Sunday, April 18, 2021

Monday Asia Events, April 19, 2021

10:00-11:00am (EDT). WEBCAST. Sponsor: Global Europe Program, Wilson Center (WWC). Speakers: Hans-otto Pörtner, Researcher of Marine Ecophysiology, Co-chair Working Group II IPCC; Pascal Chabenet, Coral Reef Specialist, Director of the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development, La Reunion; Mark Driessen, Manager of Public Affairs, Stakeholder Management, and Communications, Porthos Rotterdam; Jenny Brown, Coastal Oceanographer, National Oceanography Centre, UK; Moderator: Ambassador David Balton, Senior Fellow, Polar Institute, WWC, and Former Ambassador for Oceans and Fisheries, U.S. Department of State.

NATIONAL SECURITY COMMISSION ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (NSCAI) "BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION” REPORT. 10:00-11:00am (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). Speakers: Hon. Robert O. Work, NSCAI Commissioner; Hon. Jose-Marie Griffiths, NSCAI Commissioner.

SUSTAINABLE US PRESENCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST: BALANCING SHORT AND LONG-TERM NEEDS. 10:00-11:00am (EDT). Sponsor: Brookings Institution (Brookings). Speakers: Michael E. O’Hanlon, Director of Research, Foreign Policy, Brookings, Co-Director, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, Africa Security Initiative, Brookings, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, Brookings, and The Sydney Stein, Jr. Chair; Becca Wasser, Fellow, Center for a New American Security; Emma Ashford, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; Robert Pape, Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago; Moderator: Daniel L. Magruder Jr., Colonel, U.S. Air Force, and Federal Executive Fellow, Brookings.

DOES THE UNITED STATES NEED CHINA TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE? 10:00-11:00am (EDT). WEBINAR. Sponsor: Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). Speakers: Michael Klare, Secretary, Arms Control Association Board of Directors, and Senior Visiting Fellow, ITIF; Robert D. Atkinson, President, ITIF. 

NEW TOOLS FOR NEW THREATS: JOHN RATCLIFFE ON STRENGTHENING U.S. INTELLIGENCE CAPABILITIES. 11:00-11:45am (EDT). WEBINAR. Sponsor: Heritage Foundation. Speaker: The Honorable John Ratcliffe, Former Director of National Intelligence; Moderator: David R. Shedd, Visiting Fellow, Heritage Foundation.

NUCLEAR ISSUES ACROSS THE UNITED STATES. Noon-1:15pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsors: Heritage; Ronald Reagan Institute. Speakers: Representative Dina Titus (NV-01); Erica Fein, Advocacy Director, Win Without War; Yasmeen Silva, Partnership Manager, Beyond the Bomb; Denise Duffield, Associate Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility–Los Angeles; Moderator: Naomi Egel, Janne Nolan Nuclear Security Visiting Fellow, Truman Center.

BIDEN’S NORTH KOREA POLICY REVIEW: PERSPECTIVES FROM THE REGION. 2:00-3:00pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Stimson. Speakers: Yun Sun, Co-Director, East Asia Program and Director, China Program, Stimson; Yuki Tatsumi, Co-Director, East Asia Program and Director, Japan Program, Stimson; Jenny Town, Senior Fellow, Stimson and Director, 38 North Program, Stimson; Moderator: Brian Finlay, President and CEO, Stimson. 


Friday, April 16, 2021

Any Value to the Suga Visit

SS Vyner Brooke
Why Comfort Women Matter to the U.S.-Japan Values Summit
Getting history right matters and Washington needs to hold its allies to the same moral values and standards that America and its allies claim to represent.

The National Interest, April 12, 2021

by Tessa Morris Suzuki, Professor Emerita of Japanese History, School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University and Mindy L. Kotler, Director of Asia Policy Point in Washington, DC.

In February 1942, after sinking the SS Vyner Brooke off the coast of Bangka Island near the Java Sea, the occupying Imperial Japanese gave the Australian and European women who survived a choice: they could starve in a prison camp on Sumatra or sign a document to provide sexual services on demand for Japanese troops.

