Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A new "new world order"?

Apologies for the lag in posting; life in Nagata-cho has gotten busy, leaving little time to dash off notes.

In any case, I want to call attention to an article in Foreign Affairs by Tufts University professor and blogger Daniel Drezner, called "The New New World Order."

Drezner argues that US foreign policy in recent years has been characterized by an increasing willingness to welcome emerging powers, namely China and India, into leadership roles in international society, lest they opt out and create parallel structures: "If China and India are not made to feel welcome inside existing international institutions, they might create new ones -- leaving the United States on the outside looking in."

His thesis links to a notion I've been toying with for some time. In the early years after the cold war, various international relations theorists (realists, by and large) were quick to point out that a new multipolar order would quickly replace the aberrant unipolarity that had followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Numerous articles talked about the inevitability of multipolarity, and speculated as to which powers were the leading candidates to become the next great powers. (Germany and Japan were the leading candidates -- just as Japan's economy stalled and Germany was forced to absorb the enormous costs of reunification with the impoverished East.)

It seems, however, that those realists were right, about fifteen years too soon -- and their vision of multipolarity owed more to bygone nineteenth century European balance of power than to the world order actually coalescing today. It seems that the multipolar order emerging today more resembles the "three-dimensional chessboard" discussed by Joseph Nye and others, in which multipolarity in economics, culture, and politics exist alongside and despite US military dominance.

Rather than resisting this, Drezner argues, the US has embraced the emergence of new powers and sought to revise international order accordingly, given them a stake in the system in a bid to forestall a revolution of the "upstarts."

This is especially interesting in light of the recommendations of the recent second Armitage-Nye Report, which I have previously discussed at length. The picture painted by the report is of a US more willing to cooperate with China, India, and other regional powers -- including Japan -- to shape the regional environment so to accommodate the new giants. The extent to which the US has worked to engage China was revealed today, in a talk by Randall Schriver, partner at Armitage International, former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia/Pacific affairs, and participant in the drafting of the Armitage-Nye Report. (I was attending on behalf of my boss.)

The picture painted by Schriver -- whose brief was to discuss China-Taiwan relations, which ended up encompassing Sino-US relations -- is of a US that, while still hedging somewhat in the event that China takes a belligerent turn, has fully embraced engagement with China, from the president down. Thanks to Secretary Paulson, the China-US Strategic Economic Dialogue ensures that US fears don't subvert the overall economic relationship. Under outgoing chief of Pacific Command William Fallon, the US Military and the PLA held their first joint exercises and engaged in a number of visits and exchanges. The Bush administration, like earlier administrations that have entered office intent on taking a hard line against China, is now pushing for greater engagement with China in the hope that it will become, in the words of former Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, a "responsible stakeholder" in international society.

I will close with a number mentioned by Schriver in his talk. In the first Armitage-Nye Report, published in October 2000, China was mentioned a total of six times. In the most recent Armitage-Nye Report, China was mentioned 123 times. It is a new Asia, and, perhaps, a new world order.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Step back, Mr. Prime Minister

I want to call attention to Prime Minister Abe's email magazine from last week, in which he discusses seeing a performance by Noel Paul Stookey, onetime member of Peter, Paul, and Mary, of his new song "Song for Megumi," about Yokota Megumi, poster child of the abductions issue.

Simply put, Abe's note shows just how far gone his government is on this issue; it oozes with trite, maudlin phrases such as, "As I listened to the sound of the quiet melody strummed on the acoustic guitar and the soft vocals -- a gentle voice one would use when speaking to a young girl -- an image of a happy Megumi together with her family floated before my eyes."

I can't quite tell what Abe is trying to say. If he's being totally sincere, then this message would lead me to question whether Abe has the backbone to be an international statesman. I don't, however, think Abe's concern stems from purely altruistic reasons. (If anything, this message suggests that Abe has no shame when it comes to using one family's private suffering to his political advantage.)

The abductions issue itself, which has long been Abe's bread and butter, is an ideal way to soften Abe's hard nationalist edge: lambasting North Korea for kidnapping Japanese children is hardly likely to draw criticism, but it has allowed Abe to attack an enemy of Japan and pose as the defender of the Japanese nation (and Japan's children).

I'm not saying the Abe Cabinet is wrong to press North Korea on abductions, but the abductions issue is but one obstacle of many on the road to defusing the North Korean threat and integrating the DPRK into the region. As a result of the abductions issue, the Japanese government seems to have lost all perspective on the Korean issue, and as a result finds itself relatively isolated as the six-party process moves forward.

Abe may have heard encouraging words from Cheney, but the man to listen to may be Christopher Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia / Pacific affairs, who said last week at a briefing at the Brookings Institution (transcript available for download here), "...I hope that at some point [North Korea] will come around to an understanding that Japan is right there, and they need Japan. When that moment comes, by the way, and when they do understand that Japan has a need and a right to have closure on this question of abductions, I do hope the Japanese will also reciprocate in the context of what we’ve been doing, that is, de-nuclearization in the Korean Peninsula." In other words, while the US government understands Japan's need for answers on the abductions issue, the US government will not allow the issue to stand in the way of progress on de-nuclearization and normalization.

It seems also that in this message Abe is trying to humanize himself. Why else would he say, for example, "In my junior and senior high school days, I too often listened to their songs, although the name of the group or the titles of its songs may not ring a bell with young people today," referring to Peter, Paul, and Mary? This seems to say, "I may look and act like an aloof patrician, but really I'm like you; I too listen to popular music [just like a certain prime minister identified with Elvis Presley]." I'm sure that it will surprise no one that Abe still looks just as wooden as ever despite, or perhaps because of this lame attempt to appear accessible.

Accordingly, the time is nigh for Abe to step down from the abductions soapbox -- which has helped distort public opinion on Japanese-North Korean relations, as noted here -- and formulate an approach to North Korea that balances all of Japan's interests in regard to Pyongyang. Let's not forget that Japan is perhaps the country most threatened by North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

Stepping back from an issue that has defined Abe's public image for half a decade: now there's an act of political courage.

Japan's evolving democracy...aimed squarely at USFJ?

In light of this recent post on encouraging signs that the realignment of the US military presence may at last be ready to move forward to a conclusion that satisfies both countries, I found this op-ed in the Japan Times by journalist Hanai Kiroku interesting, in that it shows how the US military presence has, in some way, been an impetus to greater civic involvement by Japanese citizens, at least at the local level.

I found these paragraphs particularly interesting:

On Feb. 17, an open discussion was held in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on problems with the U.S. military presence. The meeting was sponsored by a local citizens' council, headed by the mayor, for promoting the reversion of U.S. military bases. Panelists included Col. David E. Hunter-Chester of the U.S. Army Japan command as well as the director of the Yokohama Defense Facilities Bureau of the Defense Ministry, a progovernment college professor, a representative of a nongovernmental organization campaigning for peace and disarmament, and the director of the local citizens' council. It was the first time in Sagamihara, a city with a U.S. military base, that officials from the U.S. armed forces and the Defense Ministry attended such a citizens' meeting.

Looking at the list of panelists, I had expected heated debate, but nothing like that happened. Also present was a Japanese activist who stages a weekly sit-in at the front gate of U.S. Camp Zama to protest the U.S. military presence. There was no heckling and no confusion, probably because the audience was satisfied that open discussions were being held between anti- and pro-U.S.-military groups. There was even a feeling that the two camps understood each other to some extent.

The audience apparently liked the fact that Hunter-Chester, who has lived in Japan more than 10 years including as a high school student, spoke mostly in Japanese. As the meeting closed, somebody in the audience shouted to him in Japanese, "Come to the next session in civilian clothes." He seemed a bit perplexed. I think it was a constructive proposal.

Many Japanese feel that U.S. forces in Japan are taking advantage of their privileges under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. The request that the officer attend the next meeting wearing civilian clothes symbolizes citizens' hope that the U.S. military will deal with Japanese residents around U.S. military bases from a civilian standpoint. I share the same hope.

