Sunday, April 18, 2021

Monday Asia Events, April 19, 2021


THE OCEAN: TURNING A CLIMATE CHANGE PROBLEM INTO A SOLUTION.
10:00-11:00am (EDT). WEBCAST. Sponsor: Global Europe Program, Wilson Center (WWC). Speakers: Hans-otto Pörtner, Researcher of Marine Ecophysiology, Co-chair Working Group II IPCC; Pascal Chabenet, Coral Reef Specialist, Director of the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development, La Reunion; Mark Driessen, Manager of Public Affairs, Stakeholder Management, and Communications, Porthos Rotterdam; Jenny Brown, Coastal Oceanographer, National Oceanography Centre, UK; Moderator: Ambassador David Balton, Senior Fellow, Polar Institute, WWC, and Former Ambassador for Oceans and Fisheries, U.S. Department of State.

NATIONAL SECURITY COMMISSION ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (NSCAI) "BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION” REPORT. 10:00-11:00am (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). Speakers: Hon. Robert O. Work, NSCAI Commissioner; Hon. Jose-Marie Griffiths, NSCAI Commissioner.

SUSTAINABLE US PRESENCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST: BALANCING SHORT AND LONG-TERM NEEDS. 10:00-11:00am (EDT). Sponsor: Brookings Institution (Brookings). Speakers: Michael E. O’Hanlon, Director of Research, Foreign Policy, Brookings, Co-Director, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, Africa Security Initiative, Brookings, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, Brookings, and The Sydney Stein, Jr. Chair; Becca Wasser, Fellow, Center for a New American Security; Emma Ashford, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; Robert Pape, Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago; Moderator: Daniel L. Magruder Jr., Colonel, U.S. Air Force, and Federal Executive Fellow, Brookings.

DOES THE UNITED STATES NEED CHINA TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE? 10:00-11:00am (EDT). WEBINAR. Sponsor: Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). Speakers: Michael Klare, Secretary, Arms Control Association Board of Directors, and Senior Visiting Fellow, ITIF; Robert D. Atkinson, President, ITIF. 

NEW TOOLS FOR NEW THREATS: JOHN RATCLIFFE ON STRENGTHENING U.S. INTELLIGENCE CAPABILITIES. 11:00-11:45am (EDT). WEBINAR. Sponsor: Heritage Foundation. Speaker: The Honorable John Ratcliffe, Former Director of National Intelligence; Moderator: David R. Shedd, Visiting Fellow, Heritage Foundation.

NUCLEAR ISSUES ACROSS THE UNITED STATES. Noon-1:15pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsors: Heritage; Ronald Reagan Institute. Speakers: Representative Dina Titus (NV-01); Erica Fein, Advocacy Director, Win Without War; Yasmeen Silva, Partnership Manager, Beyond the Bomb; Denise Duffield, Associate Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility–Los Angeles; Moderator: Naomi Egel, Janne Nolan Nuclear Security Visiting Fellow, Truman Center.

BIDEN’S NORTH KOREA POLICY REVIEW: PERSPECTIVES FROM THE REGION. 2:00-3:00pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Stimson. Speakers: Yun Sun, Co-Director, East Asia Program and Director, China Program, Stimson; Yuki Tatsumi, Co-Director, East Asia Program and Director, Japan Program, Stimson; Jenny Town, Senior Fellow, Stimson and Director, 38 North Program, Stimson; Moderator: Brian Finlay, President and CEO, Stimson. 

KOREA AND THE INDO-PACIFIC STRATEGY: A CONVERSATION WITH HEINO KLINCK, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE. 4:00-5:00pm (PDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS), UC San Diego.  

Friday, April 16, 2021

Any Value to the Suga Visit

SS Vyner Brooke
Why Comfort Women Matter to the U.S.-Japan Values Summit
Getting history right matters and Washington needs to hold its allies to the same moral values and standards that America and its allies claim to represent.

The National Interest, April 12, 2021

by Tessa Morris Suzuki, Professor Emerita of Japanese History, School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University and Mindy L. Kotler, Director of Asia Policy Point in Washington, DC.

In February 1942, after sinking the SS Vyner Brooke off the coast of Bangka Island near the Java Sea, the occupying Imperial Japanese gave the Australian and European women who survived a choice: they could starve in a prison camp on Sumatra or sign a document to provide sexual services on demand for Japanese troops.

This episode and many others like it during the war in the Pacific have reverberated over the generations. On Friday, nearly eighty years later, this history will underlie President Joe Biden’s summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The White House apparently invited Suga to be the first foreign leader to visit the White House in order to mirror Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe’s pre-inauguration meeting with Donald Trump in 2017—and to cover for the impending conflict over values. Although the U.S.-Japan Alliance is heralded as rock solid, opinion writers have been quick to point out the mercurial state of American foreign policy. They try to brush aside what the President might ask of Suga by saying that Americans change course very quickly and unexpectedly. In other words, Japan does not need to take the meeting over values too seriously.

All of this is a deflection from Japan’s responsibility for the rift in the Alliance. The Suga Administration has accelerated a project started under the Abe Administration to manipulate and rewrite the history of the Pacific War, and particularly of women and girls trafficked and coerced into military brothels throughout the areas occupied by Japan during World War II—known as Comfort Women.

Despite well-established history of the many ways in which women and girls of multiple nationalities were forced into sexual slavery to Imperial Japan’s military, the Japanese government tries to present the issue simply as one between Japan and an overwrought, never satisfied South Korea. The result has eroded trust between these two major American allies, and frustrated Washington.

At the heart of the problem lies the question of whether or not the Japanese government admits that Japan’s military was responsible for the Comfort Women system, and accepts that the women and girls involved were recruited by deception or coercion. A 1993 statement issued by Japan’s then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged the role of the military in the comfort women system, including the fact that “at the time administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments,” and admitted that some women had been recruited through coercion.

The Japanese government states that they have “inherited” the Kono Statement, carefully avoiding any promise to “uphold,” “commit to” or “fulfill” the promises of the Statement. Instead, conservative governments have steadily promoted the view that there are no documents that show forcible removal of any women by military or government officials. A review of the history of the Statement, supervised by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga in 2014, implied that Japan had caved in to pressure from the Korean government, undermining public confidence in the Statement’s content.

The Statement, in fact, has been so diminished that the government has recently announced it will no longer use the term “military comfort women” or “so-called military comfort women” (the expressions used in the Kono Statement): the word “military” has been removed from this phrase because it highlights the role of Japan’s armed forces in the comfort women system.

A recent academic article by Harvard Law Professor Mark Ramseyer has helped to fuel Japan’s development of a revisionist narrative that depicts the Comfort Women as willing prostitutes. Astonishingly, this article presents all Japanese and Korean Comfort Women as contractual workers under Japan’s prostitution system, in which (Ramseyer suggests) children as young as ten-years-old knowingly and voluntarily negotiated prostitution contracts. Some Japanese ruling party politicians have enthusiastically promoted this version of history, while the Japanese Education Minister has publicly suggested that Ramseyer’s article is part of the process by which we “approach the truth” of history.

Tokyo’s position is so antithetical to any contemporary understanding of trafficking and sexual violence in warfare that American policymakers must be stunned. The Japanese government’s blanket denial of forced recruitment of comfort women not only contradicts irrefutable evidence of force in multiple cases; it also shows a fundamental lack of understanding of sex trafficking and sexual slavery. This is because the Japanese authorities do not see the skewed power relationship nor comprehend the psychology of coercion.

