Thursday, March 19, 2020

Irresponsible and desperate

Abe and Trump - Two Desperate Men Facing Desperate Times
By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University
Toyo Keizai, March 16,2020

The telephone talk this week between Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and U.S. President Donald Trump was a conversation between two desperate men facing increasingly desperate times. Both leaders' personal political fates are now completely intertwined with a global pandemic that is not only a health crisis but the trigger for a deep economic downturn.

The phone call followed President Trump's declaration in a national address from the Oval Office that the United States faced a "foreign virus," abruptly cutting off travel from most of Europe. The next day Trump suggested that the Tokyo Olympic Games might have to be cancelled, or at least postponed for a year.

A panicked Abe called Washington, hoping for reassurance that Japan was not next on the travel shutdown list, and for Trump's support to keep the Games on schedule. He got that in words, but as is often the case with Trump, they are not likely to mean much.

Witness the treatment of the United Kingdom, which on Wednesday was exempted from the travel ban by Trump, an apparent gesture toward his friend and ally Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Trump then reversed that exemption on Saturday, when the reality of the spread of the virus to Britain was impossible to deny.

"I've heard that Abe is terrified at the possibility of Trump banning Japanese visitors," a senior Japan expert in Washington, who declined to be named, told me. "I am not sure that's true," he said, "but you never know with Trump."

As with Europe, the decision is not likely to depend on any judgment about Abe or how Japan is handling the epidemic, but on whether there are mounting numbers of infections and deaths.

"I think that the decision will be based on the reach of the virus," former Trump National Security Advisor Lt. General H.R. McMaster, told Toyo Keizai. "If there are travel restrictions from Japan, they will not be due to concerns over how the government is handling it, but rather the effort to reduce risk to spread in the U.S." McMaster is currently the Japan Chair of the Hudson Institute and a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.

As for the Olympics, that decision first of all depends on global pandemic conditions, not just what is happening within Japan. "On the Olympics," McMaster told me, "I think it will require the identification of the peak not only in Japan, but also globally."

Abe's determination to hold the Games is understandable - it marks the pinnacle of his premiership and its cancellation or postponement, accompanied by a deep recession in the economy, is likely to spell the effective end of his political life. But Abe's desperate attempt to drag Trump into protecting the Games - and himself - is an empty hope.

"Whether or not the Olympics will be held in Japan as planned is not Abe's call, nor is it is Trump's," observes George Washington University Professor Mike Mochizuki, a respected Japan expert.
"It is ultimately up to the IOC (International Olympic Committee). So, if Abe called Trump to try to roll back Trump's off-the-cuff remarks about the Olympics, it's doubtful that it will make a difference in the end. Trump does not have much international credibility at this point, so he is not going to be an effective ally for Abe to lobby the IOC to proceed with the games."

The key issue for the IOC, and for other world leaders, will be whether bringing hundreds of thousands of athletes and spectators to Japan could create a potential new hot spot for the virus.
"Although I fully appreciate the economic and political stake that Abe and Japanese leaders have in the Olympics, the number one priority should be global health and safety," Mochizuki said. 

"Japanese leaders should not try to underestimate or underplay the risks because of their keen interest in holding the Olympics. As we approach the summer and temperatures increase, the number of new cases of infections may decrease. But we still need to be extra cautious. The virus could re-emerge in a more virulent form at the end of summer. Remember that the 'Spanish' flu came back with a vengeance in fall 1918, and that is when there was a horrible international death toll."

That view is shared by other Japan experts. "Given that we seem to be nowhere near the peak in most, if not all of the developed world - to say nothing of the developing world - I don't see how Japan will be able to welcome all the athletes, coaches, and spectators that they anticipated for the length of time planned," Tobias Harris of Teneo Consulting and author of a new biography of Abe said.

"Even if Japan were to contain the outbreak, convening the games could easily lead it to spread again. It is difficult to imagine outright cancellation so my guess is either significantly modified - few or no spectators, shorter duration - or delayed for a year or two."

Here in the United States, the coverage of the coronavirus epidemic has focused equally on the health issues and on politics, particularly the widespread perception of the incompetence of the Trump administration and the manifest lack of leadership.

The President's Wednesday night address to the nation proved to be a disaster - it featured a transparent attempt to blame the crisis on 'foreigners,' laced with multiple misstatements that had to be corrected subsequently, along with a failure to address the more crucial questions of the lack of widespread testing and economic assistance for those impacted.

Since the crisis began, Trump and his allies in conservative circles have been mostly content to point fingers of blame at his Democratic opponents, and to issue empty assurances that everything will be better soon.

Even the conservative Wall Street Journal condemned Trump's performance on Wednesday in an editorial the next day. The President "continues to give the impression that he views the virus more as another chance for political combat than a serious public-health problem," the Journal wrote.