Merely by being in Japan, the US military has encouraged Japanese citizens to take an active interest in governance. While it is unfortunate that the US military is the target of civic activism -- when there are so many more deserving targets ensconced in Nagata-cho -- I hope that the US response to opposition from local communities throughout Japan resembles the response outlined above. The US bases in Japan are, or ought to be, members and participants in the communities that host them, and US military personnel in the community should bear the same responsibilities as their Japanese neighbors.

Accordingly, rather than deferring to Tokyo -- although, of course, the central government has to play a part in coaxing or coercing local communities to agree -- the US Military should at the very least try to disarm local opposition by listening to grievances and make a concerted (and visible) effort to accommodate them.

And, with luck, the spirit of civic participation forged from resisting US Forces in Japan (USFJ) will carry over into Japanese domestic policymaking, with citizens becoming active and vocal participants in the policymaking process, rather than passive observers who occasionally voice their outrage at shenanigans in the Diet.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Preserving American dynamism

As the 2008 US presidential election ramps up, it seems that the biggest looming question -- perhaps even bigger than Iraq -- is the question of how to preserve America's economic dynamism in the face of intense competition from the BRICs and others. Will the US economy and society be able to adapt successfully to the post-industrial world?

It seems that Barack Obama hasn't quite accepted that the challenge facing the US will not be solved by the same tired policies, at least according to this piece by economist Thomas Sowell (via RealClearPolitics). Simply easing the pain won't work; nor, for that matter, will propping up the old pillars of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party needs to become a post-industrial party, that not only pushes for relief to those harmed by globalization, but also realizes the importance of reconstructing the American economy from the ground up, to ensure that younger generations have the tools to compete.

Bill Gates -- perhaps the poster boy for the post-industrial economy -- has an op-ed in the Washington Post pointing to how the American education system needs to change. He writes:
Our schools can do better. Last year, I visited High Tech High in San Diego; it's an amazing school where educators have augmented traditional teaching methods with a rigorous, project-centered curriculum. Students there know they're expected to go on to college. This combination is working: 100 percent of High Tech High graduates are accepted into college, and 29 percent major in math or science. Contrast that with the national average of 17 percent.

To remain competitive in the global economy, we must build on the success of such schools and commit to an ambitious national agenda for education. Government and businesses can both play a role. Companies must advocate for strong education policies and work with schools to foster interest in science and mathematics and to provide an education that is relevant to the needs of business. Government must work with educators to reform schools and improve educational excellence.

Compare that with what Sowell notes about Obama's views on changing the American education system:
He thinks higher teacher pay is the answer to the abysmal failures of our education system, which is already far more expensive than the education provided in countries whose students have for decades consistently outperformed ours on international tests.
This sounds like a great way of rewarding teachers, who, through their unions, have remained one of the biggest pillars of support for the Democratic Party, but not a particularly great way to reconstruct the American education system. Changing American education means changing how and what American students are taught -- not simply pumping in more money for teachers or computers. It will actually require people to think about what's best for America's future, instead of doing what Washington does best: throwing money at problems.

For all of Obama's talk about how he wants to do things differently, is there actually any substance to his rhetoric? And, if not him, is there anyone else in the field who gets it?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Changing bases

The Economist this week has an article that suggests that local officials in cities hosting US bases may finally be acquiescing to the plans formulated by Washington and Tokyo.

I think there's still a ways to go before the May 2006 agreement is fully on track, but it seems that Tokyo is finally willing to exert some effort in forcing the localities to follow Tokyo's lead; the US has agreed -- has been pushing for, in recent years -- to reductions and reorganization of American force deployments in Japan, without much reciprocation from the GOJ, at least when it comes to making sacrifices to see the deal through to its conclusion. Tokyo's cooperation is long overdue.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cheney comes and goes

The vice president has swooped in, addressed US navy personnel in Yokosuka, talked and dined with Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Aso (I wonder if Aso had anything to say about the "comfort women" resolution currently being debated in Congress), met with the parents of abductee Yokota Megumi, and is now en route to Australia, which is, in Cheney's words, along with Japan the "most reliable" US ally in the region. (That may be true -- but it is a not so subtle dig at South Korea; as much as I think more cooperation between the US, Japan, and Australia could be a good thing for all three, I'd rather the US expend its energy on patching things up with Seoul.)

In any case, Adamu at Mutantfrog Travelogue argues in this post that Cheney's visit was "boring." Now, I'm not going to disagree about the risk of some kind of distortion in the space-time continuum as a result of Abe and Cheney meeting -- I've written about Abe's anti-charisma before, most notably here, and having seen Vice President Cheney speak on two occasions, the best I can say is that he is a competent public speaker, but not one that anyone would mistake for charismatic.

But "boring" is exactly the point: both governments needed a routine exchange of views to remind themselves that, even as the region changes, the alliance is still important.

I am less sanguine about Adamu regarding tensions in the alliance. They do exist. How could they not, after the US cut the deal it did in the six-party talks? A nuclear North Korea, still intransigent about its abductions of Japanese citizens, being welcomed to back into the fold while being given energy support to boot -- and in return only having to close its reactor at Yongbyon? All with the support of the US, in cahoots with Beijing, among others? Given the importance the North Korea threat has had not only for Japanese governments but for the Japanese people as a whole since the "Sputnik moment" that was the 1998 Taepodong launch, if the Beijing deal survives, Japan will have some serious thinking to do about its foreign policy goals. Much more than the indiscreet comments by members of Abe's Cabinet, regional dynamics suggest the possibility of Japan's being abandoned, or, to be less dramatic, ignored (i.e., Japan passing again).

So hopefully Cheney was able to assuage concerns about a renewed bout of Japan passing, and provide the political foundation for bilateral discussions on the political management of the alliance. His visit wasn't going to result in a major agreement -- substantial work on the alliance is nearly always done at the subcabinet level, with some guidance from the relevant ministers and the blessings of political leaders. But hopefully Cheney helped clear the air. Now for the allies to begin thinking about how the political management of the alliance has to change, as suggested by the new Armitage-Nye Report. Perhaps next month's 2 + 2/Security Consultative Comittee meeting, in recent years the major forum for accelerating progress on alliance cooperation, will help map out how to strengthen the alliance politically in changing times.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Quantative easing continues

So the BOJ opted to raise interest rates by .25%. Ken Worsley has the wrap-up here.

It seems that the effect on the carry trade will be negligible; the EU will no doubt still complain about the weak yen; and the BOJ's independence is still in doubt.

Reading on the six-party agreement

With Vice President Cheney in Tokyo to reassure the Abe Cabinet that the US "understands" Japan's need for progress on abductions, it is worthwhile to look at a couple essays that look into the conditions surrounding the preliminary six-party agreement reached in Beijing.

First, in the Washington Post, Philip Zelikow, onetime Condoleeza Rice co-author and until recently one of her senior advisers at the State Department, outlines the State Department's thinking in moving forward to the Beijing agreement.

Meanwhile, at Japan Focus, Gavan McCormack spells out the regional setting of the Korean question in greater detail, and points out the danger posed by this agreement to Japan:
The Nixon Shocks of 1970 would pale by comparison with such “Bush Shocks.” South Korea and Japan face especially large consequences. For Japan, dependence on the US has been the almost unquestioned foundation of national policy for over half a century. A new level of subjection to US regional and global purpose, presupposing an ongoing North Korean threat, has just been negotiated. The prospect of anything like the above shift in US Asian policy would be devastating to Tokyo. It can hardly have been coincidental that previously unimaginable rumbles of criticism of the Bush administration began to be heard from Tokyo, from the Minister of Defense and Minister of Foreign Affairs no less, over Iraq, a “mistaken” war whose justification had not existed and which had been pursued in “childish” manner, and over Okinawa, where the US was too “high-handed”. Neither earned more than the mildest of rebukes from the Prime Minister.When the Beijing deal was struck, Japan was notably the odd-man out.
This very much echoes a point I previously made here.

Both provide an interesting look at how the balance of power within the federal government changed leading to this agreement. We've come a long way from Newt Gingrich's 2003 harangue against Colin Powell's isolated, beleaguered State Department, although, of course, the State Department's clout remains insignificant in terms of personnel and budget.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Courageous or foolish?