The dispute itself is the tip of much larger and troubling “history wars”: part of a push to revise memories of the Asia Pacific War as a whole. Last month, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party announced that one of its main strategic objectives for 2021 was a further expansion of the government budget for telling its version of history internationally. With Tokyo demanding the removal of Comfort Women memorials from sites in America and Germany, and using pressure to have one ripped out of its foundation in sight of the Bayview Hotel in Manila where hundreds of Filipino women were gang-raped by retreating Japanese troops, this “war” is not confined to South Korea.

In releasing the 2020 Human Rights Report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken lamented that “the trend lines on human rights continue to move in the wrong direction.” A concerning part of this trend are denials in Japan and the United States of the terror that compelled women like some Vyner Brooke survivors to “choose” to join a Comfort Station. Blinken said in his remarks: “standing for people’s freedom and dignity honors America’s most sacred values.” The U.S.-Japan Alliance is said to be based on those shared values. Now Washington and Tokyo need to discuss what this means in practice. The Biden-Suga Summit will test the U.S. Administration’s ability to be fair, but firm with allies as well as with those it sees as rivals and security threats.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Monday Asia Events, April 12, 2021

DO US-CHINA EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGES SERVE AMERICAN INTERESTS? 9:00-10:30am (EDT). WEBCAST. Sponsor: John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution (Brookings). Speakers: Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch, President, US-China Education Trust; Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy, Founding Director and Distinguished Scholar, Kissinger Institute on China and the United States; Richard Stengel, Strategic Advisor, Snap Inc. and Former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Lee Bollinger, President, Columbia University; Jeffrey Lehman, Vice Chancellor, NYU Shanghai; Kurt Dirks, Vice Chancellor for International Affairs, Washington University in St. Louis, and Director, McDonnell International Scholars Academy; Ted Mitchell, President, American Council on Education; Moderators: Cheng Li, Director, John L. Thornton China Center and Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings; Susan A. Thornton, Senior Fellow, Paul Tsai China Center, Yale Law School, and Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings. 

GOVERNMENT POLICIES RESHAPE THE BANKING INDUSTRY: CHANGES, CONSEQUENCES, AND POLICY ISSUES. 10:00am-Noon (EDT). LIVESTREAM. Sponsor: American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Speakers: Charles Calomiris, Henry Kaufman Professor of Financial Institutions, Columbia University; Bert Ely, Principal, Ely & Company; Alex J. Pollock, Distinguished Senior Fellow, R Street Institute; Richard E. Sylla, Professor Emeritus of Economics, New York University; Moderator: Paul H. Kupiec, Resident Scholar, AEI. 

ADVICE FOR PRESIDENT BIDEN: DEALING WITH PUTIN’S RUSSIA. Noon-1:00pm (EDT). ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsors: Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Security Studies Program, MIT; MISTI MIT-Russia. Speakers: Andrey Kortunov, Director General, Russian International Affairs Council; Angela Stent, Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, and Professor of Government and Foreign Service, Georgetown University. 

INSIDE PUTIN’S RUSSIA: A TURNING POINT IN DOMESTIC POLITICS? Noon-1:00pm (EDT). WEBINAR. Sponsor: Chatham House. Speakers: Joanna Szostek, Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House; Natalia Antonova, Writer and Journalist; Arkady Moshes, Programme Director, Finnish Institute of International Affairs; Henry Foy, Moscow Bureau Chief, Financial Times; Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Regional Director and Head of Research, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, Amnesty International. Members only 

SOLARWINDS AND COZY BEARS: HOW RUSSIAN HACKERS COMPROMISED THE U.S. GOVERNMENT AND HOW WE CAN REDUCE THE CHANCES OF IT HAPPENING AGAIN. 1:00-1:45pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsor: Heritage. Speakers: Chad Wolf, Visiting Fellow, Davis Institute; Scott Jasper, Lecturer, Department of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School and Captain, U.S. Navy (Ret); Moderator: James Di Pane, Research Associate, Center for National Defense. 

BEYOND EXIGENCY: INSIGHTS ON SUPPLY CHAIN VULNERABILITIES AND BUILDING GLOBAL RESILIENCE. 1:00-2:00pm (EDT). WEBCAST. Sponsors: Asia Program, Wilson Center (WWC); Canada Institute, WWC. Speakers: Ambassador Mark Green, President, Director and CEO, WWC; The Honorable Mike Gallagher, United States Representative from Wisconsin's 8th District; The Honorable Elissa Slotkin, United States Representative from Michigan’s 8th District; Christopher Sands, Director, Canada Institute, WWC; Shihoko Goto, Deputy Director for Geoeconomics and Senior Associate for Northeast Asia, Asia Program, WWC.

THE FUTURE OF US SECURITY IN SPACE. 1:30-3:15pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsor: Scowcroft Center, Atlantic Council. Speakers: Gen James E. Cartwright, USMC (Ret.), former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense; Hon. Deborah Lee James, former Secretary of the Air Force, US Department of the Air Force; Hon. Charles F. Bolden Jr., MajGen, USMC (Ret.), 12th Administrator and Astronaut, NASA; Scott Pace, former Executive Secretary, US National Space Council and Professor, George Washington University; Debra Facktor, Head of U.S. Space Systems, Airbus U.S. Space & Defense, Inc.; Ellen Chang, Head of Naval Portfolio, H4X Labs & Retired Officer, U.S. Navy; Gregg Maryniak, Co-Founder and Director, XPRIZE Foundation; Matthew Daniels, Senior Fellow, Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) and Research Faculty, Georgetown University; Jana Robinson, Managing Director and Space Security Program Director, Prague Security Studies; Moderators: Jennifer Griffin, National Security Correspondent, Fox News; Jacqueline Feldscher, National Security and Space Reporter, POLITICO. 

NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS IN CHINA: RESEARCH AND POLICY. 5:00 - 6:00pm (PST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: California-China Climate Institute and The Nature Conservancy. Speakers: Huo Li, Climate Change and Energy Director, The Nature Conservancy, China; Dr. Gao Xiang, Director of International Policy Research, National Center on Climate Change and International Cooperation; Dr. Wang Binbin, Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development, Tsinghua University; Dr. Christina McCain, Associate Director of Programs, Climate and Land Use Alliance.

WHAT CHINA'S S&T MODERNIZATION MEANS FOR THE U.S.: A STRATEGIC PERSPECTIVE. 7:00-8:00pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsors: Center on Science and Technology Policy and Asian/Pacific Studies Institute, Duke University. Speaker: Richard P. Suttmeier, Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, University of Oregon; Moderator: Dennis Simon, Senior Adviser to the President for China Affairs, Duke.

Behind North Korea’s Olympic Decision

– The “Worst-Ever Situation"Facing Kim Jong Un

By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University and APP member

Toyo Keizai, April 11, 2021

The North Korean announcement that they would not participate in the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo was undoubtedly disappointing news for both South Korea and Japan. The South Korean government hoped to use the Games as a platform to reinvigorate its desperate efforts at engagement with the North. For Japan, the danger is that this may be a harbinger of other dropouts, also citing Covid-19 fears.

The North Korean move, however, should not have been a shock. The Olympics decision is only the tip of an iceberg of troubles that have been surfacing in recent months. At the top is the pandemic which triggered the shutdown of almost all cross-border trade and exposed a health system incapable of dealing with the spread of the virus.

