually whets the appetite of the appeased. But, says Glaser, not all adversaries are Hitler, and China has limited territorial goals. Even if China has more expansive territorial claims, the United States can remediate any military imbalance through a greater conventional presence.
In the end, the real danger is a self-fulfilling prophesy, a failure by the United States to realize that its basic goals are compatible with China's. Glaser fears that this is already happening -- the United States is taking a much more competitive military stance because its ability to operate along China's periphery is in danger. According to Glaser, this dilemma has two solutions. The first is for Washington to realize that U.S. interests are changing -- Taiwan is not really vital. And second, the United States should forego the kind of nuclear superiority that could counter China's second strike capability. Problem solved.
This is a fairly conventional international theory argument about the relative stability of Sino-American relations. Glaser is essentially taking a side in an old debate. His innovation is the abandonment of Taiwan, a necessary step to decrease the security dilemma and reveal China's truly limited aims.
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President Obama had a good year in Asia in 2010. It featured a more realistic China policy, a breakthrough visit to India, the shelving of an irritating base dispute with Japan, a surge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan that is creating results, intensification of a successful drone campaign against terrorists in Pakistan, and closer cooperation with key Southeast Asian nations. But challenges loom: China's growing assertiveness, mercantilistic trade policy, and development of anti-access capabilities that erode U.S. deterrence commitments in Asia; North Korean belligerence; Burmese repression and proliferation; and the continuing weakness of the Afghan and Pakistani states. How can President Obama counteract these trends in the new year while building on previous successes?
1.Implement a long-range strategy to sustain U.S. primacy in Asia in the face of China's challenge.
This means diversifying U.S. military-access and basing rights beyond Japan and Korea, deepening missile defense collaboration with these and other countries (including Taiwan), building up naval power in the Pacific and Indian oceans, and investing in next-generation technologies to counteract asymmetric Chinese weapons systems. With sustained commitment and smart investments, the United States is well-positioned to sustain its military edge in Asia, in part because nearly all regional powers find it reassuring and want to enable rather than constrain it. The harder work may be at home: decisively investing in the domestic reforms that liberate the United States to shape a new century, rather than wallowing in growing indebtedness and domestic discord.
2. Invest in the rise of key countervailing Asian powers that can contribute public goods of stability and security.
This includes prodding Japan, with its enormous but latent military and technological capabilities, to act on its new defense guidelines to become a "normal country" that is a net security provider in Asia; investing further in India's ascent to the top tier of global powers and partners; and working with Indonesia and Vietnam to develop the means to contribute to regional stability while maintaining their independence vis-à-vis their giant neighbor. It also means incorporating Russia into the Asian strategic equation in ways that reinforce common interests in sustaining the balance of power.
3. Unite the democracies.
Concern about China is accelerating the development of an array of minilateral groupings among regional democracies. These include U.S.-Japan-Australia, U.S.-Japan-Korea, and U.S.-Japan-India trilaterals as well as new security pacts between Japan and India, Japan and Australia, Australia and India, and India and South Korea. In the meantime, all these countries are working to forge closer strategic ties with Indonesia, a next-generation BRIC. An infrastructure of democratic security cooperation could help deter proliferation from problem states like North Korea and Burma, incentivize China's peaceful rise, and secure increasingly contested maritime commons.
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Anybody who spends time in Singapore, Delhi or Seoul will appreciate how much anxiety China's aggressive new stance on territorial disputes is causing in Asia. Japan is the most recent recipient of Beijing's growing chutzpah. For several years now, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been surging its operations around the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan (the islands are called the Diaoyutai in Chinese). PLAN submarines have circumnavigated Japan and PLAN destroyers have trained their deck guns at unarmed Japanese patrol planes. Over the past few months, Chinese fishing vessels have been swarming around the Senkakus in what Japanese authorities suspect is a coordinated operation. When a Chinese fishing boat collided with a Japanese Coast Guard cutter on September 7, the Japanese ship arrested the Chinese captain on charges of obstructing law enforcement activities. China immediately responded by severing all high level diplomatic interactions with Japan and staging a series of predictable anti-Japanese protests.
The stand-off ended on September 24 when local Japanese prosecutors in Naha (Okinawa) announced that they would return the Chinese captain without pressing charges. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley welcomed Japan's decision, commenting that this is how "mature states resolve these things -- through diplomacy."
The Obama administration deserves credit for sending a strong signal of solidarity with Japan publicly throughout the confrontation with Beijing. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and others came out early and often to restate the U.S. commitment to the alliance with Japan and to reconfirm that U.S. obligations under Article V of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty extend to the security of the Senkaku Islands, since they are administered by Japan. However, the administration should be deeply worried about the way this stand-off ended. Japan may have acted as a "mature state" and used diplomacy in search of a quick resolution, but Beijing unleashed a mercantilist assault on Japan that went far beyond the pale of international norms, including the arrest of four Japanese workers in Northern China on charges of "espionage" and threats to embargo critical rare earth metal exports to Japan (Chinese officials later denied the embargo threat after other advanced industrial economies howled, but markets gave that denial little credence).
In all likelihood, the Japanese government counted on Washington's strong support to provide adequate cover for an exit strategy from the showdown and did not anticipate the seventh hour escalation by China. Now the Japanese media have universally declared the outcome a diplomatic defeat for Japan (even the Communist Party's Akahata newspaper has demanded the government give an explanation). Prime Minister Naoto Kan will probably take a major hit in public support in the next round of public opinion polls. Worse, Beijing has come away from the crisis triumphant over Japan's apparent capitulation in the face of overwhelming countermeasures. China's hyper-nationalistic netizens and PLA officers will now expect the government to continue using blunt economic and military tools to put Japan in its place.
The administration can feel satisfied that it provided effective reassurance to Tokyo during this crisis, but the dissuasion message to Beijing has been inadequate. China's neighbors are looking to the United States for leadership -- this includes now even the ruling Democratic Party of Japan which not too long ago campaigned on the promise to distance its foreign policy from Washington. The administration should take full advantage of this opening by enhancing joint military exercises with allies and like-minded maritime states and by using Asia's normally sleepy multilateral institutions to spotlight regional concerns about China's more aggressive stance on territorial disputes. Secretary Clinton won kudos and diplomatic support across the region when she openly addressed China's push for control over the South China Sea during her appearance at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi in July. Now it would be useful to find ways to demonstrate U.S. and regional concern about Beijing's disproportionate escalation against Japan in the most recent dispute. This case is not closed. As one influential Indian politician put it to me on Friday, "this time it is Japan, but next time it could be us."
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The latest round of tension between Japan and China reveals the underlying instability in East Asia. The Chinese are in high dudgeon over Japan's arrest of a Chinese fishing captain, whom Japanese officials claim rammed Japanese vessels in disputed waters in the East China Sea. They have apparently shut off exports of rare earth materials (though China denies it) to Japan and threatened greater sanctions unless Japan complies with its demands to release the captain (the Japanese did).
The incident reveals that Beijing is willing to use its increased economic strength as a tool of coercion, no matter the consequences, for its own standing in international markets. But that is not all it reveals. Indeed, this is one in a series of arguments and incidents between China and Japan over the last decade related to sovereignty, territory, rights to natural resources, and China's expanding maritime capabilities in and around Japan.
The key factor in Asia's underlying instability, then, may not be the perception of China's rise relative to the United States' decline. Rather it may be China's rise relative to Japan's decline. The Chinese economy has now overtaken Japan's. China spends more on defense than does Japan. And within Japan as well as the rest of the region, there is a perception that Japan cannot shake its stagnation.