The big story in political Japan today is that the drop in the rate of support for the Abe Cabinet has continued unabated, with the Asahi poll finding that the rate of support has dipped below the rate of people actively oppose to the cabinet.

What I found most interesting, however, was the Yomiuri poll (in Japanese), which asked which three issues voters want the Abe Cabinet to tackle. Coming in first, with 61.7%, was reforms related to pensions, health care, and social security; coming in second, policies to promote economic growth, with 52%; and beyond that, in no particular order, taxation, education, administrative reform, and growing inequality. My point here is that near the bottom of this list, clocking in with 6.2%, is constitution reform, the issue that Abe has declared to be the major point of contention in this summer's Upper House election.

I realize, of course, that the mark of a good politician and great leader is a willingness to buck opinion to do what he or she thinks is right, but I think there's a fine line between courageously standing up for one's beliefs and ignoring the public's concerns about the direction the country should go.

As such, after a poll -- conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun no less -- that shows the public favors dealing with just about every other issue on the agenda before constitutional revision, perhaps Abe should reconsider making this election the constitution election. So, I repeat my question: courageous or foolish?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Interest rates, again

The Bank of Japan is due to consider once more tomorrow whether it is the right time to raise Japan's interest rates again.

The last time, you may recall, the Bank's policy meeting was surrounded by a storm of debate surrounding comments by senior LDP and government officials questioning the wisdom of raising rates again (discussed in this post).

This time, however, a mere month later, following the Yanagisawa storm and the threat of G7 action on the weak yen at its meetings in Germany earlier this month, there's nary a peep out of the government or the LDP, unusual for the Abe Cabinet, which has been described as having "foot-in-the mouth disease."

Ken Worsley, of Trans-Pacific Radio and now the Japan Economy News & Blog, summarizes the relative lack of silence on tomorrow's meeting in this excellent post.

His conclusion: "...I don’t think the fundamentals are actually there for a rate hike, unless one prefers to go by some funny numbers."

I'm inclined to agree, but, then again, I've previously described BOJ President Fukui as having an "itchy trigger finger" as far as interest rates are concerned, and this might be a rate hike the Abe Cabinet can get behind: a rate hike could be used by the GOJ to point out to concerned Europeans that the government isn't tampering with the yen, with the recent GDP number -- however ambiguous -- providing cover for the move. Without the public fuss, a rate hike could allow the BOJ to reassert some semblance of independence -- however the reality plays out in invariably smoke-filled rooms in posh drinking establishments.

So the question of how big the rate hike will be depends on one's view of how Japanese monetary policy is made. If the BOJ is truly independent, look for something bigger, perhaps even on the order of fifty basis points; if it's not, look for something smaller, that serves both the government's and the bank's political needs.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Green on US Asia Policy

I didn't catch this until today, but apparently Michael Green, CSIS Japan Chair and participant in the drafting of the latest Armitage-Nye Report, had an op-ed on US Asia Policy in the Washington Post last Tuesday (via CSIS).

The title pretty much says it all: "America's Quiet Victories in Asia."

Green's point is that the US position in Asia is quite firm, in part because it has been diligently built up over decades. Indeed, the US, as an Asian power, has been characterized in a large part by steadiness: steady commitments to allies through deployments in Japan and South Korea, the steady deepening of trade ties, and, since the third wave of democratization swept through the region, steady support for the solidification of democratic regimes. Over time, American steadiness has borne fruit. As Green wrote:
None of these leaders embraced democracy because it was imposed by the United States, nor are they contemplating imposing democracy on their neighbors. Many continue to have major governance and democracy challenges (Thailand's coup for one) and are torn over how to manage the undemocratic disaster that is Burma. Yet all recognize that their economic development and national security depend on the spread of democratic principles and good governance. As these values are consolidated across the region, they will inevitably affect China, Burma and even North Korea.
This sums up the aim of the latest Armitage-Nye Report. The authors clearly desire that the US continue to play a steady, largely silent role in the region, with a light touch, reassuring words, and a willingness to let a newly vibrant Asia make its own way to a more liberal regional order, even if that means that occasional setback along the way. Of course, part of the quiet US role is a continuing military presence in the region, to continue to provide an all-purpose deterrent and supply public goods (open sea lanes, etc.). But even that role is evolving to be less visible, as with the consolidation of US forward deployments in Japan and planned redeployment of Marines to Guam.

Feeling the chill

The chill to which I'm referring, of course, is the chill that has set in between Tokyo and Washington.

Without looking particularly hard, I found two very clear signs of a growing appreciation among Japanese opinion makers that the US-Japan alliance is experiencing a bit of turbulence.

On the front page of today's Yomiuri, in an article published as part of an ongoing series of page one articles about the North Korean nuclear threat, Yomiuri reports on tensions just below the surface in bilateral negotiations surrounding the tentative agreement in the latest round of six-party talks. (This article does not seem to have been posted online yet.) The article reports, almost with surprise, at the swift turnaround in the US position, from clear unity with Japan following the missile and nuclear tests of 2006, to going so far as to indicate that the US might be willing to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which in 2004 George Bush insisted North Korea was, in part because of its kidnappings of Japanese citizens.

The article seems to be searching for an answer to the question, "what changed?" It's not all too difficult to explain. With Congress in Democratic hands after November and with Iraq still in shambles, the range of ways Bush could ensure a legacy narrowed considerably. Domestic avenues are more or less blocked due to the Democratic victory. The Middle East is no path to a quick victory. Reaching an accord via the six-party talks was all that was left: it enabled President Bush to show himself as willing to use patient diplomacy with other great powers in pursuit of peace -- a la Ronald Reagan's missile diplomacy with Gorbachev. Surely MOFA's American experts have some idea how presidential thinking changes as an administration winds down. It seems that the GOJ got caught up in the rhetoric that proclaimed US-Japan relations to be the best ever, and forgot that good relations can only be maintained with hard work from alliance managers in both governments -- and, in Japan in particular, with hard work by the political leadership to ensure that Japan remains at the forefront of US considerations in Asia.

But, as this op-ed in the Japan Times by former Japanese Ambassador to the US Okawara Yoshio points out, Abe has been too lax in his handling of US-Japan relations, with the result being that as a six-party agreement became possible, the US government quickly pushed Japanese concerns to the side.

The Yomiuri article ends on a doubtful note regarding Cheney's visit from the 20th to the 22nd (the following is my translation):
On the 20th, US Vice President Cheney comes to Japan. On this trip, Japan and Australia are the first priority, as he will not visit China and South Korea. This itinerary provides a "signal that Japan and Australia are America's most important allies."

To achieve a comprehensive solution to the nuclear, missile, and abduction problems, close US-Japan cooperation cannot be lacking. On Vice President Cheney's trip to Japan, can both countries close the gap on North Korea policy? The fundamentals of the alliance relationship are being questioned.
Tokyo may well be in a position to benefit from fissures within the Bush administration, as I expect that Cheney's position on the tentative agreement is not all that different from former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton's. But I wonder if Cheney -- without his longtime ally at the Pentagon, without Scooter Libby, his beleaguered erstwhile advisor (who apparently has quite the interest in Japan), and without John Bolton -- would be able to undermine the six-party agreement fatally. Still, if he can successfully reassure Japan that the administration is not abandoning Japan while giving the Abe Cabinet a wake up call that it cannot ignore the US, his trip will have served its purpose.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Dissecting the second Armitage-Nye Report, part 3

This is the third of three posts looking at the contents of the newly released second Armitage-Nye Report (the first two can be found here and here). An article about the report can be read here from the FT, which remains the best international English-language source of Japan-related news. (And the report can be downloaded here.)

The previous notes discussed the general background of the report and the report's ideas about the evolving structure of East Asian international relations.

Now I will turn my attention to the report's main purpose: answering, in the report's words, whether "the fundamentals of the alliance strong enough to deal with the array of significant challenges that will arise in the decades ahead."

