Sunday, November 29, 2020

Asia Monday Events, November 30, 2020

ROLE OF COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE FOR OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE (CJT-OIR) IN COUNTERING ISIS. 
10:30-11:3am (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Middle East Institute (MEI). Speaker: Major General Kevin Copsey, the Deputy Commander of Strategy for the Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve (CJT-OIR).

HUMAN SECURITY AND AGENCY: REFRAMING PRODUCTIVE POWER IN AFGHANISTAN. 11:00-Noon (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs. Speakers: Nilofar Sakhi, Professorial Lecturer of International Affairs at George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, Director of Policy and Diplomacy at McColm & Company; Benjamin D. Hopkins, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.

THE LEGITIMACY OF INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS. 12:30–2:00pm (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Johns Hopkins, SAIS. Speakers: Jonas Tallberg, Stockholm University, Sweden; Nina Hall, Assistant Professor of International Relations, Johns Hopkins University.

THE ORIGIN AND FUTURE OF THE CHINA CHALLENGE: A CONVERSATION WITH PETER BERKOWITZ. 3:00-4:00pm (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Hudson. Speakers: Peter Berkowitz, Director of Policy Planning at U.S. State Department; Tod Lindberg, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute.

WHAT REMAINS: BRINGING AMERICA’S MISSING HOME FROM THE VIETNAM WAR.  4:00-5:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: History and Public Policy Program, Wilson Center. Speaker: author Sarah Wagner, Associate Professor of Anthropology, GWU. Moderator: Christian F. Ostermann, Director, History and Public Policy Program Wilson Center. PURCHASE BOOK: https://amzn.to/2Tbh87T

ALLIED POWS IN COLONIAL KOREA. 6:00-7:30pm (GMT) 1:00PM (EST), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: University of Cambridge. Speaker: author Sarah Kovner, Senior Research Scholar, Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University, Fellow in International Security Studies, Yale University, Associate Professor of History, University of Florida. PURCHASE BOOK: https://amzn.to/3821nsN

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Biden's Japan History Relationship


Why Biden Will Embrace The American Alliances in Northeast Asia

By Daniel Sneider, Stanford University and APP member

First appeared in Tokyo Business Today, November 23, 2020

In the halls of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry, it is popular to express anxiety about the future of relations with the U.S. under a new Biden administration. Fed by the conservative media in Japan, officials and ruling party politicians revive familiar claims that Democrats are ‘anti-Japan’ and ‘pro-China,’ or even worse, ‘pro-Korea.’ Some see evidence of this in the RUMORED appointment of Susan Rice as Secretary of State, while others point to former President Barack Obama’s cool relations with then Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

Interviews with former senior Obama administration officials from the State and Defense departments, as well as current Biden advisors, most of whom preferred to speak on a background basis due to the sensitivity of the transition, paint a very different picture. President-elect Biden will bring to the White House not only his experience as Obama’s Vice President for eight years, but even more importantly, 36 years in the U.S. Senate, where he twice chaired the Foreign Relations Committee. Biden is a consummate politician, sensitive to the limits on foreign policy imposed by domestic politics but also confident in his ability to use personal relationships to shape foreign relations.

The Vice President draws upon his own experience of personal tragedy – the death of his first wife and daughter, and later of his son Beau – and his sense of history, derived in part from his Irish heritage. He brings to foreign policy “a sense of Greek tragedy but also of the importance of individual destiny,” says a senior Democratic party Congressional aide. “He believes in personal diplomacy, in a way that Obama did not and that Donald Trump never did for reasons of lack of empathy.”

Based on his experience in the Senate, and as Vice President, the Congressional aide describes him as “fluent in Asian style diplomacy.” Biden, he adds, “is a true believer in alliances. That is a deep fiber of his being.” For the incoming administration, alliances are central to their major goals – crushing the pandemic, tackling climate change, and restoring economic growth.

Biden’s views on the centrality of alliances were shaped by the Cold War and his early focus on the Soviet Union and on the role of the NATO alliance. Though he was placed on the Foreign Relations Committee by Senator Mike Mansfield, who later served as Ambassador to Japan, Biden has mostly been a Western Europe centered politician. When it comes to Asia, however, Biden has been influenced by longtime aides who see Japan as the most important U.S. partner.

Biden in action – the Asia swing of 2013

Biden’s trip to Japan, China and South Korea in December 2013 offers a unique window onto his views. The Obama administration was looking to deepen its ‘pivot’ toward Asia and, as a key part of that strategy, conclude negotiations to form the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Hopes for a close partnership with China were fading as the Chinese flexed their military muscles in the East and South China Seas. Meanwhile, North Korea conducted it third nuclear test in February, along with numerous missile tests.

The U.S. was eager to bring Japan and South Korea into closer security cooperation, tightening trilateral coordination as a counter to China. There was growing concern about South Korea drifting into the orbit of China, propelled partly by the election of conservative President Park Geun-Hye who was eager to improve ties with Beijing.

Park was deeply uneasy with Abe, who had come to power in December 2012. The conservative Japanese leader had signaled his intention to roll back previous Japanese government statements on wartime history, particularly the Kono statement on Comfort Women and the Murayama statement on the war issued in 1995. By the fall of 2013, relations were almost entirely frozen.

In November, China announced the establishment of an “East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone,” covering most of the airspace of the sea, including territory administered by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. China’s provocative move was at the top of Biden’s agenda when he arrived in Tokyo on December 2, making the need for trilateral security cooperation even more urgent.

“We believe that Northeast Asia will be strongest when its two leading democracies work together to meet common threats, and when the three of us – the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea – work together to advance common interests and values,” Biden told the Asahi ahead of his trip.

Privately, Biden pressed Abe on the need to reach out to Park and hold a summit to break through on relations. He left that meeting convinced that Abe was ready to meet.

His decision to get engaged in this effort was made against the recommendation of his advisors, according to a former senior State Department official who was based in the region.

“We wanted the Japanese and Koreans to do a better job of getting along,” the official told me, “but we didn’t recommend that Vice President Biden jumps into that issue.” American officials were pleased with Abe’s stance on alliance issues, particularly the TPP. “But the one low mark he was getting from the U.S. was on history issues,” the official explained. Still, American diplomats were wary of getting in the middle of history issues, fearful that it would only anger both sides. “But Biden was a confident American politician,” said the official, believing that his personality “might make a difference.”

Biden went next to China and spent some five hours in talks with Xi and other Chinese leaders, pushing back on the ADIZ declaration and pressing the Chinese to improve ties with Japan and South Korea. They also spent considerable time talking about North Korea, with Biden hoping to win Chinese help to bring Pyongyang back to the bargaining table.

The last stop was Seoul, on December 6-7, where Biden and Park had a somewhat difficult conversation. They spent a lot of time talking about defense cost-sharing with Biden pressing the Koreans to do more. Biden told Park that Abe was ready to meet, putting pressure on her to agree to a summit.

“There is a growing frustration in Washington without assigning blame to Park,” a senior American diplomat told me and a small group of Stanford visitors two days after Biden left Korea. “We may get historical issues, but we still think these countries should get along.”

When I and my Stanford colleagues met Park, the Korean leader was visibly upset about the squeeze being put on her by Biden. The Koreans clearly felt the Americans had misread Japanese intentions. She took office prepared for cooperation with Japan, Park told us, but Japanese officials, including deputy Premier Aso Taro and Abe made statements that either ignored or sought to revise the previous Japanese positions on history issues.

“I am not closing the door to a meeting and dialogue is important,” Park said. “But it is important that for a summit to be successful, Japan should not be glossing over these issues.” It would be worse, she continued, if Abe were to emerge from a meeting and make controversial statements about the past or even visit the Yasukuni shrine to the war dead. Park spoke passionately about the problem of the surviving Comfort Women. “They will not live much longer,” Park told us. “This issue involves more than just these women. It involves the human rights of women in wartime. We cannot afford to see Japan deny responsibility for such a grave issue.”

