Friday, March 30, 2007

The DPJ's dilemma

With the Abe Cabinet determined to press ahead with passage of a bill establishing a national referendum system so that when the time comes a revised constitution can be submitted to a vote, the Democratic Party of Japan finds itself in something of a bind, because unlike previous opposition parties, the DPJ is not opposed to revision of the constitution -- it does not have a totemic attachment to the postwar system.

But, of course, it still wants to be an active opposition party that makes life difficult for the government.

That is the dilemma found in current deliberations about submitting a rival national referendum bill to the Diet. As Mainichi reports, the DPJ has decided to submit its own plan, which differs from the government's draft only in that the DPJ wants to set up a "general" national referendum system.

Once Japan's political parties get around to discussing the actual substance of constitution revision, there will no doubt be plenty of debate and disagreement, but for the moment that's neither here nor there, because both parties are looking to July's upper house elections. The DPJ, torn between its policy goals and its desire to hammer the government and improve its standing in advance of the elections, once again looks weak and indecisive.

This is a problem that will not go away. The DPJ has yet to find a way to present itself as a viable opposition party with the potential to form a government, without looking like an LDP-lite (having the old LDP operator Ozawa at the helm may not be the best way of presenting the DPJ as a new wind in Japanese politics).

As such, for all the Abe Cabinet's troubles one should not expect revolutionary political change any time soon. On the contrary, as suggested in a conversation with another American Japan watcher with whom I met this past week, Japan may well be in for another period of short-lived LDP governments headed by bland pols.

The Koizumi era seems like it was ages ago.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Murayama's apology revisited

In this recent post, I mentioned that what Japan needs to do is stop issuing caveats about its wartime behavior, and make a clear, unambiguous apology.

Of course, I neglected to mention that a Japanese prime minister has previously made such a statement: Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi's 1995 remarks on the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war. In his remarks, Murayama said the following:

During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. Allow me also to express my feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of that history.

Building from our deep remorse on this occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, Japan must eliminate self-righteous nationalism, promote international coordination as a responsible member of the international community and, thereby, advance the principles of peace and democracy. At the same time, as the only country to have experienced the devastation of atomic bombing, Japan, with a view to the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, must actively strive to further global disarmament in areas such as the strengthening of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It is my conviction that in this way alone can Japan atone for its past and lay to rest the spirits of those who perished.

It is said that one can rely on good faith. And so, at this time of remembrance, I declare to the people of Japan and abroad my intention to make good faith the foundation of our Government policy, and this is my vow.

This is the very model of a sincere apology.

But this apology is problematic. Murayama was Japan's first and only Socialist prime minister following the creation of the LDP in 1955, and the product of a grossly opportunistic coalition formed between the LDP and the Socialists after the collapse of the Hosokawa-Hata coalition cabinets in 1993-1994. Accordingly, the question is for whom was Murayama speaking. Himself? His government? All of the Japanese people? One thing is for certain: he was not speaking for Japan's conservative nationalists, including the current prime minister. And, as his policy proposals towards the end suggest, he was working in the pacifist paradigm that did not rankle Japan's neighbors.

The decade since the Murayama Cabinet suggests that the Murayama apology was more a coda on the postwar era than the dawn of a new age of Japanese relations with its continental neighbors. Japan is unmistakably more assertive, and has been governed by prime ministers who have not hesitated to push against the postwar restraints on Japan's playing a more significant role in the world. Thus, despite Koizumi's repeating the Murayama apology, words and actions did not match. As Tokyo University Professor Fujiwara Kiichi wrote, "Mr. Koizumi’s apology was a word-for-word repetition of the one made by then Prime Minister Tomoiichi Murayama in 1995 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. This fact gave Mr. Koizumi’s words a hollow ring. It was as if he was merely stating a memorized mantra."

Accordingly, Japan needs an unequivocal apology for the war that comes not from the lips of a tired, old Socialist but from a (young) nationalist like Mr. Abe, in many ways the political (and sometimes literal) heirs of the politicians who governed Japan during and before the war. Otherwise the apology will be just as meaningless as Murayama's was -- and, since Abe and his ilk have a more ambitious foreign policy agenda than Murayama, Japan's efforts to play a more significant regional and global role will continue to draw opposition from Japan's neighbors.

Given that Japan's nationalists are nothing if not unrepentant, however, no such apology seems to be in the offing; the history issue will undoubtedly continue to fester.

Gauging Japan's normalization

Two articles provide a solid, realistic look at the process of Japan's normalizing its security policy and possibly reducing its dependence on the alliance with the US in its grand strategy.

The first, by David Pilling in the FT, provides a belated report on Prime Minister Abe's speech to graduates of the National Defense Academy. (I just watched the speech via podcast on the train coming home from Yurakucho; very nearly put me to sleep, especially since Abe was reading his address from a sheet of paper.)