Underneath is an economy crippled by systemic failure and international sanctions which have shut off much of the regime’s precious hard currency revenue. Least visible, but most dangerous, is the spread of anti-regime feeling, prompting a tightening of internal controls and a fierce ideological campaign to stamp out potential resistance.

There is significant evidence of this mounting crisis, gathered from recent defectors, anecdotal reports coming out of North Korea, and the just-released annual report of the United Nations Panel of Experts to the UN Security Council. But the clearest confirmation comes from the regime itself which, since the congress of the Korean Workers’ Party in January, has been frankly acknowledging its failures.

On April 7, North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un called on the ruling party to face “the worst-ever situation in which we have to overcome unprecedently numerous challenges.”

Last week’s meeting of party cell leaders, the network of party officials down to the smallest units of North Korean economic and social life, featured Stalinist style exhortations to increase production and calls to counter disaffection in the population. “The party cells should be the first movers in actively sweeping away anti- and non-socialist practices and launch an intensive drive for establishing moral discipline,” a North Korean news agency reported.

In his closing remarks to the party gathering, Kim called on the party to “wage another more difficult ‘Arduous March’,” referring to the famine of the mid-1990s, clearly worried that the party was losing its legitimacy with the beleaguered North Korean population.

Official propaganda provides evidence of shortages and a breakdown of key sectors of the economy, cut off now from spare parts and other inputs. The huge chemical fertilizer plants in Hamhung and Anju are no longer working properly, with efforts to make up the gap with transports of “urban manure,” a polite euphemism for human waste, to collective farms.

The country is short of fuel and electricity to power obsolete and broken equipment, recounted William Brown, a respected former U.S. intelligence community analyst of North Korea.

The regime has cut the enlistment period for the military from 10 to 7-8 years because the military is short of rations, reported Daily NK, which has provided reliable accounts from inside North Korea. Released soldiers are being rerouted into work assignments in mines and factories.

Foreign diplomats and aid workers are fleeing Pyongyang, where conditions are relatively better. A departing Russian Embassy staff member wrote on Facebook about “the sharp deficit of essential goods, including medicine, and the lack of any possibility to resolve health problems.”

“North Korea’s decision not to attend the Tokyo games is a health and a political one,” said a Western aid specialist with long experience in North Korea, “and to me, not surprising.” There are only a handful of Westerners left in the country, the aid worker told me. “Direct contacts with North Koreans have become very difficult and nobody really knows what’s going on.”

Anecdotal information from the border region with China provides some sense of the deepening deprivations. “There is barely any food going into the country from China for almost two months now,” a missionary who clandestinely helps people in need inside North Korea told Lina Yoon, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, last September.

“There are so many more beggars, some people died from hunger in the border area and there’s no soap, toothpaste, or batteries.” Without AA batteries, households can’t even keep track of time, he said. Their clocks have died.

The border closure that began more than a year ago, designed to head off the pandemic, has accelerated the breakdown of the command economy and also undermined the operation of the parallel market economy that had filled the gap for North Koreans.

At the party congress in January, Kim Jong Un and his leadership signaled a partial retreat from the market and a return to state-run planning, accompanied by tighter controls over a populace infiltrated by information and ideas from the outside, mostly via China.

The country’s economy is shrinking, with little investment and severe shortages of imported parts and materials for production, Brown wrote recently.

“Basic food supplies appear to be sufficient to ward off famine but much of the population is suffering from the lack of the most basic comforts, usually imported from China, while a few entrepreneurs appear to get rich, bribing officials who are paid next to nothing by the regime. And after eight years of currency and pricing stability, much volatility is now seen, creating a speculative environment for cash. A troublesome brew to be sure.”

Some relief may be on the way as there are signs of preparations to reopen border trade with China, though perhaps not imminently. Even then, “they are afraid to open the border with China not because of the virus but because they are afraid of the outflow of dollars, RMB, and maybe people,” Brown told me.

The health crisis

There is some debate among North Korean watchers about the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on the country. Claims that there are no cases of infection are dismissed by experts and it is also evident that the regime is terrified of the spread of the disease.

A senior U.S. military official in South Korea with regular access to the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone, where North Korean soldiers usually patrol, told me that the North Korean personnel have largely retreated into their complex. When they emerge, the North Koreans are dressed in full orange-colored hazmat suits and there has been no face-to-face contact with them since January 2020.

In interviews that this official conducted in recent months with two lower-level defectors who crossed the border mainly because of economic deprivation, they recounted widespread scare theories spreading in North Korea, including that the disease could be passed from consuming fish.

Despite these health fears, the regime has refused to talk with South Korea or international agencies which have offered humanitarian health-related assistance. It has contracted to receive vaccines from the World Health Organization’s global program but it is not ready to admit international personnel.

Instead, the UN Expert panel report says, the regime focused on “white elephant” projects like the construction of a showcase hospital in Pyongyang.

“Construction was started, apparently, without a comprehensive plan for even completing the building,” the UN report, issued last month, said. “Construction was rushed to meet an artificial political deadline (which it did not meet). Also, the regime began construction without securing the equipment and supplies needed to run it.”

The sanctions are hurting

The ‘worst-ever’ conditions are underlain by the impact of international sanctions, particularly since broader restrictions were imposed after 2017 by the UN Security Council.

According to a recent defector who served as a high-level North Korean official closely involved in global money-earning operations, these sanctions have actually been surprisingly effective. A number of African countries which had been long-time buyers of North Korean arms and employed their workers – including doctors, engineers and construction laborers – cut off their connections under UN pressure, beginning in late 2017.

Countries such as Namibia, Uganda, Angola and Guinea shut down these flows of money to Pyongyang under Western pressure, sending Kim Jong Un into ballistic displays of anger at what he saw as acts of betrayal, the former official recounted to a small group of American specialists recently.

The UN sanctions shut down the revenue flow from thousands of North Koreans deployed as laborers in Russia and the Persian Gulf. Some 35,000 such workers, whose earnings went to the regime in large part, left in the last 2-3 years, the defecting official says. They were employed on construction sites, in factories and even as cooks and restaurant workers.

The remittances were transferred to North Korea via elaborate cutouts where money was wired to exchange offices in China and converted to hard currency for transport into North Korea, where it was used to finance the missile and nuclear programs and prestige projects for the regime like a fancy ski resort.

“All the money ends up in the hands of Kim Jung Un and he uses it as he sees fit,” the former senior official told the experts. “That’s the system they have.”

The defector believes that the sanctions are working. “The country is about to bankrupt,” he says. “I don’t think that the regime is sustainable at this rate.”

Hanging on

That assessment may be more a reflection of a defector’s hopes than a reliable prediction of collapse. The regime has found other ways to survive. The UN report details ongoing sanctions-busting exports of North Korean coal to China, and a flow of oil and other goods coming back in, with levels increasing in recent weeks but not reflected in official trade statistics.

The impact of sanctions on hard currency flows has been mitigated somewhat by extensive cybercrime carried out by the regime’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, its headquarters for cyber operations.

Hacker units under the RGB, such as the Lazarus group, the BeagleBoyz and the Bluenoroff Group have carried out successful thefts from cryptocurrency exchanges and other financial institutions, with revenue from such operations totaling at least $316 million from 2019 to November 2020, the UN report says.

