Saturday, February 27, 2021

Japan's Decarbonization: Greenwashing or not?

New Business Lobby Pushes Japan Decarbonization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Japan’s Values Diplomacy Runs Aground in Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is China’s COVID-19 Diplomacy Working in Southeast Asia?

Is China’s COVID-19 Diplomacy Working in Southeast Asia?
A recent poll suggests a mixed picture for China.

By Yang Lizhong and Chen Dingding
Yang Lizhong is a research assistant at Intellisia Institute and former APP intern
Chen Dingding is the founder and president of Intellisia Institute, an independent think tank in Guangzhou, China.

The Diplomat, February 20, 2021

Many observers have discussed how China is using its COVID-19 medical aid as a means to improve its soft power, or even to exert geopolitical control overseas. A recent poll of Southeast Asian states might suggest a more mixed picture: While most Southeast Asian countries acknowledged that their powerful neighbor has contributed the most to the region in coping with the pandemic, the very same poll also showed that China’s image has actually deteriorated in the region over the past year.

The State of Southeast Asia 2021 poll, conducted by Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute on regional economic and political elites, found that a whopping 44.2 percent of the respondents considered China to have “provided the most help to the region for Covid-19,” with Japan, the EU, and the U.S. trailing far behind. Nevertheless, the respondents appear to be skeptical toward China’s prowess in the region. While China is considered by a comfortable majority to be the most influential economic and strategic-political power in the region, more than 70 percent of the respondents consider that to be worrisome. When faced with a binary choice between the United States and China, only 38.5 percent of the respondents preferred China over the U.S., down from 46.4 percent last year, and only three out of 10 countries retained a pro-China majority, down from seven last year. Especially with regards to the South China Sea, 62.4 percent of the respondents see China’s military build-up as a top concern, while only 12.5 percent feel the same way regarding the U.S. presence.

What might explain this discrepancy? One factor might be the timing of the survey. The survey was conducted in November 2020, by which time many of the Southeast Asian countries had kept the virus under control. By this point, China’s “mask diplomacy” in the earlier days of the pandemic still left a profound impression, but factored less in the respondents’ general impression of the country. The pandemic has since moved onto the vaccine stage, and multiple countries – including China, the U.S., India and Russia – are competing on level playing ground over vaccine provision, which has become highly politicized. While China promised to prioritize Mekong countries in vaccine provision as early as August last year, and pledged millions of coronavirus vaccine donations to Southeast Asian countries either bilaterally or through the WHO Covax scheme, the general public in the region are now scrutinizing issues such as the diversification of vaccine provision, avoiding being used as experimental objects, and cost-effectiveness of the vaccines.

Most importantly, against the backdrop of heightened U.S.-China tensions last year and the region’s role as one of the major battlegrounds in the rift between United States and China, Southeast Asians are worried about the prospective that vaccines might be used as a way to exert influence. This might have brought more scrutiny to Chinese vaccines, which are cheaper, but mainly are produced by the state-owned companies like Sinopharm, as opposed to private companies like Pfizer and AstraZeneca. While the state backing of Chinese vaccines means that they can be delivered more efficiently through central planning, it also strengthens the image of a connection between vaccines and China’s national security and interests, and does little to alleviate Southeast Asians’ distrust over China’s possible infringements of sovereignty, which hit a record high at 63 percent in the 2021 ISEAS survey.

The politicized nature of the vaccine issue also makes China’s vaccine a convenient tool conflated with domestic politics and nationalism as well. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to vaccinate his country’s population with 600,000 donated Sinopharm vaccines has sparked some public concerns, which he sought to assuage by asking Cambodians to disregard the origins of the vaccine. Thailand’s decision to withdraw from Covax and rely mostly on Sinovac’s vaccines is also controversial, especially against the backdrop of the ongoing anti-governmental protests. In a recent panel on China’s vaccine diplomacy, a Vietnamese expert also expressed concerns over how to reconcile Vietnam’s domestic anti-China sentiment with inoculating its population with Chinese vaccines.