The paper politely lacerated the President for an absence of leadership, from the botched roll-out of testing kits and the slow economic policy response, to failing to place the crisis response under the control of experts and instead "putting himself in front of every briefing and speculating about things he doesn't know much about."

The President's Friday declaration of a national emergency and an acknowledgement that tests were not, as previously claimed, widely available, was an attempt at a do-over.

The President was catching up to the rest of the country, which in the last weeks has moved dramatically, under the leadership of state and local governments as well as civil society, to impose drastic steps to mitigate the spread of the disease, including banning almost all large public events and closing universities and school systems.

Still, Trump's insistence that he was "not responsible" for the slow response to the crisis was widely seen as further evidence that he does grasp the role of a President at a moment of national crisis.

The U.S. view of the performance by Abe and the Japanese government is only slightly better. There was widespread criticism of the way the Japanese government handled the Diamond Princess, particularly the decision to keep the passengers and crew onboard rather than have them disembark quickly, be tested and transferred to onshore quarantine facilities. That lesson was learned by the time another cruise ship with infected passengers and crew docked here in the San Francisco Bay area.

"I think there was a lot of concern about Japan's competence during the Diamond Princess fiasco," a senior staff official at the U.S. Senate said. 

"But, frankly, Japan has benefited from the fact that so many of the urgent issues have been elsewhere - in China at first, now in Europe - that Japan has managed to side-step any significant attention or criticism. The fact that Japan has also not 'exported' too many cases to the US has also been a plus for management of the issue in a bilateral context."

Still questions remain about the low level of testing in Japan, second only to the U.S., raising suspicions that Abe has wanted to downplay the crisis to save the Olympics. Unlike South Korea, Japan is not seen as a model for how to manage this crisis.

"I think the American public is very impressed with the efficiency and transparency of South Korea's large-scale testing, and the ability of Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong to largely contain outbreaks, despite their geographical proximity to China," Mireya Solis, who heads the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, said. 

"Japan does not stand out -for good or for bad- in this international comparison, making it less visible to the U.S. public after the cruise ship incident."

Ultimately, Americans are much more focused on the appalling way the Trump administration has handled this pandemic than on Japan's experience. Ironically, given how much Abe seems to still depend on the favors of an increasingly desperate Trump, this works in Japan's favor.

"Criticisms of Japan were certainly justified," said Professor Mochizuki, "but Japan does not look so bad compared to the United States."

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Monday in Washington March 9 2020

THE LATEST ON F-35. 3/9, 9:30-10:30am. Sponsor: Mitchell Institute. Speaker: David Abba, Director of the F-35 Integration Office, Headquarters US Air Force.

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A CONVERSATION WITH FIONA HILL ON PUBLIC SERVICE. 3/16, 10:00-11:15am. Sponsor: Brookings. Speakers: Suzanne Maloney, Interim Vice President and Director, Foreign Policy Program, Brookings; Fiona Hill, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Program, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings. Moderator: John R. Allen, President, Brookings.

CURRENT U.S.-PHILIPPINES RELATIONS AND PERSPECTIVE ON WAYS FORWARD, WITH AMBASSADOR JOSE G ROMUALDEZ. 3/9, Noon-1:30pm. Sponsors: Stimson Center; US-Philippines Society. Speaker: Jose Manuel G. Romualdez, Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to U.S. Moderator: Bill Wise, Nonresident Fellow, Southeast Asia Program, Stimson Center.

THE DRAGONS AND THE SNAKES: HOW THE REST LEARNED TO FIGHT THE WEST. 3/9, 12:15-1:45pm. Sponsor: New America. Speaker: Author, David Kilcullen, Professor, School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona State University. Moderator: Peter Bergen, Vice President, New America.

A CONVERSATION ON NATIONAL SECURITY WITH GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS. 3/9, 2:00-3:00pm. Sponsor: Brookings. Speakers: General David Petraeus, Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; General David Petraeus (Ret.), Chairman, KKR Global Institute. Moderator: Michael E. O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow, Brookings.  

3/16, 3:30-4:30pm. Sponsor: Carnegie. Speakers: Anu Bradford, Henry L. Moses Professor of Law and International Organization, Columbia Law School; Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America. Moderator: Erik Brattberg, Director of the Europe Program, Carnegie.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Abe is slipping

Abe Departs from His Own Winning Formula in Battling COVID-19

By Dr Corey Wallace
Australian Outlook, Australian Institute of International Affairs, March 4, 2020

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s leadership longevity goes beyond the eponymous “Abenomics” economic program and his self-confident regional diplomacy. Built on a judiciously cultivated appearance of administrative competence and political stability, a key selling point has been an aptitude for crisis management.