Experts warn against expectations that Kim Jong Un is anywhere close to yielding his grip on power. “Despite pressures, which must be getting intense, Kim likely feels he has keys to solutions and is thus not desperate to negotiate,” Brown told me. He can still play a waiting game and count on China to keep him and his regime in place.

When it comes to the Olympics, however, Kim can always change his mind. “Since Japan and South Korea want them to participate in Olympics, he gets some leverage by withholding his team,” says Brown. The North Koreans, even at the last minute, may “change their minds if they get something in return.”

What won’t change are the underlying problems that have now converged into a “worst-ever” threat to Kim’s rule.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Monday Events, April 5, 2021

THE FUTURE OF JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS.
8:30-9:30am (EDT) WEBINAR. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Rumi Aoyama, Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University; Masafumi Iida, Head, America, Europe, and Russia Division, Regional Studies Department, National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS); Asei Ito, Associate Professor, Institute of Social Science, University of Tokyo; Ichiro Inoue, Professor, School of Policy Studies, Kwansei Gakuin University; Matthew P. Goodman, Senior Vice President for Economics and Simon Chair in Political Economy, CSIS; Michael J. Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair, CSIS. 

DOES A TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT OFFER THE LAST PATH TO AN AFGHAN PEACE? 9:30-11:00am (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Middle East Institute (MEI). Speakers: H.E. Javid Ahmad, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates; non-resident senior fellow, Atlantic Council; Lisa Curtis, Senior Fellow and Director, Indo-Pacific Security Program, Center for a New American Security; William Maley, Emeritus Professor, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University; Ahmed Rashid, Pakistani journalist and writer; Moderator: Marvin Weinbaum, Director, Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies, MEI. 

PRESIDENT BIDEN’S BUDGET REQUESTS FOR SCIENCE. 11:00am-Noon. Sponsor. National Press Club Virtual Headliners. Speaker: Dr. Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION IN ANTARCTICA: WHAT SHOULD BE THE PRIORITIES FOR THE NEW BIDEN ADMINISTRATION? 1:00-2:30pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsors: Polar Institute, Latin American Program and Global Europe Program, Wilson Center (WWC). Speakers: Hon. Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Senator (D-RI); Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner of Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, European Commission; Ambassador Helen Ågren, Ambassador for the Ocean, Ministry For Foreign Affairs, Sweden; Enric Sala, Explorer in Residence, National Geographic Society; Moderator: Evan T. Bloom, Senior Fellow, Polar Institute, WWC.

STRUGGLES FOR THAI DEMOCRACY: POLITICIANS’ POINTS OF VIEW. 4/5, 2:00pm (EDT) WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center for Southeast Asia Studies, UC Berkeley. Speakers:Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Parit Wacharasindhu will discuss the current state of Thai politics from their perspectives as key participants in the pro-democracy movement. 

SERVANTS OF THE DEVIL: FACILITATORS OF THE CRIMINAL AND TERRORIST NETWORKS. 2:00-3:00pm (EDT). WEBINAR AND FACEBOOK LIVESTREAM. Sponsor: Institute of World Politics (IWP). Speakers: Author, Norman A. Bailey is Professor of Economic Statecraft, IWP; Author, Bernard Touboul, International Expert in Customs Administration and Enforcement, Border Management, and International Trade Facilitation. PURCHASE BOOK: https://amzn.to/3dx2JwH

AMERICA'S RISE TO SUPREMACY. 3:00-4:15pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center. Speakers: Paul Kennedy, J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History at Yale; Stephen Wertheim, historian of U.S. foreign relations who directs grand strategy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, author Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy (Harvard University Press); Moderated by Graham T. Allison. PURCHASE BOOK: https://amzn.to/3cMbxQ2

TRANSITIONS TO PEACE: THE PHILIPPINES IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE. 6:30-7:45pm (EDT), ONLINE. Sponsor: Center for Global Affairs at NYU's School of Professional Studies. Speakers: Armi Beatriz E. Bayot, Doctoral Candidate, University of Oxford; Nikki Philine C. de la Rosa, Country Manager International Alert, The Philippines; Anne Marie Goetz, Clinical Professor, Center for Global Affairs, School of Professional Studies, New York University; Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan, Member, Bangsamoro Transitional Authority and Executive Director, Al Qalam Institute, Ateneo de Davao University; Rob Jenkins, Professor of Political Science, Hunter College, City University of New York. 

KIKKOMAN CORPORATION: A CONVERSATION WITH YUZABURO MOGI, HONORARY CEO AND CHAIRMAN. 8:00-9:00pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center on Japanese Economy and Business (CJEB), Columbia Business School. Speaker: Yuzaburo Mogi, Honorary CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Kikkoman Corporation; Moderator: David E. Weinstein, Director, CJEB), Columbia Business School and Carl S. Shoup Professor of the Japanese Economy, Columbia University.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Japan Finally Gets The G2 It Wants

 – But At What Cost?

By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University, APP member.

Toyo Keizai, April 3,2021

When Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide walks into the Oval Office of the White House on April 16, he will not only be the first foreign leader to meet President Joe Biden. The Japanese leader will showcase the Biden administration’s central foreign policy goal – to challenge and encircle China.

“We need Japan at the center of our grand design for Asian security, and we are going to get it,” says Columbia University Emeritus professor Gerald Curtis, the doyen of American Japan hands.

“Japan is foundational to achieving the vision,” echoes former Trump national security advisor H.R. McMaster, who credits former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as the original author of that concept.

For the Biden team, the visit is intended to give a vote of confidence in the current government in Tokyo. But they also are well aware that Suga may not succeed in lengthening his stay in office. Their goal is to give Japan an unusually high status in their Indo-Pacific strategy.

“They all believe that to get China policy right, you have to get Asia right, and to get Asia right, you have to start with Japan,” says James Schoff of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and a former Obama administration Japan expert who advised the Biden campaign.

A new G2 is formed

For the bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki and for the politicians in the Liberal Democratic Party who hope this will lead to an election victory, this is a triumphant moment. For years Japanese government officials have been working to block the formation of a G2 – a dreaded axis of China and the U.S. that would leave Japan by the wayside. Now the G2 has finally arrived, only it is not the one they feared – it is a G2 of the US and Japan.

The target of this strengthened alliance was clear in the recent 2+2 statement issued by the Japanese and U.S. defense and foreign ministers which for the first time named China as the central shared threat and mentioned areas of potential joint action ranging from democracy promotion to the securing of “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” Some American policymakers see Japan now as having turned a strategic corner, no longer so careful not to offend Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership.

“I think that Japanese leaders are coming to the conclusion that they can no longer afford not to respond to the CCP's sustained campaign of cooption, coercion, and concealment,” General McMaster, whose book on grand strategy will shortly be published in Japan, told Toyo Keizai.

“If like-minded liberal democracies do not counter China's efforts to promote its authoritarian mercantilist model, Japan could become isolated and the world would be less free, less prosperous, and less safe.”

Increasingly U.S. defense officials envision Japan, based on its revised interpretation of the right to collective self-defense, playing a security role well beyond the boundaries of Japan itself.

“It is essential that from the Himalayan frontier to the South China Sea to Taiwan to the Senkakus, that the PLA [Peoples Liberation Army] understands that it is unable to accomplish its objectives through the use of force,” argues McMaster. “Strengthening the SDF [Self-Defense Forces] is an important part of the effort to ensure deterrence by denial across the region.”