Park insisted that a summit had to be based on a firm commitment from the Japanese government to confirm the validity of the Murayama and Kono statements and refrain from any provocative actions. It was a message, U.S. Embassy officials told us, she had conveyed very clearly to Biden.

Evan Medeiros, the NSC official and Asia expert who accompanied Biden on this trip, insisted that the Vice President “didn’t try to mediate between Japan and Korea,” as he put it to me. “He raised issues about history with both Park and Abe and encouraged both to be flexible and reasonable.”

The Yasukuni crisis

Some days later, Biden held a long phone call with Abe, briefing him on his trip and his discussion with Park. He had pressed Park to meet, Biden told Abe, but she was worried about what might happen afterwards. Abe did not make any firm commitments in the call, but U.S. officials, and Biden himself, were left with the clear impression that Abe would not visit Yasukuni shrine or take other actions that might undermine the attempt to hold a summit.

Biden’s efforts came crashing down when, to the surprise of the Americans, Abe visited Yasukuni shrine on December 26. “Biden inserted himself and it didn’t work,” the former senior State Department official told me.

When the news hit Washington, it was Christmas day and the White House, with Biden’s involvement, authorized the Embassy to issue an unusual statement expressing “disappointment” (失望)with Abe. “What Abe said and what Biden heard might have been different things,” the former official admitted. “I think the entire U.S. government was pissed off at Abe. Japanese were shocked and were really worried. And that was the intended impact.”

Despite that moment, however, Biden did not come away with any grudges, the senior official told me. Instead, Biden, with the President himself now engaged, pressed ahead. In March 2014, Obama hosted Park and Abe at a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in the Hague, trying to use North Korea as a way to bring them together. In April, Obama visited both Japan and South Korea and took his own stab at addressing the history issues, carefully avoiding them in his public statements in Tokyo while openly acknowledging the pain of the past in Korea.

The next year, Abe and Park made separate visits to Washington. Abe tried to meet American concerns by toning down his statement on the 70th anniversary of the war. When Park visited in the summer, Biden had a long lunch with her at the Vice President’s residence. He talked about Ireland and why history matters.

“Biden clearly understands the history issues,” a former senior Obama official who was directly involved in these talks told me. “What makes him unique is that he understands them from a policy standpoint but he also gets it as a politician. It is a political issue and it takes somebody at the leader level to understand the contours of this. It is not pressuring. It is understanding that it is important to the United States.”

The meeting had an impact, the former official believes. “There was some Biden magic,” he said. Park left that meeting and delivered a speech where she declared she was ready to meet Abe. The two leaders finally got together in November, on the sidelines of a trilateral summit with China, leading to a breakthrough in the long-stalled talks on a Comfort Women agreement, finally announced that December.

Biden and Suga – a match?

Today, we are at a similar moment. The incoming Biden administration will have to forge a new approach to China, but its priority will first be to strengthen alliances. Once again, the tensions between Japan and Korea stand in the way. But Abe is gone and the Koreans are apparently seeking a way out of the history impasse.

Does that mean Biden will personally get involved? Most Biden advisors believe he will empower others to act – probably Tony Blinken, likely to be Secretary of State. During the Obama administration, Blinken forged a vice-ministerial level trilateral coordination dialogue with Japan and Korea.

Personal diplomacy is likely to be essential, say Biden advisors. “Suga has a great personality for dealing with Biden,” says a former U.S. official who met him regularly. “In private, he has a good sense of humor, he can be garrulous, sharp and tough. He has a good chance of having a decent relationship with Biden.”

Biden advisors dismiss Japanese concerns about a ‘pro-China’ approach, or the role of Susan Rice. “I don’t think this matters,” one senior advisor told me. Whether the bureaucrats of Kasumigaseki believe that is another matter.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Asia Monday and Tuesday Events, Thanksgiving Week

This is a holiday week in Washington. But it will be a busy one of self-promotion and disappointment. Below are events taking place Monday and Tuesday.

REBUILDING THE GLOBAL ECONOMY: ROLE OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM. 11/23, 9:00am (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: PIIE. Speakers: Stanley Fischer, Federal Reserve Chair; Anna Gelpern, Federal Reserve Vice Chair for Supervision; David Wilcox, Federal Reserve Vice Chair for Economic and Monetary Affairs.

ACCORDING TO SHAKESPEARE, “EVERY CLOUD ENGENDERS NOT A STORM.” 11/23, 10:30am-Noon (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsors: World Wide Web Foundation; Internet Society; Digital Trade and Data Governance Hub; George Washington University. Speakers: Trey Herr, Director, Cyber Statecraft Initiative, Atlantic Council; Josephine Wolff, Assistant Professor, Cybersecurity Policy, Tufts University; Chelsea J. Smethurst, Senior Security Strategy, Cybersecurity Strategy, Microsoft. Moderator: Costis Toregas, Director, Cyber Security and Privacy Research Institute, George Washington.

TRADE POLICY DISCUSSION WITH CONGRESSMAN JIMMY PANETTA (D-CA). 11/23, 2:00-2:45pm (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Washington International Trade Association. Speaker: Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Member, House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee.

A CONVERSATION WITH AFSOC COMMANDER LT. GEN. JIM SLIFE. 11/23, 2:30-3:30pm (EST), event recorded on 11/18, ONLINE EVENT. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Lieutenant General James C. "Jim" Slife, Commander, Air Force Special Operations Command. Moderator: Seth G. Jones, Harold Brown Chair; Director, Transnational Threats Project; and Senior Adviser, International Security Program. 

RULING THE SAVAGE PERIPHERY: FRONTIER GOVERNANCE AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN STATE. 11/23, 4:00–5:30pm (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsors: History and Public Policy Program, Wilson Center; Asia Program, Wilson Center. Speakers: Author, Benjamin Hopkins, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs, GWU; Elisabeth Leake, Associate Professor of International History, University of Leeds; Benjamin H. Johnson, Professor, History Department and School of Environmental Sustainability, Loyola University Chicago. Moderators: Christian F. Ostermann, Director, History and Public Policy Program, Wilson Center; Eric Arnesen, Professor of History, GWU. PURCHASE BOOK

WHAT AWAITS THE U.S.-JAPAN ALLIANCE UNDER NEW LEADERSHIP? 11/24, 8:00-9:00am (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Stimson Center. Speaker: Hon. Nobukatsu Kanehara, Former Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary. 

BIG TECH COMPANIES IN CHINESE FINANCE. 11/24, 8:30-9:30am (EST), VIRTUAL EVENT. Sponsor: PIIE. Speakers: Huang Yiping, Professor of Economics, National School of Development at Peking University; Martin Chorzempa, PIIE Research Fellow. Moderator: Nicolas Véron, Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE).

SOUTH KOREA AND THE UNITED STATES, FUTURE AND VISION OF THE ALLIANCE. 11/24, 9:00-10:30am (EST), ONLINE SEMINAR. Sponsor: East Asia Institute. Speakers: Patrick M. Cronin, Asia-Pacific Security Chair, Hudson Institute; Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow, Korea Studies, Director of Program on US-Korea Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Sang Hyun Lee, Senior Research Fellow, Sejong Institute. Moderator: Chaesung Chun, Chair, National Security Research Center, EAI, Professor, Seoul University. 