In this regard, Abe’s already record-breaking seven-year premiership starkly contrasts with the Democratic Party of Japan’s (DPJ) three-year stint in power (2009-2012). The latter period was characterized by haphazard, personalized responses to national crises, intra-party bickering, circumvention of the bureaucracy, and a revolving door approach to top ministerial positions—including the premiership. After reclaiming the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidency and “taking back Japan” by winning the 2012 elections for the LDP, Abe has not shied away from reminding voters of the dangers of a return to DPJ-style governance.

Prime Minister Abe has sharpened this contrast by limiting turnover in high-level cabinet positions, top bureaucratic posts, and in his circle of personal advisers. His finance minister and deputy prime minister (Aso Taro), chief cabinet secretary (Suga Yoshihide), administrative deputy chief cabinet secretary (Sugita Kazuhiro), and key foreign policy adviser and first ever head of the National Security Council/National Security Secretariat (Yachi Shotaro), were with Abe on day one of his administration. Until September last year, he had had only two foreign ministers, one (Kono Taro) subsequently becoming his defence minister. Hasegawa Eiichi, Izumi Hiroto, and Imai Takuya have also been with Abe as special advisors from the start. This has resulted in the formation of an informal “leading small group” that has enhanced policy planning, crisis management, and public communications in various policy domains.

Abe has also employed institutional enhancements. Influenced by both American and British models, the creation of a Japanese National Security Council (NSC) and a supporting National Security Secretariat (NSS) in the Cabinet Secretariat has helped improve information sharing and analysis within the bureaucracy and clarified working relationships between administrative officials and political leaders. Abe has also asserted greater control over the bureaucracy by introducing a new cabinet-centred process for making top level personnel appointments. Traditionally, Japanese prime ministers have struggled to assert themselves over the bureaucracy, especially at times of national crisis, or felt insufficiently supported by their officials. These institutional enhancements have contributed to centralising political power and decision making around the prime minister and his office (Kantei) and the Cabinet and its secretariat.

These informal and institutional mechanisms for crisis management have not, however, helped Prime Minister Abe in his response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. The National Security Secretariat has been a non-entity as disease control sits outside its focus on national security, economic strategy, and geopolitics. Abe has also not been able to count on the steadying hand of his former national security adviser, Yachi Shotaro, due to his recent retirement. Japan also lacks a similar “control tower” mechanism that would perform a role like the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ideally would, by collecting and analysing information, providing expert advice to officials and local authorities on travel restrictions, quarantines, and isolation, and taking a leading role in public communications during crises.

The Abe administration did not set up a COVID-19 task force in the Cabinet Secretariat until two weeks after the first domestic case was reported (January 16), when the government finally decided to restrict the entry of recent travellers to Hubei Province. It took over a month for an expert advisory group to be set up, with a “Basic Plan” for limiting COVID-19’s spread only communicated to the public on February 25. All the while, the Diamond Princess saga was festering in the background, bringing with it increasing domestic and international concern over the administration’s handling of the quarantine.

Abe appears to have overcorrected, in the process revealing dysfunction in the leading small group that has hitherto served Abe well. Not more than a few days after the announcement of the COVID-19 Basic Plan, Abe made an unprecedented and abrupt announcement requesting Japanese elementary, junior and senior high schools nationwide to close for up to five weeks. It was subsequently revealed that Abe made this decision without consulting Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga or Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sugita and went against the advice of Education Minister Haguida Koichi, arguably his closest political ally. Even before COVID-19, press reports pointed to a strained working relationship between Abe and Suga which had divided the Cabinet and the Kantei. While officials in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki have generally submitted to the centralization of political power and administration around the Kantei and Cabinet over the last seven years, Abe’s actions have also ignited built-up resentments within the bureaucracy. Word got out in the media about the lack of consultation and internal fissures, and Abe was forced to admit in parliament that he had made this decision on his own and that it was not directly based on advice from his expert advisory group. Abe framed it as a personal, “political” decision for which he would take full responsibility, but it appeared reminiscent of one of Abe’s favourite talking points—the DPJ era’s ad hoc crisis management.

Furthermore, the feasibility of Japan’s public institutions, companies, and parents adapting in such a short period of time has for many betrayed a lack of awareness of the ultimate impact of Abe’s decision. This compounds a perception problem that has consistently dogged Abe, namely that he is out of touch with the day-to-day problems faced by the general public. His policy focus has not always accorded with public priorities, and in some cases has been unpopular. Examples include Abe’s obsession with constitutional change, conservative educational reforms, corporate tax reductions, and the legalization of casinos in Japan. Furthermore, the various scandals involving potential influence peddling have reinforced a sense that Abe is uninterested in public transparency. Some have also started to wonder if the Abe cabinet’s COVID-19 response is symptomatic of a fatigued and complacent administration.