However, it is still too early to rush to a conclusion on whether China’s COVID-19 diplomacy has been successful or not in Southeast Asia. For one, the Chinese government itself has refrained from using terms such as “vaccine diplomacy” and instead stressed the humanitarian nature of its global assistance efforts. That makes it difficult to assess what China’s agenda is in the first place, especially given that curbing the pandemic in neighboring countries is also beneficial for China itself. And even if extending global influence is one of China’s considerations, while China’s image in the region might not have improved in the past year, it has maintained a steady lead in terms of regional influence and acknowledgement for its regional contribution to fighting COVID-19.

Moreover, the respondent composition of the ISEAS survey has always been fluid, and leaves some confounding variables, such as respondents’ political leanings, unaddressed. It may not have presented the whole picture, given the disproportionately high representation of respondents from Singapore and Myanmar, and low representation from Vietnam and Indonesia. The fact that the survey was conducted two weeks after Biden was elected U.S. president meant that respondents were still in an optimistic post-election mood about the effectivity of a U.S. comeback to balance China in the region, which might distort the results especially regarding U.S.-China comparisons. Therefore it is important not to overinterpret its results, especially with regards to cross-time comparisons.

Most importantly, while the world watched in dismay last year as China and the United States exchanged animosity over COVID-19, the Biden administration has promised more international cooperation to address the pandemic, including working with China. Under this scenario, China’s aid efforts are less likely to be perceived as a bilateral issue, but more as part of an international effort against the common enemy of COVID-19. Southeast Asian countries are also less likely to face the binary choices they dread, which is also problematic for Beijing since it amplifies Southeast Asia’s threat perception as a result of geographic proximity and territorial disputes. If this scenario pans out, hopefully we can see global governance restored as a stabilizing buffer zone between Beijing and Washington, which is clearly in the interests of all parties involved.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The China Challenge

America’s big China question Resetting relations will be near the top of Joe Biden’s agenda — three new books look at the challenge 

by James Kynge, The Financial Times, JANUARY 20, 2021 

Before his death in 1994, Richard Nixon reflected that his much-acclaimed diplomatic masterstroke — the opening of US relations with China — might have been a mistake. “We may have created a Frankenstein,” the former US president said in an interview. 

The comment represented an early inkling of what has become a deep foreboding. As Joe Biden takes office as America’s 46th president, a huge China challenge is sitting in his inbox. 

The new president will have little time to read books. The militarisation of downtown Washington, a raging pandemic and a global tilt toward authoritarianism are just some of the issues on his plate. Nevertheless, his staff should take the time to delve into three perceptive guides — written from a western perspective — that provide insight and suggestions on how to grapple with China. 

Things have moved on a lot since Nixon’s “Frankenstein”, a comment that was made in the aftermath of the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. Then it was China’s own citizens who paid the price for defying the Chinese Communist party. Now the fate of the free world is at stake, if these three timely and thought-provoking books are correct. 

Clyde Prestowitz, who worked for President Ronald Reagan and has advised subsequent US administrations since then, offers particularly stark judgments in The World Turned Upside Down. He also offers pithy advice for the new American president. 

“The first thing [the new] president must do is to use his inaugural address as a wake-up call to the nation and the free world . . . to recognise the China challenge,” Prestowitz writes. “He must explain and emphasise that we are talking about the most difficult and dangerous external challenge the United States and the free world have ever faced.” 

Many in the US have lambasted China for a litany of supposed sins, not least during Donald Trump’s administration. What makes Prestowitz’s book refreshing is that he also takes aim much closer to home. He skewers corporate America and the coterie of Washington’s China lobbyists for perpetuating what he sees as systemic failures in US policy toward Beijing. The ire of a former insider crackles with an undisguised alarm. 

He identifies a “siren song” that seduced US policy and to which, he ruefully admits, he also fell prey. The tragic delusion that Washington allowed itself to buy into was “constructive engagement”, a notion that investing in China would somehow foster greater freedoms in the world’s largest communist country. 