THE BIDEN PRESIDENCY AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICA’S ‘FOREVER WARS’. 11/24, 1:00-2:15pm (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsors: Brookings Institution and Charles Koch Institute. Speakers: Madiha Afzal, David M. Rubenstein Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy; Vanda Felbab-Brown, Director of Initiative on Nonstate Armed Actors, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology; Christopher Preble, Co-Director, New American Engagement Initiative, Atlantic Council; Justin Logan, Director of Programs and Research Fellow, Center for the Study of Statesmanship, Catholic University of America. Moderator: Michael E. O’Hanlon, Director of Research, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology. 

"ONE COUNTRY, TWO SYSTEMS” IN HONG KONG IS DEAD: DEBATE. 11/24, 9:00-10:15am (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Regina Ip, Legislator and Member of Hong Kong’s Executive Council; Daniel Russel, Vice President, International Security and Diplomacy, Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI). 

ADVANCING US-VIETNAM COOPERATION IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA. 11/24, 10:00pm (EST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Pacific Forum. Speakers: Trang Pham Ngoc Minh, Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City; Alexander Vuving, Professor, Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. 

RELIGION AND NATIONALISM: CHINA. 11/24, 3:00-4:00pm (EST), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Georgetown University's Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues and its Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Speaker: Mayfair Yang, professor of religious studies and East Asian languages and cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

THE 2020 INNER MONGOLIA LANGUAGE PROTESTS: WIDER MEANINGS FOR CHINA AND THE REGION. 11/24, 3:00-4.00pm (GMT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Chatham House. Speakers: Christopher P. Atwood, Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania; Eva Pils, Professor of Law, The Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London; Uradyn E. Bulag, Reader in Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge; Kerry Brown, Associate Fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Japan welcomes end of Trump era


But has its doubts over Joe Biden-led US

By Jeff Kingston, Temple University Japan, APP Member

First appeared in South China Morning Post, Nov 18,2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s administration has a lot to prove but inherits a relatively strong US-Japan relationship. He will also find Japan is ready to move beyond US President Donald Trump’s “America first” transactional approach to diplomacy. One can imagine Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s quiet fist pump when he learned of Trump’s defeat.

Tokyo hopes Biden will revive US multilateral engagement and provide greater coherence in Washington’s diplomacy but fears Biden might be soft on China. Following his congratulatory conversation with Biden, Suga sought to dampen such doubts by singling out his reassurance that the US-Japan mutual security treaty covers the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

Even so, scepticism lingers that Biden will seek rapprochement with China to the detriment of Japan, a concern former president Bill Clinton ignited a quarter-century ago when he visited China and bypassed Japan.

This underscores how symbolism matters in diplomacy and has implications for Biden’s choice of the next ambassador. Japan favours candidates who have strong political connections to the White House and know little about the nation because they are easier to manage.

Biden can send a different message, though. The United States has had a Chinese-American ambassador to China in Gary Locke, a Korean-American ambassador to South Korea in Sung Kim and an Indian-American ambassador to India in Rich Verma but so far no Japanese-American ambassador to Japan.

It is time to rectify this situation and Glen Fukushima, fluent in Japanese with extensive Japan-related public and private sector experience, is eminently qualified.

Trump shredded the US image with his browbeating of allies and fawning over despots, an improvised diplomacy of blunders and disrespect. Former prime minister Shinzo Abe nurtured a relatively good personal relationship with Trump, but on matters of importance, that goodwill did not seem to have much impact on the president’s actions.

For example, Trump ran roughshod over Japan by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, put sanctions on Japanese exports to the US, instigated a trade war with China that inflicted collateral damage on Japan and threatened to defund the World Health Organisation amid a global pandemic.

He did all this while repudiating multilateralism overall, the mainstay of Tokyo’s diplomacy.

He also played hardball on Japan’s financial support for hosting US military bases, calling for quadrupling the annual subsidy to US$8 billion.

Tokyo slow-walked those negotiations, probably hoping US voters would solve that problem. Biden will probably not take such a hard line but is also unlikely to offer Okinawans a reprieve from the controversial Henoko base construction project they rejected in a 2019 referendum.

To some extent, the Japanese government favoured Trump, mostly because he took a hard line with China and explicitly promised the US would militarily defend the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. This went beyond his predecessors’ reassurances that the US would respond according to Article 5 of the security treaty, which does not actually spell out how America would respond.

Trump also earned kudos for raising the abductee issue with Kim Jong-un, but Tokyo worried that his grandstanding diplomacy might lead to a deal on intercontinental ballistic missiles that left some of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal intact. Like many of his gambits, though, fanfare did not produce results.

Much has changed in the US since the Obama-Biden first term when there was an emphasis on engaging China and treating it as a strategic partner.

In 2012, then-president Barack Obama soured on engagement and announced the pivot to Asia, although not much happened in reality. Relations further soured under Trump, and some are convinced the US and China are locked into a cold-war rivalry.

While this might be a misleading comparison, it is clear Beijing’s regional ambitions are seen as threats to an Asian Pax Americana.

A war is being waged on trade, intellectual property and tech, and containing China is one of the few issues receiving bipartisan support in the US. Even if Biden knows there are benefits to hitting the reset button on Sino-US relations, this is virtually impossible.

Statements on the campaign trail are often not a reliable barometer, but Biden denounced President Xi Jinping, lambasted Beijing’s massive lock-up of Uygurs as genocidal and pledged to uphold support for democracy in Hong Kong. This is not exactly music to the Communist Party’s ears.

Biden appears to support the “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision championed by Japan but is less inclined than the Trump administration to nudge the Quad security grouping towards a Nato-like institutionalisation. On trade, he might end Trump’s counterproductive tariffs, but tensions will persist.

After Trump pulled out of the TPP, Abe revived the multilateral pact now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The US is unlikely to join that or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, where China is the dominant player.

Japanese leaders have misgivings about Biden over trade as they believe Democrats pander to organised labour. They hope Biden will re-engage in Asia’s multilateral processes and revive its battered networks of influence, but the deep hole Trump dug at home will necessitate an inward focus that cautions against hopes of strong and sustained US leadership.

Tokyo wants Uncle Sam engaged as much as possible but worries the US is a declining power. It is thus hedging by expanding its regional security relations and boosting its autonomous capacity as a counter to China’s regional hegemonic ambitions.

Japan’s quiet rearmament


Shinzō Abe failed to overhaul Japan's pacifist constitution but the country will continue build its military might

by Jeff Kingston, Temple University Japan, APP member

Originally published in Prospect November 11, 2020 

In August, just four days after setting a record for the longest uninterrupted run as Japanese prime minister, Shinzō Abe announced that he would be resigning due to ill health. The 65-year-old had first been premier back in 2006, and had cut an instantly recognisable figure on the world stage—not only because of his distinctive quiffed hair, but also because of his approach to Japan’s wartime legacy. (Abe had visited controversial war memorials that honoured war criminals, and quibbled in Japan’s parliament, the Diet, about how much coercion was used to recruit the “comfort women” who were forced into wartime military brothels.) His more recent spell in office had begun in 2012, and he now signalled it was time to step aside, saying he didn’t want his worsening ulcerative colitis to interfere with his decision-making.

As well as giving Japan a level of stability at the top that it had not seen in years, Abe oversaw Japan’s recovery from the devastating earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. His bold, multi-pronged “Abenomics” strategy promised to inject some life into the chronically anaemic Japanese economy; most experts were sceptical about its effectiveness even before Covid-19 struck. For a long time he enjoyed public standing as a man of action. Yet the once-popular leader had more recently dropped in the polls. He exited under a cascade of sordid revelations—cronyism scandals, cover-up allegations and close links with politicians indicted for bribery—which leave a tarnished legacy. For the man himself, however, there is little doubt what his biggest disappointment is: the failure to revise the pacifist Article 9 of his country’s constitution.