Great power conflicts often begin when a once stronger country believes it is losing its relative position to a rival. This is a more accurate description of Japan's attitude toward China than of the U.S. attitude toward China. In addition to this perceived change in power position is the emotional aspect. These two countries harbor great reservoirs of mutual resentment and hatred, which may not drive their disputes but certainly makes them worse.
For Washington, the lesson is that the era of great power politics is far from over in Asia. Its finite diplomatic energy should be spent on the "high politics" among Asia's great powers -- issues of war and peace (or how to avoid the former and maintain the latter), rather than on the "low politics" of climate change and currency disputes. The diplomatic task with respect to Japan, one that should be carried out at senior and sustained levels, is to help shake Tokyo out of stagnation, and to help Japan become a more coherent and powerful strategic actor. Washington's future in Asia depends upon a rich, strategically active Japan.
The diplomatic task with respect to China, one that should also be carried out at senior and sustained levels, is not to paper over the many disagreements and clashing political objectives that characterize China-U.S. relations. The task at hand is to manage the growing Sino-U.S. security competition -- a competition that increasingly appears to be about two very different visions for Asia -- so that rivalry does not lead to conflict.With its economic coercion in blocking the export of a strategic commodity, mixed with its use of gunboat diplomacy, Beijing is looking, as security expert William O'Neil has said, a bit too much like Imperial Japan.
This post has been updated.
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The Sino-Japanese standoff over Japan's detention of a Chinese trawler captain who acted aggressively towards the Japanese coast guard in waters near the disputed Senkaku islands is part of a larger pattern of Chinese assertiveness towards its neighbors over the past few years. This pattern includes renewed Chinese claims to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, Beijing's increasingly forceful claims to sovereignty over the South China Sea, China's effort to claim suzerainty over the Yellow Sea (where it sought to prevent recent U.S.-South Korean naval exercises), and a series of naval provocations directed at Japan.
These have included China's unprecedented deployment in April of ten warships -- including Kilo-class attack submarines and advanced Sovremenny-class destroyers -- through the Miyako Strait just south of Okinawa, the buzzing by a Chinese naval helicopter of a Japanese destroyer near Japan's home waters, and heightened Chinese submarine activity in waters near Japan. These incidents come in the context of new frictions in the Sino-Japanese dispute over claims to disputed natural gas fields in the East China Sea - despite an earlier agreement between the countries for joint development -- and increasing Chinese heavy-handedness towards smaller Southeast Asian neighbors with regard to the South China Sea.
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A new year, another new Japanese prime minister. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's resignation makes him the fourth Japanese leader in four years to fall from power. What are the implications for the U.S.-Japan alliance?
First, Hatoyama misread the domestic politics of the U.S.-Japan alliance, which polling shows to have stronger support in Japan than at almost any time in the past. Hatoyama's decline and fall were due in large measure to the crisis in U.S.-Japan relations he helped create by opposing a carefully negotiated plan for the redeployment of American forces on Okinawa. His missteps in first blowing up the deal -- then after nine painful months coming around to embrace it after inflating the expectations of the Okinawan people and his own party -- put him on the opposite side of both the United States and a still pro-American Japanese public. The good news is that the political logic of maintaining strong U.S.-Japan ties overcame that of running against the U.S. for political gain.
Second, in a perverse way we may have Kim Jong-Il to thank for this turn of events. North Korea's sinking of the South Korean destroyer Cheonan and ensuing threats to bring war to East Asia should South Korea retaliate reminded Japan's leaders and people that they continue to live in a very dangerous neighborhood. Aggressive Chinese naval maneuvers in waters near Japan have also reminded Tokyo that Hatoyama's lofty rhetoric about "East Asian fraternity" has its limits. North Korean and Chinese bullying underscored how potentially risky Japan's alliance dispute with America was, and how necessary it was to move rapidly to repair it by agreeing to the U.S. troop realignment on Okinawa. But Hatoyama's abrupt about-face in securing it only hastened his political downfall.
Third, of greater importance to alliance solidarity going forward may be the resignation not of Prime Minister Hatoyama but of Ichiro Ozawa, the shadowy leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) whose Machiavellian political instincts and alleged corruption challenged the DPJ's reformist ambitions. How could the party achieve its goals of increasing transparency and accountability in Japanese politics when it was led by the ultimate political insider? Ozawa's role as the power behind the throne did much to undermine Hatoyama by intensifying perceptions of the prime minister's weakness and indecisiveness. Ozawa has also long been viewed as belonging to the "China school" in Japan that sees relations with Beijing, not Washington, as ultimately more important to Japan's future. Last year, he led the largest delegation of parliamentarians ever to Beijing in what looked uncomfortably like the deferential tributary missions of the pre-modern era. Ozawa is a political survivor so it is too early to count him out. Nevertheless, his departure as party leader bodes well for both Japanese politics and relations with Washington.
Fourth, while Hatoyama's resignation may not herald a more pro-American successor, it should elevate one that can more effectively implement the DPJ's campaign promise to reform Japanese politics and restore Japanese economic growth. Leadership favorite and current Finance Minister Naoto Kan was an alliance skeptic when he served as DPJ leader earlier in the decade. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, once more of an alliance skeptic before his dealings with Washington in his current post reinforced his support for better U.S. relations, is also a prime ministerial contender. Both may well judge, following the Hatoyama fiasco, that the domestic politics of picking fights with America are fraught -- and that the powers of the prime minister's office should therefore be directed toward other issue areas. These include compelling needs for financial and economic liberalization and domestic reforms to empower women, improve education, and broadly revitalize Japanese competitiveness for the 21st century. Such an accomplishment manifestly would be in America's interest.
And that is ultimately the point: Washington needs a vibrant Japan as an alliance partner in a region of tectonic power shifts -- and in a world where global governance requires all the responsible, capable, like-minded partners we can find. The DPJ's historic ascension to power last year brought with it the promise of a more equal alliance with the United States. The U.S. should welcome the greater equality in alliance relations that would follow from the restoration of Japanese growth and vitality. Prime Minister Hatoyama did not succeed in inducing it. The U.S. should endeavor to help his successor do so. A stronger and healthier alliance relationship would surely follow.
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In a thoughtful essay in today's Financial Times, Gideon Rachman asks whether Japan may now be tilting towards China after 60 years of aligning itself with the United States. This question is interesting on multiple dimensions -- including with regard to the future of U.S. primacy in Asia, the impact of China's rise on its neighbors, the nature of Japanese politics and identity, and our understanding of the deep structure of international relations at a time of systemic power shifts. Indeed, Japan is a critical case study for assessing how the developed world will respond to the rise of dynamic new power centers in Asia -- and what the implications will be for American leadership in the international system.
The ascent of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) after nearly six decades of unbroken rule by the conservative, U.S.-oriented Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has convulsed not only Japanese politics but also its foreign policy. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has mused about constructing a pan-Asian fraternal community based on "solidarity" -- not with Tokyo's closest alliance partner across the Pacific but with its near neighbors, led by China. What should have been little more than a tactical skirmish about the terms of the realignment of U.S. forces in Okinawa has become, through mismanagement on both sides, a strategic headache for both Washington and the inexperienced government in Tokyo, raising unnecessary tensions within the alliance. DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa, the power behind the throne of the Hatoyama administration, recently led a delegation of 143 parliamentarians and hundreds of businessmen to Beijing, reviving in form if not substance the tributary delegations from China's neighbors that, in pre-modern times, ritually visited the Chinese court to acknowledge its suzerainty as Asia's "Middle Kingdom."