Pilling looks at Japan's evolving defense priorities in the face of an uncertain regional environment, and, despite a headline that contradicts the body of the article, provides more nuanced analysis than most discussion of contemporary Japanese security policy in international media sources. Citing comments by Temple University Japan's Robert Dujarric, Pilling notes the difficulties in expanding its defense budget beyond the customary one-percent of GDP ceiling, including public opinion, the fears of Japan's neighbors -- and large projects, namely missile defense and funds going to the realignment of the US presence in Japan, that limit the Japanese government's flexibility in defense spending. While Japan's Gaullist-nationalists may want greater independence in Japan's foreign policy, without a major shift in budgetary priorities -- preceded by the "normalization" of Japanese economic conditions -- Japan is dependent on the US for its security for the indefinite future.

The second article of note is a short interview with Columbia's Gerald Curtis in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, which focuses on the comfort women issue but also briefly mentions the limits of Japan's normalization. Said Curtis:
It’s hard to find Japanese who can explain what Japan is thinking in a way that foreigners can understand. It’s very different when you interact with Chinese elites. They’re very articulate. They have a global vision. They have a worldview. They know what they think and they tell you. But the Japanese cultural tradition is quite different, so you have to be able to read between the lines. You have to be able to hear it in the Japanese language, and there aren’t very many people who can do that. So they’re not very good at articulating their views, and that leads to all kinds of guesswork about what they’re up to. The fact is, even with all the changes going on, and this right-wing leadership in power now, the Japanese defense budget is not increasing. They’re reaching out for a bigger role abroad, but in a pretty tentative and limited manner. They’ll probably continue to muddle through—take some tough positions like they have on the abductee issue with North Korea—but the idea that they’re on the march to become a great military power with power projection capabilities and challenge the Chinese and so on? I don’t buy it.
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

George Bush helping Matsuoka?

George Bush, speaking to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, issued a challenge to Japan (and others):
Today, more than 100 countries have fully or partially opened their markets to U.S. beef. The objective of this administration, however, is to make sure that they're better than partially opened, they're fully opened, including the countries like Japan and Korea. We're also working to open up markets that have still got a ban on our imports. In other words, this is an important part of our foreign policy. When I'm talking to leaders and they've got an issue with American beef, it's on the agenda. I say, if you want to get the attention of the American people in a positive way, you open up your markets to U.S. beef. People understand that when it comes to being treated fairly in the world marketplace.
This might be just the thing to revive Japanese Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) Matsuoka Toshikatsu's sagging political fortunes, giving him the opportunity to pose as the defender of Japanese consumers from disease-ridden American beef (a role he has relished playing since the beginning of his political career).

Of course, it may well be too late for Matsuoka to save himself. Mainichi reports that Kamiwaki Hiroshi, a graduate professor of law at Kobe Gakuin University and head of a citizen's group called Political Funds Ombudsman, is preparing charges against Matsuoka for five years' worth of false reporting by his support group, The Matsuoka Toshikatsu New Century Politics and Economics Association. Kamiwaki said: "As is expected, the agriculture minister has not satisfied his obligation to provide an explanation; this illegal issue must not be neglected. Efforts to solve this case in the Diet have stalled, so I think that he must be indicted and the facts made clear in a courtroom." It is encouraging to see an NGO act independently to hold the government accountable. Stories like this suggest that there may be hope for Japan yet.

The question is whether Abe's stalwart defense (not to mention appointment to the cabinet) of a senior LDP politician with a long history of political activities of dubious legality will have consequences for the LDP in next month's local elections or July's Upper House elections. I would like to think it will, but then the Japanese public seems to have high tolerance for corrupt dealings by the LDP.

Why Japan is losing friends

The Jiji wire service reports that the minister responsible for public relations at Japan's embassy in Washington has called out the Washington Post for its "mistakes" and "not understanding sufficiently" the positions of Prime Minister Abe and the Japanese government on the comfort women question in its recent editorial on the issue, discussed here.

I suppose an official response to the Post's strongly critical editorial is a matter of course, but, at the same time, Japan's behavior throughout this whole process has made it difficult for American friends of Japan to defend Japan publicly. I have less of a problem with Japan's lobbying -- discussed in Harper's in October -- because Japan was simply playing the same game as pro-resolution activists. My problem is bigger, not only Japan's maddening inability to accept its historical crimes, but its inability to understand -- and to empathize with -- the victims of those crimes and appreciate that people all over the world, not just Koreans and Chinese, want Japan to face its past forthrightly. Once again, I don't think that the US Congress should be the vehicle of Japan's reconciliation with history, but opposing this resolution should not excuse Japan's behavior.

As such, I'm pleased that Kono Yohei -- author of the "Kono Statement" in question -- has criticized Abe and other "comfort women" deniers. Hair-splitting about historical crimes is almost worse than denying them outright, as it is an insidious way of diverting discussion away from questions of responsibility for wrongdoing (cf. the debate regarding the number of people killed in Nanking).