Written in 1947, under the supervision of the occupying Americans after the Second World War, Abe and other conservatives argue that Article 9 hampers Tokyo’s capacity to respond to the 21st-century challenges in its region, such as China’s hegemonic ambitions and North Korea’s nuclear weapons. In practice, Japanese governments—and the Abe government in particular—have circumvented the restrictions, but the deeper issue is more about identity: revising Article 9 was central to Abe’s ambitions to restore Japanese autonomy, pride and power. For those who regret the world’s turn towards nationalism and militarism in recent years, the collapse of the project might from a distance appear to offer a case study in hope. But does it really?

A family affair

Fundamental questions about Japan’s place in the world can be traced deep into the nation’s past. Between the early 17th and the mid-19th century, the country closed its doors under the policy of “Sakoku,” locking out most trade, diplomacy and other forms of international engagement, which ended only when US Commodore Matthew Perry forced his way in with a convoy of warships in the 1850s. At the turn of the 20th century, tentative democratisation and internationalism appeared to be advancing hand-in-hand, but the western-dominated world order remained profoundly racist towards Japan, and the effects of this—especially when compounded by the Great Depression—catapulted militarists into power. They shunted civilian politicians aside, moved first into Manchuria and then eventually into a wider war that aimed at the control of all China and subjugation of much of Asia and beyond, plunging Japan and the entire region into catastrophe.

The deep faultline over contested memories of the Second World War is the real starting point for today’s debate over Article 9. Liberals believe Japan’s wartime aggression was a tragic mistake, and they regard Article 9 as a guard against any resurgence of ruinous militarism, a reassuring talisman of the modern nation’s pacifist character. Conservatives like Abe want to rehabilitate this controversial history to allow contemporary Japan to become more assertive internationally.

The argument is both about symbolism and substance. The constitution’s practical strictures were sidestepped as long ago as 1954, with the establishment of the Ground Self-Defence Forces (GSDF)—to all intents and purposes an army, albeit one that operates with restraints. But that doesn’t detract from the intensity of pacifist sentiments. Indeed, it is precisely because the Article is so symbolic that it is—on both sides—a question of political identity.

For Abe, it was also about personal identity. Growing up in a powerful political family, he entered the Diet in 1993 two years after his father, a former foreign minister, had left. A couple of decades before, Abe’s great-uncle Eisaku Satō—who was, until the grand-nephew broke the record, Japan’s previous longest-serving PM—had successfully haggled with Richard Nixon to return administrative control of Okinawa prefecture, which since the Second World War had been commandeered by the US for military purposes. An even more significant influence, perhaps, was his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who was also prime minister from 1957-60: as a wartime cabinet minister, he was heavily implicated in war crimes but never prosecuted.

“Under Abe, wartime history was literally rewritten in textbooks”

Abe treated the rewriting of wartime history as one aspect of unfinished family business. On his watch, school textbook accounts of forced labour, chemical and biological warfare, and the “comfort women” system have been toned down, pruned or removed, while in public discourse fellow revisionists artfully depict Japan’s 1931-45 rampage as a defensive war to liberate Asia from western colonialism. But the constitution was another aspect which rankled Abe even more. In office, grandfather Kishi resorted to literal strong-arm tactics in 1960 (having opposition politicians carried out of the Diet before holding a vote) in order to revise and extend the 1951 US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. The process sparked mass demonstrations, and Kishi was ousted before he could realise his ambition to revise the constitution.

But that was 60 years ago. Kishi was operating in a nation still emerging from the immediate trauma of war, as well as the lingering shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The opportunities for his grandson to overturn the pacifist settlement, bolstered by fading memories, heightened regional threats and a less reliable ally courtesy of President Donald Trump should have been incomparably greater.

His biggest chance came in 2017, when his (traditionally dominant, if arguably misnamed) Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory that gave it, along with its coalition partners, two-thirds of the seats in both houses of the Diet. Here at last was the supermajority needed to push through a constitutional revision. But Abe had been too aggressive in his oft-stated desire to revise Article 9: polls recorded strong misgivings even among those who support that change about it happening on his watch. On top of this, his coalition partner, the Buddhist-affiliated Komeito, opposed any significant watering down of Article 9. Abe responded by incrementally whittling down his proposed amendments of the Article to a mere tweaking of the phrasing, adding a sentence recognising the nation’s military. But even this faced stubborn resistance. For most voters, more concerned about stagnant wages, rising taxes and a gathering recession, it looked like a distraction. Within Japan, there were never enough people who shared Abe’s fixation to overcome those who considered it an irrelevance or a bad idea.

After Abe formally stepped down on 16th September, his chief cabinet secretary Suga Yoshihide took over as prime minister, and is expected to remain in post until Abe’s term ends in September next year. In his former post, Suga was immensely powerful, combining the roles of chief of staff, government spokesman and party whip, acting as Abe’s pit bull in dealing with media critics and ensuring cabinet ministers stayed on message. Without Abe’s backstory and obsession, Suga is—like leaders around the world—currently more preoccupied with coronavirus and its economic fallout, which leaves constitutional reforms on the back-burner. Thus, Abe’s mission to revise the constitution has effectively been abandoned, but anxieties about North Korea, China and the US alliance persist. The country will now have to navigate them without having answered the question that underlay the whole constitutional argument: what is Japan’s place in the world?

Decades of double-think

Back in 1947, Washington wrote Article 9 into the constitution with a view to keeping a defeated and occupied foe at heel. But very soon, the US came to regret it—starting with the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. Japan’s prolonged colonial rule in Korea from 1910-45 meant that many veterans and officials had first-hand experience and knowledge that could have made it a useful partner. When the US demanded it rearm, Tokyo brandished Article 9 and shrewdly concentrated on industrial redevelopment. But it gradually began the manoeuvres that would make a fiction of the pacifist clause, establishing a relatively small, lightly-armed National Police Reserve in 1950, with 75,000 members; expanded to 110,000 men and renamed the National Safety Force in 1952; and then reconstituted and rebranded again as the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) in 1954. Since then, under US pressure, Japan has gradually expanded its military capabilities while sidestepping constitutional constraints.

This strange situation—the existence of a powerful military which is theoretically banned by the constitution—clouds the Article 9 debate with cognitive dissonance. Japan now has a quarter of a million troops in uniform and, aside from the US 7th Fleet, the most advanced navy in Asia. On top of this, it has a large modern air force and an annual defence budget of about $50bn, which is similar to the UK and puts it in the top 10 nations for security expenditures.

Tokyo justifies this anomalous situation—while pleading compliance with its own constitution—through its membership of the United Nations, because the UN Charter gives every nation the right to self-defence. Abe stressed the absurdity of such sophistry to advance his demands to amend the constitution to reflect 21st-century realities and threats. Over the years numerous lawsuits against the article have been filed by citizens of very different leanings from Abe that have challenged the constitutionality of the SDF, notching up some victories along the way. But in the end, the Supreme Court has largely sided with the government’s interpretation. At the highest level, the country seems to have decided to have it both ways.

If this double-think has proved strangely durable domestically, there have been moments when it has looked like it could come unstuck diplomatically. During the first Gulf War (1990-1), Japan only contributed money in support of coalition forces, and it drew flak internationally for practising “ATM diplomacy” while leaving the heavy lifting to others, particularly embarrassing for a country so reliant on oil and gas imports from the Middle East. Unease about this “freeriding” saw Liberal Democratic Party heavyweights take up the cause of making Japan a more “normal nation” on military matters. The Diet passed legislation in 1992 allowing participation in UN peacekeeping operations under very strict rules of engagement. Later that year SDF members were dispatched in support of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia, and have participated in numerous peacekeeping missions since.