In light of the recent rough patch that the alliance has gone through in recent months, which I recently discussed here, the answer to this question is not necessarily obvious. The report's authors suggest that in order to ensure the alliance's continuing importance to the region, the alliance needs a firmer foundation that will reduce its vulnerability to the vicissitudes of domestic politics in both countries and the temptation, particularly on the part of a weary America, to cut deals with China and other regional powers that could enable the US to scale back its commitments to the Asia-Pacific region. Accordingly, they argue, "The alliance can and should remain at the core of the United States’ Asia strategy. The key to the success of this strategy is for the alliance itself to continue to evolve from an exclusive alliance based on a common threat toward a more open, inclusive alliance based on common interests and values" (p. 15).

It is shared values, they insist, that make the US and Japan natural partners in the region and undermine the logic of a US-China condominium in the region.

Accordingly, the report calls for a comprehensive push that will reinvigorate the US-Japan relationship politically and economically and make it a dynamic player in the regional power game:
Turning away from the U.S.-Japan alliance or lowering our expectations of Japan would likely have a negative impact on regional stability and its role in the region. Instead of a Japan that underpins the international system in 2020, it may become comfortable as a “middle power” at best, and recalcitrant, prickly, and nationalistic at worst. Not to encourage Japan to play a more active role in support of international stability and security is to deny the international community Japan’s full potential. But if U.S. strategy continues to have high expectations for Japan that meld with Japanese national sentiment, Japan will stand as a powerful model for the region of what leadership based on democratic values means (p. 15).
As with the first Armitage-Nye Report back in 2000, this report makes a number of specific policy recommendations to Tokyo, including reforms to strengthen the national security establishment, encouraging the GOJ to give proper support to the JSDF as Japan's commitments grow, and praising Japan for its constitutional debate. The authors are careful to note, however, that decisions stemming from domestic debates on these issues can only be made by Japan, and that while there are outcomes that the US would prefer to see, there's nothing the US can or will do to sway the discussion in favored directions.

One bilateral recommendation that deserves mention is the report's call for work to begin immediately on a comprehensive US-Japan FTA (comprehensive meaning that it includes even the thorny issue of agriculture). The authors acknowledge the difficulties that negotiating such an agreement would entail, but they insist that doing so will bolster the alliance. In other words, there is no longer a neat dividing line between the security and economic facets of the US-Japan relationship. It has to be considered as a unified whole, with decisions in one area having clear implications in others.

As for the security relationship, the report includes an annex containing a list of technical measure that should be implemented to strengthen US-Japan security cooperation, a list in some ways shows how much is still left to be completed from the 1997 revision of the guidelines for defense cooperation.

This is not a revolutionary document. It is a practical guide to ensuring that the US-Japan alliance remains the primary vehicle by which the US is engaged in regional affairs for the next several decades.

As with the first report, however, much will depend on the four p's. To quote my dissertation (sorry!), the US government's willingness to push for cooperation has depended on
personnel, whether security experts with connections to Japan were in powerful positions that enabled them push cooperation forward; presidential support, whether the president was engaged enough to provide a mandate for agreement on cooperation to proceed; politics, whether the USG’s Japan experts were insulated from public pressure on Japan policy; and perceptions, specifically of threats in the regional and international environments that determined the alliance’s value to the US. For the US to desire an agreement strongly, the right personnel required a presidential mandate, little public interference, and a threatening environment, especially in East Asia.
For the moment, it seems that the first three are missing, and the fourth is unclear (although the importance of threat perceptions may be changing as the region becomes increasingly shaped by "co-opetition" between Japan and the US, and China). Indeed, as the report notes about the US-Japan-China triangle:
...A bipolar structure with only the United States and Japan facing China would be ineffective, because it would force other regional powers to choose between two competing poles. Some might side with the United States and Japan, but most regional powers would choose strict neutrality or align with China. Ultimately, this would weaken the powerful example of American and Japanese democracy and return the region to a Cold War or nineteenth century balance-of-power logic that does not favor stability in the region or contribute to China’s potential for positive change. Stability in East Asia will rest on the quality of U.S.-Japan-China relations, and even though the United States is closely allied with Japan, Washington should encourage good relations among all three (p. 14).
This is why it's hard to see exactly what the US-Japan relationship will look like in 2020, because this report calls for making the alliance both more durable and more flexible, an alliance in which Japan is able to play a more independent role while at the same time being bound more closely to the US politically, economically, and militarily. As the global security environment becomes more fluid, the US will increasingly demand more flexibility while simultaneously relying more on its allies in the developed world.

Accordingly, the US-Japan relationship may well continue as it is today, with the US, at the same time that it is deepening military cooperation with Japan -- by, for example, deploying F-22 fighters to Kadena in Okinawa, incidentally satisfying one of this report's recommendations -- seeking, for example, more military exchanges with China and pursuing a deal with North Korea that is not particularly in Japan's national interest. (This is essentially the legacy of outgoing PACOM chief Admiral William Fallon.) Dense ties with Japan will not stop the US from acting as it sees fit in the region, nor will such ties keep Japan from acting as it sees fit. The density of the US-Japan relationship essentially makes it a platform for both to secure their interests and values in the region; however, without political cooperation -- without constant communication at the highest levels between both governments -- the arrangement may not be durable enough to retain its importance to either country.

So that is the big question. As Japan begins to act independently of the US, in pursuit of interests that may or may not overlap with American interests, are political leaders in both countries ready to accept that there may be disagreements, and do they realize that the durability of the relationship will depend on their willingness to explain their policies to each other?

Dissecting the second Armitage-Nye Report, part 2

Continuing from my previous post, this post will focus on the second Armitage-Nye Report's vision of Asia. My thoughts on the report's recommendations for the US-Japan alliance can be read here. (The report can be downloaded from CSIS here.)

All of the report's predictions and policy recommendations stem from a principle stated on its first page: "Getting Asia right in this regard does not mean the imposition of U.S. values on the region, but rather encouraging an environment in which the region’s leaders define their own national success in terms that are consonant with U.S. political and economic objectives."

As the center of gravity shifts to Asia, as Asia emerges as a region with three major powers (China, Japan, and India) existing side-by-side for the first time in modern history, the above principle serves as a concession to this immutable reality of twenty-first century Asia. For better or worse, we are entering an age of "Asia for Asians," during which Asian powers -- including, to the chagrin of certain leaders, Australia and New Zealand -- will largely shape the future of the region. As the report's authors acknowledge, even as the US retains considerable power and influence in the region, it will increasingly be unable to impose outcomes, necessarily entailing that the US step into a less visible, supporting role.

On the whole, then, this report is typical of the "new pragmatism" that seems to be taking hold in Washington in the waning years of the Bush administration. (This is one prominent example.) The Bush administration's post-9/11 revolutionary zeal apparently having burned out, the revolutionaries isolated or out of office, the US foreign policy establishment is in problem-solving mode, this being one example (and the recent six-party agreement being another, as this IHT article suggests).

The biggest "problem" in the region facing Washington is, of course, the rise of China, although problem isn't the best word to use. What China will look like in 2020 is unknown, and, at this point in time, unknowable. The report phrases it thusly:
Even factoring in the possibility of disruption, China will continue to be an engine of regional growth and global dynamism. China’s growing comprehensive national power is already well reflected in its assertive diplomacy aimed at shaping the strategic environment around its borders. One key question for the United States, Japan, and all of Asia is: how will China use its newfound capabilities and resources as it matures as an economic and military power? (p. 3)
Accordingly, as they discuss the strategic triangle of the US, Japan, and China, much of their attention focuses on the goal of encouraging China to channel its power in the region to constructive ends. The authors believe that this goal is achievable, because Beijing, preoccupied with the instability it has unleashed internally by opting for liberalization, is ill-prepared to pursue a revolutionary foreign policy in its near abroad. As the report notes, at some length (worth quoting, because I find it to be a rather succinct expression of my own thoughts on China's rise):
China will grow, but its growth will not necessarily be a linear “rise” without complications. China has massive internal challenges that include an aging society, a weak social safety net, large and growing disparities in development, and systemic corruption—all of which have resulted in social unease. China’s leaders also are faced with growing labor unrest, a weak banking and financial system, lingering ethnic disputes, environmental problems almost unimaginable to Westerners, and vulnerability to epidemic disease. Together, these challenges have caused Chinese leaders to focus internally, thereby putting a premium on external stability. China seeks a stable, peaceful international environment in which to develop its comprehensive national power. China needs to avoid any disruption of its access to national resources (particularly oil and gas) and foreign investment, and it can ill afford major diversions of resources to causes unrelated to the objectives of economic growth and public welfare (p. 3).
The idea of some in the Pentagon and the commentariat that China is spoiling for a fight is wholly fallacious, and harmful to America's long-term interests in the Asia-Pacific region. According to the authors of the report, the US and China share a fundamental interest, namely in "stability": "Our interest is in stability, to which the United States, Japan, China, and all countries in East Asia can play a supportive role. In particular, stability in East Asia will rest on a triangle of U.S.- Japan-China relations, which should be fostered in addition to our strong alliance with Japan" (p. 26).