This fantasy’s most influential adherent was President Bill Clinton, who negotiated China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001. The agreement, Clinton said at the time, would mean that China imported “one of democracy’s most cherished values, economic freedom”. And this, he added, “may lead to very profound change. The genie of freedom will not go back into the bottle.” 

With hindsight, it is clear that that particular genie was imaginary. 

The China of Xi Jinping, its leader since 2012, is considerably more authoritarian than it was when Clinton, his cabinet, national security advisers, trade representatives and most of Washington’s leading think-tanks placed their faith in “constructive engagement”. Indeed, President Xi in 2013 expressly banned the promotion of universal values, a free press and economic privatisation. 

Thus it is now obvious, Prestowitz says, that the US-led west has lost a big bet. The free world had wagered that globalisation would not only open China’s markets to free trade and competition but would also liberalise that country’s political environment. Beijing remained unmoved, using the surge of inward investment to bolster its technological base and strengthen its economy without liberalising its society or politics one iota. 

So what should the US do now? Before getting to his policy prescriptions for a new administration, Prestowitz provides an unsparing analysis of how Washington’s elite fell into the grip of their China delusion. 

“The answer, I think, is that they desperately wanted to believe for two reasons,” he writes. “One was that the corporations that largely run Washington saw huge business opportunities in China and were determined to cash in. The second was that the leading pundits and academics of the time told them it was all true.” 

In one of the book’s best sections, he gives a long list of former US officials from Henry Kissinger onward who found a second career lobbying for corporate America in China. But in their efforts to ingratiate themselves with Beijing, these influential US figures soon found themselves also doing China’s bidding back in Washington. 

Ultimately, corporate America has become Beijing’s most potent force in Washington. When the representatives of US companies that do extensive business in China are called on to testify before Congress, for instance, they “do not necessarily present what is best for America”, writes Prestowitz. “They are often thinking of what is best for their business in circumstances under which Beijing has them by the balls while they, by dint of their legally unlimited political donations to US politicians, have Washington by the balls,” he adds. Prestowitz names Maurice Greenberg, ex-head of the insurance giant AIG, and Fred Smith, the boss of FedEx, the US parcel delivery company, among the corporate titans that played this game. 

“[Smith] became a master at playing Washington, putting ex-senators and congresspersons on his board, donating to all the influence makers just as [Greenberg] did and making big contributions to political campaigns,” Prestowitz writes. 

The captive nature of corporate America is also seen in its subservience to Beijing. When China was disenchanted in 2019 with an app that Hong Kong demonstrators were using to track the Hong Kong police, Apple deleted it from its app store (though the company said it did so as it contravened internal guidelines). Google also deleted from its Play Store a game that echoed the Hong Kong protest movement. The list goes on: Delta Air Lines, Gap, Activision Blizzard, Medtronic, Marriott and others have all moderated their behaviour, apologised or taken other steps to appease Beijing. 

In his advice to the new administration, Prestowitz suggests a series of actions directed not so much at China as at the behaviour of American companies and institutions. Businesses that comply with China’s interference in their freedom of speech should be fined by Washington, he says. When US company spokespeople opine on China, they should have to divulge their company’s track record in the People’s Republic. 

The author also recommends new policies on political donations, tax, market access, monetary policy, manufacturing investment and several other areas with the aim of maintaining America’s position as the “world’s most competitive economy”. 

In case the reader is left in any doubt over how Prestowitz sees his call to action, he writes the new president a script. The White House must make clear that national interests outweigh those of multinationals and investment banks, the author argues, adding, “and he must explain that the cold war with the Soviet Union was just a warm-up game for the main match now coming”. 

Visions of a chilling future also feature in Nigel Inkster’s The Great Decoupling. Though his tone is more measured than that of Prestowitz, it reinforces a sense that the US-led west and China are locked in a desperate struggle not only for technological supremacy but also — in the case of the west — to preserve its liberal system. 