But this was never going to be enough for Japanese conservatives, or indeed for the US, which had originally imposed the constraints. In 1997, amid tensions between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan, US-Japan defence guidelines were negotiated, expanding what Tokyo was willing to do in support of the US in a conflict in the region. Previously, Japan was under no obligation to intervene, citing its constitutional constraints. The scope of Tokyo’s action under the newly-reciprocal arrangement was still limited to “areas surrounding Japan,” but this nonetheless created potential new licence for it to act to maintain peace or stability across the East Asia region. A military officially retained only for self-defence was later subject to more mission creep in the face of rising Chinese might—particularly in relation to tensions over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, claimed by both Beijing and Tokyo—and North Korea’s escalating nuclear arms programme.

“Although constitutionally pacifist, Japan still ranks in the top 10 nations of the world for security expenditure”

But the most drastic shift in Japan came under Abe, in 2014. On the anniversary of the establishment of the SDF, Abe unilaterally reinterpreted Article 9 to allow Japan to engage in collective self-defence, a stealth “revision” of Article 9, bypassing normal procedures for such amendments by simply changing the government’s interpretation, with potentially sweeping implications. Awkwardly, Abe’s handpicked constitutional scholars testified that the 2015 enabling legislation was unconstitutional, but the measure was forced through the Diet, and the Abe Doctrine came into being. Abe branded his country’s new stance “pro-active pacifism,” but this spin couldn’t draw its sting. The streets erupted with the largest protests since the 1960 rallies that had toppled his grandfather, with polls showing 80 per cent opposition to his security initiative.

In parallel, on the international stage, the US-Japan defence guidelines were again overhauled, greatly expanding once more what Japan agreed to do militarily in support of the US, while also removing the previous restriction to the East Asia region. The late US Senator John McCain—a former soldier and a powerful voice on defence—baldly spelled out that the new guidelines would commit Japan to sending in combat troops if conflict erupted on the Korean Peninsula, or if the US or its allies were under attack anywhere in the world. This was highly unpopular in Japan and Abe faced tough questioning in the Diet—but he prevailed.

By this point, Abe had radically changed the underlying terms of Japan’s defence policy. The logic now was collective self-defence, which in some ways resembles the logic that underpins Nato. This was a big shift, not at all welcomed by a public in fear of being dragged into conflict by Washington, and so Abe still had to tread carefully when it came to specific decisions about wielding real power. Earlier this year, Washington pressed Tokyo to join a US-led coalition patrol of the Persian Gulf; it wouldn’t have been hard for them to invoke “national interest,” since Japan imports nearly 90 per cent of its oil from the Middle East. But in the event, Abe—who was desperate to avoid a backlash that could snuff out his hopes of constitutional revision—demurred. Instead, he dispatched a single destroyer on an intelligence gathering mission, ostensibly acting separately from the US coalition while co-ordinating with it. When the most hawkish of Japanese prime ministers pulled back from an express request for help, the idea of Japan becoming like the UK, a dependable deputy sheriff to the US, was exposed as a pipe dream.

A monstrous paradox

Abe has come and gone, and pacifism is still a matter of national self-image. Anxiety about being dragged into war and Japan’s place in the world permeates popular culture, and yet here—as much as in politics—we can see a double-think at work. Just as the US hydrogen bomb test loomed over the launch of the Godzilla film series in 1954, four years ago Trump’s first presidential campaign provided a troubling backdrop to the latest instalment, Shin Godzilla. Trump had called into question the US commitment to the alliance with Japan, and suggested the country might want to develop its own nuclear weapons. The film, a blockbuster hit, portrays the Japanese government’s fumbling response to the notorious monster’s attack. The US comes across as an overbearing, self-seeking ally that puts its own interests ahead of Japan’s, threatening a nuclear attack on Tokyo to kill Godzilla in order to protect the US.

It’s only a film, and the bumper box office tallies arguably proved nothing other than the allure of an enduring, familiar monster. But some took it as embodying a feeling that Japan should get out from under the US thumb, stand alone and presumably rip up Article 9. Clearly, the public is anxious, and there is an abiding crisis of confidence that Abe didn’t quite dispel about Japan’s receding influence in a fraught region. The Trump years have only aggravated these anxieties since: Japanese confidence in US foreign policy plunged from nearly 80 per cent under Barack Obama to 24 per cent under Trump.

The 45th President is an aberration in many ways, but that did not harm him in an election where he held up better than expected. A poisonous campaign revealed an insular American mindset on both sides: Joe Biden may have been politer about traditional allies, but he didn’t talk about them much, nor in any sustained way did he challenge the presumptions of “America First.” Irrespective of the result, the US will remain in relative decline as a world power. Staking everything on it continuing to make sacrifices for Japan deep into the future looks like an obvious risk. And yet it was in his unwavering allegiance to a US partnership that Abe really ran aground, as his handling of the grievances of Okinawa demonstrates.

“Japan will not be shaken from pacifism by a nationalism that defers to the US”

Three quarters of a century after the devastating battle of Okinawa, American military facilities continue to cover around 17 per cent of the island’s land area, alienating locals because bases can be noisy, environmentally damaging and hotspots for crime. Two years ago, Okinawans voted against the US military presence in a series of local elections, installing the anti-base Independent Denny Tamaki as governor in a landslide victory over the pro-base candidate backed by Abe, a humiliation for a PM who had been determined to placate the Pentagon. In a local referendum held last year, 70 per cent of islanders voted against the construction of a new US base, and yet Abe proceeded with the ill-fated project anyway. As far as Abe was concerned, Japan lives in a dangerous neighbourhood and will inevitably, even as it builds up its own forces, continue to rely on US protection.

Herein lies a paradox that could be important for where Japan goes next. The country has an unequal, almost “client-state” relationship with the US in matters of foreign and security policies, and yet, for all their avowed nationalism, conservatives see the alliance as essential and the only option for countering the threats from North Korea and China. Progressives, by contrast, fear the country’s entanglement with the US could not only accentuate regional tensions, but also encroach on sovereignty, contravene the constitution and subvert democratic values. Abe and like-minded conservatives believe the days of pacifism are numbered: in a world of rising threats and fraying alliances, they argue it has already become a luxury that Japan can ill-afford. But just as deep-rooted pacifist norms come into contact with the reality that Japan’s increasingly well-armed country now has free rein to use force in all kinds of scenarios, so too the pro-Washington assumptions of right-wingers like Abe confront the unreliability and ebbing power of the US.

Japan alone?

The idea of “Japan alone” sends a shiver up the national spine, which renders a rupture of bilateral relations unlikely. Nonetheless, it is tempting to conclude that Shin Godzilla is more clear-eyed than politicians on either side of the constitutional divide. The film suggests relying on Japan’s own technological ingenuity, social cohesion, teamwork, indomitable spirit, and—yes—military power, but it does so on the assumption of a break with America.

In his 2020 biography The Iconoclast: Shinzō Abe and the New Japan, Tobias Harris concludes that despite his long tenure and control of the Diet, Abe leaves a slight and tenuous record as a statesman. As Abenomics sputtered and promises on gender equality and corporate governance went unfulfilled, the former prime minister squandered energy on his doomed efforts at constitutional revision.

From his own nationalist point of view, however, Abe leaves behind not only a country with a strengthened military but, thanks to the expanded US-Japan defence guidelines and enabling legislation, also greatly enhanced licence for his successors to use it. His failure to prevail in his symbolic struggle to bury pacifism might be better understood as his failure to understand that the strongest argument for doing so is America’s isolationist turn.