So, Mr. Abe, enough about whether or how coercion was involved: Japan was wrong. And so with the larger question of war guilt. Questions of Japanese victimhood at the hands of American strategic bombing (including atomic bombing), whether Japan was just engaging in the same practices as European empires, whether the US goaded Japan into war, or whether the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was simply meting out victor's justice, while relevant and interesting questions in their own right, are of secondary importance. It is time for a Japanese prime minister to make a full and unequivocal apology for all of Japan's wartime crimes and to issue a call to the Japanese people that a full and open reckoning with history is necessary. I don't think, however, that Abe will be that politician.

And that is why Japan is facing a US government less willing to indulge Japan as it did in the past. Consider that even the Bush administration, perceived to be particularly close with Japan (although less so now that certain officials have left), is now on record criticizing the Abe Cabinet for its ambiguous response to the congressional resolution. The relationship is changing, and if Tokyo thinks that the US government is going to shield it from critics (and enemies) forever, it is sorely mistaken.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Japan's worst nightmare?

If there's any truth to this article in the Chosun Ilbo, Japan should be worried. The article reports that North Korea is alleged to have asked the US at bilateral meetings earlier this month if it would be possible for the US and North Korea to normalize relations without North Korea's having to give up its nuclear weapons. (Tellingly, North Korea asked for the "India" treatment.)

While the article notes that Christopher Hill nixed the idea, that such an arrangement has been mentioned in US-North Korea bilateral talks should worry Japan, because while the US said no on this occasion, there's no guarantee that the US won't soften its opposition in the future. Given the unlikelihood that North Korea will give up the nuclear weapons it already has, the US may ultimately have to choose between an agreement that accepts a nuclear North Korea or no agreement whatsoever.

So how far is the US willing to go to secure an agreement? Aside from the abductions issue, what gaps remain between the US and Japan negotiating positions? Seems like the kind of thing about which Japan and the US should be exchanging opinions and working towards a common position.

Are they?

Putin meets Hu

I feel like the title of this post could be the beginning of a corny geopolitics-themed Abbot and Costello parody.

But seriously, the Japanese media seems to be keeping a close eye on the meeting in Moscow between Presidents Hu and Putin. This Mainichi article, for example, calls attention to the two countries agreeing to strengthen their "strategic partnership. Yomiuri, meanwhile, ran two articles about the China-Russia summit, this one on the facts of the meeting and a longer, analytic article that does not appear to be online.

While it is entirely appropriate for the Japanese press to watch discussions between two of the four powers constituting the East Asian strategic quadrangle -- the subject of this book by Robyn Lim -- I suspect Japan's media, particularly conservative publications like Yomiuri, are interested in part because closer relations between China and Russia plays into the "antagonistic Asia" storyline. Two large continental empires with illiberal political system versus...the maritime democratic allies, standing shoulder to shoulder as they did during the cold war, except this time Japan would no doubt love to play a more active military role.

I think, however, that observers should not overestimate the value of the China-Russia partnership. While there are a number of areas in which Beijing and Moscow have reasons to cooperate -- perhaps starting from their joint defense of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states -- neither state, but Russia in particular, will benefit from being tied too closely to the other. And let's not forget that there is plenty of friction between the two, not least the millions of Chinese flowing into Siberia. Frankly, the less fettered Russia's position in the region, the better. Following up last month's visits to Japan by several Russian officials to talk energy, I would not be surprised if momentum builds towards a Japan-Russia rapprochement. The more Russia can triangulate between energy-hungry China and Japan, the more it will gain and the more secure its position in the Far East will be.

So while Russia and China may find international cooperation useful in, for example, the UN Security Council, I have doubts about whether Beijing and Moscow will be especially chummy in East Asian matters. The regional security environment is becoming increasingly fluid, militating against a firmer Sino-Russian partnership, and, I fear, more intense political cooperation between the US and Japan.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Japan's friends, kept at arm's length

The Japan Times today has two op-eds that illustrate Japan's troublesome ties with the US, its ally, and South Korea, its wealthy, democratic neighbor and former colony.

The first, by journalist Hanai Kiroku, calls for a US-Japan economic partnership agreement (EPA), to follow on the heels of the Japan-Australia EPA currently under negotiation. Given the scale of the economic links between the world's first and second largest economies, the benefits of a US-Japan EPA would be large -- and would undoubtedly have spillover benefits for both the search for a compromise in the WTO and the push for an APEC FTA.

But I fear that political conditions in both countries militate against the negotiation and passage of a US-Japan agreement for the foreseeable future. With economic insecurity on the rise in the US, and the president's trade promotion authority set to expire, a wide-reaching EPA with Japan could very well aggravate US fears of Japan's economic prowess -- imagine the screams that would emanate from Detroit.

In Japan, meanwhile, the opposition to an agreement would be more fundamental, as it would no doubt emanate from Japan's heavily protected agriculture sector. Hanai makes the sensible suggestion that since Japan is dependent on food imports anyway, it might as well conclude deals that ensure that imported food supplies will remain stable, cheap, and plentiful:
Japan's calorie-based food self-sufficiency rate is only about 40 percent, much lower than the comparable rates of other countries. Some fear that EPAs with major farm exporting nations such as Australia and the U.S. will lower the rate further. However, in my opinion, Japan should secure stable food supplies from overseas because of its low food-sufficiency rate. If Japan, through EPAs with Australia and the U.S., has both countries promise to refrain from one-sided restrictions on food exports, it will help strengthen Japan's food security.
For that to happen, though, Japan's political system will have to change: as long as rural prefectures are the LDP's power base, and as long as the distribution of power in the political system favors agricultural producers over consumers, any agreement that forces Japan's farmers to face substantially greater competition will be nigh on impossible. This kind of opposition has already emerged against the Australia EPA negotiations; imagine the opposition that would await EPA negotiations with the US.

