Friday, February 26, 2010

Maybe Hatoyama is down for the count

Here at Asia Policy Point we like to entertain a number of perspectives and keep the intellectual dialogue fresh. Thus, not all the scholars associated with APP share the optimistic assessment of the DPJ's future as the authors of the last blogpost. Our Senior Fellow Dr. William Brooks is reading the polls and finds the DPJ coming up short.

Jiji's February poll shows the Hatoyama Cabinet support rate in a free fall, plummeting 11.4 points in a month to 35%. The full impact of the money scandal centered on DPJ Secretary General Ozawa is now being felt. Ozawa seems oblivious to calls to fully explain to the Diet and the public his role in the illegal political contribution scandal. Already three of his former aides have been indicted. Nevertheless he has vowed to remain in his post and work for his party’s win in this summer’s Upper House election.

There are press rumors he may gracefully exit before the election, but the damage may have already been done. The Jiji poll also shows that the cabinet’s non-support rate rose 12.3 points to 44%. This is a pattern that resembles the decline and fall of the previous three governments led by LDP prime ministers. Now, 85% of the Japanese public are distrustful of Ozawa’s explanations so far, with 72% wanting him to resign his post.

The same Jiji poll also shows DPJ support eroding, having slipped 4 points to 22.8% -- heading in the direction of the LDP, which inched up 1.5 points to 14.6%. Voters supporting no party form a majority, 53%, making this summer’s election hard to predict. Only 24% of the public say they will vote DPJ in the election, a drop of 6.6 points, but the LDP is not the immediate beneficiary, with only 18% planning to vote for that party. The party’s recent boycott, now ended, of crucial Diet deliberations did not serve to endear it with the public.

More distressing for the DPJ is the result of a February independent poll showing the Hatoyama Cabinet’s non-support rate at 57%, double the figure of four months ago. Only last October, Hatoyama’s popularity in that poll was a heady 74.1%. Iit has now dropped to 42.9%. What is interesting in this opinion survey, like Jiji’s, is the low party-support rates for both the DPJ (26%) and the LDP (13%) – again demonstrating that a majority of Japanese have now abandoned both parties to join the ranks of the floating voters.

Those voters for the most part may stay home in July, but if they turn out in droves to register their disappointment with the party in power, a tactic that had hurt the LDP in past Upper House elections, the DPJ could very well lose its majority in that chamber. The party is obviously aware of its predicament but remains unable to address it. There are rumors that Party envoys have sounded out the New Komeito, once the LDP’s long-standing coalition partner, to see if it would consider the same with the DPJ, thus returning to its centrist roots.

Above is a chart of surveys done by major dailies on Hatoyama Cabinet support rates. As they said in Ghostbusters, "don't cross the streams." It would be bad.

Dr. William Brooks
APP Senior Fellow

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hatoyama will weather the storm

Is Yukio Hatoyama and his administration "embattled" and drowning in a deluge of bad press?

Sorry to rain on the naysayers' parade, but the answer is "no," and nor do the fundamentals of Japanese politics appear completely against him. Unless the Democratic Party of Japan splits or the Tokyo prosecutors indict Mr. Hatoyama, he and his party will weather the storm. At first glance, this analysis seems overly sunny. The dramatic losses of the Nagasaki gubernatorial and the Machida City mayoral elections in Tokyo to LDP candidates do poke holes in the DPJ umbrella. With no more Lower or Upper House by-elections on the horizon, the Nagasaki gubernatorial election was presented as a bellwether prelude to the Upper House election in July.

But let's catch our breath here. There were seven candidates splitting the Nagasaki vote and five in Machida. The campaigns happened in the midst of the worst of the money politics accusations and indictments. The economy remains shaky and unemployment is only just beginning to drop.