The report belies the paramount importance of stability to some extent, as the authors emphasize the need to encourage the spread of liberty, which can often undermine stability; this means that the second Armitage-Nye Report embraces somewhat contradictory goals, seeking the spread of values that will undermine a status quo that encourages non-interference by states in the internal affairs of their neighbors at the same time as trying to maintain stability in East Asian international relations. Nevertheless, stability in East Asia has been the most prominent US policy aim in the region since the end of the cold war, when the cold war's predictability gave way to the "uncertainty" (a popular word in strategy documents from the 1990s) of East Asian "minipolarity." If anything, it is even more important to the US now than ever before, as the region's map changes to accommodate the rise of two massive powers.

As such, the authors also focus on India, and its potential as a possible anchor for democratic values in the region. But they are right to point out that India will not be a mere cat's paw for the US, Japan, or any other power. As they wrote:
Washington and Tokyo have both qualitatively improved their respective strategic relationships with India. However, both should move forward based on the assumption that India will not act as either Japan’s or the United States’ counterweight against Beijing, mindful that India has its own synergies with China. New Delhi is cautious with respect to Beijing and is not interested in raising tensions with China. That being said, New Delhi’s Look East Policy is particularly appealing to Asia, and its growing economic, political, and cultural ties to East Asia will make it a larger part of the region’s strategic equation (p. 6).
India remains as much a question mark as China. Will India be seduced by great power and embrace a kind of realpolitik, or will it trumpet its position as the world's most populous democracy as an example to rival China (the Bangalore Consensus versus the Beijing Consensus)? How India answers that question will play a major role in determining what Asia looks like in 2020 and beyond.

While the report also touches on the roles to be played by Southeast Asia, Russia, and regional integration in shaping the region, I am going to withhold comment and instead conclude this already long post by talking about the report's notes on the Korean Peninsula. The authors note that it is essential for both the US and Japan to patch up relations with the Republic of Korea, because, despite Seoul's increasingly continental orientation, the three countries still have shared values that can serve as the basis for enhanced cooperation. However, as acknowledged in the report, the obstacles standing in the way of an re-invigorated US-Japan-South Korea triangle are many, including generational change within South Korea, shared interests in Seoul and Beijing, and the weight of history. These obstacles suggest that while functional cooperation on matters of shared concern (i.e., North Korea) are possible, South Korea will not be an especially enthusiastic partner of the US, Japan, and the region's other democracies in pushing hard for the spread of liberal values -- at least that's not what I expect.

I will return tomorrow with comments on the remaining bulk of the report, the sections focused on the US-Japan alliance.

Dissecting the second Armitage-Nye Report, part 1

Having read the new Armitage-Nye Report published by CSIS -- once again, available here -- I shall, as promised, provide more thorough commentary on its contents.

As previously noted, the report is subtitled "Getting Asia Right Through 2020," with its purpose being to outline US Asia policy for the next two to three presidential administrations, regardless of the party in power, because, like its predecessor, the second Armitage-Nye Report is a bipartisan project, showing that despite apparent partisan divisions on a host of issues, there is remarkable consensus among foreign policy experts from both parties on how to preserve US influence in a rapidly changing Asia. For that is the challenge. As the report notes:
Arguably, the United States presently suffers from a strategic preoccupation with another region of the world. If engagement in Asia remains episodic, or lacks sufficient senior-level involvement on the part of U.S. officials, a transition in the region’s power hierarchy is possible. Even absent precipitous events, a gradual erosion of U.S. influence could occur if China continues to extend its reach and if the region as a whole loses confidence in the staying power of the United States. (p. 20)
I have previously pointed to Washington's preoccupation with "another region" here, and it is encouraging that a panel of senior foreign policy leaders -- not all of whom are focused solely on Asia -- acknowledges the problem and calls for greater balance and a longer-term view in US foreign policy and strategy. Also encouraging is that, as Armitage pointed out in his remarks introducing the report, a younger generation of foreign policy thinkers played a major role in its drafting, including onetime Clinton administration Pentagon wunderkind Kurt Campbell and the Bush administration's onetime director for Asian affairs at the NSC Michael Green, both of whom will no doubt playing leading Asia policy roles in future administrations of both parties.

According, as the 2008 presidential election heats up, considering that the winner could be president for most of the way to 2020, I am more interested in knowing where the candidates stand on the views outlined in this report than in knowing which type of withdrawal from Iraq they favor, given the long-term implications of the shift to Asia as the "center of gravity" in international politics. (Besides, sooner or later it will be Asian powers looking to sort out the Middle East's problems as they grow ever more dependent on it for energy, a point made by, among others, Tom Barnett.)

I have a lot more to say on this report, so I am going to break up my analysis into two subsequent posts, the first on the report's ideas about the changing shape of the Asia-Pacific region and the second on the report's ideas about how the US-Japan alliance needs to change as the region changes.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Second Armitage-Nye Report

Published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the report can be downloaded here. The event launching the report can be viewed or listened to at the same site.

I have only scanned the report, but compared to the initial 2000 report, it is much more focused on shaping the region (hence the subtitle, "Getting Asia Right through 2020").

More soon...

What a difference a year makes

A year ago I was throwing myself into work on my M.Phil dissertation, which analyzed change in the US-Japan alliance since the end of the cold war. Those changes continued right up through the moment of submission (North Korea's missile test was the week before the deadline).

The alliance seemed like it was bounding from strength to strength. Military cooperation, including and especially missile defense, was reaching unprecedented levels. Alliance managers reached a deal on realigning the US military presence in Okinawa and mainland Japan after years of frustration. Above all, the solid rapport between President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi ensured that the bureaucrats working on strengthening alliance cooperation had the blessings of the heads of both governments (and disputes, such as that over the Japanese ban of US beef imports, were papered over thanks in part to the crooning of Koizumi).

Those days seem long gone.

The problem is not at the military-military level, where enhanced cooperation continues unabated, but rather at the political level, where Abe has been surprisingly lackadaisical about putting in the work necessary to ensure a political foundation for deepening functional cooperation. The biggest piece of evidence often used to illustrate Abe's lack of attentiveness is, of course, his putting trips to Beijing, Seoul, and Europe before visiting Washington to meet with President Bush. But the lack of response from Abe to comments by his foreign and defense ministers about the wisdom of certain US foreign policy decisions -- regardless of the rightness of their comments -- suggests that his apparent indifference to the alliance is a principled position and not the result of his poor administrative skills. In other words, as this piece spells out (although mislabeling Abe's foreign policy stance as "neoconservatism"), Abe is something of a Gaullist nationalist actively seeking to carve out a more independent foreign policy.

It seems, however, that Abe may be getting his wish of a more independent Japan sooner than he expected, as the six-party talks have yielded a tentative agreement that is clearly not in Japan's interest. That was always the risk with the six-party talks. As long as the US and Japan were closely linked politically, the six-party talks were an excellent vehicle for ensuring that Japan's interests were respected and that Japan wasn't completely friendless in the region. But the other possibility -- arguably the outcome that has been achieved in Beijing -- is that the US would be fed up with the situation and would reach a modus vivendi with China over Japan's head. This has been a longtime fear of Japanese governments, but together with a US administration desperate for a victory, Abe, with his inattentiveness to the political management of the alliance, seems to have achieved that feat.