“China’s emergence as a powerful modern state with a different ideology and values and a long-term strategy pursued through a centralised, state-driven all-of-nation approach has raised serious questions about how fit for purpose the western liberal democratic order is in the 21st century,” writes the former director of operations and intelligence for the British Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6). 

The stage is thus set for a contest between China and the west that will define this century and shake up relations in trade, economics, finance, technology and other areas. In the process, global rules will need to be rewritten as globalisation regresses to give way to a system based more on regional trading arrangements. 

Like Prestowitz, Inkster does not appear at all certain that the west will prevail in the contest that he describes. He observes mounting speculation about the US and China becoming embroiled in a new cold war, something he sees as inappropriate. “A better analogy might be the relationship between Britain and Imperial Germany in 1914 that involved strategic rivalry but also an entanglement so deep that commentators at the time believed it would make war between them inconceivable,” writes Inkster. “In the event, it did not.” 

Inkster does not predict conflict but says the odds for it are shortening. The commercial decoupling between the US and China is driving the two sides further apart and generating a climate of distrust in which each side’s behaviour is interpreted in worst-case terms. Each side is therefore incentivised to maximise espionage and covert efforts to undermine the other, he writes. 

There is, however, a middle ground, according to Luke Patey. In How China Loses he writes that if Beijing loses in a contest with the west, the fallout would be so widespread that the world itself would lose. His argument is that China’s co-operation is crucial to the future of the global commons, particularly at a time when climate change threatens the livelihood of all humanity. 

For this reason, Patey, a researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, says that middle powers such as India, Japan, Germany and France (the UK goes unmentioned) have an obligation to make their influence felt so that the world’s destiny is not reduced to the outcome of belligerence between superpowers. 

His prescription is classic balancing. He calls for a push-back against Chinese assertiveness, for example in the East and South China Seas. But he says that the aim of such resistance should not be to contain Beijing but to deter it from going too far. The aim of such a policy would be to “advance multilateralism to establish common rules and norms in world affairs”. 

It is hard to give up on the hope that such a comforting future might still be possible. But Prestowitz and Inkster can muster little, if any, faith that accommodation between the west and China towards a shared prosperity is still workable. Nixon’s foreboding is starting to look more prescient, at least from a western perspective. China exhibits little inclination to take its place in a US-led international order that was not of its making. 

President Biden may be obliged to accept that the days of US co-operation with China are waning and prepare to set about protecting the west’s democracy while there is still a chance. 

Japan and the U.S. Differ

Beneath The Surface, Cracks Widen Between Japan and The U.S. Over Burma, Korea

By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University and APP member.
Tokyo Business Today, February 18,2021

In the early weeks of the Biden administration, Japan and the United States have gone out of their way to present a united front. Senior Biden officials, from the President on down, have made clear that the alliance with Japan stands at the center of their broader strategy to meet the challenge of China.

In numerous calls, they have offered Tokyo many sought-after assurances of American security guarantees from the Senkakus to nuclear deterrence and echoed Japan’s favorite idea, the creation of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).

But beneath the surface, there is growing frustration in the White House with Japan, cracks over key issues that could widen in coming weeks and months. Behind the scenes, there are differences in how to deal with the military coup in Burma and the corrosive relationship between Japan and South Korea. And those tensions are tied to the bigger question, how to forge an allied response to China.

The military takeover in Burma (Myanmar) is an early crisis for the Biden administration, with the Chinese backing the coup while the United States condemns it and has moved to impose sanctions against the coup leaders. Japan has joined the protest but it has been pointedly cautious about taking punitive steps against the military, worrying that it will undermine Japan’s considerable investment in Burma and simply drive the military into the arms of Beijing.

The emerging Biden administration strategy toward China rests heavily on drawing a line overvalues, framing the “strategic competition” as a contest between democracy and authoritarianism.

“Burma is the first test of Biden’s commitment to democracy and to allies,” says a former senior U.S. official with close ties to the administration. In this test, “right now the number one head-butting issue with Japan is over Burma.”