American officials insist that the anti-China approach, which is expected to be repeated in the statement issued out of the Suga-Biden meeting, is coming as much, if not more from the Japanese side.

“They were the ones who wanted that strong language in the 2+2 statement,” a knowledgeable U.S. defense official told me. He credited Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo, and Vice Minister Nakayama Yasuhiro, for this push, calling them “China hawks,” backed by Kishi’s older brother, former Premier Abe.

But this victory for Japanese conservatives comes with a cost. Tokyo will have difficulty delivering what Washington wants in multiple areas, beginning with human rights, but also in the realm of defense, and the push by the Americans for trilateral cooperation with Korea.

“There are questions about how far Japan will be able to go in almost all the areas,” says Schoff. The Biden administration, adds Professor Curtis, “is set up for a lot of disappointment.”

Breaking ranks on human rights

The most visible gap between Tokyo and Washington is over the Biden administration’s desire to put human rights at the center of its China strategy, framing the contest as one between ‘democracy and authoritarianism.’ China’s crackdown on democratic rights in Hong Kong and its oppression of the Muslim Uyghur minority are at the forefront of this drive, along with opposition to the military coup in Myanmar.

The Suga administration has dutifully joined in rhetorical protests over these human rights violations but it has also pointedly refused to join in punitive sanctions adopted by the U.S. and others. Japanese firms such as Muji are not halting purchases of cotton grown by Uyghur prisoners or curbing investments in Myanmar.

“When it came to being tough with China on the Uyghurs, where was Japan? Hiding in a corner,” notes Curtis.

Defense synergy – but less than meets the eye

The area of greatest synergy between Tokyo and Washington these days is defense and security. Japan’s readiness to broaden its security realm beyond the home islands is welcomed in the U.S., manifested in deepening partnerships in Southeast Asia with Indonesia and Vietnam, as well as with the Quadrilateral security dialogue partners Australia and India. The steady growth of defense spending and acquisition of American hardware like the F-35 5th Generation fighter facilitates hopes for closer operational coordination between the U.S. and Japanese military forces.

The inclusion of the Taiwan Strait in the list of joint security concerns – for the first time since former Prime Minister Sato Eisaku’s famous speech to the National Press Club in 1969 – raises expectations that Japan might be ready to deploy forces with the U.S. in response to Chinese use of force. Japanese hardliners are eagerly feeding this with talk of ‘red lines’ around Taiwan.

Some American defense planners echo that idea. But knowledgeable American defense experts caution against this expectation. Japan might be ready to provide logistical support to American forces, with Okinawa only a short distance from Taiwan, but the main goal is to bolster the deterrence of China.

The realities of Japan’s domestic political restraints and its delicate balancing act with China make even that scenario unlikely, says Columbia’s Curtis.

“The idea that Japan is somehow going to step up to the plate and do something significant – NO,” he says. “They are very careful to signal to China that they are not linking up in a new position on Taiwan.”

Pentagon officials have even more ambitious goals in mind for Japan, reflecting the G2 spirit. Admiral Philip Davidson, the head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told the U.S. Congress earlier in March that there is a dangerous “erosion of conventional deterrence” in the region.

Under the umbrella of a new Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI), with $27 billion in funding, he envisions fielding “precision-strike” networks of land and sea-based missiles, paired with missile defense systems and air and naval aircraft, “along with the First and Second Island Chains.” While it is still in the planning stage, this includes new long-range missiles based in Japan as well as in Guam and other Pacific islands.

But will Japan agree to this? For now, says recently retired Army General Thomas Spoehr, now with the Heritage Foundation, “there is probably not one of our regional partners in the first island chain that would be willing to base… long-range strike missiles in their country.”

Trilateral cooperation and beyond

The most challenging area for the G2 may be forging real trilateral security cooperation with South Korea. The Biden administration approach, for now, is a familiar one – to use the threat of North Korea to push Japan and South Korea back into some kind of functional relationship.

The meeting of the national security advisors this week is a start in that direction, to be followed later in April with a trilateral foreign ministers meeting. But privately U.S. officials admit that the atmosphere between Seoul and Tokyo is so sour that it may not permit much more than superficial agreement.

The attempt to separate security issues from the history and legal battles over forced laborers and comfort women reflects frustrations in Washington with both allies. There is considerable unhappiness with South Korea for creating the depth of the problem but there is also dissatisfaction with the Suga administration’s unwillingness to discuss problems without Korean concessions first. “It’s not going to be fixed,” a former senior official close to the administration told me. “It’s not going to get much better and it could get worse.”

Ultimately, American experts warn that despite the triumphant talk, Japan is simply not prepared to be the central pillar of the American strategy for Asia. Japan prefers to part of larger groupings – not only the Quad but wider multilateral structures. Groups like the G7, which could be expanded to include India and even Korea, make more sense to many Japanese policymakers as a vehicle to compete with China.

For Tokyo, the goal is to diversify its security and diplomacy, not to hang everything on the American alliance. While it welcomes Biden’s talk of the return of American power and leadership, “Japan cannot rely on the U.S. in a G2 dynamic because we are too mercurial and unstable in some ways politically,” says Schoff.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Viewing the Washington Cherry Blossoms

Library Debuts Video Series for 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival


The Library of Congress celebrates the 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival by debuting a new video series that highlights both historic and contemporary traditions of springtime flower viewing.

Developed to support the festival’s 2021 efforts to “blossom safely,” the four-to-five-minute videos can be enjoyed by viewers everywhere during the festival March 20-April 12 and beyond through the Library's YouTube site and on the Library of Congress website.

There are three videos in the series:

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Monday Asia Events, March 22, 2021

BUILDING BACK DIPLOMACY: THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION STRIDES INTO ASIA. 3/22, 9:30-11:30am, LIVE WEBCAST. Sponsors: Wilson Center; Hyundai Motor-korea Foundation Center For Korean History And Public Policy; Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. Speakers: J. Stapleton Roy, Distinguished Fellow, Founding Director Emeritus, Kissinger Institute on China and the United States; Abraham Denmark, Director, Asia Program; Robert Daly, Director, Kissinger Institute on China and the United States; Shihoko Goto, Deputy Director for Geoeconomics and Senior Associate for Northeast Asia, Asia Program; Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia; Jean H. Lee, Director, Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy, Journalist and former Pyongyang Bureau Chief, Associated Press; Charles Edel, Global Fellow, Senior Fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney; Rui Zhong, Program Associate.

ISIS AND THE FUTURE OF VIOLENT EXTREMISM IN THE MIDDLE EAST. 3/22, 10:30am-Noon (EDT). WEBCAST. Sponsors: United States Institute of Peace (USIP); Wilson Center (WWC). Speakers: James F. Jeffrey, Chair, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Former Ambassador to Iraq and Turkey and Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS; Ali Soufan, Chairman and CEO, Soufan Group; Robin Wright, USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Fellow, Author and Columnist, The New Yorker.

CSIS COMMISSION ON THE KOREAN PENINSULA: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE U.S.-KOREA ALLIANCE. 3/22, 11:00am-12:15pm, ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Vincent Brooks, Former Commander, UNC/CFC/USFK; Wendy Cutler, Vice President, Asia Society Policy Institute; Former Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative; Randall Schriver, Chairman, Project 2049 Institute; Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense; Kathleen Stephens, President & CEO, Korea Economic Institute of America; Former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea; John J. Hamre, CSIS President and CEO, and Langone Chair in American Leadership; Joseph S. Nye Jr., CSIS Trustee; Victor Cha, Senior Adviser and Korea Chair; Michael J. Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair; Sue Mi Terry, Senior Fellow, Korea Chair; Katrin Fraser Katz, Adjunct Fellow (Non-resident), Korea Chair.