Japan will not be shaken out of its pacifist norms by a compliant conservative nationalism that automatically defers to the US. The pacifist clause was made in Washington all those years ago; it was slowly subverted at the behest of Washington in the long decades since and, if it is eventually abandoned, it seems a fair guess that the root cause will trace back to Washington once more. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Asia Monday Events, October 12, 2020

THE 2ND NORTH KOREA ECONOMIC FORUM ANNUAL CONFERENCE (PART II).
9:00-11:00am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsors: George Washington University; KDI School of Public Policy and Management. Speakers: Sandra Fahy, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Sophia University; Stephen Haggard, Krause Distinguished Professor, School of Global Policy and Strategy; Liuya Zhang, PhD Candidate, Ohio State University; Jenny Town, Fellow, Stimson Center and Deputy Director of 38 North; Barbra Demick, Janice B. and Milford D. Gerton Fellow, New York Public Library’s Cullman Center; Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy, American Enterprise Institute; Melissa Hanham, Deputy Director of Open Nuclear Network, One Earth Future Foundation. Moderator: William Newcomb, Fellow, Center for Advanced Defense Studies. 

AMERICA'S TAIWAN POLICY: DEBATING STRATEGIC AMBIGUITY AND THE FUTURE OF ASIAN SECURITY. 9:00-10:30am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Georgetown University. Speakers: Richard Haass, President of Council on Foreign Relations, Diplomat on American foreign policy; Yan Xuetong, distinguished professor, Dean of Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University, editor-in-chief of Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vice chairman of China Association of International Relations Studies; Chiou I-jen, Democratic Progressive Party's New Frontier Foundation; Bonnie Glaser, Senior adviser for Asia, Director of China Power Project, CSIS. Moderator: Evan Medeiros, Penner Family Chair in Asian Studies at School of Foreign Service, a senior fellow with Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues. 

SECURING THE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. 10:00-11:00am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: German Marshall Fund USA. Speakers: Karen Brinson Bell, Executive Director, North Carolina Board of Elections; Alice P. Miller, Executive Director, DC Board of Elections; Christopher E. Piper, Commissioner, Virginia Board of Elections. Moderator: Derek Chollet, Executive Vice President, German Marshall Fund of United States.

CHINA, SOVEREIGNTY AND THE 'COMMUNITY OF SHARED DESTINY. Noon-12:45pm (BST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Chatham House Asia-Pacific. Speakers: Bill Hayton, Associate Fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House, Author of The Invention of China; Harriet Moynihan, Senior Research Fellow, International Law Programme, Chatham House; Kerry Brown, Associate Fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House. 

PREDICTIONS & OBSERVATIONS ON THE 2020 US ELECTIONS. 2:00-3:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: McCain Institute for International Leadership. Speakers: David Axelrod, Former senior advisor to President Obama, Director, University of Chicago's Institute of Politics; Rick Davis, Partner, Stone Court Capital; Trevor Potter, Founder and President of Campaign Legal Center; Bill McInturff, Co-founder and Managing Partner, Public Opinion Strategies. Moderator: Hannah Vaughan-Jones, Journalist and Presenter, CNN. 

JACKSON VISITING FELLOW DISCUSSION FORUM | SUSAN RICE. 4:00-5:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Yale University. Speaker: Susan Rice, Former National Security Advisor to President Obama and U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, author of Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For. Moderator: Rick Levin, president of Yale, Frederick William Beinecke Professor of Economics, Emeritus.  
PURCHASE BOOK: https://amzn.to/351oCjF

SECURITY AND DEFENSE COOPERATION IN THE INDO-PACIFIC | 2020 CONFERENCE ON TAIWAN IN THE INDO-PACIFIC REGION. 4:00-5:30pm (PDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Hoover Institution. Speakers: James Ellis, Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Hoover Institution; Dr. Joseph Felter, Research fellow, Hoover Institution; Tetsuo Kotani, Senior fellow, Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA); Dr. Che-chuan Lee, Chief, National Security and Decision-making Division, Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan; Dr. Chyungly Lee, Research Fellow, Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Monday Asia Events, September 21, 2020

GLOBAL CHINA: EXAMINING CHINA’S APPROACH TO GLOBAL GOVERNANCE AND NORMS. 9:30-10:45am (EDT), ONLINE. Sponsor: Brookings. Speaker: Welcome: Suzanne Maloney, Vice President and Director - Foreign Policy; Jeffrey Feltman, Visiting Fellow, Foreign Policy, The Brookings InstitutionJohn C. Whitehead Visiting Fellow in International Diplomacy, Foreign Policy; Lindsey W. Ford, David M. Rubenstein Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for East Asia Policy Studies; Sophie Richardson, China Director, Human Rights Watch; David O. Shullman, Senior Advisor - International Republican Institute, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security; Moderator: Patrick W. Quirk, Nonresident Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. 

BP ENERGY OUTLOOK 2020. 11:30am-12:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: CSIS Energy. Speaker: Spencer Dale, Group Chief Economist, bp. Moderator: Sarah Ladislaw, Senior Vice President, Energy Security and Climate Change Program. 

THE IMPACT OF THE ENERGY TRANSITION ON GLOBAL HEALTH AND ECONOMIC PROSPERITY. Noon-1:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia SIPA. Speakers: Andrew Kamau, Principal Secretary for Petroleum, Ministry of Petroleum & Mining, Republic of Kenya; Cheryl LaFleur, Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia SIPA; Maarten Wetselaar, Integrated Gas & New Energies Director, Shell; Mechthild Wörsdörfer, Director of Sustainability, Technology, and Outlooks, IEA. Moderator: Jason Bordoff, Founding Director, Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia SIPA. 

CONVERSATION ON PEACEBUILDING AT SCALE. Noon (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Shamil Idriss, Search for Common Ground. Speakers: Shamil Idress, CEO, Search for Common Ground; Kathy Sun, Search for Common Ground; Saji Prelis, Search for Common Ground. Thinkers: David Wilcox, Founder REACHSCALE, Satish Jha, Chairman, REACHSCALE and EDUFRONT.

A GLOBAL ASSET PRICE BUBBLE IN A WEAK WORLD ECONOMY. 2:00-3:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: AEI. Speakers: Desmond Lachman, Resident Fellow, AEI; Tobias Adrian, Director, Monetary and Capital Markets Department, IMF; Jeffrey Frankel, James W. Harpel Professor of Capital Formation and Growth, Harvard University; William White, Senior Fellow, C.D. Howe Institute. Moderator: Alex J. Pollock, Principal Deputy Director, Office of Financial Research, US Department of the Treasury. 

A WORLD DIVIDED: THE GLOBAL STRUGGLE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE AGE OF NATION-STATES. 4:00-5:30pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Wilson Center. Speakers: Eric D. Weitz, Author, Distinguished Professor of History at City College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York; Panelists: Christian F. Ostermann, Director, History and Public Policy Program, Cold War International History Project, North Korea Documentation Project, Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, Woodrow Wilson Center; Eric Arnesen, Fellow, The George Washington University; Moderator: Kathryn Sikkink, Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School.  PURCHASE BOOK

FUTURE SECURITY FORUM 2020: REIMAGINING NATIONAL SECURITY IN THE AGE OF COVID-19. 9/21-24 (EDT), VIRTUAL PROGRAM. Sponsors: New America; Arizona State University; Global SOF Foundation. Speakers: Welcome remarks: Anne-Marie Slaughter, D.Phil, CEO, New America; James O'Brien, Senior Vice President, University Affairs and Chief of Staff to the President, Arizona State University; Carol Evans, PhD, Director, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College; Col. (ret) Isaiah (Ike) Wilson III, PhD, President, Joint Special Operations University; Fellow, International Security Program, New America; Panelists: Mara Hvistendahl, Author, The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage; Samm Sacks, Cybersecurity Policy and China Digital Economy Fellow, New America; Randall G. Schriver, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs; Moderator: COL Frank Stanco, 2019-2020 Chief of Staff of the Army Senior Fellow, New America.   

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Monday Asia Events, September 14, 2020


HUMAN RIGHTS ATROCITIES IN NORTH KOREA WITH AMBASSADOR JUNG-HOON LEE.
9:00-10:00am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Institute of World Politics. Speaker: Jung-Hoon Lee, Dean and Professor of International Relations at the Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University, former ROK government’s Ambassador for Human Rights. 