Japanese officials are privately lecturing their American counterparts about how “Asians are different,” the former official reports. He compares it with the differences in the 1980s, which culminated in the response to the Tiananmen massacre in Beijing when Japan resisted American pressure to impose sanctions on China.

“Their attitude toward Burma looks like the same pattern,” a veteran Japanese foreign affairs journalist observed to me. “They claim that too much pressure won’t help the process of democratization.”

Japanese and American officials are doing their best to bridge these differences. Secretary of State Antony Blinken got on the phone last week with Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu to try to find a formula for cooperation and Motegi signaled a readiness to join public statements. But the Japanese Foreign Minister was more interested in talking about the Chinese Coast Guard.

The Korea Questions
The most serious gap between Tokyo and Washington is not, however, over Burma. It is how to manage relations with South Korea. Within days of taking office, the Biden administration sent a gentle but clear message to their Japanese and Korean allies to move quickly to repair their broken relationship.

In phone calls with their Japanese and Korean counterparts, President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken made a point of the importance to the U.S. of restoring “trilateral U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea cooperation.”

They repeat this at every opportunity – in his call with Motegi last week, Blinken “welcomed further regional cooperation, including through U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral coordination and the Quad.”

Behind this lies the growing fear in Washington that the breach between Japan and Korea will blow a massive strategic hole in the Biden plan to strengthen regional security networks, including the Quad.

China and North Korea are “targeting that fissure” between Japan and South Korea, says a former senior Obama administration defense planner. Without restoring some functional trust, the idea of a regional security structure may never be realized, Biden officials worry.

Relations between Japan and South Korea are at “their lowest levels in decades,” a recent report on U.S.-Japan relations issued by the Congressional Research Service concluded. While the administration of Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide gives its nod to the idea of trilateral security cooperation, it is resisting the American push to improve relations with Seoul, particularly when it comes to the battles over wartime history issues.

“On trilateral security cooperation, we also believe it is crucial if we want to pressurize North Korea as well as China on the issue of North Korea denuclearization,” a senior official in the Prime Minister’s National Security Secretariat (NSS) told me. But security should be completely separated from those historical issues, which are matters that “basically need to be addressed between Japan and Korea.”

This reflects what American officials heard from Suga himself in his first telephone talk with Biden after he took office. “The call was great except Suga pushed back hard on Biden’s desire to see Japan-ROK relations improve,” the well-informed former senior official told me. The Japanese leader told Biden that the Koreans have effectively broken the 1965 treaty normalizing relations between the two countries and “they have to make that right first.”

While Tokyo is rebuffing the Biden administration, President Moon has taken a different tack. Last month, Moon surprisingly shifted his tone and signaled an interest in warming up relations with Japan.

The Korean leader reaffirmed that the 2015 agreement on “comfort women” remains intact as an official pact and expressed unhappiness with a Korean court decision demanding that Japan pay compensation to survive women. He also indicated a desire to put off the liquidation of Japanese company assets seized as part of a Korean court decision to grant compensation to Korean forced laborers.

South Korean experts point to several factors behind the shift.

Moon is entering his last year in office and is somewhat desperate to make a breakthrough in his bid to engage North Korea and secure a formal end to the Korean war. The Moon Blue House is worried that the Biden administration will put negotiations with North Korea on the back burner and they are looking for ways to revive momentum.

“Bringing Japan into the diplomatic game is being seriously considered under circumstances when summit diplomacy between Trump and Kim Jong Un is gone,” says Seoul National University Professor Park Cheol Hee, one of the leading Japan experts in Korea. Koreans hope the Summer Olympic Games may offer a venue to revive diplomacy with Pyongyang.

Moon and his advisors also anticipated the pressure coming from the new Biden administration to improve ties with Japan and wanted to get out ahead and demonstrate to Washington their willingness to cooperate. “The Moon administration faced a need to show an initiative to ameliorate ties between Korea and Japan before Biden steps in,” says Park, an advocate of improving relations.