This judgement may be premature -- and it's certainly reversible (the alliance has weathered worse before). But Abe dispatching his public relations man to the US will not be enough to sort out the mess. Suddenly Cheney's impending visit to Japan takes on considerably more significance then when it was originally scheduled; a disastrous meeting could deepen the freeze and convince Tokyo to start looking for friends elsewhere, while a productive, frank discussion could signal the beginning of a new era for the alliance marked by more prominent and independent Japanese role.

And then there's the second Armitage Report, due to be published sometime today...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Breaking for book notes

Another day, another session of the budget committee, with the opposition once again raking the Abe Cabinet over the which I mean soberly discussing Japan's policy goals and requirements.

As such, I want to take a brief break from tracking the current Diet session to post some notes on a book I recently finished reading.

But first, I now have a dedicated email address for questions and comments concerning the content of this blog. Please direct your email to

As longtime readers of this blog will note, I have a particular fascination with China (er, who -- especially among observers of the Asia-Pacific -- doesn't these days). In any case, I have been reading as many books worth reading on China that I can get my hands on in order to get a more nuanced view of the country that may claim the twenty-first century in the same way that America claimed the twentieth. (Find a previous review here.)

In this vein, I have just finished reading journalist Ian Buruma's Bad Elements, in which he travels the Chinese world, from the suburbs of Washington, DC to Tibet, to talk with prominent and not-so-prominent Chinese dissidents, including dissidents who have resisted governments in Taipei and Singapore. While already several years old, Buruma provides a thorough look at the dynamics of resistance from which the successful removal of the CCP might spring. At the same time, however, Buruma should be credited for not writing hagiography. It is altogether too easy to lose one's critical eye when assessing individuals who have risked everything to resist tyrannical governments, and while Buruma gives the subjects of his book the credit they deserve, he doesn't not hesitate in his probing of their motives and their goals.

I drew several especially salient points from Buruma's book.

First, there is no question that the CCP will fall sooner or later. Having unleashed the tremendous forces of a modern market economy without having relinquished power, the CCP cleared the way for rampant corruption -- while at the same time ever so slightly giving citizens space to begin demanding accountability (how else does one explain this). The question is how long before demands for accountability metastasize into demands for greater political accountability. Buruma's frequent references to Chinese history -- which is filled with examples of long-ruling regimes overturned -- serve as a constant reminder that sooner or later each regime that has governed China has faltered and fallen, usually overwhelmed by systemic failures and flaws. The timeline at work in the demise of the CCP regime may not conform to the demands of the twenty-four news cycle, but the forces that will cause its downfall are already at work, and they were unleashed by the CCP itself when it opted for vast liberalization. (For a look at how this might happen, I strongly recommend Bruce Gilley's China's Democratic Future.)

Second -- this is a more philosophical point -- Buruma was surprised to find that many of the exiled dissidents with whom he talked converted to Christianity while in exile, which suggests that no matter how hard materialists like the CCP try to extinguish the human soul, that deep need to believe in something greater than oneself, it finds a way of re-emerging, often as religious belief. I suspect that the cadres in Beijing realize this, hence the promotion of nationalism in the wake of Deng's reforms.

Speaking of nationalism, Buruma expertly documents the twisted skein that is Chinese nationalism in the twenty-first century: sometimes racialist, sometimes cultural, sometimes political, often belligerent, the impact Chinese nationalism will have on the political and social evolution of China in the coming decades is probably the greatest wild card at present.

One final point that I found interesting is that in contemporary China, as in Eastern Europe during the 1970s and 1980s, when the ruling party has politicized everything, the act of carving out a place for the non-political in society becomes, paradoxically, imbued with great political significance (This phenomenon was deftly described in Tony Judt's Postwar).

I can very easily imagine research institutes in Beijing full of newly minted Chinese PhDs digging through the history of the demise of the Eastern bloc -- not to mention Chinese history -- looking for clues to avoid the same fate as the "people's democracies."

In any case, I give credit to Buruma for not simply writing a book that cheers China's dissidents and looks to post-CCP China with rose-tinted glasses. China's democratic transition, when it comes, is bound to be a messy and potentially bloody affair, and Buruma successfully treads the thin line between realistically assessing the future and worshipping the present power on the throne in Beijing. The picture that emerges from his account is of a China that's more than ready for a change, thanks to a population more politically astute than observers often suggest.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Now, the waiting game

So the six-party talks have produced a tentative agreement -- although it seems that there's no sign of a timeline, and at this point all North Korea has agreed to do is close the Yongbyon reactor that has apparently fuelled its nuclear weapons program, with no mention of what happens to North Korea's existing arsenal.

Japan is still in a tough position, however. There has been no progress on the abductions issue, which prompted Abe to respond firmly to a question in the budget committee by the DPJ's Kan Naoto about whether Japan will cooperate with energy support for North Korea: indirectly, he said, but Japan will apparently not dispense aid directly to Pyongyang.

Abe's response is not surprising, given the importance of the issue to him and his government, but it does nothing to diminish the growing impression that Japan is being isolated from the other participants in the talks, including -- especially including -- the US, whose representative in the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, quoted in this FT article on North Korea's need for energy, as saying, "We want to help their economy, and especially we want to help the North Korean people, who we believe have suffered enough...The way to help them is to get them to give up these weapons and get out of the [nuclear] business that has really caused great harm to them." Sounds very different from the Japanese position, no?

The long-term success of the agreement produced in Beijing is still uncertain, particularly since it has yet to move from the sub-ministerial level. And although John Bolton has left office, I can think of someone in Washington who might take Japan's side. In other words, there's still a long way to go before the region's powers can declare victory and move on to something else.

Nagata-cho, day one

My service in Kanagawa Prefecture is at an end. I am now making the long commute -- along with most of the Tokyo metropolitan area, it seems -- to central Tokyo, to Nagata-cho, Japan's Capitol Hill.

No time was wasted today, as I was very rapidly thrown into the Nagata-cho life this morning. Almost immediately upon arrival at the office this morning I was whisked off to the Diet, where the Lower House's Budget Committee was meeting to discuss this year's budget. (Yomiuri on today's meeting here; Asahi here.) From a seat in media gallery, I had a clear view of the government's ministers, including Prime Minister Abe himself, as the government fielded questions from the opposition on anything but the proposed budget.

Indeed, the budget committee today -- at least this morning -- was used by the opposition to nag the government on the failings of its various members, including the smell of financial impropriety surrounding Agriculture Minister Matsuoka and Education Minister Ibuki, as well as a years-old bit of impropriety apparently committed by Finance Minister Omi (too complicated to spell out here), with the morning hearings finally steering in the direction of the budget just shy of lunch, when the government was asked about supporting for failing regions, with the name of "Yubari," the bankrupt city in Hokkaido, invoked to criticize the government for its regions policy. Shortly thereafter, when asked about whether current negotiations with Australia for a free trade agreement -- not to mention the barely alive WTO Doha Round -- will ensure sufficient protection for Japanese agriculture, Abe roused himself from his seat and delivered a surprisingly spirited defense of the expansion of free trade, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

I say surprisingly spirited because Abe looked bored throughout the session, even when he rose to address a question. Perhaps Abe's problem is that he's a presidential -- dare I say, Gaullist -- figure trapped in a parliamentary system, a parliamentary system in which the Diet has seen its powers grow in the past fifteen years as the once-powerful bureaucracy has seen its power diminish. I can't help but wonder if Abe wishes he was the head of state in a French-style system: president responsible for foreign affairs and outlining broad national goals, prime minister responsible for day-to-day management of parliament and moving the president's agenda. Thus the boredom that he seems to show in news recaps on television is not just the result of selective editing; it's his standard public posture.

In any case, the budget hearing was surprisingly lively, with both governing and opposition party members interrupting speeches, laughing raucously, and shouting speakers down.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

No surprise here

The Japan Times is reporting here that Vice President Cheney will not be meeting Defense Minister Kyuma when he visits Japan later this month.

This was all too expected, being entirely consistent with how the Bush administration has dealt with critics throughout its tenure.

Not really much more to say here, other than that this is another sign of the palpable chill that has settled in between Washington and Tokyo.


It seems that someone in Washington is finally calling attention to the US government's dangerous fixation on the Middle East -- as freelance writer and onetime NYT correspondent Richard Halloran writes at RealClearPolitics, the Congressional Research Service has produced a report (available for downloaded here) warning that insufficient attention is being paid to the Asia-Pacific region.