These and other moves, unthinkable during the Cold War heyday of the U.S.-Japan alliance, suggest a striking shift in Japan's geopolitical alignment as the Pacific century dawns. Despite the fact that Japan was never part of "the Chinese world order" in traditional Asia, some analysts believe a Japanese tilt toward a resurgent China would be in keeping with the country's foreign policy traditions. As Gideon writes:
Some western observers in Tokyo muse that perhaps Japan is once again following its historic policy of adapting to shifts in global politics by aligning itself with great powers. Before the first world war the country had a special relationship with Britain. In the inter-war period Japan allied itself with Germany. Since 1945, it has stuck closely to America. Perhaps the ground is being prepared for a new "special relationship" with China?
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American success in Asia depends critically on three fundamentals. First, Washington must attend to the health of its network of alliances and partnerships; second, we need a favorable military balance of power; and third, w e must create conditions conducive to prosperity through free trade and economic liberalization. If the Obama administration is strong on these fundamentals, it will also have a more productive relationship with China. The Obama team must remember that China respects power foremost.
The key node in the network of alliances and partnerships is Japan. But there is little doubt that the change in government in Tokyo has caused confusion and sometimes hysteria in Washington. The Obama team should be at least as patient with Japan as it has been with Iran. The Japanese people voted to change an increasingly bureaucratic and unresponsive government. Many members of the newly ruling DPJ are novices in politics and foreign policy. But that does not make them reflexively hostile to the alliance. We are in danger of falling into a trap - we may make an anti-alliance stance popular in Japan. The people of Japan voted to end Japan's economic stagnation. They also want their country to become more "normal," which means less dependent on the United States and less restricted in military operations. The Obama team can tap into the aspirations of Japan by articulating a truly sustainable alliance for the 21st century, based on shared economic growth, more equal relations, and a role for Japan in international affairs commensurate with its power. Pushing hard for a seat on the Perm 5 would be a good start.
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In 2010, President Obama would be well-advised to shift from an "inside-out" to an "outside-in" Asia policy. Rather than taking an approach to this dynamic region that starts with Beijing, raising fears of a Sino-American condominium, he could follow former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's maxim that "getting China right means getting Asia right."
The spectacle of a junior Chinese official scolding the president in Copenhagen symbolizes a troubling turn in relations with a country rendered overconfident by excessive U.S. deference. At the same time, Washington's ties to Asia's other principal powers -- Japan and India -- have deteriorated, further encouraging China's new assertiveness toward both America and its neighbors.
An "outside-in" Asia strategy would accept that China will determine its own course, but that the United States continues to possess the power and influence to shape China's peaceful rise. Washington could usefully stop framing the U.S.-Japan alliance around a narrow dispute over the relocation of American forces on Okinawa, giving Tokyo the space to pursue vigorous domestic reform that will ultimately strengthen the vitality of Japan and, by extension, the alliance. President Obama could begin to take India as seriously as did Presidents Clinton and Bush, acting on the premise that a U.S.-India partnership in Asian and world affairs holds far greater potential, by virtue of common values and shared strategic perspectives, than does any Sino-American G2. Obama could oversee the kind of historic breakthrough in U.S.-Indonesia relations that characterized U.S.-India relations under Bush.
Building on Secretary Clinton's welcome recent endorsement of U.S.-Japan-India trilateral cooperation, the Obama administration could invest in deepening regional concerts among Asia-Pacific powers grounded in common values and shared security perspectives. Finally, Obama could pursue an Asian trade policy rooted not in bilateral protectionism against Chinese products but in pan-regional trade liberalization, starting with the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Obama must ensure that America remains at the core of the Pacific century, not relegated to its fringes.
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What role will India and Japan play in the Obama administration's emerging Asia policy? I have just returned from visits to New Delhi and Tokyo organized by the estimable German Marshall Fund. The immediate picture one gets is of two Asian powers that seem to be trending in opposite directions, with India proudly ascendant and Japan struggling with apparent decline. Both nations are key to U.S. interests, yet both are also wrestling with new questions about their relationship with the United States. And in both countries, leaders voiced a common preoccupation -- sometimes even obsession -- with the 800-pound panda lurking in every boardroom and conference room: China.
India and Japan both face a similar "China paradox": China is, for each country, their single largest trading partner, yet is also seen by both as a potential long-term security threat (and many observers would drop the "potential" and "long-term" qualifiers). So India and Japan's own economic futures are inseparably linked with China's economic performance, even while their security concerns may also increase in tandem with China's growing military assertiveness. It is a complex strategic challenge not unlike that faced by the United States in its own relationship with China.
The contrasts between India and Japan are just as striking. India's elites across all sectors radiate pride at their nation's rising power and are eager to embrace what they regard as their rightful prominent place on the global stage. They value their growing ties with the United States and retain considerable affection for former President Bush, who strategically elevated the U.S.-India relationship -- a good reminder that the much-lamented decline in America's global image during the Bush years does not include the world's second most populous nation. Yet Indian policy leaders are also insecure, struggling to reconcile their tradition of isolation with their new aspirations for global leadership, mindful of their nation's own manifest internal development challenges, and wary of what they perceive as the Obama administration's tilt towards China at India's expense.
We were in New Delhi the week of President Obama's Afghanistan speech and heard an earful of worries from Indian policy leaders about the July 2011 drawdown date, which they interpreted as symbolizing U.S. disengagement from the region (it seems their Pakistani rivals had a similar reaction). In the reflective words of one Indian professional, India in its modern history "has never had either allies or partners," and so is still learning how to develop partnerships with other nations. Too often its diplomatic default setting remains that of the fossilized Non-Aligned Movement, evidenced in part by India's recent gestures towards Russia or its reluctance to help bring meaningful pressure on Iran's nuclear program.
Japan in contrast remains unconfident, a nation long known for punching below its weight that is resigned to even further atrophy. Almost two decades of economic stagnation and demographic retrenchment have created an almost permanent "decline narrative" among Japanese elites that make it easy to forget that Japan is still the world's second-largest economy (in nominal GDP). The wildcard is the new DPJ government led by the enigmatic Prime Minister Hatoyama, and the current preoccupation in Tokyo (even more than the diminishing stocks of bluefin tuna afflicting the sushi industry) is the puzzle of how the DPJ will actually govern. The DPJ's economic program seems to be a less-than-coherent blend of labor-market reforms and cutting wasteful spending (the good) along with large new social welfare programs and increased capital market regulations (the not-so-good). Hatoyama also seems to be leading an existential review of Japan's global identity and regional posture (with vague talk of a new "East Asian Community") and a re-thinking of its alliance with the U.S. (with vague talk of an "equal relationship"). While in the short-term these moves, particularly the effort to renegotiate the Futenma base realignment agreement, are worrisome to the U.S., there are some threads of the DPJ's program to revitalize Japan that might also lead it play a stronger global role and over time bring more capability to its alliance with the US.
Curiously, in neither New Delhi or Tokyo was "Europe" mentioned very often at all -- while a sign of Europe's secondary stature in the region, this is perhaps also a reminder for European leaders that "China" is not synonymous with "Asia," and an opportunity for them to forge closer ties with Japan and India at an important juncture.
For the Obama administration, India and Japan pose significant strategic opportunities, which can quickly become nettlesome challenges if not handled well. For India, the administration should designate a senior official (such as Deputy Secretary-level) to have lead responsibility for the U.S.-India relationship and help steer it in a positive direction after a rocky start this first year. For Japan, the administration would do well to follow Fred Hiatt's suggestion of launching a high-level Strategic Dialogue modeled on the current SED with China. In both cases, the U.S. should eschew the "G-2" concept that needlessly elevates the U.S.-China relationship and antagonizes other allies and partners, and should remember that a responsible Asia policy will privilege relations based on common democratic values as well as common economic and political interests.