This episode and many others like it during the war in the Pacific have reverberated over the generations. On Friday, nearly eighty years later, this history will underlie President Joe Biden’s summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The White House apparently invited Suga to be the first foreign leader to visit the White House in order to mirror Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe’s pre-inauguration meeting with Donald Trump in 2017—and to cover for the impending conflict over values. Although the U.S.-Japan Alliance is heralded as rock solid, opinion writers have been quick to point out the mercurial state of American foreign policy. They try to brush aside what the President might ask of Suga by saying that Americans change course very quickly and unexpectedly. In other words, Japan does not need to take the meeting over values too seriously.

All of this is a deflection from Japan’s responsibility for the rift in the Alliance. The Suga Administration has accelerated a project started under the Abe Administration to manipulate and rewrite the history of the Pacific War, and particularly of women and girls trafficked and coerced into military brothels throughout the areas occupied by Japan during World War II—known as Comfort Women.

Despite well-established history of the many ways in which women and girls of multiple nationalities were forced into sexual slavery to Imperial Japan’s military, the Japanese government tries to present the issue simply as one between Japan and an overwrought, never satisfied South Korea. The result has eroded trust between these two major American allies, and frustrated Washington.

At the heart of the problem lies the question of whether or not the Japanese government admits that Japan’s military was responsible for the Comfort Women system, and accepts that the women and girls involved were recruited by deception or coercion. A 1993 statement issued by Japan’s then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged the role of the military in the comfort women system, including the fact that “at the time administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments,” and admitted that some women had been recruited through coercion.

The Japanese government states that they have “inherited” the Kono Statement, carefully avoiding any promise to “uphold,” “commit to” or “fulfill” the promises of the Statement. Instead, conservative governments have steadily promoted the view that there are no documents that show forcible removal of any women by military or government officials. A review of the history of the Statement, supervised by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga in 2014, implied that Japan had caved in to pressure from the Korean government, undermining public confidence in the Statement’s content.

The Statement, in fact, has been so diminished that the government has recently announced it will no longer use the term “military comfort women” or “so-called military comfort women” (the expressions used in the Kono Statement): the word “military” has been removed from this phrase because it highlights the role of Japan’s armed forces in the comfort women system.

A recent academic article by Harvard Law Professor Mark Ramseyer has helped to fuel Japan’s development of a revisionist narrative that depicts the Comfort Women as willing prostitutes. Astonishingly, this article presents all Japanese and Korean Comfort Women as contractual workers under Japan’s prostitution system, in which (Ramseyer suggests) children as young as ten-years-old knowingly and voluntarily negotiated prostitution contracts. Some Japanese ruling party politicians have enthusiastically promoted this version of history, while the Japanese Education Minister has publicly suggested that Ramseyer’s article is part of the process by which we “approach the truth” of history.

Tokyo’s position is so antithetical to any contemporary understanding of trafficking and sexual violence in warfare that American policymakers must be stunned. The Japanese government’s blanket denial of forced recruitment of comfort women not only contradicts irrefutable evidence of force in multiple cases; it also shows a fundamental lack of understanding of sex trafficking and sexual slavery. This is because the Japanese authorities do not see the skewed power relationship nor comprehend the psychology of coercion.

The dispute itself is the tip of much larger and troubling “history wars”: part of a push to revise memories of the Asia Pacific War as a whole. Last month, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party announced that one of its main strategic objectives for 2021 was a further expansion of the government budget for telling its version of history internationally. With Tokyo demanding the removal of Comfort Women memorials from sites in America and Germany, and using pressure to have one ripped out of its foundation in sight of the Bayview Hotel in Manila where hundreds of Filipino women were gang-raped by retreating Japanese troops, this “war” is not confined to South Korea.

In releasing the 2020 Human Rights Report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken lamented that “the trend lines on human rights continue to move in the wrong direction.” A concerning part of this trend are denials in Japan and the United States of the terror that compelled women like some Vyner Brooke survivors to “choose” to join a Comfort Station. Blinken said in his remarks: “standing for people’s freedom and dignity honors America’s most sacred values.” The U.S.-Japan Alliance is said to be based on those shared values. Now Washington and Tokyo need to discuss what this means in practice. The Biden-Suga Summit will test the U.S. Administration’s ability to be fair, but firm with allies as well as with those it sees as rivals and security threats.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Monday Asia Events, April 12, 2021

DO US-CHINA EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGES SERVE AMERICAN INTERESTS? 9:00-10:30am (EDT). WEBCAST. Sponsor: John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution (Brookings). Speakers: Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch, President, US-China Education Trust; Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy, Founding Director and Distinguished Scholar, Kissinger Institute on China and the United States; Richard Stengel, Strategic Advisor, Snap Inc. and Former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Lee Bollinger, President, Columbia University; Jeffrey Lehman, Vice Chancellor, NYU Shanghai; Kurt Dirks, Vice Chancellor for International Affairs, Washington University in St. Louis, and Director, McDonnell International Scholars Academy; Ted Mitchell, President, American Council on Education; Moderators: Cheng Li, Director, John L. Thornton China Center and Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings; Susan A. Thornton, Senior Fellow, Paul Tsai China Center, Yale Law School, and Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings. 