In an Asahi Shimbun poll published Feb. 22, the rate of public support for Hatoyama’s cabinet fell below 40% for the first time since its launch. In this telephone-based nationwide public opinion survey conducted Feb. 20-21, the cabinet's support rate was 37%, down from the 41% rating in the previous spot poll conducted Feb. 5-6. Yet, this same survey showed that the LDP’s support rate had plateaued at 18% and the DPJ, maintained 32%. A similar Kyodo news poll found that Japanese still favor the DPJ over the LDP by 34% to 23%.

Nevertheless, the election defeat has given the DPJ and its Party Secretary Ichiro Ozawa pause. Ozawa’s soiled boots are visibly beginning to harm his party. The relentless negative press has worn on both Ozawa and the DPJ.

But in the DPJ’s favor is the continued disarray of the LDP. With six months left to the Upper House elections, the LDP shows neither the imagination nor leadership to move beyond its minority status. The result is that a number of LDP politicians – both Lower House members defeated last summer and incumbent Upper House members seeking re-election later this year – have resigned from the party and started plotting their comebacks under the DPJ coalition.

In the Upper House, on February 17th, these defections allowed the DPJ to gain a majority, thus dominating both houses of the Diet. In the more powerful Lower House, the DPJ’s 308 seats are considered a good indicator of the Party’s staying power. The result is both corporations and professional associations are moving toward the DPJ. The Japan Dental Federation recently dropped the LDP after decades of support to announce that they will back the DPJ in the Upper House elections in July. The new head of Keidanren, Hiromasa Yonekura, has pledged to explore ways to strengthen cooperation with the government by taking a pro-consumer stance.

DPJ party leaders believe the party can recover from its election defeats and regain the people’s trust. There is still a lot of time before the Upper House election and the 2010 budget will soon pass, putting DPJ policies into practice. The government will find a solution to Futenma and the Toyota mess is pushing politics off the front page. The DPJ rank and file are standing firm in support of Ozawa.

The Economist’s Banyan sees Hatoyama out as prime minister before the end of spring. He thinks a grand coalition is around the corner. But, for that to happen, a flood of lawmakers would need to exit the ruling party and the economy implode. That simply does not seem to be happening.

Although Ozawa's tenure is increasingly tenuous, one lesson learned from the brief respite from LDP rule in the 1990s was that you never step down, ever. Ideological differences on security policy and other issues do exist within the DPJ. Yet, for now all the major DPJ groups have effective representation in the cabinet, and no one really has anything to gain by dropping out and joining forces with a flailing and unpopular opposition.

Everyone is staying put.

Michael Penn,
APP Nonresident Fellow,
Shingetsu Institute

Mindy Kotler,
APP Director

Picture from here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Live webcams of American bases in Okinawa

Ginowan overlooking Futenma

Naha US Naval Port

There are two 24-hour live webcams showing views of American military installations on Okinawa. One has been operational since 2004.

The locations of the two webcams are Kakazu Takadai Park, Ginowan, and Elegante Miyoshi apartment building, Naha, and the bases they overlook are Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma and Naha US Naval Port, respectively.

A map listing of these and other area webcams was found on Web Camera Map (Japanese only). Both have a maximum of 640x480 resolution.

Ginowan city government initiated the live webcam service with views of Futenma in December 2004. From April 2008 to March 2009 it was the 9th most viewed webpage on the city’s website. It is also listed as a proposed budgetary item to enhance following a survey conducted in middle of last year according to the city’s “Electronic Municipality Implementation Plan” (July 2009, Japanese only).

Naha is the largest city in Okinawa and home to 13 live webcams according to Web Camera Map. Only one of these overlooks the US Naval Port and was “re-started” in April 2009. No details could be found about the camera's operation prior to 2009. It is hosted on a private website,, along with links to other webcams around Okinawa.

Ginowan overlooking Futenma
Introduction and panorama of viewable sights (Japanese)
Reference info and map of covered area (Japanese)

Naha US Naval Port (Japanese):
Reference info and map of covered area (Japanese)

Faulty Motors

Toyota Motor and its quality control problems are the focus of Washington this week. The following three congressional hearings will be held.