The second piece, meanwhile, is Pyon Junbeom and Tsukagoshi Yuka, South Korean and Japanese scholars respectively, writing about concrete steps that South Korea and Japan can take to ease bilateral tensions and build a genuine partnership. I like this piece, because it seeks to craft policies that take into account intangible cultural and historical factors. As they write: "The root of anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea is wounded pride. Koreans feel humiliated and insulted that they, a highly civilized society, were invaded by the Japanese, whom they believed to be barbarians." A sensible argument, but it leads me to wonder if even their modest recommendations will be difficult to implement. The kind of attitude they describe South Koreans as having seems like it would be difficult to overcome simply through Japanese apologies and other conciliatory measures. I don't doubt the value of a closer, more active Japan-South Korea partnership, I just doubt whether a South Korea intent on rectifying centuries of shame and a Japan feeling insecure as it watches its neighbors succeed will be able to forge a strong, dynamic friendship.

If Japan is to remain a significant player regionally and globally, however, it better start laying the groundwork for more constructive, open partnerships with its friends now, before it's too late.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Washington Post on Abe

The Washington Post published an editorial on Saturday criticizing Prime Minister Abe for his "double talk," pressing North Korea on abductions of Japanese citizens while denying the use of coercion by the Imperial Army in establishing "comfort women" stations.

The conclusion:
Mr. Abe may imagine that denying direct participation by the Japanese government in abductions may strengthen its moral authority in demanding answers from North Korea. It does the opposite. If Mr. Abe seeks international support in learning the fate of Japan's kidnapped citizens, he should straightforwardly accept responsibility for Japan's own crimes -- and apologize to the victims he has slandered.
In case anyone doubted the damage caused by Abe's ill-considered remarks on the comfort women resolution to his cabinet's diplomatic efforts, this editorial should serve as a reminder of the consequences. In the eyes of the world, Abe is now the world leader who essentially called women who testified to the US Congress liars -- further tarnishing Japan's reputation in Asia and fuelling doubts about Japan's security normalization.

With another two months before the resolution currently before Congress will go to a vote, there's plenty of time for members of the Abe Cabinet, from the prime minister down, to ensure the resolution's passage with inappropriate comments, if Abe hasn't done that already.

(Hat tip: Steve Clemons)

Food for thought

Nagashima Akihisa, international security policy expert and DPJ member of the Lower House, delivered questions in plenary session of the Lower House concerning the government's recently submitted bill on the realignment of US forces (discussed in this post).

Nagashima's remarks, posted here at his blog (in Japanese), constitute a long explanation of the need for a more independent Japanese security policy, in which the traditional division of "US bearing the costs in wartime, Japan bearing the costs in peacetime" is broken down in favor of a more equitable division of labor.

I don't necessarily have a problem with Nagashima's vision -- Japan should be able to defend itself and play a greater role in regional security -- but the ends of Japan's normalization must be explained clearly to Japan's neighbors, and, of course, to the US. The region is fraught with tension, and if Japan moves too quickly it risks exacerbating Asia's antagonisms.

Read the whole thing, if you can.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Tales from the strategic triangle

General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is currently in China after a stop in Japan, during which he talked with Foreign Minister Aso -- and possibly Defense Minister Kyuma, as Steve Clemons wonders, following the rumors surrounding Vice President Cheney's visit -- about a range of technical issues related to alliance cooperation.

On the agenda was the question of the realignment of US forces in Japan, including the removal of 8,000 US Marines from Okinawa to Guam. The debate on last year's agreement on US realignment, in which Japan agreed to pay $6.9 billion towards the Guam relocation, is likely to heat up now, as the Abe Cabinet has just submitted a realignment bill to the lower house of the Diet. The Democratic Party of Japan -- including the Upper House member for whom I work -- has raised questions about whether it's appropriate for Japan to be contributing this sum towards the cost of preparing Guam for a major influx of US forces. Such questions are reasonable, considering Japan's prevailing budgetary difficulties. And of course Japan should demand transparency and accountability about the project to expand existing US Military facilities on Guam to accommodate the new Marine presence that its contributions will be supporting.

Meanwhile, in China Pace has reiterated US (and Japanese) concerns about the lack of transparency in the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Differences no doubt remain, but I am pleased to see the chairman of the Joint Chiefs meeting with his Chinese counterpart -- and discussing the creation of a US-China military hotline, no less.

The delicate ballet that is the US-China-Japan strategic triangle goes on.