GOVERNMENT POLICIES RESHAPE THE BANKING INDUSTRY: CHANGES, CONSEQUENCES, AND POLICY ISSUES. 10:00am-Noon (EDT). LIVESTREAM. Sponsor: American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Speakers: Charles Calomiris, Henry Kaufman Professor of Financial Institutions, Columbia University; Bert Ely, Principal, Ely & Company; Alex J. Pollock, Distinguished Senior Fellow, R Street Institute; Richard E. Sylla, Professor Emeritus of Economics, New York University; Moderator: Paul H. Kupiec, Resident Scholar, AEI. 

ADVICE FOR PRESIDENT BIDEN: DEALING WITH PUTIN’S RUSSIA. Noon-1:00pm (EDT). ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsors: Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Security Studies Program, MIT; MISTI MIT-Russia. Speakers: Andrey Kortunov, Director General, Russian International Affairs Council; Angela Stent, Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, and Professor of Government and Foreign Service, Georgetown University. 

INSIDE PUTIN’S RUSSIA: A TURNING POINT IN DOMESTIC POLITICS? Noon-1:00pm (EDT). WEBINAR. Sponsor: Chatham House. Speakers: Joanna Szostek, Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House; Natalia Antonova, Writer and Journalist; Arkady Moshes, Programme Director, Finnish Institute of International Affairs; Henry Foy, Moscow Bureau Chief, Financial Times; Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Regional Director and Head of Research, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, Amnesty International. Members only 

SOLARWINDS AND COZY BEARS: HOW RUSSIAN HACKERS COMPROMISED THE U.S. GOVERNMENT AND HOW WE CAN REDUCE THE CHANCES OF IT HAPPENING AGAIN. 1:00-1:45pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsor: Heritage. Speakers: Chad Wolf, Visiting Fellow, Davis Institute; Scott Jasper, Lecturer, Department of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School and Captain, U.S. Navy (Ret); Moderator: James Di Pane, Research Associate, Center for National Defense. 

BEYOND EXIGENCY: INSIGHTS ON SUPPLY CHAIN VULNERABILITIES AND BUILDING GLOBAL RESILIENCE. 1:00-2:00pm (EDT). WEBCAST. Sponsors: Asia Program, Wilson Center (WWC); Canada Institute, WWC. Speakers: Ambassador Mark Green, President, Director and CEO, WWC; The Honorable Mike Gallagher, United States Representative from Wisconsin's 8th District; The Honorable Elissa Slotkin, United States Representative from Michigan’s 8th District; Christopher Sands, Director, Canada Institute, WWC; Shihoko Goto, Deputy Director for Geoeconomics and Senior Associate for Northeast Asia, Asia Program, WWC.

THE FUTURE OF US SECURITY IN SPACE. 1:30-3:15pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsor: Scowcroft Center, Atlantic Council. Speakers: Gen James E. Cartwright, USMC (Ret.), former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense; Hon. Deborah Lee James, former Secretary of the Air Force, US Department of the Air Force; Hon. Charles F. Bolden Jr., MajGen, USMC (Ret.), 12th Administrator and Astronaut, NASA; Scott Pace, former Executive Secretary, US National Space Council and Professor, George Washington University; Debra Facktor, Head of U.S. Space Systems, Airbus U.S. Space & Defense, Inc.; Ellen Chang, Head of Naval Portfolio, H4X Labs & Retired Officer, U.S. Navy; Gregg Maryniak, Co-Founder and Director, XPRIZE Foundation; Matthew Daniels, Senior Fellow, Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) and Research Faculty, Georgetown University; Jana Robinson, Managing Director and Space Security Program Director, Prague Security Studies; Moderators: Jennifer Griffin, National Security Correspondent, Fox News; Jacqueline Feldscher, National Security and Space Reporter, POLITICO. 

NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS IN CHINA: RESEARCH AND POLICY. 5:00 - 6:00pm (PST), WEBINAR. Sponsor: California-China Climate Institute and The Nature Conservancy. Speakers: Huo Li, Climate Change and Energy Director, The Nature Conservancy, China; Dr. Gao Xiang, Director of International Policy Research, National Center on Climate Change and International Cooperation; Dr. Wang Binbin, Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development, Tsinghua University; Dr. Christina McCain, Associate Director of Programs, Climate and Land Use Alliance.

WHAT CHINA'S S&T MODERNIZATION MEANS FOR THE U.S.: A STRATEGIC PERSPECTIVE. 7:00-8:00pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsors: Center on Science and Technology Policy and Asian/Pacific Studies Institute, Duke University. Speaker: Richard P. Suttmeier, Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, University of Oregon; Moderator: Dennis Simon, Senior Adviser to the President for China Affairs, Duke.

Behind North Korea’s Olympic Decision

– The “Worst-Ever Situation"Facing Kim Jong Un

By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University and APP member

Toyo Keizai, April 11, 2021

The North Korean announcement that they would not participate in the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo was undoubtedly disappointing news for both South Korea and Japan. The South Korean government hoped to use the Games as a platform to reinvigorate its desperate efforts at engagement with the North. For Japan, the danger is that this may be a harbinger of other dropouts, also citing Covid-19 fears.

The North Korean move, however, should not have been a shock. The Olympics decision is only the tip of an iceberg of troubles that have been surfacing in recent months. At the top is the pandemic which triggered the shutdown of almost all cross-border trade and exposed a health system incapable of dealing with the spread of the virus.

Underneath is an economy crippled by systemic failure and international sanctions which have shut off much of the regime’s precious hard currency revenue. Least visible, but most dangerous, is the spread of anti-regime feeling, prompting a tightening of internal controls and a fierce ideological campaign to stamp out potential resistance.

There is significant evidence of this mounting crisis, gathered from recent defectors, anecdotal reports coming out of North Korea, and the just-released annual report of the United Nations Panel of Experts to the UN Security Council. But the clearest confirmation comes from the regime itself which, since the congress of the Korean Workers’ Party in January, has been frankly acknowledging its failures.

On April 7, North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un called on the ruling party to face “the worst-ever situation in which we have to overcome unprecedently numerous challenges.”

Last week’s meeting of party cell leaders, the network of party officials down to the smallest units of North Korean economic and social life, featured Stalinist style exhortations to increase production and calls to counter disaffection in the population. “The party cells should be the first movers in actively sweeping away anti- and non-socialist practices and launch an intensive drive for establishing moral discipline,” a North Korean news agency reported.

In his closing remarks to the party gathering, Kim called on the party to “wage another more difficult ‘Arduous March’,” referring to the famine of the mid-1990s, clearly worried that the party was losing its legitimacy with the beleaguered North Korean population.

Official propaganda provides evidence of shortages and a breakdown of key sectors of the economy, cut off now from spare parts and other inputs. The huge chemical fertilizer plants in Hamhung and Anju are no longer working properly, with efforts to make up the gap with transports of “urban manure,” a polite euphemism for human waste, to collective farms.

The country is short of fuel and electricity to power obsolete and broken equipment, recounted William Brown, a respected former U.S. intelligence community analyst of North Korea.

The regime has cut the enlistment period for the military from 10 to 7-8 years because the military is short of rations, reported Daily NK, which has provided reliable accounts from inside North Korea. Released soldiers are being rerouted into work assignments in mines and factories.

Foreign diplomats and aid workers are fleeing Pyongyang, where conditions are relatively better. A departing Russian Embassy staff member wrote on Facebook about “the sharp deficit of essential goods, including medicine, and the lack of any possibility to resolve health problems.”

“North Korea’s decision not to attend the Tokyo games is a health and a political one,” said a Western aid specialist with long experience in North Korea, “and to me, not surprising.” There are only a handful of Westerners left in the country, the aid worker told me. “Direct contacts with North Koreans have become very difficult and nobody really knows what’s going on.”

Anecdotal information from the border region with China provides some sense of the deepening deprivations. “There is barely any food going into the country from China for almost two months now,” a missionary who clandestinely helps people in need inside North Korea told Lina Yoon, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, last September.