Of course, being perceived as out of touch has not always been a major problem for Abe precisely due to the ability to communicate competence and steadiness in domestic administrative and diplomatic matters alongside robust economic performance. However, last October’s consumption tax rise put the economy on the back foot and infrastructure investment is also slowing ahead of the Olympics. A dramatic reduction in tourists due to COVID-19, particularly from China, will likely accompany decreased foreign demand for Japanese products and components as the Chinese economy grinds to a standstill and regional supply chains are affected. Together with the ubiquitous calls for jishuku (self-restraint) and a likely slump in economic activity in Japan itself, Japan’s economy is expected to enter a recession. In foreign affairs, the ability for Abe to showcase a reaffirmed Japan-China relationship ahead of the Olympics and as part of his political legacy has fallen victim to COVID-19 with Xi Jinping’s visit, the first by a Chinese leader to Japan in over a decade, being delayed. Abe can only hope that President Trump does not ratchet up the diplomatic pressure on Japan as American election season progresses.

Abe has built enough political capital to last out through the Olympics—assuming they go ahead, and the COVID-19 situation does not dramatically worsen. It is still very possible Abe will lead the LDP to another victory in elections likely to take place in late 2020 or early 2021. Whether the progress of COVID-19 is slowed over the next month may well, however, dictate how much influence Abe will have to anoint his successor and influence post-Abe policy. Over the next month the Japanese public will be considering whether the hit to the economy and major disruption of people’s livelihood due to the government’s management of COVID-19 has been worth it.

Dr Corey Wallace was formerly the Einstein postdoctoral fellow at the Graduate School of East Asian Studies at Freie Universität Berlin (2015-2019). From April 2020 he will be Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Foreign Languages at Kanagawa University, Yokohama, Japan. He holds a master’s degree (University of Canterbury) as well as a PhD from the University of Auckland.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Monday in Washington March 2, 2020

CONGRESS AND DEFENSE POLICY: A CONVERSATION WITH REP. MAC THORNBERRY, R-TEXAS. 3/2, 10:00-11:00am. Sponsor: Brookings. Speaker: Mac Thornberry, Representative, R-Texas, United States Congress; Moderator: Michael E. O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings.

CHINA-JAPAN COOPERATION FOR ASIAN MULTILATERALISM?: BRI, AIIB, AND RCEP. 3/2, 12:30-2:00pm. Sponsor: GW, Elliott School. Speakers: Saori Katada, Professor of Political Science and International Relations, USC; Takashi Terada, Professor of International Relations, Dōshisha University; Albert Keidel, Professorial Lecturer, GW. Moderator: Mike Mochizuki, Associate Professor, GW.

THE GEOPOLITICS AND GEOECONOMICS OF SUBMARINE CABLE NETWORKS. 3/2, 2:00-3:30pm. Sponsor: Carnegie. Speakers: Motoyoshi Tokioka, Executive Director, NEC Corporation; Motohiro Tsuchiya, Dean, Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University; Irene S. Wu, Senior Analyst, International Bureau Federal; Tim Stronge, Vice President of Research, TeleGeography. Moderator: James L. Schoff, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Asia Program.

NATURAL RESOURCES SAFEGUARDS AND SECURITY AS A PART OF THE INDO-PACIFIC VISION. 3/2, 2:30-4:00pm. Sponsor: Stimson Center. Speakers: Mary Melnyk, Environmental Security Team Leader, Asia Bureau, United States Agency for International Development; Anish Andheria, President, Wildlife Conservation Trust; Kate Newman, Vice President, Sustainable Infrastructure and Public Sector Initiatives, World Wildlife Fund; Sally Yozell, Program Director, Environmental Security Program, Stimson Center; Brian Eyler, Program Director, Southeast Asia Program, Stimson Center.

SYRIA'S TRAGEDY, OUR LESSONS. 3/2, 3:00-4:00pm. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee; Jacob Kurtzer, Interim Director, Humanitarian Agenda, CSIS. Moderator: Jon B. Alterman, Senior Vice President and Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, CSIS.

WHAT REMAINS: BRINGING AMERICA'S MISSING HOME FROM THE VIETNAM WAR. 3/2, 5:00-6:30pm. Sponsor: Elliott School Book Launch Series, Elliott School, GW. Speaker: Author, Sarah Wagner, Associate Professor of Anthropology, GW. Moderator: Andrew Bickford, Assistant 

LEADERSHIP IN THE 21ST CENTURY: A CONVERSATION WITH FOUR CIA DEPUTIES. 3/2, 5:30-6:30pm. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Cynthia “Didi” Rapp, Deputy Director for Analysis, CIA; Dawn Meyerriecks, Deputy Director for Science and Technology, CIA; Elizabeth “Betsy” Davis, Deputy Director for Support, CIA; Sonya Holt, Deputy Associate Director for Talent for Diversity and Inclusion, CIA; Kathleen H. Hicks, Senior Vice President, CSIS; Beverly Kirk, Fellow and Director for Outreach, International Security Program, CSIS.