UPDATE: The FT reports that the PLA has reciprocated by offering a list of measures to promote greater openness and enhance cooperation between the Chinese and US militaries.

The ever-shifting balance

I was slightly remiss in this post yesterday, because I should have said more about just how successful North Korea's diplomacy has been through all this.

North Korea has the Bush administration bending over backward to assuage North Korea and keep negotiations on track, and -- with an assist from the US Congress -- has Japan isolated and weak. (To see how the US Congress's ill-timed comfort women resolution has played into North Korea's hands, South Korea's foreign minister today, in comments about the six-party talks, criticized Prime Minister Abe's comments on the comfort women issue.) It has forced the US to over-commit quickly, meaning that Pyongyang will have an easier time holding out for a better deal without having to worry that the US will abandon negotiations altogether.

Having already developed and tested nuclear weapons, North Korea is on control of the pace of negotiations -- and, of course, can very easily undermine a final agreement by dragging its feet on implementation.

All of which goes to show that while last month's breakthrough in the six-party talks was a promising sign, Northeast Asia remains fraught with tensions that run deeper than the issues currently under discussion. The East Asian balance of power is in a state of constant flux. Each state is particularly sensitive to changes in the relative distribution of power. So yes, it's important to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, but the process of reaching that goal will do much to shape the distribution of power -- and, more importantly, perceptions of the distribution of power -- in the region. The future of Asia may well hang in the balance.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

China in charge

The FT ran an article on Wednesday dissecting the process of releasing the frozen $25 million to North Korea. I was especially struck by this line:
Several people familiar with the debate said Hank Paulson, Treasury secretary, agreed to overrule officials responsible for terrorism financing, who objected to the move, after Beijing warned that a failure to return the North Korean funds would hurt the Sino-US strategic economic dialogue.
(This line also caught Daniel Drezner's eye, as seen in this post; he wonders what is going on in the strategic dialogue that would give this linkage weight.)

In case anyone forgot, this agreement is in many ways China's baby -- so it shouldn't be surprising to see China effectively using linkages to pressure the US to change course. I wonder if China has been applying similar pressure to Japan on the abductions issue behind the scenes, particularly as Premier Wen prepares to visit Japan next month.

Meanwhile, the FT article shows that the administration's critics on North Korea policy are more or less powerless. The State Department -- and Christopher Hill -- are in the driver's seat as far as the six-party talks are concerned.

I have to wonder, though, how the Bush administration's turn on North Korea will affect the wide-open race for the 2008 Republican nomination. I have no doubt that the conservative movement agrees with the National Review's assessment of diplomacy with North Korea. Will someone break from the field and secure the support by running against President Bush's new approach to Pyongyang?

Seoul speaks up -- how about Washington?

The Jiji wire service carried two articles today that report on South Korean officials criticizing Japan for its focus on the abductions issue in the multilateral de-nuclearization talks.

First, Yu Myong-hwan, South Korea's newly appointed ambassador to Japan, said at a press conference with Japanese journalists in Seoul that the resolving the nuclear issue must take priority in the six-party talks.

Subsequently, Jiji reported that the Song Min-soon, Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, criticized Japan for raising the abductions issue -- what he argued is a bilateral issue -- in the multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear program, and urged Japan to contribute to energy support for North Korea.

Altogether sound advice: I cannot see how Japan will come out looking good if its insistence on putting the abductions issue before the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons, which arguably threaten Japan more than any other country, scuttles this agreement. I certainly do not expect that the Bush administration, which has already demonstrated that it is making a good-faith effort to reach a lasting agreement, would be altogether pleased with the Abe Cabinet. If anything, the departure of Robert Joseph, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, means that the Bush administration is that much more committed to seeing the six-party talks through to fruition.

So when will Washington follow Seoul's lead and question Tokyo's abductions obsession publicly, reminding Japan that a de-nuclearized Korean Peninsula is in its interests?

Or maybe Japan has decided to base its North Korea policy on Dr. NakaMats's promise to develop a missile shield that will "make missiles turn around"?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Alliance or agreement?

Talks resume in Beijing on the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the big story is that Japan and North Korea came to blows over the abductions issue.

This was always the danger of Japan's pushing the abductions issue at all costs in the face of the North Korean stone wall: the US will have to choose between standing alongside Japan on abductions or urging Japan to back down in the interests of the push towards a nuclear agreement. The US has already paid a price to get to this point, having decided to release the frozen $25 million at Banco Delta Asia in Macau -- for which it is facing criticism, especially from the right, as seen in this FT article. As a result, it is hard to imagine the Bush administration slamming on the brakes, holding up talks until North Korea satisfies Japan's demands.

So essentially, North Korea laid the trap -- and Japan has taken the bait, putting tremendous pressure on the US to choose between its ally and a potential deal. Now, an agreement that actually disarmed North Korea, however unlikely, would be in Japan's interest, but if the process to reach the agreement produced significant friction and bad blood between the US and Japan, the long-term consequences could be devastating, leading to a more isolated, fiercely independent Gaullist Japan that sought its own conventional and nuclear deterrent capabilities.