“There are so many more beggars, some people died from hunger in the border area and there’s no soap, toothpaste, or batteries.” Without AA batteries, households can’t even keep track of time, he said. Their clocks have died.

The border closure that began more than a year ago, designed to head off the pandemic, has accelerated the breakdown of the command economy and also undermined the operation of the parallel market economy that had filled the gap for North Koreans.

At the party congress in January, Kim Jong Un and his leadership signaled a partial retreat from the market and a return to state-run planning, accompanied by tighter controls over a populace infiltrated by information and ideas from the outside, mostly via China.

The country’s economy is shrinking, with little investment and severe shortages of imported parts and materials for production, Brown wrote recently.

“Basic food supplies appear to be sufficient to ward off famine but much of the population is suffering from the lack of the most basic comforts, usually imported from China, while a few entrepreneurs appear to get rich, bribing officials who are paid next to nothing by the regime. And after eight years of currency and pricing stability, much volatility is now seen, creating a speculative environment for cash. A troublesome brew to be sure.”

Some relief may be on the way as there are signs of preparations to reopen border trade with China, though perhaps not imminently. Even then, “they are afraid to open the border with China not because of the virus but because they are afraid of the outflow of dollars, RMB, and maybe people,” Brown told me.

The health crisis

There is some debate among North Korean watchers about the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on the country. Claims that there are no cases of infection are dismissed by experts and it is also evident that the regime is terrified of the spread of the disease.

A senior U.S. military official in South Korea with regular access to the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone, where North Korean soldiers usually patrol, told me that the North Korean personnel have largely retreated into their complex. When they emerge, the North Koreans are dressed in full orange-colored hazmat suits and there has been no face-to-face contact with them since January 2020.

In interviews that this official conducted in recent months with two lower-level defectors who crossed the border mainly because of economic deprivation, they recounted widespread scare theories spreading in North Korea, including that the disease could be passed from consuming fish.

Despite these health fears, the regime has refused to talk with South Korea or international agencies which have offered humanitarian health-related assistance. It has contracted to receive vaccines from the World Health Organization’s global program but it is not ready to admit international personnel.

Instead, the UN Expert panel report says, the regime focused on “white elephant” projects like the construction of a showcase hospital in Pyongyang.

“Construction was started, apparently, without a comprehensive plan for even completing the building,” the UN report, issued last month, said. “Construction was rushed to meet an artificial political deadline (which it did not meet). Also, the regime began construction without securing the equipment and supplies needed to run it.”

The sanctions are hurting

The ‘worst-ever’ conditions are underlain by the impact of international sanctions, particularly since broader restrictions were imposed after 2017 by the UN Security Council.

According to a recent defector who served as a high-level North Korean official closely involved in global money-earning operations, these sanctions have actually been surprisingly effective. A number of African countries which had been long-time buyers of North Korean arms and employed their workers – including doctors, engineers and construction laborers – cut off their connections under UN pressure, beginning in late 2017.

Countries such as Namibia, Uganda, Angola and Guinea shut down these flows of money to Pyongyang under Western pressure, sending Kim Jong Un into ballistic displays of anger at what he saw as acts of betrayal, the former official recounted to a small group of American specialists recently.

The UN sanctions shut down the revenue flow from thousands of North Koreans deployed as laborers in Russia and the Persian Gulf. Some 35,000 such workers, whose earnings went to the regime in large part, left in the last 2-3 years, the defecting official says. They were employed on construction sites, in factories and even as cooks and restaurant workers.

The remittances were transferred to North Korea via elaborate cutouts where money was wired to exchange offices in China and converted to hard currency for transport into North Korea, where it was used to finance the missile and nuclear programs and prestige projects for the regime like a fancy ski resort.

“All the money ends up in the hands of Kim Jung Un and he uses it as he sees fit,” the former senior official told the experts. “That’s the system they have.”

The defector believes that the sanctions are working. “The country is about to bankrupt,” he says. “I don’t think that the regime is sustainable at this rate.”

Hanging on

That assessment may be more a reflection of a defector’s hopes than a reliable prediction of collapse. The regime has found other ways to survive. The UN report details ongoing sanctions-busting exports of North Korean coal to China, and a flow of oil and other goods coming back in, with levels increasing in recent weeks but not reflected in official trade statistics.