BARBARA WALTON/AFP/Getty Images
By Phil Levy
In Tokyo, President Obama spoke out in favor of trade. It was not exactly the much-heralded Trade Speech, in which he would lay out a detailed agenda and soothe U.S. public fears that he himself had helped to arouse. Instead, this talk was addressed to an Asian audience, but it offered some tantalizing new details and a near embrace of some free trade agreements. The President said:
Continued integration of the economies of this region will benefit workers, consumers, and businesses in all of our nations. Together, with our South Korean friends, we will work through the issues necessary to move forward on a trade agreement with them. The United States will also be engaging with the Trans Pacific partnership countries with the goal of shaping a regional agreement that will have broad-based membership and the high standards worthy of a 21st century trade agreement.
Rather than drawing inspiration from the president's oratory, as U.S. and European audiences often had, Asian leaders greeted the president's trade stance with skepticism. As the Financial Times reported:
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister and a regional elder statesman, said the US risked economic exclusion from Asia unless it reversed its protectionist stance. ...
Najib Razak, Malaysia's prime minister, ... told the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore that progress on trade liberalisation was "imperative" for global recovery. "The thing I liked about President Bush's foreign policy is that he was very pro-free trade. I hope the same message will be repeated."
- some evidence that the Bush administration did not entirely neglect Asia for eight years.
One might have expected Obama's vague statements in favor of the Doha trade talks, moving forward with South Korea, and engaging with the mysterious Trans Pacific Partnership to have at least created a warm glow about U.S. sentiments. After all, similarly vague statements about avoiding protectionism and supporting the WTO garnered kudos at G-20 summits in London and Pittsburgh earlier this year.
Whether the APEC leaders were more discriminating than other audiences, cared more about trade, were more astute in their reading of American trade politics, or had just learned from past experience, they seemed unsatisfied. Perhaps with recent disputes fresh in their minds, they seemed to ask, "where's the beef?" And they were right to worry.
The global trading system has not been lacking in kindly thoughts and well wishes. It's been lacking in strong leadership and specific proposals. Fingers have been pointing at the Obama administration. The Doha global trade talks that were declared essential in the G-20 sessions have been foundering. Last month, the European Union and Brazil criticized the United States for failing to put forward specific demands. This month, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy commented that "the U.S. is proving to be slow in reaching a clear and articulated negotiating position." If it were translated from the excessively cordial language of international diplomacy, that remark would likely be unprintable in a family publication.
Ostensibly, the Korean FTA is unacceptable to President Obama and Congressional Democrats because the Koreans have had the audacity to intervene in their auto market. Korea, as a major trading nation, has not been as pliable as other U.S. FTA partners and has made clear in the past that they are not interested in renegotiating the agreement with the United States. Instead, Korea has just concluded a similar agreement with the European Union that will put American exporters at a disadvantage in the Korean market.
The novelty in the president's announcement concerned the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and was sufficiently obscure to leave many people scratching their heads. In fact, the United States had already joined TPP talks with Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore late in 2008 under President Bush's direction. Obama's announcement in Tokyo seemed to indicate a lifting of his administration's suspension decision from earlier this year: small wonder that it received a tepid response. Even had the President wholeheartedly embraced a TPP deal, that would not have meant much on its own, since the United States already has FTAs with Chile and Singapore. Brunei's entire annual GDP is roughly $20 billion, which is less than the U.S. government has poured into Citigroup.
The reason to care about the TPP was its potential to serve as a platform for serious integration throughout Asia. For a region that places a high value on trade, the Asia-Pacific has had a great deal of difficulty finding the right path toward liberalization. APEC has made trade pledges in the past, but the group has a very diverse membership and likely cannot serve as the vehicle for a high-standards regional FTA. More promising was the idea that if Australia and Japan were coaxed into joining a sophisticated TPP, the resulting FTA might then have opened its doors to any other Pacific nation willing to accept its terms. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has given no indication that it's willing to lead such an ambitious undertaking
A prerequisite for a serious U.S. trade policy would be new trade negotiating authority for the president, which the Obama administration has not even requested from the Congress. For any of these trade initiatives to advance would require persistent and detailed effort of a sort we have yet to see. Obama may be a Pacific president, but he has not been a very specific president. Asian leaders last week were asking for more than platitudes.
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The biggest (most pleasant) surprise on Asia has been the Obama administration's willingness to use pressure on North Korea. After campaigning on a promise to meet with the leaders of nations like North Korea without conditions, the Obama White House has turned out to be quite hard line vis-à-vis Pyongyang.
Of course, it would be difficult to miss the obvious failure of Ambassador Chris Hill's conciliatory negotiating style at the end of the Bush administration -- let alone the fact that North Korea responded to President Obama's initial promises of engagement by detonating a second nuclear device. Still, in the case of North Korea the administration seems to have embraced the premise that there must be consequences for proliferators.
The administration has moved forward smartly with implementation of sanctions under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 (unlike the Bush administration's decision not to implement UNSCR 1718 after the first nuclear test) and thus far the Special Envoy for North Korea has refused to sit down with the North Koreans until they first agree to return to the Six Party Talks. Even the visit of former President Clinton to Pyongyang was done with most of the administration holding its nose and limiting the mission to the humanitarian goal of bringing home two American journalists taken by the North. We will see how long this holds, but for now the administration looks pretty tough.
The Obama administration deserves praise for its selection of an Asia team. There were more than 60 "advisors" on Asia to the Obama campaign (close to the total number of advisors for the entire world working with McCain). Most of these advisors were calling for wholesale changes in Asia policy, echoing the usual canards about the Bush administration's "unilateralism" and "militarism." But in the end, the top jobs in NSC, State and Defense were filled by non-partisan centrists and pragmatists who recognized the successes of the Bush administration's Asia strategy and wanted to tweak rather than redefine the U.S. approach to the region. Better yet, the top officials at State, NSC and DOD are associated with the successes of the Clinton administration's Asia policy, including the revitalization of the U.S.-Japan alliance and the successful negotiations to bring China into the WTO. The team is professional, knowledgeable and very reassuring to the region.
The administration deserves criticism on two fronts. The complete lack of a trade strategy leaves the United States without any tools to counter the growth of exclusive regional economic arrangements within Asia. This will become obvious when Obama travels to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in two weeks and calls for an open and inclusive architecture like his predecessors -- only his predecessors actually were bringing something to the table in terms of trade liberalizing agreements with Korea and other countries in the region. The second area of criticism would be the administration's willingness to pull punches on human rights and democracy. The president's decision not to meet the Dalai Lama in Washington in August (the first rebuff to the Tibetan Spiritual Leader by a U.S. President in recent memory) was particularly problematic.
The Obama administration will grow tired of China. Obama expanded the Bush administration's Strategic Economic Dialogue into a Strategic and Economic Dialogue and raised expectations of progress with Beijing on everything from climate change to Iran and North Korea. But in the wake of the financial crisis Beijing sees itself as externally stronger and internally more vulnerable. That is not a recipe for more cooperation with Washington. Chinese support for North Korea's economy is increasing in the wake of Pyongyang's nuclear test and China will be relying on coal for 80 percent of its energy no matter how well discussions of climate change cooperation go (and they are not going that well). Then there is the unyielding PLA position on the South China Sea, cyber-security and a host of other security problems that will vex the Obama administration's China policy over the coming years. Usually, new administrations come into power in Washington having talked themselves into a tense relationship with Beijing during the election campaign and then they adjust to a more centrist and stable relationship with China (true of Regan, Carter, Clinton and G.W. Bush). The Obama administration came in without having engaged in a contentious debate over China policy with McCain, but may now find itself under increasing pressure to be tough with Beijing.