And if you think I'm being alarmist, look at the cover story of Tuesday's Yomiuri Shimbun: a long reconsideration of the US nuclear umbrella that ends with an (envious) look at Britain's recent decision to renew its nuclear submarine program.

As I have maintained before, Japan's decision to emphasize the abductions issue above all else risks causing serious damage to the alliance with the US, and, consequently, greater instability in the region. Accordingly, the time for political coordination on the six-party talks between the US and Japan is now, before the talks move closer to an agreement.

China is not creating its own risk fleet...yet

In the years before World War I, Imperial Germany developed its "risk fleet" -- a large fleet of relatively little utility -- to force the Royal Navy to focus on defending the British Isles, a textbook example of the concept of a fleet in being.

It is with this in mind that I read this op-ed by the Heritage Foundation's Peter Brookes -- via RealClearPolitics -- about reports of a Chinese program to build an aircraft carrier, leading Brookes to conclude, "This isn't good news."

And yet the reasons he gives to demonstrate why this is so can easily be used to reach different conclusions.

Brookes suggests that a domestically produced Chinese aircraft carrier would mark a pronounced turn from asymmetry in Chinese military doctrine -- but I fail to see why a shift away from platforms and planning that seeks to deny American advantages in a potential conflict in the Taiwan Straits would be a bad thing. Brookes suggests two possibilities: a desire by Beijing for a more balanced fleet capable of projecting power at greater distances or a desire by Beijing for a naval force capable of showing the flag. I suspect it's a combination of both.

But I repeat my objection: why is either development necessarily a bad thing?

Specifically regarding the latter, it's entirely appropriate that China would want to have a blue-water navy capable of showing the flag. As Brookes admits:
China is, without question, a rising power - world's largest population, No. 2 energy consumer, No. 3 defense budget, No. 4 economy. And so on. It's an up-and-comer. Beijing may well think the time is ripe to unmistakably proclaim to the world: We're not just a regional power anymore.

That was the message of President Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet 100 years ago. Flush with success in the Spanish-American War - defeating a major European power and adding possessions in the Atlantic and Pacific - TR sent a large naval task force on a global circumnavigation in 1907-09.
I especially like that Brookes refers to the US Navy's Great White Fleet, because, as I've argued before, I think the position of the US at the turn of the twentieth century may provide the best historical example for assessing China at the turn of the twenty-first century.

But, again, why is this a problem? Brookes suggest one way a Chinese "prestige" fleet could have real consequences: he argues that China may seek a carrier force so as to be able to secure unobstructed access to oil moving along sea lines of communication (SLOC) currently protected by the US Navy. But the mission of securing SLOCs that serve East Asia may well be an opportunity to deepen cooperation between the US Military and the PLA, being an area in which US and Chinese interests overlap.

The US should view Chinese aspirations for a blue-water navy -- which is still more dream than reality, at least according to the Pentagon's own assessment in the 2006 Annual Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China -- as an opportunity first, the basis for Sino-US cooperation to secure SLOCs. That doesn't mean the US shouldn't hedge at the same time, but naval cooperation could serve to give China a "stakeholder" role in providing public goods to the region, a point made by Thomas Barnett, among others.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Assertive Japan

Michael Green's review of Kenneth Pyle's Japan Rising in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, is now online here (via RealClearPolitics). I previously discussed a draft version of Pyle's book here.

I find Green's review interesting because it gets at the ambiguities of Japan's re-emergence. Green (and Pyle) are correct to point out that Japan's strategic culture is fundamentally realist: Japan has long been sensitive to the distribution of power in its region and internationally, so sensitive that on multiple occasions its domestic institutions have been remade due to international circumstances. (This was well documented in Pyle's earlier book The Japanese Question.) But, at the same time, since the end of the cold war the impact of the international environment has been uncertain. Should Japan cling ever closer to a unipolar United States? Should it seek ever closer union economically with its Asian neighbors? Should it become a more independent, Gaullist wild card in the East Asian balance of power? And beyond these strategic questions, the significant question of how Japan's domestic institutions need to change to enable Japan to remain a significant regional and global power remains unanswered.

Japan, meanwhile, is trapped between the region's challenges and opportunities -- as in the second Armitage-Nye Report's formula -- and its "rise" is, therefore, hardly a linear process. As such, I find Green's conclusion convincing:
Ultimately, Japan is not all that inscrutable, nor is management of U.S.-Japanese relations all that complicated. Japan's political elite will always harbor some ambivalence about its junior-partner status with the United States, but the current generation of political leaders clearly wants the U.S.-Japanese alliance to work better for both nations. They are no longer reticent about doing more -- or asking for more in return. The important thing is that Washington continue to listen. Japan's public is intensely worried about North Korea's nuclear weapons, China's growing influence in Asia, and the United States' preoccupation with the Middle East. The alliance between Washington and Tokyo remains the centerpiece of Japanese foreign and security policy, but as Pyle notes, Japan is no longer sheltered from the Sturm und Drang in Asia or passive about deciding its own course. As a result, there is much less room for error when it comes to maintaining the credibility of the U.S. commitment to this most successful of alliances.
This illustrates what I've argued before: it is imperative, now more than ever, that the US and Japan exert significant effort forging institutions to facilitate smooth political cooperation. As the allies become more engaged in hashing out the political future of Asia, the lack of political coordination could have serious consequences for the alliance, and for the region as a whole.