2/23 - 11:00am, 2123 Rayburn House Office Bldg. House Energy and Commerce Committee Full committee hearing on "Response by Toyota and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to Incidents of Sudden Unintended Acceleration." Witnesses: Eddie and Rhonda Smith, Sevierville, TN; Sean Kane, President, Safety Research & Strategies, Inc.; David Gilbert, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Automotive Technology, Southern Illinois University; James E. Lentz, President and Chief Operating Officer, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.; The Honorable Raymond H. LaHood, Secretary, Department of Transportation.


2/24 - 11:00am, 2154 Rayburn House Office Bldg. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Full committee hearing on "Toyota Gas Pedals: Is the Public At Risk?" Witnesses: Akio Toyoda, Toyota President and CEO; Ray LaHood, Transportation Secretary; David Strickland, National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator; Yoshimi Inaba, Toyota Motor North America CEO; Joan Claybrook, Former National Highway Traffic Administrator; Sean Kane, Safety Research and Strategies, Inc.; Mr. Clarence M. Ditlow, Executive Director, Center for Auto Safety; Mrs. Fe Lastrella, Lost Family Members in a Car Accident Involving a Toyota Vehicle; Mr. Kevin Haggerty, Experienced Sudden Unintended Acceleration in a Toyota Vehicle.


3/2 - 10:00am, 253 Russell Senate Office Bldg. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is holding a full Committee hearing on Toyota’s recently announced safety recalls. Witnesses: Hon. Raymond LaHood, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation; Hon. David Strickland, Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Shinichi Sasaki, Executive Vice President, Toyota Motor Corporation; Yoshimi Inaba, President and Chief Executive Officer, Toyota Motor North America; Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director, Center for Auto Safety.

Money Talks on Okinawa

Dr. William Brooks, APP Senior Fellow, was recently interviewed by Annabel Park of Interactive Democracy Alliance on the money politics and history of the proposed transfer of the Futenma Marine Corps Air Facility to Henoko Bay and Camp Schwab.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dalai Lama visits Washington

The go-to events in Washington this week all have to do with the visiting Dalai Lama. He is in Washington from the 17th to 19th. Then he continues on to Los Angeles and Florida for speaking and teaching engagements.

On Thursday, the 18th, he will meet with U.S. President Barak Obama in the White House Map Room, not in the symbolic surroundings of the Oval Office, where Mr Obama normally meets foreign leaders and VIP guests. The Dalai Lama will also meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

On Friday, the 19th, the National Endowment for Democracy, will present the Dalai Lama with its Democracy Service Medal "in recognition of the Tibetan spiritual leader's commitment to advancing the principles of democracy and human dignity." Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., chairman of NED; NED President Carl Gershman; and Librarian of Congress James Billington will participate in the event at the Library of Congress. Asia Policy Point staff will be there as well!

Later: The Dalai Lama will visit Japan in June. His will give a major talk in Yokohama on June 26th.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

DPJ Seven adding to Hatoyama's fifth column

Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa may be off the hook, for now, from the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office, but the fate of the leadership of the ruling party, especially scandal-weary Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, is looking ever more unhealthy.

Ozawa and Hatoyama face increasing opposition within their own party. There are several DPJ groups directly questioning Ozawa’s honesty and leadership, and indirectly, the Prime Minister's judgment.

In the spirit of true political gamesmanship, Hatoyama appears this week to have reached out to his critics. Two weeks ago, we noted a group of outspoken DPJ members calling for Ozawa to “fulfill his accountability.” Led by former Deputy Speaker of the Lower House Kozo Watanabe, they are referred to as the Seven Magistrates. Six of the members of this anti-Ozawa group met after the annual DPJ Convention (Shinji Tarutoko did not attend) on January 16 to voice their concerns over the Hatoyama-Ozawa tag-team.

English-language sources are scant on this powerhouse of senior party members, which takes its name from the Seven Magistrates of the old LDP Takeshita Faction, prominent in the 1980s. Both Ozawa and Watanabe were members. Watanabe coined the term for his group critical of Ozawa formed following Ozawa’s 2006 re-election to the DPJ Presidency. Watanabe’s group ramped up its anti-Ozawa rhetoric during the scandal last year that ousted Ozawa from the DPJ presidency.