Photo by Korean Central Television/Yonhap via Getty Images
Overall, Obama's Asia policy has been largely driven by events and domestic priorities rather than by an overarching strategic vision. The Obama team had to closely coordinate with China on financial matters in response to the financial crisis. Passing a cap and trade bill at home means that we need China to sign up to a global climate change pact; Americans will chafe at a costly bill if the world's largest carbon emitters do not agree to carbon reductions.
The Obama team attempted a new policy on Burma. The idea is to find a way to engage the military junta which would strengthen relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Burma is a member. But the policy change has been overtaken by events.
Aung San Suu Kyi was unfairly punished when an American swam across a lake to her residence. And the junta began a new round of repression, as its leaders jail and harass political opponents in the run up to their 2010 "elections." Obama could not radically shift Burma policy. Rather, adjustments to our relations with ASEAN and Burma have been only marginal. There has been some more contact with the junta. And as part of the broader attempt to build stronger relations with Southeast Asia, the administration signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC). These and visits to Southeast Asia by Secretary Clinton and her deputy, Jim Steinberg, demonstrate a desire to deepen American engagement with that region. It is unlikely that engaging Burma or signing the TAC will increase America's regional influence.
There are several Obama Asia policies that have been surprising. On a positive note, the Obama team has given much greater attention to the Japan alliance than I had expected. Secretary Clinton's first stop in Asia was in Tokyo, which eased Japanese concerns that they were in for another round of "Japan passing." Since the Democratic Party of Japan took over last September, Obama officials have visited Japan frequently to get a sense of how to deal with a party that has never before governed. The Obama team should be commended for trying to find its way with this inexperienced and eclectic ruling coalition.
Other policies should give us pause. For example, Obama is sticking to his campaign promises on trade, which means we have no trade policy. The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement has been collecting dust in the Congress. The rest of the region, however, is not standing still. China seems to sign a trade agreement a minute and South Korea is moving forward on an FTA with the EU. If this continues, not only will our economy be disadvantaged, but our regional leadership will also suffer. While the Obama administration has done a fine job showing up to Asian multilateral meetings, without new trade proposals it has shown up empty handed.
A second troubling policy is the absence of any agenda on Taiwan. The Obama team was effusive in its praise of President Ma when he was elected in March 2008 and they applaud his attempts to ease tensions with the Mainland. The Taiwan president is doing what he thinks Washington wants - easing cross Strait tensions. But there was an implicit bargain with Taiwan that we are not upholding. We were supposed to strengthen Ma's hand by strengthening our ties to Taiwan. The Obama team is not helping Ma. We have not sold any arms to Taiwan even as China has continued its arms buildup across the Strait. And Obama has no plans of yet to deepen economic ties as Taiwan goes forward with a China FTA.
Third, the bluntness with which the team has downplayed China's miserable human rights record is an unfortunate break with past administrations' practices. Secretary Clinton announced that she would deemphasize human rights concerns on her first trip to China. This was followed by the president's refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama when the Tibetan spiritual leader was in Washington last month. The administration has also been silent on Uighur repression and will not meet with Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer. It does not help either country for us to pretend that we are indifferent about Chinese respect for human rights, when in reality we have a huge stake in China's political liberalization.
Overall, despite a regular barrage of criticism by Candidate Obama directed at President Bush for his supposed neglect of Asia (never a fair criticism), the Obama team has not wowed the region with new ideas or lavished it with attention. During Bush's first year, his administration had offered the largest arms package ever to Taiwan, was well on its way to substantially upgrading ties with Japan, and was negotiating a diplomatic breakthrough with India of historical significance. Then-U.S. Trade Representative Bob Zoellick was negotiating free trade agreements with Singapore, Australia, and Korea.
The criticism of the Bush administration was that it was "distracted" by the war on terror. The Obama team is learning that fighting a war saps a nation's energy and attention. Now in office, the Obama team can see that the threat from Islamic extremism is very real. The Obama team may have really believed that they could "fix" Afghanistan, disengage from Iraq, and then move on to "re-engaging" the rest of the world.
As Obama is learning, it is not so easy to "move on" when you are at war. No president can disconnect a major foreign policy issue such as war from other foreign policy issues. Asians have a stake in America's Afghanistan policy. A loss in Afghanistan would have stark consequences, as friend and foe alike would question our resolve, and Islamic extremism would rear its head again in Southeast Asia.
Obama's Asia team must be finding that during wartime, presidential attention is the scarcest of commodities. Obama has no choice but to focus on "the wars we are in," often at the expense of the Obama team's hopes for a grand "re-engagement" with Asia.
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By Michael J. Green
In opinion polls, Americans now rate Japan as one of the United States' most reliable allies -- usually behind only Britain, Canada, and Australia. The relationship between President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junchiro Koizumi was particularly close, and Koizumi's successor Shinzo Abe often described recent years as the "golden age" of the U.S.-Japan alliance. So it was probably something of a surprise for most readers of The Washington Post and The New York Times to see front page stories on October 22 describing an open spat between Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, over U.S. bases in Japan and the future of the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Hatoyama came into office a month ago vowing to pull Japanese ships out of the coalition effort in Afghanistan; to oppose the U.S.-Japan agreement realigning U.S. bases on the island of Okinawa; to investigate U.S.-Japan secret agreements on nuclear weapons dating back to the 1950s and 60s; and to increase Japanese independence by establishing a new "East Asia Community" that would exclude the United States. Gates' message in Japan this week was no-nonsense: The Obama administration is not interested in renegotiating previous base agreements and needs the new Japanese government to get behind the alliance. Hatoyama's response was defiant: He would not rush to decisions just to accommodate Obama's visit to Japan on Nov. 11. But Gates' tough stance sent shudders through Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan.
So much for the "golden age" in U.S.-Japan relations.
Many Japan experts had urged the Obama administration to be patient so that the new Japanese government would have time to figure out its policies. Some of the same experts are now berating Gates on blog sites for provoking an "unnecessary" crisis with Japan. To be sure, there were good reasons to start off with a gentle posture toward the Hatoyama government. The DPJ won its landslide victory because of the economic crisis and the mounting unpopularity of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) -- not because of the unpopularity of the alliance (supported by 76 percent of the public in recent government polls) or because the Japanese people wanted changes in foreign policy (only 3 percent in exit polls said those issues shaped their choices). Moreover, the DPJ's main purpose is to move toward a more redistributive economic policy in order to steal constituencies away from the LDP before a critical first test at the polls in next summer's elections for the Upper House of the Diet. There is little interest in expending political capital on foreign affairs or defense, where the DPJ is badly divided internally to begin with. It therefore seemed likely that the DPJ would move away from some of its more extreme positions on security policy after coming to power -- just as the Obama administration did. A gentle stance would give Hatoyama the "face" to begin that shift.
However, it has become increasingly apparent that the Hatoyama government cannot -- or will not -- move to the center. The Socialist coalition partners are exerting too much control; Hatoyama is afraid of opening a split within his own party by adopting pragmatic governing policies; and the DPJ has interpreted Washington's gentle touch as a green light to continue slapping around the United States for domestic political purposes while loosely associating with Obama's idealistic visions for a nuclear-free world.
On the Okinawa basing issue, Hatoyama has said he will postpone a decision until next year (presumably after the Upper House elections), but his dithering will only increase opposition to U.S. bases on Okinawa, causing the whole deal to unravel -- whether that is ultimately what Hatoyama intends or not. The half-baked East Asia Community idea has the Chinese and South Koreans as perplexed as it has the Obama administration unhappy, but still sends unhelpful signals to the region at a time when the United States needs its closest ally in Asia on its side. The investigation of secret nuclear agreements may end up a big bore, particularly since the United States has not had tactical nuclear weapons in Asia since 1991. But the special committee of outside academics being established to "investigate" the government's past understanding with the United States could also turn into a witch hunt against the traditional managers of the alliance within Japan's Foreign Ministry.