All this takes place as Moon’s popularity is declining and the use of anti-Japanese nationalism to boost popularity seems to have worn thin of late. “The mood of the day in Korea is that blaming Japan is no longer delivering wonderful political scores to President Moon and the ruling party,” Professor Park told me.

Despite these factors, Moon’s gestures fall well short of what either Tokyo, or Korean backers of improved relations, feels is needed. On the issue of the ‘comfort women,’ while Moon affirmed the validity of the 2015 agreement, he did nothing to restore it.

The South Korean government moved to freeze the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, which was funded by Japan and provided compensation payments to two-thirds of the surviving women.

The forced labor issue is a far more complicated legal issue and also poses a dangerous ‘red line’ in relations if the Korean courts go ahead and liquidate Japanese assets. The Japanese government has argued since the court decisions were issued, that this issue was settled by the 1965 treaty, which provided compensation in a limited fashion, and which also includes a provision for disputes over claims to be settled by an arbitration panel.

Ideas to settle this issue have been circulating for some months, including a proposal floated by a senior Korean politician to create a foundation similar to the one created by Germany some 20 years ago to provide compensation to forced laborers, with funds provided by both Japanese and Korean firms. [The Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, known as The German Future Fund, grants also go to democracy promotion and human rights]

Privately there is some interest in such ideas in both Korea and Japan – and American officials are also aware of these discussions and may offer to help the process.

But it requires the two governments to show the political will to solve the problem, which so far has not been evident.

“Prime Minister Suga would not take a risk in resolving this issue before he is re-elected as Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party in September or has an election victory,” former South Korean foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan, an important actor in Korea-Japan relations, told me.

A senior advisor to Prime Minister Suga expressed deep skepticism that President Moon is really ready to act and even if he did, the Japanese worry that he will shift in response to political pressures, “allowing the South Koreans to move the goalpost once again.”

For the Biden administration, this is an early lesson in how grand visions – in this case of an Indo-Pacific regional partnership and revived alliances – can founder on the rocks of domestic politics.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Searching for Gender Equality in Biden Asia Policy

German Embassy Staff in Tokyo

On Friday, February 12, 2021, after over a week of silence, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki was forced to comment on Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics organizing committee chief Yoshiro Mori's observation that women talk too much that forced him to resign that day. 

In contrast, the EU and the European Embassies in Tokyo the week before had tweeted pictures of staff raising their hands as if they were to ask a question at a meeting under the hashtags "dontbesilent" and "genderequality" in protest.
The U.S. response came only because Psaki was asked at a White House press conference about Mori's nonchalant observation that women extend the length of meeting by their questions. Surprised by Mori's comment, Psaki simply said "We certainly didn't approve of those comments." She refrained from commenting on his resignation, as she wanted to "work to get you a more specific reaction from our team."

Why was she surprised and why should her follow up be "work"? 

She has yet to follow up with her response. The following week there was news that the White House was forming a Gender Policy Council to be "a government-wide approach to gender equity and equality.”

That the U.S. should be caught so flat-footed on the values issues with Japan exposes the flaws in the narrowly defined "alliance" with Japan. The emphasis on the military relationship and building a coalition against China, ignores the fundamental gaps in worldviews between us. This singular emphasis on a narrow definition of security strips away critical diplomatic tools to affect Japanese behavior and promote American leadership.

On its surface, what Mori, 83, said to the Japanese Olympic Committee on February 3 was just another of his many infamous rightwing, old-man "gaffes." When asked about increasing the number of women on the Committee he retorted that “meetings with many women take a long time” because “Women are competitive. When one of them raises her hand, others probably think they have to talk too and everyone says something.” He said the women attending the current Olympic Committee meeting were “sensible to know their place.” Mori added that he had heard comments that increasing the number of women would be a problem unless time limits are put in place.