BECOMING KIM JONG UN: A FORMER CIA OFFICER’S INSIGHTS INTO NORTH KOREA’S ENIGMATIC YOUNG DICTATOR WITH DR. JUNG H. PAK4:30-5:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Global Impact Discussion: US-East Asia Lecture Series, Institute of World Politics. Speaker: Author, Dr. Jung H. Pak, a senior fellow and SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies at the Brookings Institution. PURCHASE BOOK HERE.

THE U.S. AIR FORCE ARCTIC STRATEGY, ALASKA, AND THE NEW ARCTIC: A CONVERSATION WITH ALASKA'S SENATORS LISA MURKOWSKI AND DAN SULLIVAN. 4:00-5:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Wilson Center. Speakers: Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senator for Alaska; Dan Sullivan, U.S. Senator for Alaska; Michael Sfraga, Director, Global Risk and Resilience Program & Director, Polar Institute. Moderator: Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO, Wilson Center. 

Q&A WITH PSYCHOLOGIST SCOTT HAAS TO DISCUSS HIS NEW RELEASE WHY BE HAPPY? 6:30-8:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Japan-America Society of Washington DC. Speaker: Author, Scott Haas, Writer and Clinical psychologist. Fee. PURCHASE BOOK HERE.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Abe the Gamechanger Stumbles to Exit Under a Cloud

The abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo due to poor health has sent shockwaves across the political landscape. This has raised concerns about the implications for Japan’s economy and foreign policy. 


By Jeff Kingston,
Director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan

Australian Outlook, Australian Institute of International Affairs, 9/4/2020.

Leaders seldom time their exits well, hanging on to burnish a legacy only to get slammed by a crisis or scandal. Scanning the mass media political obituaries, there is a consensus that Abenomics was a flop and his womenomics policy a sham, while his cherished goal of constitutional revision never gained traction. He stood tall for free trade and managed Trump better than anyone else, but his most important legacy is providing stability just by lasting so long. The “Teflon premier” weathered a number of scandals involving document tampering and shredding, various cover-ups, and sweetheart land deals and special permissions for cronies, but this eroded public trust in him.

Under Abe, the political centre of gravity shifted sharply rightward, and there was a recrudescence of reactionary nationalism. He also strengthened the power of his office over top-level bureaucratic promotions, enhancing political control over the mandarins (Japanese bureaucrats). This, however, encourages a culture of sontaku (doing what one assumes a boss wants done to curry favour) among the ambitious that obscures responsibility for the alleged abuses of power that have dogged Abe since 2017. There is considerable speculation that these numerous scandals played a role in Abe’s decision to step down.

Abe came to power promising to rev up the economy, enact sweeping reforms, and assume a bolder role on the international stage. Abenomics entered the global lexicon, and his three arrows of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and structural reform generated a positive buzz. After two lost decades of anaemic growth and policy drift, Abe seemed like a gamechanger who could help Japan regain its mojo. On his watch, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) engaged in massive quantitative easing, driving down interest rates and the value of the yen. Corporate profits soared, and it seemed that Abe’ shock therapy had revived a wallowing economy. The Nikkei stock average doubled during his tenure, boosted in part by massive BOJ and government pension fund purchases and a surge in foreign investments. But the party was short-lived, as Abe implemented two tax increases that doubled the consumption tax and the shock of unconventional monetary policy wore off.

Moreover, the benefits never trickled down as wages remained stagnant and households didn’t feel the love. The conceit of Abenomics was that deflation was a mindset, and if the government could change the national mood and generate optimism then consumption would rise along with the economy. Alas, low consumption was due to thin wallets not a collective psychosis. Abe tried to jawbone Japan, Inc. into boosting wages, but had no luck because corporate Japan didn’t think Abenomics was sustainable.

Abenomics sputtered along, but Abe never managed to push through significant structural reforms. His signature policy of womenomics pledging to empower women never got off the ground, and according to the 2020 World Economic Forum, Japan’s ranking on gender equality slipped to 121, the lowest among advanced economies and down 11 rungs from the previous year. Due to Japan’s ageing and shrinking population, labour shortages have intensified, and expanding women’s employment, mostly in non-regular employment, has not been a sufficient remedy.

Immigration offers a solution, but Abe opposed welcoming immigrants, instead promoting limited migrant labour in certain sectors for a limited duration. The target of 345,000 migrant workers by 2025 is too small to make much of a difference in a labour market exceeding 60 million, and since the program was implemented, it has attracted few applicants because the conditions are unwelcoming. There are many factors that impede gender equality and immigration, but Abe could have used his power to push for more. His half-measures represent urgent, unfinished business for his successors.

In terms of diplomacy, Abe has done more than all of his predecessors combined in fulfilling the Pentagon’s wishlist. He focused on strengthening ties to the US and shoring up the alliance with his so-called “proactive pacifism.” He agreed to new US-Japan Defense Guidelines in 2015 and then instigated the largest protests in Japan since the turbulent 1960s when he rammed enabling legislation through the Diet. The public fears that Abe has signed up for more than they are comfortable with, and that his collective self-defence (CSD) legislation is unconstitutional. Essentially there is widespread anxiety that sometime, somewhere Japan will be dragged into conflict at Washington’s behest even if has little to do with defending Japan.

In early 2020, the constraints imposed by limited public support came to the fore as Tokyo fended off Washington’s request to join a US-led coalition of allied navies escorting oil tankers following a series of attacks near Iran, including a Japanese-owned vessel. Instead, Japan dispatched one ship to the somewhat distant but less dangerous Gulf of Oman on an intelligence gathering mission. Abe’s half-hearted response walked the tightrope of not alienating President Trump, Iran, or Japanese public opinion, a risk-averse approach that is a reality check for those eager for Japan to embrace a more robust security doctrine.

Abe did not join the coalition naval patrols because he feared a public backlash and at the time still entertained hopes for constitutional revision. No doubt Washington’s security wonks are disappointed that Japan is not doing more burden sharing and is too skittish to be its deputy sheriff in Asia, but pacifism remains embedded in the national identity. Even hawkish Japanese politicians are aware they are walking on thin ice when they dispatch troops overseas.

The nostrum of shared values is often invoked as the foundation of the alliance, but at least in Okinawa, this means sidelining public sentiments and ignoring the democratic voice of islanders expressed in several elections. Abe has remained steadfast in supporting the construction of an offshore military base in Henoko to facilitate the relocation of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, despite overwhelming opposition among Okinawans to this plan. The Futenma location in a densely populated city is dangerous, but islanders fear that constructing the Henoko base will have devastating environmental consequences and resent that their prefecture hosts most of the US military facilities and personnel.

By ignoring Okinawan voices and deferring to Washington, has Abe really strengthened the basis of the alliance? Similarly, if Japanese leaders can’t fulfil commitments undertaken in the 2015 US-Japan Defense Guidelines due to a squeamish public, isn’t there a risk of stoking recriminations in Washington that undermine bilateral ties? The government couldn’t even find a town willing to host an Aegis ashore missile defence system because locals saw this as more of a target than a shield, a perception Okinawans share about US bases. Japan lives in a much more dangerous neighbourhood than when the peace constitution was enacted in 1947. China and North Korea pose a threat, but there is a strong disconnect between the views of alliance managers and the public.

Much is made of Abe’s successful fawning over Trump, but this hasn’t prevented Trump from abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, slapping sanctions on Japan and demanding a quadrupling of host country support for US bases to $8 billion. Trump knows he has Japan over the barrel on security and is taking advantage of its vulnerability, adding to the scar tissue of gathering resentment over his highhanded bullying.