SENATOR DEB FISCHER ON THE FUTURE OF NUCLEAR MODERNIZATION. 3/22, 11:30am-Noon (EDT). VIRTUAL EVENT. Sponsor: Heritage Foundation. Speaker: The Honorable Deb Fischer (R-NE), United States Senator; Moderator: Patty-Jane Geller, Policy Analyst, Nuclear Deterrence and Missile Defense, Heritage Foundation.

TIME FOR A NEW NATIONAL INNOVATION SYSTEM FOR DEFENSE AND COMPETITIVENESS. 3/22, 1:00-2:30pm (EDT). WEBINAR. Sponsor: Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). Speakers: Adam Smith, US Representative (D-WA); Michael Brown, Director of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), United States Department of Defense; Scott Stapp, Corporate Vice President & CTO, Northrop Grumman; Matt Turpin, Visiting Fellow, Hoover Institution, and Senior Advisor, Palantir Technologies; General Stephen Wilson, Former Vice Chief of Staff, United States Air Force; Moderator: Robert D. Atkinson, President, ITIF.

CHINA’S NEW LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: UNPACKING CHINA’S “TWO MEETINGS”. 3/22, 3:00-4:00pm (EDT), LIVE WEBCAST. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Bonnie S. Glaser, Senior Adviser for Asia; Director, China Power Project; Scott Kennedy, Senior Adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics; Jude Blanchette, Freeman Chair in China Studies.

THE POLITICS OF MASS VIOLENCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. 3/22, 4:00-5:30pm (EDT). WEBCAST. Sponsors: Wilson Center (WWC); National History Center (NHC). Speakers: Laura Robson, Oliver-McCourtney Professor of History, Penn State University; Laila Parsons, Professor of Modern Middle East History, McGill University; Ussama Makdisi, Professor of History and the first holder of the Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies, Rice University; Moderators: Christian F. Ostermann, Director, History and Public Policy Program, Cold War International History Project, North Korea Documentation Project, and Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, WWC; Eric Arnesen, Professor of History, George Washington University, and Director, National History Center of the American Historical Association.

purchase book
DONIA HUMAN RIGHTS CENTER DISCUSSION. SHARED SOVEREIGNTY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN FRAGILE STATES. 3/22
, 4:30-5:30pm, (EDT) ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan. Speakers: John D. Ciorciari, Associate Professor, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan; Susanna Campbell, Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University. 

TECHNICAL ISSUES OF FUTENMA REPLACEMENT FACILITY. 3/22, 5:00-5:45 (EST), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Okinawa Prefecture Washington, DC Office. Speaker: Dr. Shoji Kamao, Associate Professor, Nihon University. 

MOTOSHIGE ITOH (GAKUSHUIN UNIVERSITY), "JAPAN’S GROWTH STRATEGY IN THE 2020S: DEMAND- AND SUPPLY-SIDE DIMENSIONS". 3/22, 8:00-9:00pm (EDT), ONLINE ONLY. Sponsors: Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School. Speakers: Motoshige Itoh, Professor, the Faculty of International Social Sciences, Gakushuin University; Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo. Moderator: Christina Davis, Director, Program on U.S.-Japan Relations; Professor of Government; and Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Monday Asia Events, March 15, 2021

PAST AND PRESENT: THAILAND’S DARK PROTEST HISTORIES. 3/15
, 9:00-11:15am (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Weatherhead East Asian Institute (WEAI), Columbia University. Speakers: Thongchai Winichakul, Professor Emeritus of Southeast Asian History, University of Wisconsin Madison; Duncan McCargo, Professor, Political Science, University of Copenhagen; Tyrell Haberkorn, Professor, Southeast Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin Madison; Prajak Kongkirati, Lecturer, Faculty of Political Science, and Head of Southeast Asian Studies Center, East Asian Institute, Thammasat University.

A CONVERSATION WITH AMBASSADOR TARANJIT SINGH SANDHU. 3/15, 10:00-11:00am (EST). WEBCAST. Sponsor: Hudson Institute. Speaker: Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Ambassador of India to the United States; Moderator: Walter Russell Mead, Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship, Hudson Institute.

NEW ERAS, OLD STORIES: FROM MAY FOURTH AND MEIJI TO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY “NEW ERA” – DEFINING EAST ASIA IN THE AGE OF NOVELTY, EMOTION AND PURPOSE. 3/15, Noon-1:30pm (EDT). ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University. Speaker: Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, St. Cross College, University of Oxford; Moderator: Odd Arne Westad, Elihu Professor of History and Global Affairs, Yale University.

THE FUTURE OF THE U.S. NAVY: A CONVERSATION WITH REPRESENTATIVE ELAINE LURIA. 3/15, Noon-1:00pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsor: Hudson. Speakers: Representative Elaine Luria, U.S. Representative, Virginia's 2nd District, and Vice Chair, House Armed Services Committee; Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow & Director, Center for Defense Concepts and Technology, Hudson.

purchase book
MASTER NEGOTIATOR: THE ROLE OF JAMES A. BAKER III AT THE END OF THE COLD WAR
. 3/15, 1:00-1:45pm (EST). ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Women’s Foreign Policy Group (WFPG). Speaker: Author,
Diana Villiers Negroponte, Public Policy Scholar, Wilson Center; Moderator: Frances G. Burwell, Distinguished Fellow, Atlantic Council and Senior Director, McLarty Associates. 

DIGITAL TECH & OPERATIONAL CONCEPTS IN INDOPAC. 3/15, 2:00pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). Speaker: Major General Richard Coffman, USA, Director of the Army Futures Command's Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) Cross-Functional Team. 

DETERRENCE AND DIPLOMACY WITH IRAN. 3/15, 3:00-4:00pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsor: Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA). Speakers: Hon. Elliott Abrams, former U.S. Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela, U.S. Department of State; Michael Makovsky, President & CEO, JINSA.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Japan's Decarbonization: Greenwashing or not?

New Business Lobby Pushes Japan Decarbonization


By Richard Katz, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Council For Ethics in International Affairs, APP member
Tokyo Business Today, February 26,2021

The start of real action on climate change or just nice-sounding goals? That was the first question raised when on October 29 Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga targeted net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

While there is no guarantee, the likelihood of real action has been raised by rise of new lobbies like the Japan Climate Initiative (JCI), which, so far, includes 394 of Japan’s largest corporations. JCI has forged links with powerful leaders in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), including two who may one day become Prime Minister: Administrative Reform Minister Taro Kono and Environment Minister Shujiro Koizumi.

When CEOs from four JCI companies—SONY, Ricoh, Kao, and Nissay Asset Management—met with Kono in November, SONY chieftain Kenichiro Yoshida delivered a troubling alert, Kono told the Financial Times. Unless Japan upped its renewables-based electricity generation to 40% or more by 2030, SONY and other companies could be forced by its customers to shift much production offshore.

Apple, for example, will eliminate by 2030 suppliers who don’t use 100% renewable electricity. SONY’s facilities in Europe can meet this demand, but not those in Japan. Only 19% of Japan’s electricity now comes from renewables, and the government’s current goal for 2030 is just 24%.