The impact of sanctions on hard currency flows has been mitigated somewhat by extensive cybercrime carried out by the regime’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, its headquarters for cyber operations.

Hacker units under the RGB, such as the Lazarus group, the BeagleBoyz and the Bluenoroff Group have carried out successful thefts from cryptocurrency exchanges and other financial institutions, with revenue from such operations totaling at least $316 million from 2019 to November 2020, the UN report says.

Experts warn against expectations that Kim Jong Un is anywhere close to yielding his grip on power. “Despite pressures, which must be getting intense, Kim likely feels he has keys to solutions and is thus not desperate to negotiate,” Brown told me. He can still play a waiting game and count on China to keep him and his regime in place.

When it comes to the Olympics, however, Kim can always change his mind. “Since Japan and South Korea want them to participate in Olympics, he gets some leverage by withholding his team,” says Brown. The North Koreans, even at the last minute, may “change their minds if they get something in return.”

What won’t change are the underlying problems that have now converged into a “worst-ever” threat to Kim’s rule.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Monday Events, April 5, 2021

8:30-9:30am (EDT) WEBINAR. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Rumi Aoyama, Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University; Masafumi Iida, Head, America, Europe, and Russia Division, Regional Studies Department, National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS); Asei Ito, Associate Professor, Institute of Social Science, University of Tokyo; Ichiro Inoue, Professor, School of Policy Studies, Kwansei Gakuin University; Matthew P. Goodman, Senior Vice President for Economics and Simon Chair in Political Economy, CSIS; Michael J. Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair, CSIS. 

DOES A TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT OFFER THE LAST PATH TO AN AFGHAN PEACE? 9:30-11:00am (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Middle East Institute (MEI). Speakers: H.E. Javid Ahmad, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates; non-resident senior fellow, Atlantic Council; Lisa Curtis, Senior Fellow and Director, Indo-Pacific Security Program, Center for a New American Security; William Maley, Emeritus Professor, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University; Ahmed Rashid, Pakistani journalist and writer; Moderator: Marvin Weinbaum, Director, Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies, MEI. 

PRESIDENT BIDEN’S BUDGET REQUESTS FOR SCIENCE. 11:00am-Noon. Sponsor. National Press Club Virtual Headliners. Speaker: Dr. Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION IN ANTARCTICA: WHAT SHOULD BE THE PRIORITIES FOR THE NEW BIDEN ADMINISTRATION? 1:00-2:30pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsors: Polar Institute, Latin American Program and Global Europe Program, Wilson Center (WWC). Speakers: Hon. Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Senator (D-RI); Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner of Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, European Commission; Ambassador Helen Ågren, Ambassador for the Ocean, Ministry For Foreign Affairs, Sweden; Enric Sala, Explorer in Residence, National Geographic Society; Moderator: Evan T. Bloom, Senior Fellow, Polar Institute, WWC.

STRUGGLES FOR THAI DEMOCRACY: POLITICIANS’ POINTS OF VIEW. 4/5, 2:00pm (EDT) WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center for Southeast Asia Studies, UC Berkeley. Speakers:Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Parit Wacharasindhu will discuss the current state of Thai politics from their perspectives as key participants in the pro-democracy movement. 

SERVANTS OF THE DEVIL: FACILITATORS OF THE CRIMINAL AND TERRORIST NETWORKS. 2:00-3:00pm (EDT). WEBINAR AND FACEBOOK LIVESTREAM. Sponsor: Institute of World Politics (IWP). Speakers: Author, Norman A. Bailey is Professor of Economic Statecraft, IWP; Author, Bernard Touboul, International Expert in Customs Administration and Enforcement, Border Management, and International Trade Facilitation. PURCHASE BOOK:

AMERICA'S RISE TO SUPREMACY. 3:00-4:15pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center. Speakers: Paul Kennedy, J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History at Yale; Stephen Wertheim, historian of U.S. foreign relations who directs grand strategy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, author Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy (Harvard University Press); Moderated by Graham T. Allison. PURCHASE BOOK:

TRANSITIONS TO PEACE: THE PHILIPPINES IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE. 6:30-7:45pm (EDT), ONLINE. Sponsor: Center for Global Affairs at NYU's School of Professional Studies. Speakers: Armi Beatriz E. Bayot, Doctoral Candidate, University of Oxford; Nikki Philine C. de la Rosa, Country Manager International Alert, The Philippines; Anne Marie Goetz, Clinical Professor, Center for Global Affairs, School of Professional Studies, New York University; Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan, Member, Bangsamoro Transitional Authority and Executive Director, Al Qalam Institute, Ateneo de Davao University; Rob Jenkins, Professor of Political Science, Hunter College, City University of New York. 