The future of American power

I found this post by Suzanne Nossel at Democracy Arsenal fascinating, in that it is a fair, reasonable critique of the Iraq War that does not indict the very idea of the US using its power in support of its values abroad.

I particularly like her points "the US Military has limits" and "military power can't accomplish everything." Both seem self-evident, and yet in some circles these points may well be controversial. It is essential that conservatives scale back their triumphalist rhetoric -- as noted by Jacob Weisberg in his response to AEI's 2007 banquet (aka the neocon prom) -- and begin to acknowledge the limits of American power. It doesn't mean embracing isolationism: it means acknowledging that the use of force abroad has unintended consequences that must be taken into account when making policy, that regardless of American ideals and good intentions negative consequences may still result from intervention abroad. It doesn't mean retreating: it means that American policymakers must be prudent in considering how best to apply American power.

I was led to think this in part after seeing Charles Krauthammer's speech at the 2004 AEI banquet, in which he spoke of American power as if the previous year's difficulties in Iraq had never happened. Francis Fukuyama, in attendance at the banquet, had the same response, resulting in his supposed "break" with his fellow neoconservatives, played out in the pages of The National Interest and culminating in his book America at the Crossroads, in which he cites Krauthammer's speech as an important moment leading him to reconsider his ideas.

The American foreign policy establishment must continue to reassess the tools available in the foreign policy toolbox, in the process de-prioritizing the use of force as a means of achieving US foreign policy goals. Force is a blunt tool, the use of which has numerous unforeseen consequences. The work of building a new "new world order," in which the US Military plays quieter, less visible but still important roles, will require greater nimbleness and flexibility on the part of the US government in its relations with allies and rivals. It's a tragedy that it took disaster in Iraq for the adjustment to begin, but it has begun in earnest.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Seeking options

I found this op-ed by Gregory Clark in last Thursday's Japan Times fascinating. Clark suggests that North Korea may well be more open to an agreement with the US than commonly assumed, because Pyongyang is looking to expand its foreign policy options: "Even less is there any realization of an even more important factor possibly at work -- namely, the strong hints now surfacing that Pyongyang is eager to embrace Washington as a way to distance itself from Beijing and possibly even from Seoul."

I think Clark gets to an important idea in the foreign policy making of any country. Success in foreign policy is often means a state's expanding its options in a given situation, because, essentially, the more options, the more power. Of course, the number of options a state has at any given moment is finite, limited by norms and values, domestic institutions, material capabilities, the international environment, and so on. But for a state like the DPRK, whose very existence hangs in the balance, having the option of looking to another great power -- slightly more distant than Beijing or Seoul -- for reassurance and aid is a major diplomatic coup, and could well be worth the cost (i.e., giving up nuclear weapons).

And yet as Pyongyang and Washington look to expand their options in Northeast Asia, Japan is going the other direction: drastically limiting its options by staking its Korean diplomacy on the resolution of the abductions issue. As Clark wrote:
That Japan still seems unable or unwilling to grasp these possibilities is a measure of many things. One is its chronic weakness in diplomatic strategy and tactics. Another is the anti-North Korea emotion whipped up here over the abductee issue. Even Pyongyang's insistence that at least one of the claimed 12 abductees -- Megumi Yokota -- is dead, and that this can be easily proved if Tokyo cooperates, is being ignored.
I think Clark nails the point. As I've said before, conditions are such that there is real potential for both a major about-face by Pyongyang that results in its embracing Washington, and for Tokyo's being isolated in the region through its inflexible North Korea policy (even if it gains from a denuclearized Korean Peninsula).

With the signs coming out of the recent working group discussions on security in Northeast Asia and denuclearization showing the US willing to work towards an agreement -- reportedly agreeing to release frozen DPRK funds in Macau -- and North Korea apparently moving toward satisfying requirements to freeze its nuclear activities, alarms should be going off in Kasumigaseki that Japan needs to change course.

Is anyone there paying attention?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The california rolls are safe

After announcing plans to institute a certification system for Japanese restaurants overseas back in November, Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, headed by the beleaguered Matsuoka Toshikatsu (the subject of this superb book -- more on this soon), has decided to abandon these plans after opposition from citizens' groups and after a panel chaired by Ogura Kazuo of the Japan Foundation concluded that it is difficult to determine what exactly Japanese cuisine is.

So ends a bizarre attempt by Japan to flex its muscles in the cultural arena. Given that Japan remains a perennial favorite in this annual BBC survey, it's probably best not to give foreigners another reason to dislike Japan in light of the comfort women issue, which appears to be going from bad to worse, with the Abe Cabinet once again denying evidence of coercion, prompting US Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer to criticize the government's position.

