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

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 and

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. 

 THE WAR OF ASIA AND THE PACIFIC AS HISTORY OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: RECONSIDERING THE INVASION AND OCCUPATION OF FRENCH INDOCHINA BY JAPAN9/8, 6:00pm (JST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Japan History Group (JHG), Institute of Social Science (ISS). Speakers: Franck Michelin, Professor, Teikyo University; Atsushi Moriyama, Professor, University of Shizuoka. 

JAPAN’S GEOECONOMIC STRATEGY IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC9/8, 7:30 pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: UC San Diego.  Speakers: Saori N. Katada, Professor of International Relations, University of Southern California; Ulrike Schaede, Professor and Director of the Japan Forum for Innovation and Technology, GPS UC San Diego.

JAPAN UPDATE 2020: JAPAN'S CHOICES BEYOND COVID-19. 9/8-9/10, 3:00-5:00am (EDT), ONLINE CONFERENCE. Sponsors: Australia-Japan Research Centre; Japan Institute at the Australian National University. Speakers include: Haruka Sakamoto, University of Tokyo; Hiromi Murakami, GRIPS; Sota Kato, Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research; Toshitaka Sekine, Hitotsubashi University; Tomohiko Satake, National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS); Yoshihide Soeya, Keio University; Rikki Kersten, Murdoch University; Moderators: Sanjaya Senanayake, ANU; Sagiri Kitao, University of Tokyo; Lauren Richardson, ANU; Ippei Fujiwara, Keio University and ANU.

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.