KIKKOMAN CORPORATION: A CONVERSATION WITH YUZABURO MOGI, HONORARY CEO AND CHAIRMAN. 8:00-9:00pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center on Japanese Economy and Business (CJEB), Columbia Business School. Speaker: Yuzaburo Mogi, Honorary CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Kikkoman Corporation; Moderator: David E. Weinstein, Director, CJEB), Columbia Business School and Carl S. Shoup Professor of the Japanese Economy, Columbia University.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Japan Finally Gets The G2 It Wants

 – But At What Cost?

By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University, APP member.

Toyo Keizai, April 3,2021

When Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide walks into the Oval Office of the White House on April 16, he will not only be the first foreign leader to meet President Joe Biden. The Japanese leader will showcase the Biden administration’s central foreign policy goal – to challenge and encircle China.

“We need Japan at the center of our grand design for Asian security, and we are going to get it,” says Columbia University Emeritus professor Gerald Curtis, the doyen of American Japan hands.

“Japan is foundational to achieving the vision,” echoes former Trump national security advisor H.R. McMaster, who credits former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as the original author of that concept.

For the Biden team, the visit is intended to give a vote of confidence in the current government in Tokyo. But they also are well aware that Suga may not succeed in lengthening his stay in office. Their goal is to give Japan an unusually high status in their Indo-Pacific strategy.

“They all believe that to get China policy right, you have to get Asia right, and to get Asia right, you have to start with Japan,” says James Schoff of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and a former Obama administration Japan expert who advised the Biden campaign.

A new G2 is formed

For the bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki and for the politicians in the Liberal Democratic Party who hope this will lead to an election victory, this is a triumphant moment. For years Japanese government officials have been working to block the formation of a G2 – a dreaded axis of China and the U.S. that would leave Japan by the wayside. Now the G2 has finally arrived, only it is not the one they feared – it is a G2 of the US and Japan.

The target of this strengthened alliance was clear in the recent 2+2 statement issued by the Japanese and U.S. defense and foreign ministers which for the first time named China as the central shared threat and mentioned areas of potential joint action ranging from democracy promotion to the securing of “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” Some American policymakers see Japan now as having turned a strategic corner, no longer so careful not to offend Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership.

“I think that Japanese leaders are coming to the conclusion that they can no longer afford not to respond to the CCP's sustained campaign of cooption, coercion, and concealment,” General McMaster, whose book on grand strategy will shortly be published in Japan, told Toyo Keizai.

“If like-minded liberal democracies do not counter China's efforts to promote its authoritarian mercantilist model, Japan could become isolated and the world would be less free, less prosperous, and less safe.”

Increasingly U.S. defense officials envision Japan, based on its revised interpretation of the right to collective self-defense, playing a security role well beyond the boundaries of Japan itself.

“It is essential that from the Himalayan frontier to the South China Sea to Taiwan to the Senkakus, that the PLA [Peoples Liberation Army] understands that it is unable to accomplish its objectives through the use of force,” argues McMaster. “Strengthening the SDF [Self-Defense Forces] is an important part of the effort to ensure deterrence by denial across the region.”

American officials insist that the anti-China approach, which is expected to be repeated in the statement issued out of the Suga-Biden meeting, is coming as much, if not more from the Japanese side.

“They were the ones who wanted that strong language in the 2+2 statement,” a knowledgeable U.S. defense official told me. He credited Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo, and Vice Minister Nakayama Yasuhiro, for this push, calling them “China hawks,” backed by Kishi’s older brother, former Premier Abe.

But this victory for Japanese conservatives comes with a cost. Tokyo will have difficulty delivering what Washington wants in multiple areas, beginning with human rights, but also in the realm of defense, and the push by the Americans for trilateral cooperation with Korea.

“There are questions about how far Japan will be able to go in almost all the areas,” says Schoff. The Biden administration, adds Professor Curtis, “is set up for a lot of disappointment.”