The DPJ Seven share common members and goals with the conservative Ryoun-kai Faction. Yukio Edano and Yoshito Sengoku belong to both groups and Ryoun-kai head Seiji Maehara joined Edano in his criticism of Ozawa for the recent land purchase scandal. Ryoun-kai is the next largest faction in the DPJ. Ozawa’s, the Isshin-kai, is the largest. The DPJ Seven with membership of the Ryoun-kai Faction are:
  • Kozo Watanabe, Fmr. Lower House Vice-Speaker
  • Katsuya Okada, Foreign Minister
  • Yoshihiko Noda, Senior Vice Foreign Minister
  • Koichiro Gemba, Lower House Finance Committee Chairman
  • Yukio Edano, (Ryoun) Fmr. DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman
  • Yoshito Sengoku (Ryoun) State Minister for National Policy
  • Shinji Tarutoko, Lower House Environment Committee Chairman
A table (Japanese only) of Ryoun-kai members’ views on security and historical issues taken from a 2006 Mainichi survey can be found here – the topic for a future blog post.

Former DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman Edano, one of the most vocal against Ozawa and the leader of Ryoun-kai sister group Kasei-kai, was promoted on Wednesday to Minister of the Government Revitalization Unit. This is either a move by Hatoyama to distance himself from Ozawa or to simply to co-opt and silence an opponent. Edano’s predecessor, Sengoku, took a more cautious tone against Ozawa following the DPJ Convention.

Hatoyama is walking a fine line in maintaining the DPJ by balancing pro- and anti-Ozawa groups. Although Sunday’s Mainichi magazine rumored that Hatoyama might purge anti-Ozawa forces from the Cabinet in April, it also noted that “ruthless” Hatoyama could get rid of Ozawa if approval ratings further plummeted. One litmus test for the Cabinet’s future will be the February 21 Nagasaki gubernatorial election.

This week, Tarotoku has been making the rounds of policy officials and experts. He was invited to Washington as the guest of the think tank CNAS, which was founded by now-Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell.

It looks like everyone on both sides of the Pacific is hedging his bets.

Michael DavidsonAPP Visiting Fellow
Mindy KotlerAPP Director

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Washington is experiencing severe blizzard conditions today.

The Federal Government is closed down for an unprecedented third day. And another day of shut down is expected.

Congress went into recess early and will not return until February 23rd.

If there is not another storm (and another is expected), Washington might get back to work by Tuesday.

Asia Policy Point will not publish a newsletter this week as every event and hearing listed has been canceled.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Playing safe is dangerous game for Hatoyama

Prime Minister Hatoyama has asked Japan's new public enemy No. 1 to remain by his side at the heart of Japanese politics.

Despite the national clamor for him to quit his post as secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, Ichiro Ozawa formally announced on Monday that he will hang in as the chief strategist for the Upper House election this fall.

The public is upset, with up to 74% wanting Ozawa to resign to take responsibility for the arrest of aides for illegal money transactions, according to polls. Over 80% remain unconvinced with his explanations in the surveys. All major dailies, too, weighed in over the weekend with the blunt suggestion to Ozawa of either explaining himself fully to the Diet or stepping down.

Even more dangerous for the powerful politician, cries for Ozawa’s resignation are starting to rise in his own party, most recently from DPJ policy chief Yukio Edano in a much televised public speech over the weekend. Edano belongs to a wing in the party that includes Seiji Maehara, a former DPJ president now in the Hatoyama cabinet. Ozawa’s arch enemies in the party are now likely to become more vocal in their criticism, fearing the worst in the upcoming election.

Creating further controversy, Ozawa’s former private secretary turned DPJ lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa, indicted for not reporting a $4 million political donation, also announced from Hokkaido, where he is sequestered after posting bail, that he would “hang in there” and not resign his Diet seat. But A group of Diet members from the opposition camp are preparing a resolution demanding that he quit.