Groundhog's Day
The first week in February, saw other Japanese steps backwards on women's empowerment. On Feb. 1, Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expanded its explanations of the comfort women issue on its webpages. The government focused on refuting facts that contradict their preferred version of history. MOFA added explanations of such terms as the “forceful taking away [of comfort women]” and “sex slaves.” The explanations on its “History Issues Q&A” webpage are presented in greater detail with more outdated misinformation and misunderstanding of sexual violence.

Previewing this change, was a January 12th article in Sankei's news-for-foreigners Japan Forward previewing a journal article by Harvard Law School's Mitsubishi Professor of Japanese Legal Studies J. Mark Ramseyer,“Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War.” Oddly, the Japan Forward provided a link to the unpublished International Review of Law and Economics article. It has since been removed.

Essentially, Ramseyer's argument is that the Comfort Women were neither victims nor sex slaves, but women of individual agency who signed contracts for their well-paid labor. His shorter piece in Japan Forward is a raucous take on the original article's rather dry legal history of licensed prostitution in Japan. 

Among the many problems with the Ramseyer paper found by scholars around the world is that the Comfort Women were never a designation under this legal regime. Here is a website organized by scholars at UCLA that is gathering the comments and analyses of Ramseyer's article: LINK. The Journal where it was to be published in March, has withdrawn it for reconsideration.

The U.S. has consciously shied away from criticizing the Japanese on its intertwined gender and history problems. The Embassy's Public Diplomacy director chastised me for asking publicly, in a Washington forum on public diplomacy with Japan, why the U.S. did not criticize Mori. She categorized my simple question as "disparaging" and suggested that "If, like us, you are interested in promoting gender equality, we would invite you to consider spreading the word among your Japanese contacts about the many public programs we host on this topic." This clearly has been a successful policy...not.

Passive Aggressive
The Alliance Managers believe criticizing Japan hinders cooperation. The U.S. believes it will anger our important Ally. However, Japan is changing. Polls found a clear majority of the Japanese found Mori’s comments offensive and unacceptable. The Ramseyer article was met with skepticism as few are so foolish to believe an illiterate 14-year old peasant girl understood what a contract was, let alone one for sexual services. 

So the root problem is a dangerous one for the Alliance. Japan's leadership is out of touch with their citizens.
Bowing to the current conservative government's characterizations of women and history, risks aligning our policies with a government whose views are at odds with our own and that do not even reflect those of most Japanese citizens. This undermines both our commitment to democracy and to women's rights. Giving Japan a pass on the values issues will have repercussions. It gives license to other Japanese bad behaviors that are out of step with contemporary norms and corrupts our efforts to build trust both with the Japanese people and their neighbors.


The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that Japan's trafficking of women for sexual services during World War II was a serious violation of human rights, flatly contradicting a controversial claim by a Harvard professor that such women were rather voluntary prostitutes.

"As the United States has stated many times, the trafficking of women for sexual purposes by the Japanese military during World War II was an egregious violation of human rights," a department spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency, speaking on condition of anonymity

The remarks come amid a public uproar sparked by J. Mark Ramseyer, Mitsubishi professor of Japanese Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, who argued that former sex slaves for the Japanese military were prostitutes who had entered into voluntary contracts.

His claim has also prompted serious concerns among many in the U.S. who believe it may be one of Japan's latest attempts to whitewash its war atrocities.

The department official said the U.S. is monitoring the situation.

"We continue to closely follow developments in relations between our two close allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK)," the official said, referring to South Korea by its official name.

"We have long encouraged Japan and the ROK to continue to work together on this issue in a way that promotes healing and reconciliation," added the official.

The official also highlighted the importance of the countries working together to promote democratic values, including human rights.

"The United States values our robust and productive trilateral relationship with Japan and the Republic of Korea as we work together to promote our shared commitment to freedom, human rights, democracy, women's empowerment, and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region and across the globe."

Sunday, February 7, 2021

American accountability

Holocaust Remembrance Day



JANUARY 27, 2021

I will remember that a nation’s power isn’t measured only by the size of its military or economy, but by the moral choices it makes.