Breaking ranks on human rights

The most visible gap between Tokyo and Washington is over the Biden administration’s desire to put human rights at the center of its China strategy, framing the contest as one between ‘democracy and authoritarianism.’ China’s crackdown on democratic rights in Hong Kong and its oppression of the Muslim Uyghur minority are at the forefront of this drive, along with opposition to the military coup in Myanmar.

The Suga administration has dutifully joined in rhetorical protests over these human rights violations but it has also pointedly refused to join in punitive sanctions adopted by the U.S. and others. Japanese firms such as Muji are not halting purchases of cotton grown by Uyghur prisoners or curbing investments in Myanmar.

“When it came to being tough with China on the Uyghurs, where was Japan? Hiding in a corner,” notes Curtis.

Defense synergy – but less than meets the eye

The area of greatest synergy between Tokyo and Washington these days is defense and security. Japan’s readiness to broaden its security realm beyond the home islands is welcomed in the U.S., manifested in deepening partnerships in Southeast Asia with Indonesia and Vietnam, as well as with the Quadrilateral security dialogue partners Australia and India. The steady growth of defense spending and acquisition of American hardware like the F-35 5th Generation fighter facilitates hopes for closer operational coordination between the U.S. and Japanese military forces.

The inclusion of the Taiwan Strait in the list of joint security concerns – for the first time since former Prime Minister Sato Eisaku’s famous speech to the National Press Club in 1969 – raises expectations that Japan might be ready to deploy forces with the U.S. in response to Chinese use of force. Japanese hardliners are eagerly feeding this with talk of ‘red lines’ around Taiwan.

Some American defense planners echo that idea. But knowledgeable American defense experts caution against this expectation. Japan might be ready to provide logistical support to American forces, with Okinawa only a short distance from Taiwan, but the main goal is to bolster the deterrence of China.

The realities of Japan’s domestic political restraints and its delicate balancing act with China make even that scenario unlikely, says Columbia’s Curtis.

“The idea that Japan is somehow going to step up to the plate and do something significant – NO,” he says. “They are very careful to signal to China that they are not linking up in a new position on Taiwan.”

Pentagon officials have even more ambitious goals in mind for Japan, reflecting the G2 spirit. Admiral Philip Davidson, the head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told the U.S. Congress earlier in March that there is a dangerous “erosion of conventional deterrence” in the region.

Under the umbrella of a new Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI), with $27 billion in funding, he envisions fielding “precision-strike” networks of land and sea-based missiles, paired with missile defense systems and air and naval aircraft, “along with the First and Second Island Chains.” While it is still in the planning stage, this includes new long-range missiles based in Japan as well as in Guam and other Pacific islands.

But will Japan agree to this? For now, says recently retired Army General Thomas Spoehr, now with the Heritage Foundation, “there is probably not one of our regional partners in the first island chain that would be willing to base… long-range strike missiles in their country.”

Trilateral cooperation and beyond

The most challenging area for the G2 may be forging real trilateral security cooperation with South Korea. The Biden administration approach, for now, is a familiar one – to use the threat of North Korea to push Japan and South Korea back into some kind of functional relationship.

The meeting of the national security advisors this week is a start in that direction, to be followed later in April with a trilateral foreign ministers meeting. But privately U.S. officials admit that the atmosphere between Seoul and Tokyo is so sour that it may not permit much more than superficial agreement.

The attempt to separate security issues from the history and legal battles over forced laborers and comfort women reflects frustrations in Washington with both allies. There is considerable unhappiness with South Korea for creating the depth of the problem but there is also dissatisfaction with the Suga administration’s unwillingness to discuss problems without Korean concessions first. “It’s not going to be fixed,” a former senior official close to the administration told me. “It’s not going to get much better and it could get worse.”

Ultimately, American experts warn that despite the triumphant talk, Japan is simply not prepared to be the central pillar of the American strategy for Asia. Japan prefers to part of larger groupings – not only the Quad but wider multilateral structures. Groups like the G7, which could be expanded to include India and even Korea, make more sense to many Japanese policymakers as a vehicle to compete with China.

For Tokyo, the goal is to diversify its security and diplomacy, not to hang everything on the American alliance. While it welcomes Biden’s talk of the return of American power and leadership, “Japan cannot rely on the U.S. in a G2 dynamic because we are too mercurial and unstable in some ways politically,” says Schoff.