Hatoyama may not realize how serious the situation has become. The daily scene of gridlock in the Diet as deliberations on the budget stall over the Ozawa scandal has eroded the public’s confidence in the DPJ administration. The latest round of opinion polls released over the weekend show further erosion of the Hatoyama Cabinet’s once sky-high popularity, with disapproval now outweighing support in most surveys.

The Yomiuri poll was typical with 47% against (up 5 points from January) versus 44% for. The public is questioning the cabinet’s ability to manage policy imperatives. According to the Yomiuri poll, 68% of the public were concerned about the future of the US-Japan relationship under the Hatoyama administration.

The subject of last Sunday’s talk show on NHK, Japan’s equivalent of BBC, was how to recover the public’s trust in politics. With representatives of every political party represented, the discussion turned into a Ozawa bashing session. Hatoyama, who has a money scandal of his own, didn't escape the blows. The lone DPJ member, an uncomfortable-looking Banri Kaieda, was forced to defend the indefensible as best he could.

A party which came into power last August 30 vowing to usher in change is now locked into a scenario reminiscent of the party it replaced. The DPJ was supposed to root out political corruption of the kind associated with the kingpins of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Prosecutors last week decided not to indict Ozawa, citing “lack of sufficient evidence.” The verdict was widely interpreted as not exonerating him from any culpability, and the public, as seen in the polls, agrees.

The hemorrhaging of his party’s public-support lifeline will continue. An NHK poll released Monday showed the support rate of the DPJ also is dropping sharply, accompanied by a spike in those who say they support no party. It was unaffiliated voters turning out in droves who propelled the DPJ into power last August. Their fickleness could do significant damage to the party in July’s Upper House race.

Young people in particular seem to disappointed with the DPJ. An NPO poll of college students of voting age (summarized in the national daily Mainichi on Saturday) found only 21% support for the Hatoyama cabinet, and another 45% sitting on the fence.

So far, the prime minister has continued to let matters run their course, unwilling to make tough decisions that might shore up his sagging public support and silence critics in the party who may want him, too, to step down. If he continues to play it safe, deferring to Ozawa’s judgment, he must steel himself to face the consequences in the election come July.
Dr William Brooks
APP Senior Fellow

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Learn Japanese through manga - you get the picture?

Learning Japanese doesn't have to be painful.

The Japan Foundation hoping to capitalize on worldwide fascination with Japanese anime and manga, has funded a website to learn the Japanese language of this medium. This popular-culture Japanese is not found in most textbooks and dictionaries.

This is an e-learning site opened on February 1 and offers a fun way to learn a number of character/genre-based Japanese expressions that appear in anime and manga.

Start learning HERE.

Science diplomacy becomes important

Scientists and engineers are often overlooked or underestimated as diplomats. Their work is naturally international, cooperative, and solution-oriented. From nuclear weapons to water purification the tools of contemporary foreign policy are creations of science and technology. More interesting, the emergence of global science has created new professional and information networks focused on transnational issues and goals.

Enhancing and utilizing this capability of S&T has been noticed by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations. In the fall of 2000, the first Science and Technology Adviser to the US Secretary of State was appointed. This followed the recommendations of a 1999 National Academies report that concluded that many goals of US foreign policy encompass science, technology, and health considerations.

On February 4-5, the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy held a conference on Science Diplomacy and the Prevention of Conflict. It explored the merits and challenges of science diplomacy, not solely as conducted by the United States, but by nations across the world. Some of the top scholars and practitioners were participants. The proceedings promise to be interesting. There was a report from Syracuse University about its computer science exchanges with North Korea. This program was discussed in an April 2009 Korea Economic Institute paper, Academic Science Engagement with North Korea.