With the U.S. president heading to Tokyo in less than a month, Gates had no choice but to splash cold water on the DPJ on Wednesday. There is some risk that the ever-populist DPJ will now try to use a spat with the United States to increase votes before the election next year. But Gates is a shrewd judge of his counterparts. He knows that a crisis in the U.S.-Japan alliance would split the DPJ and turn much of the media against Hatoyama, particularly given the strong public support for the alliance and the growing menace from North Korea and China. Meanwhile, Hatoyama was letting the DPJ leadership play with firecrackers in a room full of dynamite. Letting the alliance drift posed the greater risk.
On the whole, this could be a rough year for managers of the alliance with Japan. But the future looks brighter. The Upper House election next year will probably flush the Socialists out of the coalition and allow the DPJ to move to the center. The next generation of leaders in the DPJ is made up of realists who want a more effective Japanese role in the world and are not afraid to use the Self Defense Forces or to stand up to China or North Korea on human rights. Gates did the DPJ a favor by forcing the debate on national strategy that the party was never willing to have while in opposition, and that Hatoyama was eager to avoid for his first year in power.
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By Dov Zakheim
The latest Japanese polls indicate that the Democratic Party of Japan, led by Yukio Hatoyama, is likely to inflict a crushing defeat on the Liberal Democrats, the country's long-time governing party. The DPJ, which won control of Japan's Upper House in 2007, could win as many as 300 seats in the Lower House, roughly equaling former Prime Minister's results in 2005, and sending a strong message both domestically and internationally that the victory is no fluke. That said, a DPJ victory is not likely to lead to a sea change in the U.S.-Japan alliance. In fact, the greater concern is that the United States doesn't respond enough and fails to give Japan its due as a great power.
The DPJ's electoral focus has been primarily on domestic issues, directing particular criticism at the government's career bureaucracy. With respect to national security policy, the DPJ since its inception just over ten years ago has been somewhat critical of the Japanese military build-up. In the past it has called for termination of Japanese maritime refueling of American warships supporting the war in Afghanistan and for a renegotiation of both the Status of Forces Agreement and the Japanese-American agreement to transfer 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam. The latter is meant to be financed by both countries.
Nevertheless, like parties in other parliamentary democracies seizing the reins of power after more than a decade in opposition, the DPJ is unlikely to carry out its more extreme campaign promises, particularly as its powerful former leader, Ichiro Ozawa, worked closely with the United States while still a member of the Liberal Democrats. Despite its rhetoric, the DPJ, which is a mix of former right- and left-wing parties, will not necessarily cut back on Japan's recent military expansion. This is especially the case with respect to its missile defense program, given North Korea's aggressive stance on nuclear matters, and in light of both Kim Jong Il's mercurial policies and uncertainty about North Korean stability once he finally leaves the scene. Similarly, the DPJ appears to be backing away from its slogans about withdrawing support for US maritime operations related to the war in Afghanistan.
The DPJ has repeatedly called for a more equal relationship with the United States, and some observers fear that its ascension to power will lead to its demand for a renegotiation of the cost sharing provisions of the US-Japanese Guam agreement that could result in the agreement's abrogation. The withdrawal to Guam may well be delayed, if not halted, but less as a result of actions by a DPJ-led government than by legislation initiated by Congressman Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) to reserve 70 percent of all military construction jobs on Guam for American workers. Should the U.S. Congress pass Abercrombie's initiative, the resulting increase in the cost of developing Guam's infrastructure may well put the project on ice, given the increasing pressures on the US defense budget. Should there be a long-term delay, however, the DPJ is unlikely to object, much less offer to pour more Japanese funds into the effort.
On the other hand, the DPJ is unlikely to take a passive stance with respect to the relocation of the Marine Air Station from Futenma to Camp Schwab in Nago, both in Okinawa prefecture. The arrangement is highly unpopular in Japan, especially in Okinawa, where the local administration seeks to relocate the Marines to a more remote area off the island's coast The United States has resisted any change to the overall arrangement regarding the relocation to Guam, of which the move to Camp Schwab is an integral part. Any change would not only make training for the Marine Air Wing exceedingly difficult, but could result in demands for changes to other parts of the agreement, which has never been popular with the US military. For its part, the DPJ is holding firm on its demand for a renegotiation of the Futenma arrangement, and it will face little domestic opposition if it walks away from the deal regarding the Air Station's relocation.
All in all, the DPJ's foreign and security policy stance is unlikely to bring about fundamental changes in the relationship with the United States, or for that matter, with other countries in East Asia. The real danger to the US-Japanese relationship lies not in what Tokyo might do, but what Washington might not do. Since it became clear that Japan Inc. would not buy up the United States, past Administrations have tended to pay far more attention to China, often treating Japan as an afterthought, despite pious promises of developing a closer relationship with what is supposedly our closest Asian ally. With the DPJ in power, led by personalities who might be perceived in Washington as less accommodating to American interests in Asia and elsewhere than their Liberal Democrat predecessors, U.S. policymakers may be tempted once again to pay less attention to Japan than objective American interests call for. That would be a serious mistake. It is, moreover, a mistake that is easily avoidable, and it should not take place.
By Dan Twining
For six decades, two things have been more or less certain in Japanese politics -- that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would run the show, and that it would put the U.S.-Japan alliance at the center of its foreign policy. Indeed, Japan has only had one non-LDP prime minister in the last 53 years, and he served for only 11 months. All of this is about to change, however, with the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) poised to take power in next month's elections. Senior Japanese politicos describe what's coming as a "blowout." But for Japan -- and the United States -- it could be more like a tsunami. And it's not clear that the Obama administration knows what's about to hit them.
Despite its hold on power, the LDP has been on life-support for some time: Prime Minister Koizumi, who governed from 2001-06, took power with the anti-establishment pledge to "smash" his own party. Unfortunately for the LDP, that never really happened, and Koizumi has been followed by a series of weak prime ministers. All have been good men, and several, including Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso, have possessed a clear vision for Japan in the world. But each has been unable to reverse the LDP's declining political fortunes.
Now the tide has started to turn. In a historic defeat for the LDP, the DPJ won control of Japan's upper house in 2007. Since then, the approval ratings of first Prime Minister Fukuda and now Prime Minister Aso have only declined as support for the DPJ has surged. Tokyo municipal election results over the weekend, a bellwether for the national vote to follow, resulted in a decisive DPJ victory. This reinforced the party's strong lead in the polls and added a feeling of inevitability to what is to come in the August elections.
There are compelling arguments in favor of the political change Japanese voters seek. The country has been in an intractable economic slump for nearly two decades, following the bursting of its "miracle economy" bubble in the late 1980s. Japan has experienced a crisis of identity as a result of four factors. First, its economic malaise has yielded slow to no growth, persistent deflation, and the highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the developed world. Second, the growing influence and stature of China has it poised to eclipse Japan as soon as this year as the world's second-largest economy. Third, Japan's rapidly aging society, with an already-shrinking population, is creating further pressures on an overstretched national budget. Finally, Japan remains plagued by serious questions about its role and status in a world that's being transformed by the rise of new powers, whose dynamism has eclipsed Japan's enduring strengths.