The question is the degree to which companies urging rapid action can overcome resistance by a powerful axis of companies linked to fossil fuels and nuclear power, the Keidanren business federation, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI).

The JCI—which also includes environmentalists and local governments—was created in 2018 to make sure that Japan fulfilled the Paris Accord goals. This January, 92 JCI member companies—those at the meeting with Kono, as well as heavy-hitters like Nissan, Softbank, Aeon, Fujifilm, Mitsubishi Estate, NEC, Nippon Life, Seven and i, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust, and Toshiba—urged that Japan achieve 40-50% renewables by 2030.

Last summer Keizai Doyukai, a federation of executives from 1,000 leading corporations, targeted renewables at 40%. “We can reach that level of renewables by 2030 with today’s technology,” explained Mika Ohbayashi, a member of the JCI secretariat and a director of Japan’s Renewable Energy Institute (REI).

“What is needed through 2030 are policy actions, such as changing land use laws so that abandoned farmland and other areas can be used for renewables, upgrading the electrical grid, and making sure that renewables have access to it.”

Even without such policy changes, the REI calculates that current trends will cause renewables to grow from 17% of electricity generated in 2018 to 32% by 2030 if electricity demand remains the same. Policy changes could boost it further to at least 39%, and even higher with more conservation of demand. However, to hit zero emissions by 2050, policy changes alone are not enough, added Ohbayashi. “For that, we will need revolutionary technologies.”

Kono told the executives he’d push for regulatory reforms regarding both land use and grid access. Under current rules, Japan’s ten regional utilities can still give their own plants priority access to transmission lines.

This is not a new issue for Kono. In 2008, according to Wikileaks, Kono complained in private that the utilities were not letting new companies transport wind-generated electricity from Hokkaido to Honshu even on unused transmission lines.

In December, it was Koizumi’s turn to meet with JCI execs. He upped the ante, by calling on them to support carbon pricing, considered the most effective way of changing behavior by consumers and companies.

Currently, Japan has one of the lowest effective rates of carbon taxation, just $3 per ton of CO2 emissions, compared to $22 in the UK, $33 in France, and $126 in Sweden. While Ricoh is pushing for carbon pricing, few other companies are doing the same. Ohbayashi believes that, if the government introduced a carbon price mechanism, then companies would accept it.

The shift in business attitudes has shown up in the behavior of many firms. Japan’s three megabanks have been regularly providing a third of all global financing for power plants using coal, the deadliest fossil fuel. Last spring, they said they would stop financing any new coal projects, although they will continue financing existing plants, perhaps until 2050.

Trading companies like Marubeni, Itochu, Mitsubishi, and Sojitz have said they will stop investing in coal mines and new coal plants. Toshiba stopped taking orders to build new coal-fired plants. It is notable that stock prices of Japanese firms engaging in proactive emission reduction measures have outperformed those without credible plans.

Not surprisingly, JCI and others find themselves struggling with other powerful corporate forces who oppose what they call hasty moves. Within weeks of Suga’s announcement, Toyota chieftain Akio Toyoda railed against the notion that Tokyo might end sales of gasoline cars by the mid-2030s. He warned of electricity shortfalls in the summer as well as the “collapse” of the current automotive business model.

While Keidanren supports the 2050 net zero as a worthy goal, it opposes many of the measures that experts say are needed to reach that goal. For example, Suga wants to phase out coal, which now fuels 31% of electricity generation, but Keidanren insists that coal is necessary until new technologies like reliable battery storage and hydrogen fuel are ready.

“Energy security means Japan must have diverse sources of energy, including coal, at least in short term,” argued Masami Hasegawa, a director at Keidanren. Keidanren emphasizes the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) for “clean coal.”

Replacing coal-fired plants with natural gas as a bridging technology, as done elsewhere, could halve each plant’s emissions, but Hasegawa contended that storage issues would expose Japan to periodic electricity shortages if it were too reliant on LNG, as occurred briefly in January.

Keidanren also opposes a carbon tax, saying this would deprive companies of the funds needed develop indispensable revolutionary technologies, like hydrogen fuel and CCS. Unfortunately, a 2020 report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) speaks of two or three decades before these technologies become commercially feasible on a mass scale. To wait for them is a recipe for failure.

There are lots of ways to reduce emissions using today’s technologies. Steel in Japan produces about 10% of Japan’s total carbon emissions. The reason is that 80% of Japan’s crude steel output is still made in coal-fired blast furnaces, compared to 33% in the US. A stunning 35% of Japan’s houses have no insulation.

While Nissan, under Carlos Ghosn in 2010, put out the Leaf, the world’s best-selling electric vehicle (EV) until 2020, Toyota remains focused hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell cars. The latter barely sell. Akio Toyoda even asserted that, “the more EVs we build, the worse carbon dioxide gets.”

While Keidanren claims to speak for business, its approach actually contradicts the interests of the majority of Japanese companies, according to a 2020 report by InfluenceMap. Among the top 100 companies on the stock market, says the report, 61% would prefer to buy renewable-based electricity if enough were available.

InfluenceMap report asserts that just a few sectors tied to fossil fuels and nuclear energy dominate Keidanren policymaking, and firms from those sectors are the ones chosen to serve on METI’s advisory councils on energy. Hasegawa called InfluenceMap’s report inaccurate, saying that Keidanren’s Chair and 17 Vice Chairs are “well-balanced” among different sectors.

When asked why so many of these men were from companies that made coal plants, invested in coal mines, or financed coal projects, he replied that these firms also invested in renewables.

As for METI, consider its “green growth” agenda released two months after Suga’s speech. Without naming a goal for 2030, it set a 2050 goal of 60% renewables and for the remaining 40% to be generated from nuclear power, coal with CCS, and hydrogen.

While many experts, including the IEA, see restarting the closed nuclear power plants as necessary to reach net zero, nuclear has become unacceptable to voters due to the 2011 Fukushima disaster, an avoidable calamity caused by mismanagement by the TEPCO utility and poor oversight by METI. When METI speaks of eliminating gasoline-fueled cars by the mid-2030s, it includes hybrids as non-gasoline vehicles.

It calls for reducing Japan’s carbon emissions from 1.2 billion tons in 2019 to 930 million tons by 2030, the same disappointing goal set in 2018. By contrast, says REI, Japan must reduce emissions to 650 million tons by 2030 if it wants to reach net zero by 2050.

Suga’s own skills are critical to pushing METI to do better. When Suga was Shinzo Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, he engineered changes that gave the Prime Minister unprecedented leverage over elite bureaucrats, including the power to approve as well as fire the top 600 officials.

The notion of pledging net zero by 2050 was originally intended to be announced by Abe in response to the expected election of Joseph Biden, but Abe resigned for health reasons. Unfortunately, Abe often announced lofty goals with little strategy to achieve them.

Suga is more decisive on economic issues but he suffers a very poor approval rating. Can he impose his policies on resistant bureaucrats if the latter think he may have to step down by autumn? One signal will be whether the companies advising METI on the new Strategic Energy Plan due in June include more like those in the JCI.

There’s nothing new about corporate resistance to aggressive action on climate change. What is new is strong business lobbying on behalf of robust measures. The balance of power between the two factions will be pivotal in whether announced goals lead to effective actions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Japan’s Values Diplomacy Runs Aground in Myanmar

Japan’s rivalry with China reinforces Tokyo’s inclination to avert its eyes from human rights abuses, electoral fraud, corruption and suppression of fundamental freedoms. Tokyo is not opposed to liberal democracy but also not prepared to risk anything to support it.