This coming week, on February 9, the Partnership for a Secure America, U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation, and American Association for the Advancement of Science will host a reception for the release of a Bipartisan Statement supporting the elevation of Science Diplomacy’s role in U.S. foreign policy. The statement, signed by over two dozen prominent political and scientific leaders, urges the U.S. to utilize its scientific and technological strength to deepen international partnerships and tackle global challenges.

For further research see:
Center for Science, Technology, and Economic Development (CSTED)

Since its founding in 1991, Asia Policy Point has worked with the International Office of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to widen the defense science community's awareness of Asian politics and innovation policy. Many of APP's activities focus on the nexus between S&T and security in Asia. APP Board Member Dr. Norman Neureiter is a leader in this field.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Washington has a blizzard this weekend

Ozawa's headlines, Hatoyama's headaches

Not a day goes by without the words "scandal" and "Ichiro Ozawa" making the headlines in Japan.

Although three former close aides of the Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General have been arrested and one already indicted over political funding violations, Ozawa maintains his innocence. After questioning him twice, Tokyo prosecutors have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to indict him.

But this does not leave the DPJ kingmaker off the hook, even the DPJ’s coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, is calling for him to testify before the Diet and fully explain his role over such matters as his explanation that the $4 million dollars entrusted to an aide for land purchases came from an acquaintance who has since died.

Ozawa adamantly refuses to resign, insisting that he must stay on to fulfill his party’s destiny of winning big in the Upper House election this July. Outside perhaps of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama (pictured) and a small coterie of Ozawa associates in the DPJ, no one seems willing to repeat his denials within earshot of the public. Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki, acting these days as chief inquisitor in repeatedly demanding a full explanation in the Diet, calls the government the “Ozawa Cabinet” - a jibe at the de jure prime minister.

Ozawa told the press February 4, “I will stay on in my post and work to recover the people’s trust.” The public, however, is not willing to cut him any slack, as seen in the business daily Nikkei’s opinion poll on Jan. 28, in which 65% said he should resign. The same poll found 83% wanted Ozawa to explain all of the allegations.

But Ozawa's woes are also Hatoyama's - 69% criticize his handling of the Ozawa issue. Disapproval of Hatoyama’s Cabinet rose five points to 47%, while the support rate slipped five to 44%. In the last four months, Hatoyama’s support has plummeted 30 points in the Nikkei survey. Why? “Lack of leadership” according to 59%.

The daily ordeal of grilling by the opposition, and even coalition lawmakers, in the Diet is taking its toll on Hatoyama. The press is depicting Hatoyama as losing his cool – though he has tried to keep his emotionless expression in response to sharp questioning.

But more is to come. With Ozawa’s former private secretary turned DPJ lawmaker Ishikawa now indicted, the Diet is moving to force him to resign his Diet seat. This would put even more pressure on Ozawa to take political responsibility and resign. And all this before new allegations of yet another money scandal involving Ozawa have played out in the press.

And it could get still worse for the DPJ. Assuming that Ishikawa resigns before March 15, there would be a by-election to fill his Diet seat on April 25. If the DPJ candidate lost, it would have serious consequences for the party's electability nationally. Some in the party reportedly are already questioning whether the prime minister is a liability going into the summer election, according to press reports.

The bottom line? The swing voters who make up at least a third of the national electorate are departing the DPJ in droves. These are the voters who put the LDP prime minister Junichiro Koizumi in power. It's not unthinkable that an unpopular prime minister and scandal-ridden kingmaker could find an altogether different destiny from the one they had imagined come July.

Image from here.

Dr William Brooks
APP Senior Fellow

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

China on the agenda

THE DRAGON’S GIFT: THE REAL STORY OF CHINA IN AFRICA. 2/2, 4:00-6:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Africa Program and Freeman Chair in China Studies, CSIS. Speakers: Dr. Deborah Bräutigam, International Development Program American University's School of International Service; Dr. Ernest Aryeetey, Senior Fellow & Director, Africa Growth Initiative, Brookings; Dr. Harry G. Broadman, Managing Director, Albright Stonebridge Group, Chief Economist, Albright Capital Management. Location: CSIS, 1800 K Street, NW, B-1 Conference Center.