It is questionable, however, whether the DPJ can resolve these structural conundrums. The Liberal Democrats have been so dominant for so long that the DPJ has defined itself to be what the LDP is not. Under the LDP, Japanese foreign and domestic policies have been guided by a strong bureaucracy -- so the DPJ pledges to weaken bureaucratic control. Under the LDP, economic policy has been friendly to business -- so the DPJ promises a populist economic manifesto with little explanation of how to pay for it. Under the LDP, foreign policy has been grounded in the U.S.-Japan alliance -- so the DPJ wants to renegotiate its terms.
The future of the alliance, and Japan's overall foreign policy orientation should the DPJ assume office, are further muddled by the range of views within a party whose membership spans a wide spectrum -- from former left-wing socialists, who are philosophically opposed to the U.S.-Japan alliance, to disgruntled former right-wing LDP members, who support a more hawkish Japanese security policy. Some DPJ members support a trans-Pacific foreign policy in keeping with American priorities, but want Japan to assume a more equal and capable role within the alliance. Other DPJ leaders define a future in which Japan orients itself toward China and pursues Asian economic integration as its external priority, thereby diminishing the alliance with the United States. The DPJ's political alliance with the Socialist Party in Japan's upper house will pull its foreign and security policy further to the left -- and further away from the broad consensus that has defined the U.S.-Japan alliance for three generations.
In the event of an LDP loss next month, the Obama administration will be forced to grapple in the near term with the DPJ's pledge to renegotiate the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that has governed the terms of the U.S. troop presence in Japan since 1960. As part of these discussions, Japan will insist on renegotiating the way the two countries share the cost of the U.S. military presence in Japan. DPJ leaders argue that the current formula, in which Japan funds the garrisoning of U.S. forces because they are there to protect Japan, must be rebalanced. This is not the message American taxpayers will want to hear.
The DPJ also wants to further reduce the footprint of U.S. troops in Okinawa, particularly with regard to military and training operations from Futenma air base. Putting the closure or relocation of Futenma at the top of the U.S.-Japan security agenda -- after years of painful negotiations toward an acceptable compromise between American and Japanese counterparts -- risks reopening a raw wound in the alliance. At a time of grave security challenges to Japan stemming from ongoing North Korean missile launches and China's aggressive military buildup next door, a public spat over U.S. basing arrangements in Okinawa risks sending the wrong message to Japan's adversaries.
The SOFA, Japanese support for American forces, and the Okinawa bases are the most intractable issues in alliance politics, and DPJ leaders make clear that nothing is sacred in their determination to rebalance alliance relations upon taking power. This position stands in stark contrast to the deference with which generations of LDP leaders treated Washington and the alliance framework that has made possible Japan's postwar prosperity and security.
Is the Obama administration prepared for this sea change in relations with America's closest Asian ally? The good news is that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell is one of Japan's most trusted friends in Washington. He played an instrumental role in revitalizing the alliance relationship in the 1990s when he was the Pentagon's top Asia official. The bad news is that President Obama has pursued an Asia policy that in many ways seems divorced from the strategy pursued by the Clinton administration in which Dr. Campbell previously served -- a strategy he has described as an "allies-first" Asia policy, which assumes that the best way to manage the region's geopolitical challenges, especially the rise of China, is to have the strongest possible relations with core allies, starting with Japan.
The Bush administration pursued a geopolitical project in Asia that, while building a stable and productive relationship with China, worked to shape Asia's strategic evolution by strengthening the alliance with Japan; expanding Japan's alliance roles and responsibilities to make that country a global security leader; facilitating India's economic and military rise through a full-spectrum partnership with Washington; expanding the strategic vision and reach of the U.S.-Korea alliance; tying allies like Japan, South Korea, and Australia more closely to NATO and deploying jointly to out-of-area conflict zones like Afghanistan and Iraq; connecting friendly Asian maritime partners in new networks of cooperation; and expanding military relations with key Southeast Asian powers Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Secretary Clinton deserves credit for visiting Japan and Indonesia on her inaugural overseas trip. But Asian great powers, Japan and India, have been treated as adjuncts of U.S. policy towards China and Pakistan, respectively -- rather than as first-tier partners of the United States, whose importance is intrinsic rather than instrumental. A DPJ government in Tokyo that treats the U.S.-Japan alliance as only instrumentally rather than intrinsically important may give us an unwanted dose of our own medicine.
By Dan Twining
North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, new threats of war against its declared enemies, and the predictable results of these developments -– expressions of concern at the UN Security Council, U.S. offers of more unconditional talks, China’s ambivalent response –- suggest that we remain in the “Groundhog Day” cycle of crisis and response that has characterized U.S. policy towards Pyongyang since 1994. In fact, new dynamics on the peninsula and in the region, and the fresh opportunity provided by what can now clearly be judged to be years of failed policy on denuclearization and disarmament, present an opportunity for a creative rethink about U.S. policy options. To clarify a way forward, it’s worth considering how the playing field has shifted (I see five ways that it has), and how this may create a different set of possibilities for the United States and our allies vis-à-vis the North Korean regime -– one that breaks decisively from the past and offers real hope for change.
1. Regime transition in North Korea
The current crisis cycle with North Korea dates to the leadership transition from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il in 1993-4, when the U.S. embraced a set of policies centered around bilateral negotiations and fuel supply to induce North Korean cooperation on our disarmament objectives. With the exception of the “axis of evil” period from 2001-03, the Bush administration largely continued these policies within the framework of the Six-Party Talks. Following Kim Jong-il’s apparent stroke last year, we are now in the midst of the second leadership transition in North Korean history, that from the Dear Leader to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un (demonstrating that dynastic politics trumps communist ideology).
This transition creates serious risks, including the empowerment of the North Korean military as a political constituency that the leadership in Pyongyang must appease (for instance, by testing nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles). But it also raises the possibility of a new cycle in Washington’s relations with North Korea, one that could include exploiting newly apparent fissures in its regime and creating a different incentive structure for the emerging leadership’s decision-making on ongoing nuclear and missile programs.
2. Political realignment in South Korea
Since the election of Kim Dae-jung in 1997 and the administration of his successor Roh Moo-hyun, the Achilles’ heel of U.S. efforts to wield sticks as well as carrots towards North Korea has been South Korea’s opposition to tough measures in favor of a “sunshine policy” of unconditional engagement. For a decade, Seoul effectively elevated inter-Korean comity over its U.S. alliance relationship, reducing any leverage the United States and partners like Japan sought to bring to bear on the North. In turn, fundamental differences in style and strategy between Washington and Seoul enabled Pyongyang to drive a wedge between the allies and isolate Japan. The United States turned to China as its key partner on North Korea, with questionable results.
The election in South Korea of conservative president Lee Myung-bak in 2008 changed the equation. Lee has spoken out forcefully about the abuses of Korean people’s rights under Pyongyang’s totalitarian rule and ended the provision of unconditional food aid, which independent monitors judge to have mainly benefited the North’s ruling elite. Washington now has a like-minded partner in Seoul committed to greater realism and toughness in containing the insecurity emanating from Pyongyang, again creating new possibilities for North Korea policy going forward.
3. A new security environment in Northeast Asia
Pyongyang has now declared that it will no longer observe the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War and has threatened South Korea with military attack. Though Pyongyang has a history of shrill and alarmist declarations, it would be a mistake to assume that an unstable regime in the midst of a leadership transition and now possessing nuclear weapons will never act on its own discourse. These moves create a new security environment on the Korean peninsula –- one that requires the United States to demonstrate its commitment to the defense of core allies Japan and South Korea, including through heightened readiness and deployment of offensive weaponry as well as enhanced missile defenses.