By Jeff KingstonFORSEA – or Forces of Renewal for Southeast Asia, February 23, 2021

Director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan and APP member. He is author and editor of a dozen books, including Press Freedom in Japan (Routledge 2017), Japan’s Foreign Relations (2018), Japan (Polity 2019), Press Freedom in Asia (Routledge 2019) and the Politics of Religion, Nationalism and Identity in Asia (Rowman & Littlefield 2019).

The Myanmar military’s unconstitutional coup d’etat to derail democracy, and subsequent killing of peaceful pro-democracy protestors, is awkward for Japan’s so-called values diplomacy. Aside from some mild diplomatic handwringing, Tokyo has confirmed that promoting values is not a priority in Myanmar and that it is not willing to sacrifice anything to protect or promote them. Across Asia, the Japanese government has no qualms in working with whoever is in power, raising questions about whether there is any substance to its values diplomacy or if it’s merely a branding strategy. Large protests in Tokyo by Myanmarese residents seek to pressure Tokyo to side with their nation’s democratic aspirations, but the Japanese government is signaling that it will work with the junta.

Tokyo managed to get President Trump to back PM Abe’s vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) and participate in the Quad security component involving Australia, India, the US and Japan. Ostensibly, FOIP is a values-driven strategic concept aimed at containing China’s expanding regional influence. The conceit is that values matter and that by promoting democracy, freedom and human rights, FOIP stands in stark contrast to what China offers. PM Suga and President Biden have reaffirmed their support for FOIP and the Quad. Does this matter? In the case of Myanmar, not if one narrowly focuses on democracy, freedom and human rights.

On the eve of the coup, Watanabe Hideo, chairman of the Japan-Myanmar Association, visited Aung San Suu Kyi and coup leader Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing to discuss boosting Japanese investments there. Watanabe has long been the chief fixer for economic relations and has a long track record of working closely with the military. He and many in Japan are more concerned about China’s soaring influence in Myanmar and are eager to counter that through expanded economic relations. For the new junta and Tokyo, he is a key back channel for communications, but there are no signs that he promoted the democratic transition or supports efforts to reverse democratic backsliding in Myanmar. The Japanese business community sees Myanmar as the region’s most promising frontier and are there to make money regardless of the political situation.

Miyake Kuni, a foreign policy advisor to PM Suga, opposes sanctions and pressure, instead advocating persuasion. He argues that, “a simple resumption of a ‘big stick’ policy vis-a-vis Myanmar would only push the Tatmadaw back to the dark side.” Back to the dark side?! Given the scale of protests against the military coup, it’s safe to say that for the people of Myanmar the military is the dark side and the greatest threat to democracy, the rule of law and public security. Miyake wrote in the Japan Times (Feb. 4, 2021), “What is needed is a subtle and mature supervision of concerted efforts by the international community to resume talking to and eventually persuade the leaders of the Tatmadaw to change their mind.”  And how is that going to happen? The same way that Japan has maturely and subtly persuaded the Thai military to mend its ways? Or subtly used the ‘little stick’ of dialogue to nudge Cambodia’s Hun Sen towards free and fair elections?

According to Stanford University’s Daniel Sneider, a veteran Asia-hand, the Biden Administration rejects such vacuous sophistry. Writing in Tokyo Business Today (Feb 18, 2021), Sneider describes early frustrations in the Biden Administration with Japan’s opposition to sanctions and pressure on the military. Apparently, Tokyo has not been very persuasive in convincing the US to join it in abandoning democracy in Myanmar under the pretext of respecting Asian values.

Tokyo downplays human rights and democratic values in favor of maintaining trade ties and securing geo-strategic advantage. It is thus a values-free diplomacy of pragmatism and expediency, dealing with regional governments as they are, not as one might wish them to be. Japan is certainly not unique in this regard, but Abe and Suga invite scrutiny of the government’s record due to their sustained grandstanding on promoting values.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) pursues a regime-compatible approach to development assistance and thus does not intervene to promote democracy, bypasses civil society and prioritizes smooth relations with recipient nations. From 2007-2016 Japan ranked 26 out of 29 donor nations in terms of its overall aid to democratization-related programs.

JICA official Shiga Hiroaki explains that, “JICA does not support democracy promotion due to an entrenched belief among officials that development aid should be apolitical.”  Japan emphasizes long-term capacity building of state institutions rather than strict adherence to the values and principles of democratic governance. He added, “For the Japanese people, the most important value is harmony, i.e. to keep harmony among community members. Freedom is also an important value but probably after harmony.” But harmony according to who?

One suspects that pro-democracy protestors in Myanmar also seek harmony, one that is based on the military respecting the NLD’s landslide victory and the constitution.

Aid without conditions is welcome by recipients, whether from China or Japan, but this means it is not being used to promote democratization or human rights. The nostrums of shared values are thus invoked by Japan like background music to establish an appealing identity and to provide useful political cover for expanding security ties with other regional governments. The main goal of brandishing democratic commonalities is not about spreading or supporting universal values but rather is to facilitate a shift in Japan’s security policies and shrug off constitutional constraints under the banner of Abe’s “proactive pacifism”.

Japanese experts confide that the impact of, “China’s foreign aid resembles that of Japan, as both emphasize noninterference and noninterventionist principles.” Containing China is more important to Japan’s leaders than expanding or defending democracy in Asia, and thus it refrains from actions that would jeopardize relations with authoritarian or illiberal governments. The crux of the problem is that Tokyo believes that its relations with undemocratic nations might be undermined to the extent that Japan insists that they embrace such values because China offers unconditional support. Thus, Japan’s rivalry with China reinforces Tokyo’s inclination to avert its eyes from human rights abuses, electoral fraud, corruption and suppression of fundamental freedoms. Tokyo is not opposed to liberal democracy but also not prepared to risk anything to support it.

Japanese politicians brandish values principally to align Japan with the US and other regional democracies. Tokyo has expanded security ties with the US, Australia and India, the so-called Quad, as part of its balance of power strategy to contain China, but position this as part of a broader agenda of advancing shared values under the banner of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. The Japanese public has been wary of PM Abe’s agenda of boosting security alliances and easing constitutional constraints on Japan’s armed forces so emphasizing the shared values of a concert of democracies has provided useful political cover.

Even among the ruling elite, there is unhappiness with the government’s hypocrisy. In mid-2020 LDP conservatives condemned Abe’s ‘weak-kneed’ response to China’s curtailing of Hong Kong’s autonomy and crackdown on pro-democracy activists. As in the cases of Tibet and the jailing of over one million Uighurs, Abe didn’t champion the values he preached.  In response to democratic backsliding across Asia, Abe and Suga have remained silent and they have cozied up to human rights suppressing strongmen like Rodrigo Duterte, Hun Sen and Narendra Modi. One wonders what values Japan’s ambassador to Myanmar was promoting as a leading apologist for the military’s expulsions of ethnic Rohingya? That effort should stand Japan in good stead with the new junta, but one has to be incredibly naïve to imagine that Tokyo can persuade Tatmadaw to change its mind. Like Tokyo, the junta is hoping to resume business as usual, but popular discontent and civil disobedience render this wishful thinking. The genie of democracy is out of the bottle.