CHINA'S ECONOMIC RISE: THE IMPACT ON LATIN AMERICA. 2/2, 2:00-3:30pm, Washington, DC. Sponsors: Intern-American Dialogue, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP). Speakers: Michael Pettis, Professor, Peking University and Senior Associate, CEIP; Daniel Lederman, Senior Economist, World Bank; Eduardo Lora, Chief Economist and General Manager, Research Department, Inter-American Development Bank. Location: 1211 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 510.

CHINA'S SOUTHEAST ASIA ACTIVITIES. 2/4, 8:45am, Washington, DC. Sponsor: U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Witnesses: TBA. Location: 562 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.

THE FUTURE OF THE U.S.-TAIWAN ECONOMIC RELATIONSHIP. 2/5, 10:00am-Noon, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Heritage Foundation. Speakers: Hon. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL); Dr. Chao-shiuan Liu, Senior Advisor to the President and former Premier of Taiwan; Rupert Hammond-Chambers, President, U.S.-Taiwan Business Council; Dr. Merritt T. Cooke, Founder, GC3 Strategy, Inc.; Dr. Vincent Wang, Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science, University of Richmond; Dr. Derek Scissors, Research Fellow in Asia Economics, Heritage Foundation. Location: Allison Auditorium, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ball's in Obama's court as China freezes out fair play

It is becoming clear that China doesn't want to play ball with Obama.

After a year of rapprochement under the Obama Administration, US-China relations are at a new low. It all looked so much more amiable last November with a state visit to Beijing and hopes of progress on trade issues, but the less-than-satisfactory Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December displayed the true impasse that Obama faces in his second year.

Compromises – even on long-standing sources of tension – will not necessarily be returned in kind.

The Chinese New Year of 2009 began with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton optimistic of the two countries pulling together. Goodwill continued in the Treasury Department with the establishment and first round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced plans for a US-China Clean Energy Research Center over the Summer, and Obama’s visit in November was marked by apparent progress on North Korea.

After there was preliminary agreement on the idea of backing a comprehensive plan to fight global warming, two weeks of stalled negotiations had led to no agreement. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was unable to make critical decisions on the final day of tense negotiations upon Obama’s arrival for the same reason Obama came out with the unambitious emissions targets of the House Waxman-Markey Bill: fear of non-approval back home. What followed, in a well-publicized account, was the Chinese delegation literally standing up the President.

In domino-style effect after this public embarrassment, Google threatened to pull out of China over Internet censorship prompting Clinton to deliver a resounding indictment of Beijing last week. Legislation in the House (H.R. 4504) introduced Tuesday by Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) (a friend of Obama’s) calls for FCC to “restrict repressive Internet search providers.” Arms sales to Taiwan delayed since 2001 are reported to be finalized soon. And the Dalai Lama’s possible visit with Obama has Beijing on the defensive frantically resuming talks with the Tibetan leader’s representatives after a 15-month hiatus.

On the climate change front, earlier this month, in what was viewed as a conciliatory gesture towards the US and other parties upset at Copenhagen, China removed its vice foreign minister who stonewalled Obama as Wen was meeting with BRIC countries behind closed doors. However, following He Yafei’s “demotion” to the New York office, He (still a vice foreign minister) was still expounding on the global economy with Chinese news agencies on January 21. Su Wei, the lead climate change negotiator for China, appears to still be in place and is remaining quiet for the time being.

The end of January is the deadline for participating Copenhagen Accord countries to put forth their carbon emission targets. Thus, soon we will know China’s real commitment to global, cooperative climate policy. It is likely given their handling of the Copenhagen backlash that their policy will show no change.

The significant change, however, will be how other countries view China’s representations. Beijing’s obstructionist behavior at Copenhagen may invite repercussions at the upcoming climate change meeting this May in Bonn.

The question is how Obama will play this new game.

Michael Davidson
Fulbright Fellow, China '08-'09
APP Visiting Fellow