For a country that's supposedly a global superpower, the US has paid relatively scant attention in recent years to the requirement of a region that is changing rapidly. Halloran quotes two senior Asian specialists to that effect:
James Kelly, the assistant secretary who had headed the East Asia division of the State Department during President George W. Bush's first term, said: "There is an insufficient realization that Asia has become the center of gravity," meaning the focal point of political, economic and military power. "Policy and strategy toward East Asia," he said, "are not easy to discern."

Similarly, Stephen Bosworth, former U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and South Korea, asserted: "The administration can't deal with more than one or two issues at a time." He said that, by 2009 when the next president takes office, power in Asia "will have shifted while we were not paying attention." [my emphasis]

Obviously Iraq is a serious problem, but if a presidential administration can't walk and chew gum at the same time, then the unipolar "era" will crash to a halt -- oh, wait. (Tom Barnett more or else makes the same point in this post on Putin's remarks in Munich.)

The obsession with the Middle East predates, at least to some extent, 9-11, which arguably created a shift in degree of the attention given to the region, rather than a shift in quality. Of course, energy does much to explain this, but in the process of securing a stable supply of oil from the region, the US has become entrapped in pathologies of the Middle East (the messy distribution of nations across state borders, the Shia-Sunni divide, the Israel wars, etc.) and has found it impossible to extricate itself, with many within the US and abroad urging the US to stay engaged in the Israel-Palestinian question in particular, which seems like encouraging an alcoholic to have one more bender before starting AA. (A good argument for why this encouragement is silly can be found here.)

As soon as entirely possible, the US needs a period of benign neglect vis-a-vis the Middle East, and turn its focus to Asia, where the political map is changing rapidly.

My vote in 2008 will most likely be for the candidate most aware of how the Asia-Pacific is changing (and with it the US position in the region).

Much ado about nothing in Essen

So the meeting of G7 finance minister and central bank presidents has concluded, and, despite grumbles from the Democratic US Congress and the EU's ECOFIN about the weakness of the Japanese yen, the final statement in Essen included nothing that directly referred to Japanese monetary policy.

Instead, the only country named directly in the paragraph on exchange rate policy is China, together with other developing countries:
We reaffirm that exchange rates should reflect economic fundamentals. Excess volatility and disorderly movements in exchange rates are undesirable for economic growth. We continue to monitor exchange markets closely, and cooperate as appropriate. In emerging economies with large and growing current account surpluses, especially China, it is desirable that their effective exchange rates move so that necessary adjustments will occur. (Statement available for download here)
So Japan has once again been granted a reprieve, with China remaining the favored scapegoat of developed countries feeling the crush of competition from the BRICs and the rest of the developing world. Perhaps the G7 balked at the potential consequences of a statement that might spark the rapid "unwinding" of the yen carry trade.

In any case, the yen remains weak, Japanese interest rates remain extremely low, and the G7 remains a body with questionable relevance in the rapidly changing international system.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Second time farce...

An embattled George Bush in the White House, a Democratic Congress riled up about Japanese practices to give itself an unfair advantage in international economic it 2007 or 1992?

But seriously, as this FT article reports, Congress is pushing hard for Secretary Paulson to join with European governments to pressure Japan to raise interest rates and push up the yen.

What exactly do these esteemed members of Congress hope to achieve? Do they expect that if Japan changes its supposedly errant ways that America's economic concerns will vanish and its economy will continue to lead the world? (I say supposed because it's not exactly clear how Japan is manipulating its exchange rate, aside from having extremely low interest rates.)

As I've posited here before, America's problems are rooted in the long-term challenges associated with the move to a post-industrial economy, and no amount of badgering of foreign governments will solve the long-term question of how to re-envision American institutions for the new era. Not surprisingly, John Dingell (D-MI), is leading the charge on this issue; it seems that Dingell, whose district includes the suburbs of automobile industry-dependent Detroit. It seems Dingell would rather freeze American industry than advance measures that will strengthen American dynamism and ensure that the engines of growth continue to purr -- including Detroit. There's no going back to 1950. And frankly, since a world with many major liberal economies means that millions, if not billions, of people are being lifted out of poverty, we shouldn't want to go back to 1950 even if we could.

Dingell and his fellow Democrats should be using their majority to ask how to provide some degree of assistance in the short term to those affected by the post-industrial transition, and to consider long-term solutions to ensure that rising generations have the skills to compete in new global economy that has many major nodes, with which competing fiercely for an edge on the rest. Undermining the global economy by hectoring foreign governments is a solution to neither the short-term nor the long-term problem.

So to re-enact the early 1990s efforts to pressure Japan to do America's bidding economically, given what we know now about how the global economy is changing, is indeed a laughable farce.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Revolution from below

This article at Mainichi online, on ceremonies to commemorate Northern Territories Day, caught my eye for a couple reasons.

The first is that I can't help but wonder if a push to resolve longstanding territorial disputes with Russia is driven by rising fears of abandonment in the government of Japan. Outside the alliance with the US, after all, Japan is short on reliable friends, and perhaps Abe reasons that, with this irksome issue resolved, Russia might be open to cooperation on initiatives in East Asia, especially regarding China (don't forget about those Chinese migrants flooding into the Russian Far East). Russia, of course, is no substitute for the US in Japan's foreign relations, but better relations with Moscow would at least somewhat mitigate a sense of isolation.

I found, however, that more interesting than the strategic reasons behind this campaign is the language used by Abe to promote this effort.
The territorial issue is a matter of national concern, and it is important for each person to be interested in the problem to mobilize efforts.
There, in one sentence, can be found the reason why Japan's political system has proven so resistant to change, and points to the kind of change needed.

The Meiji Restoration looms large over the Japanese political system; both parties struggle to claim the mantle of the proper heir of the restoration's legacy. But the Meiji Restoration was a top-down revolution, and the modern state to which it gave birth has been indelibly marked by its origins at the hands of the Meiji elite. Even after the "second opening" that was the US occupation of Japan, the outlines of the state shaped during the Meiji era remain. All the US did was change the content of the state, infusing it with a touch of New-Deal liberalism without destroying the fundamental character of the Meiji state: change would be managed and directed from above, by bureaucrats and their politician allies.

Accordingly, overriding national goals have had considerable resonance in Japan in the past, as in the 1960s, when rapid economic growth was the great national project that moved all.

All of this was supposed to have changed in the 1990s, when confidence in the bureaucracy collapsed following the bursting of the economic bubble, the mismanagement of economic recovery, the woeful response to the Hanshin earthquake and Aum subway attack in 1995, and so on. In place of bureaucrats, power was supposed to shift to politicians -- and in some ways, it has. But that's precisely the problem. Substituting politicians for bureaucrats without changing the way Japanese society thinks about policy and governance simply substitutes a new class of corruptible leaders for the old (cue The Who).

Hence the title of this post. Politicians' appealing to the Meiji Restoration misses the point, which is that rather than have yet another top-down revolution, as Abe intends with his talk of dismantling the postwar regime, the Japanese people need to step up and claim the political system for themselves. Instead of talk of national goals about which "it is important for each person to be interested in the problem to mobilize efforts," it is time that the elite step back and let the people learn to speak for themselves.

Anything short of that will simply invite the same problems with corruption and stagnation that Japan has experienced in the recent past. Politicians of all stripes may talk about dynamism, but a truly dynamic Japan will only emerge if the system opens up to competition in policy and politics, as well as economics, if the Japanese people claim leadership of society.

All fungoes, all the time

Believe it or not, the year-round extravaganza that is Japanese baseball is gearing up for another season.

It seems like only yesterday -- mere weeks after my arrival here -- that the Trey Hillman-managed Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters bested the Chunichi Dragons in the Japan Series.

What prompted this post? One of the sports channels offered by my cable provider has been showing Hanshin Tigers spring training round the clock all week. And by spring training I don't mean exhibition games -- actual training. Over the past several days I've seen catchers doing pop-up drills, pitchers going through their daily workouts, and hitters taking simultaneous live batting practice with a row of batting cages lined up at home plate. These aren't highlights or anything: just raw footage with commentary.