Pyongyang is testing our new president, and he would do well to surprise it on the upside -– just as President Clinton surprised Beijing during the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis by deploying multiple aircraft carrier battle groups to the region, leading China to stand down after bracketing Taiwan with missiles. Indeed, President Obama could consider the advice of Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry and senior Pentagon official Ash Carter to signal a willingness to “strike and destroy” North Korean missile launch sites to deter -- or preempt -- further North Korean mischief. As Philip Zelikow points out, such a move could also strengthen the president’s diplomatic hand on Iran.
Signaling to allies is as important as signaling to adversaries, and Japan and South Korea will be watching the U.S. response carefully. Japan is also debating a more robust military role in light of the North Korean tests: the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is debating the adoption of what former Defense Minister Nakatani calls “active missile defense,” or preemptive strikes against North Korean missile launch sites. A Japanese doctrinal and political decision to deploy offensive ballistic missiles against North Korea would transform the East Asian strategic environment and enhance American deterrence and compellence capabilities vis-à-vis Pyongyang.
4. New possibilities for quarantining North Korea
This week, South Korea joined the Proliferation Security Initiative -– a decisive move that will make it a key partner rather than the missing link in a strategy to quarantine North Korean proliferation. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is considering the imposition of additional multilateral sanctions, including targeted sanctions against North Korean leaders and companies that have proven effective in the past. Indeed, U.S. sanctions against Banco Delta Asia proved so effective in squeezing the regime’s supply of hard currency that Pyongyang made the release of a mere $25 million a condition for the resumption of Six-Party negotiations during the Bush administration.
In reality, the U.S. debate over what mix of carrots and sticks to employ against North Korea misses a key point: America and its allies have never pursued a genuine quarantine strategy against North Korea. Such a strategy would interdict North Korean air and maritime traffic to disrupt its global trade in missile and nuclear components (a trade which continued lucratively throughout the Six-Party negotiations); end provision of food and fuel assistance to the North; and limit Pyongyang’s access to international finance through multilateral banking, corporate, and leadership sanctions. Its purpose would be to squeeze the regime in ways that would create fissures within it, coercing a change in external behavior and perhaps the rise of new leadership less committed to confrontation.
5. China’s diminishing influence –- or interest –- in North Korean compliance
In building the Six-Party Talks around a Sino-American axis, the Bush administration made a bet that China was more likely to be part of any solution on North Korean denuclearization than part of the problem. Two nuclear weapons tests, multiple ballistic missile tests, and a shredded war armistice later, it appears that Beijing is either unable or unwilling to coerce better behavior from what Chinese analysts admit is an uncontrollable client state. At the same time, the Sino-American axis within the Six-Party talks may no longer be dominant: South Korea has again become a like-minded partner, Bush administration officials’ disregard for the legitimate concerns of our Japanese ally is a historical relic, and Russia, eager to preserve the sanctity of the UN Security Council as a vehicle for its own international leadership as a declining power, has called for a robust international response to North Korea’s latest weapons tests.
Beyond securing our people and our allies against blackmail or attack, America’s long term goal must be positioning our country to be a decisive player in a unified Korea governed from Seoul and aligned with Japan and the United States in East Asia. Both North Korean leaders -- who have in the past sought a special relationship with the United States to balance Chinese influence -- and South Korean leaders identify a Chinese design to enjoy privileged influence on the Korean peninsula, in part for defensive reasons related to competition with Japan and the United States. If our Korean friends, whose sense of danger derives from centuries of living in a neighborhood of giant, predatory powers, believe that China and the United States are engaged in a fundamentally competitive rather than cooperative relationship on the peninsula, Washington may wish to move beyond reliance on Beijing to deliver Pyongyang on denuclearization in favor of an allies-first strategy to induce strategic change on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea's recent launch of its rocket over the Pacific no doubt served multiple agendas for Kim Jong-il: demonstrating toughness to a domestic audience at a time when some may be questioning his life expectancy, retaliating against both South Korea and Japan for perceived and real slights, enhancing the country's marketing strategy for foreign missile sales, and raising the price for any possible buy-out should the Six Party Talks reconvene. Not a bad day's work for the leader of a poor, dysfunctional, friendless country.
Obama administration officials, after having warned (and failed to dissuade) the North not to launch, are now blustering about how Pyongyang's action violated UN Security Council 1718 (a pretty strained reading of the resolution), further isolated the North (as if that was possible) and should now be punished by additional UN sanctions (not going to happen).
So what can the United States do? Let's review the options.
Military action is not viable, especially with the United States already committed to two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Short of a second Korean war, military options have priced themselves out of the market, as indeed they have for the past fifty-plus years.
Economic sanctions have been ineffective in shaping Pyongyang's behavior, even when there has been rare agreement in the UN Security Council. (Enforcing compliance is another matter altogether. Despite past UN resolutions banning luxury items, there appears to be no shortage on fine cognac and fancy electronics in Pyongyang.) China and Russia have already stated publicly in the past few days that they are not willing to impose additional UN sanctions. The United States, Japan, and South Korea could unilaterally adopt commercial and other trade sanctions. But the reality is that these countries' leverage is limited due to their relative lack of interaction with the North, Pyongyang's willingness to allow its people to suffer hardship and, perhaps most important of all, China's unwillingness to allow the North to collapse.
Diplomatically, that leaves the Six Party Talks (6PT). During the past few years, the Bush administration staked out untenable positions only to capitulate after the North raised tensions, whether over the Banco Delta Asia accounts in Macau or the October 2006 nuclear test. Predictably, rewarding North Korea's misbehavior only encouraged more misbehavior. By repeatedly telegraphing its eagerness to return to the Six Party Talks, the Obama administration now appears to be making the same mistake.
So what to do? I would advocate a policy of what might be termed "malign neglect." The starting assumption is that the North Koreans will now play hard to get, using their reluctance to return to the Six Party Talks as leverage for an easing of sanctions, provision of additional food aid, a resumption of energy assistance, or other benefits. And no doubt the Obama team will try to appease the North's desires and ease them back to the negotiating table.
This would be a mistake. Although it is possible for the United States to bribe the North back to the negotiating table (we have done it before), this would be mistaking process for substance. The goal of the Six Party Talks is not to get to the North Koreans to the bargaining table. It is for the North Koreans to want to come to the table to investigate whether it makes sense for them to abandon their nuclear weapons programs and forge a fundamentally new relationship with the United States and the region. The United States and the other 6PT members cannot make this calculation for Pyongyang and they should stop trying to do so.
Instead, the Obama administration should do three things:
First, it needs to state that it is prepared to resume the Six Party Talks whenever the North is ready to do so -- and then say nothing else. There is really not much more to say, anyway. For once, we should at least try to be as patient as the North Koreans.
Second, the United States needs to repair relations with our two major allies in Asia, Japan and South Korea. Both relationships have been bruised in recent years and Seoul and Tokyo are anxious about whether the new team in Washington will fully consult and coordinate on its North Korea policy. In this sense, the North Korean nuclear issue is not about North Korea at all. It is about the United States preserving alliance relations. After all, we can't control what the North does, but we can control what we do in relation to Seoul and Tokyo.
Third, we ought to welcome South Korea's joining the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and encourage China to do so. These actions should be part of a clear and unequivocal message sent to Pyongyang that the international community will not tolerate the North's export of any nuclear technology or ballistic missiles. In addition to enhancing global security, this would choke off a source of hard currency to the regime.
These modest steps, forming a policy of "malign neglect," may be unsatisfying to many. But they have the merit of placing the burden for progress in the negotiations on North Korea, where they should be, on playing to U.S. strengths in our alliance relations in the region, and on aligning our nonproliferation interests for the Korean peninsula with those of the international community.
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.