Paradoxically, Abe’s legacy is meagre, a case of power without purpose, but he dominated the political landscape and just by providing stable political leadership, he gained significant stature at home and abroad. It appears that Chief Cabinet spokesman Suga Yoshihide has been anointed to serve out Abe’s term until September 2021, representing policy continuity at a time when Japan could use some fresh thinking about its various challenges. In terms of foreign policy, Suga is not so closely associated with Abe’s Russia policy or commitment to resolving the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, and these issues may slip down the agenda. Suga is not so reviled by the South Korean public, so there may be opportunities to overcome the divisive past. Although he has been a very effective lieutenant, he will lack the stature of Abe to hit the reset button on foreign policy priorities. He is a nose-to-the-grindstone manager of details rather than someone who can convey a vision, safe hands without inspiration. Precisely at a time when Japan needs a resolute leader, there is a nagging suspicion that Japan is headed for weaker leadership and policy drift.

Jeff Kingston is the Director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan. He is author and editor of a dozen books, including Press Freedom in Japan (Routledge 2017), Japan (Polity 2019) and the Politics of Religion, Nationalism and Identity in Asia (Rowman & Littlefield 2019). He edited a two-part collection of essays titled “The Tokyo Olympics Past and Present” earlier this year for the Asia Pacific Journal Japan Focus, which can be viewed at https://apjjf.org/2020/4/APJ.html and https://apjjf.org/2020/5/APJ.html.

Monday/Tuesday Asia Events, September 7-8, 2020

COVID-19 AND JAPAN’S COORDINATED DEVELOPMENT RESPONSES IN ASIA9/7, 7:00-7:45 am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Chatham House. Speakers: Megumi Muto, Deputy Director, Ogata Sadako Research Institute for Peace and Development, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA); Syed Zahid Aziz, Managing Director, Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA), Lahore, Pakistan; Gareth Price, Senior Research Fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House. 

BUILDING BACK BETTER: WHY WE MUST ADDRESS AIR POLLUTION. 9/7, 10:00-11:30am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). Speakers: Geraint Davies MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution, UK Parliament; Sir Andy Haines, Professor of Environmental Change and Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Helena Molin Valdés, Head of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat; Dr. Eleni Iacovidou, Lecturer in Environmental Management, Brunel University London; Dr. Chris Malley, Senior Research Fellow, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York; Dr. Yewande Awe, Senior Environmental Engineer, World Bank;Dr. Sarah West, Centre Director, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York. 

BOOK LAUNCH & PANEL DISCUSSION | FUTURE OF COAL IN INDIA: SMOOTH TRANSITION OR BUMPY ROAD AHEAD? 9/7, 5:30-7:10pm (EDT), ONLINE EVENT. Sponsor: Brookings. Speakers: Anil Jain, Secretary, Ministry of Coal, Govt. of India; Ajay Mathur – DG,TERI and Co-Chair, Energy Transitions Commission; Partha Bhattacharyya, former Chairman, Coal India Limited; Moderator: Rahul Tongia, Fellow, Brookings India. ORDER BOOK.

WILL DETERIORATING US-CHINA RELATIONS PRECIPITATE SERIOUS MILITARY CONFLICT IN ASIA? 9/8, 9:30am (SGT), WEBINAR. Sponsors: Hinrich Foundation; S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). Speakers: Dr. Alan Dupont, Research Fellow, Hinrich Foundation, New Cold War: De-risking US-China Conflict; Joseph Liow, Research Adviser, RSIS; Amy Searight, Senior Associate (Non-resident) for Asia, CSIS; Zhu Feng, Executive Director, China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea, Nanjing University. Moderator: Dr. Andrew Staples, Director of Research and Outreach of the Hinrich Foundation. 

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 HOAX: DONALD TRUMP, FOX NEWS, AND THE DANGEROUS DISTORTION OF TRUTH. 9/8, 2:00-3:00pm (EDT), LIVESTREAM. Sponsor: National Press Club. Speaker: author, CNN Worldwide’s chief media correspondent and Reliable Sources anchor Brian Stelter. 

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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Shinzo Abe's Economic Legacy


By Richard Katz,  
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Council For Ethics in International Affairs, APP Member

Tokyo Business Today, September 1, 2020

No matter what one thinks of Shinzo Abe and his policies, it is sad to see him forced off the stage because of this illness. Hopefully, doctors can find a way to treat it.

Aside from his longevity as Prime Minister, Abe will be judged first and foremost on his Abenomics. It was the claims of Abenomics that led the public to support him and acquiesce to other things they didn’t like. Unfortunately, the reality never lived up to the advertising.

Let’s look at Abe’s own measure of his success. He vowed to bring Japan to 2% real annual growth on a steady basis. He never came close. At the beginning, it appeared as if the economy was taking off. But that was misleading.

The economy had just gone through six years of a slump brought on by the global financial crisis by the time the LDP triumphed in the election of December 2012. GDP was down 1.4% from where it had been in the first quarter of 2007 prior to the global meltdown.

It was operating so far below full capacity use of labor and capital stock, that it was due for a spurt of relatively high growth to get back to full capacity. This came in the first five quarters of Abe’s tenure, from 2012-IV to 2014-I. GDP rose a total of 3.8%.

Then, Abe hiked the consumption tax and did so again in October 2019. Both hikes triggered mild recessions. Had Japan been fundamentally healthy, those would have been minor interruptions. But Abenomics had done nothing to elevate Japan’s potential growth rate on any long-term.

Consequently, in the six years from 2014-I to 2020-I (before COVID effects hit), GDP grew a total of just 1.8%. So, in those six years, GDP grew less than the 2% Abe claimed he would achieve each year.

Then there is harm to people’s living standards. Price-adjusted personal consumption in 2020-I—again before COVID’s economic harm set in--was 0.5% lower than it had been when Abe took office.

Never before during the lost decades had Japan suffered a consumption downturn for as long a period. This came, not because people are unwilling to spend, but because tax hikes and real wage cuts reduced their income. During Abe’s eight years, real wages per worker fell 3.5%.

How about the famous three arrows?

The only arrow Abe took seriously was the first: monetary stimulus guided by Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s Peter Pan theory: “the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” Abe and Kuroda, however, acted as if the obverse were true: if you just believe you can fly, then you can.

They believed that the main obstacle to growth was lack of confidence and deflation and, consequently, conquering deflation would revive growth. In reality, despite Kuroda’s claim he could hit 2% inflation in a mere two years, he never came close. This has caused a rethink among those monetary economists who believed that a central bank could achieve whatever inflation rate it wanted if it just tried hard enough.

From April 2015 (Kuroda’s original target date for hitting 2%) through June 2020, so-called “core core” inflation (excluding food, energy and consumption taxes), averaged a negligible 0.2%. Rhetoric aside, the BOJ has more or less dropped that 2% goal. To be sure, 0.2% inflation is better than the -0.6% deflation rate seen during 1999-2012. But that has done little or nothing to stimulate growth. The fact is that deflation is not the cause of Japan’s problems, but a symptom.

As for fiscal policy: Abe applied both the gas pedal and brake, often at the same time. His tax hikes took spending money away from people. On the other hand, government spending accounted for a huge 42% of all GDP growth during his whole reign and a stunning 80% during 2014-I to 2020-I.

Despite Abe’s (unfulfilled) pledge to reach a balance in the primary budget (the whole budget except for interest payments) by 2020, Abe was forced to keep on running big deficits lest the economy suffer no growth whatsoever.

The third arrow—productivity-enhancing structural reforms—was mostly promises and boasts, with very little action. It was less a policy than a sales pitch to foreign investors.

A next big test of Abenomics will come when we see how resilient the economy will be in the face of the global economic impact COVID.

Asia Monday Events, November 30, 2020

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