While I know that the Hanshin Tigers are a special case, as Tigers fans are perhaps the most fanatic in the world, this strikes me as a bit much.

Then again, I hope that I'll catch infield drills one day. Japanese teams run infield drills with greater intensity than I'm used to back in the US.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Japan's multilateral blues

Yesterday I wrote about rising concerns that Japan will be criticized regarding the cheap yen at the G7 meeting this weekend in Germany; Japan, however, may also be running into trouble at the six-party talks due to restart this week in Beijing.

This article in the FT hints at growing signs that Washington is increasingly open to an agreement with the DPRK, including normalization, this following reports of positive exchanges between US and North Korean envoys in preparatory meetings in Berlin.

I remain incredulous that the talks will result in a denuclearized North Korea -- and this article confirms my incredulity, as it only touches on the nuclear issue.

If I was sitting in the Kantei now, I would be worried. You have a Bush administration desperate for a victory, on any front, that can help cement the president's legacy. You have signs of irritation on Washington's part with critical comments from Japan's foreign and defense ministers, and the festering sore in bilateral relations that is the Okinawa bases issue. Ultimately, you have an administration that's thinking about bigger things than Japan's comfort.

Yes, if I was Prime Minister Abe, my concerns would be shifting to the "abandonment" side of Glenn Snyder's abandonment - entrapment axis, because any agreement that fails to guarantee a denuclearized Korean peninsula -- or secure greater conclusiveness on the abductee issue -- is a defeat for Japan. I expect that a Bush administration that seems desperate for an agreement is not going to let a handful of abductees from the 70s and 80s stand in the way.

So for all Abe's groundwork in Asia, his fate may be sealed by his cabinet's snubs on the US. I doubt, after all, that Seoul and Beijing are going to push to toughen any agreement from the six-party talks to satisfy Japan. As such, the distinct chill that has settled in between Tokyo and Washington could have significant consequences in the resolution of the North Korean crisis, to Japan's detriment.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Japan repeats its "dissent"

Steven Clemons, Japan expert and fellow at the New America Foundation, calls attention on his blog to comments by Foreign Minister Aso reiterating Defense Minister Kyuma's criticism of the invasion of Iraq, which drew a response from the State Department (previously discussed here).

It seems like a 2 + 2 meeting, between both countries' state and defense ministers, which had originally been arranged to convene in January, is indefinitely postponed -- and that the alliance is suffering from serious drift at the political level.

As such, I have to disagree respectfully with AEI research associate Chris Griffin, who wrote here about deepening military ties between the US and Japan. I'm not disagreeing with the picture he paints of cooperation between the US military and the JSDF, and the way that cooperation is changing in the face of the changing East Asian threat environment.

What's missing, however, is sustained political leadership to guide the process. Sooner or later -- and sooner is best -- the two governments are going to have to discuss alliance decision making, the global reach of the alliance (if any), crisis response, and joint planning; meanwhile, Japan has yet to overcome the prohibition on collective self-defense, which remains a firm barrier to a true alliance.

With official Washington focused on Iraq to the exclusion of everything else, and with the Abe Cabinet mired in a host of domestic disputes, it seems that the political and bureaucratic leadership that was critical to pushing the process of reforming the alliance forward at critical junctures since the end of the cold war is totally absent. The alliance appears to be in a trough similar to that of 1998-2000, when the Clinton administration was distracted by impeachment and focused on the Middle East and Japan's governments were obsessed with the worsening financial crisis -- meaning that despite outlining new guidelines for alliance cooperation in 1997, little was done to build on that agreement.

The alliance emerged from that nadir with the start of the Bush administration, but with East Asia changing rapidly, can the US and Japan really wait until January 2009 to rejuvenate political cooperation? Perhaps the new Armitage Report that is supposedly in the works will be able to outline the way forward.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Japan walking into a trap at Essen?

The G7 is due to meet in Essen, Germany this weekend, and there are dark rumblings that Japan may be called to account for failing to allow its currency to rise as the dollar falls, which has forced the euro to appreciate to a greater extent than the yen, which has remained the weakest of the major currencies.

At a recent ECOFIN (that's the Economic and Financial Council of the Council of the European Union -- the finance ministers' group in the European presidency) meeting, German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück and French Minister of Economy, Finance and Industry Thierry Breton suggested that the weakness of the yen would be on the table at Essen. In Breton's words, "We agreed that the yen ought to reflect the reality of the Japanese economy" (From Jiji, in Japanese).

That was from 31 January.

Just before that, however, US Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs Tim Adams said at Davos that the US viewed Japan's economic policy as "appropriate," suggesting that any attempt by the European members of the G7 to cajole Japan into allowing the yen to bear more of the burden of the dollar's fall would be nixed by the US.

Recent changes in the US, however, suggest that Japan may in fact be confronted in Germany.

First, Adams tendered his resignation on Friday. His letter gives the usual "more time with my family" excuse, but I can't help but wonder if there isn't a dispute going on in the upper reaches of the Treasury Department over how the US should deal with currency manipulation. As Ken Worsley notes in this post at his Japan Economy News blog, Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, apparently wrote a letter to Bush calling for the administration to press Japan on the currency issue. (Apparently if China won't budge, Congress can always turn to Japan as a scapegoat.) Maybe Secretary Paulson is caving on this front.

Second, I wonder how the Kyuma dispute plays into all this. The Bush administration, after all, isn't known for being especially charitable to critics, and Kyuma trod upon the administration's toes -- well, toe, probably the pinky toe -- just as it struggled to sell the new course in Iraq to the American public. While alliance managers have traditionally tried and mostly succeeded at keeping the economic and security realms separate, I can't help but wonder if the Bush administration, embattled at home and abroad and short on prominent Japan hands, isn't particularly concerned about breaking with tradition in the US-Japan relationship.

As such, should Japan face a united front of criticism from the rest of the G7 in Essen, it could be a crippling blow for the already tottering Abe Cabinet. Combined with the boycott of budget hearings by the opposition as a result of l'affaire Yanigasawa, pressure from the G7 to change course at home could further paint Abe into a corner.

Is it too early to start placing bets on how many more months (weeks?) Abe has before being ousted?

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Political Tourette's Syndrome?

The new Diet session is more or less on hold, as the DPJ and other opposition parties have decided to boycott the Lower House's Budget Committee meetings on supplemental expenditures until Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Yanigasawa resigns.

Although Abe has apologized for his subordinate's remarks, the opposition has continued to push for resignation.

And not without reason. It's hard to imagine a cabinet member in any other G7 country calling women machines for giving birth and surviving in office.

As such, contrary to this Yomiuri editorial, which criticizes the DPJ for reviving an old Japanese Socialist Party tactic and putting politics -- specifically the desire to solidify the opposition bloc in advance of the July elections -- ahead of policy, I see no reason why the opposition should give the Abe Cabinet a pass. Like a person suffering from Tourette's Syndrome, the Abe Cabinet cannot help but periodically blurt out inappropriate remarks, dating back to the first weeks of Abe's tenure, when Foreign Minister Aso and LDP policy chief Nakagawa repeatedly mentioned the need for Japan to consider developing nuclear weapons.

Abe is apparently unable to keep his team on message. Why shouldn't he pay politically for his failings as a party leader and head of government? If it hasn't happened already, I expect that it is only a matter of time before a serious fight begins within LDP over who will succeed Abe should his numbers continue to dip -- and should his missteps result in a catastrophic defeat in July.

Maybe Foreign Minister Aso wasn't being too hasty in announcing the creation of his own LDP faction, in order to position himself for another run for the party presidency...

Abe ≠ Koizumi (or Reagan)

I'm going to link to this Bloomberg column by William Pesek largely without comment, because it's very much in tune with my own thinking.

In short, Abe is unable to sell his policies, and has yet to articulate the specifics of how he will continue reforming the Japanese economy (a point also made by Ken Worsley here).

Meanwhile, Adamu at Mutant Frog is speculating about the early demise of the Abe Cabinet, about which I have speculated before.

It seems that Abe needs to worry more about the next fifty to 100 days, and less about the next fifty to 100 years.