As I've said before regarding soft power: difficult to measure, difficult to wield, and highly sensitive to the slightest change in perceptions. Between the ongoing disputes over whaling and the comfort women issue, I wouldn't be surprised if the BBC finds Japan to be slightly less popular next year.

Friday, March 16, 2007

China's Good Cop?

When I read articles such as this one from the IHT, I have a hard time figuring out if China's Premier Wen Jiabao is simply playing good cop to the PLA's bad cop or if Wen actually believes the argument he advances at every opportunity.

If it's the latter, then the bureaucratic infighting within the PRC's government may be greater than it appears to the outside world, in which case every country in the region must be extremely careful not to act in ways that do not strengthen the PLA's hand within internal policy debates.

For IR wonks, I'm led to think of a book like Jack Snyder's Myths of Empire, in which Snyder looks for correlations between the unity of a regime and its tendency towards an "overstretched" imperial foreign policy. That's not to say that China is imperial, but the concern that the more divided the Chinese government it is, the more its neighbors have to fear is, I think, very real.

All of which suggests that, as I wrote in this post, every country in the region, the US included, must think very carefully about the decisions they make now. Pushing too quickly for an organized "hedge" option without a parallel move towards an Asian "OSCE" risks encouraging elements within the PRC who favor antagonism -- resulting in self-fulfilling prophecies about Chinese behavior and producing a vicious cycle that could rapidly spiral out of control.

The Economist on the Japan-Australia agreement

The Economist this week weighs in on the Japan-Australia Security Declaration, the main point of which can be found halfway into the article: "...The louder the denials from both sides, the more evident is the main catalyst for the security pact: the rise of China."

It's hard to deny that China's rise loomed large over security talks between Japan and Australia this week, but then China's emergence looms large over every discussion of Asia, and will continue to do so for the indefinite future. As I argued in this post, the joint declaration muddies rather than clarifies the regional balance of power, because no observer can exclude the extensive economic ties both Australia and Japan have with China. There is no indication of what either party would do in a crisis involving China. In short, making too big a deal out of a paper agreement is a mistake. Is it an important agreement on paper, especially for Japan? Indubitably. Does it transform the region in a stroke? Hardly.

I find the article's comments on Japan interesting, but flawed:

As for Mr Abe, the pact is of a piece with a more robust foreign policy for Japan that was begun by his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. Before sending troops to Iraq, Mr Koizumi had also dispatched supply ships from Japan's so-called Self-Defence Forces to the Indian Ocean to help with the war in Afghanistan in 2001.

Since he came to office last September, Mr Abe has redoubled Mr Koizumi's commitment to Japan's alliance with the United States, but wants to do more than just shelter under America's wing. He has pushed for faster deployment of missile-defence systems in the face of North Korean provocation. He has turned the Japanese Defence Agency into a full ministry, with a seat in the cabinet. And he wants the pacifist article nine of the constitution to be revised. Mr Abe has sought a new partnership with India, while building security ties with South-East Asia.

It all amounts to a strategy of balancing China's geopolitical reach: Japan, in other words, is not about to roll on its back to let China be the region's top dog. Mr Abe's domestic ineptitude may mean a short term in office, as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner face crucial elections for parliament's upper house in July. Even if so, Japan's emerging regional posture is likely to survive him.

I think one can just easily find examples from Abe's tenure that show how Japan is still a long way from becoming more assertive in anything but rhetoric.

I have no doubt that the Japanese government's rhetoric has changed. The prime minister and members of his cabinet are much more inclined to talk about Japan's actively contributing to resolving regional and global problems, in a much more assertive way than earlier governments. A recent example is this recent speech by Foreign Minister Aso, which borrows the US strategic concept of the "arc of instability" to outline a role for Japan.

At the same time, however, there are many examples that suggest that Japan's actions -- and the legal framework to act-- do not yet match the ambitious rhetoric. One could point to the twice-delayed 2 + 2 meeting of the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee, the kerfuffle surrounding Defense Minister Kyuma's (and Aso's) remarks about US policy in Iraq -- oh, and the six-party agreement that has left Japan more or less isolated in the multilateral effort to disarm North Korea. And then there's the fact that Japan's defense budget continues to be constrained by demands for budgetary restraint. And the continuing difficulty in implementing the April 2006 agreement on the realignment of US forces in Japan. And how about the backlash to Abe's comments on the comfort women issue, which appears to have undermined the initial positive steps achieved by Abe in relations with Korea and China.

Even the examples cited by the Economist to support its arguments have problems. The elevation of the Defense Agency to full ministry status? Long planned -- Koizumi submitted legislation in early 2006 -- but I guess Abe deserves credit for guiding it to passage. Abe wants Article 9 revised? OK, but he first needs to pass a national referendum law, and then convince not only his own party, not only the opposition but also the Japanese public that his vision of post-pacifist Japanese security policy should be written into the constitution. (And what is his concrete vision anyway?) That's without even considering whether his faltering government will last long enough to see the national referendum law to passage, let alone a revised constitution.

And then there's this point: "Japan, in other words, is not about to roll on its back to let China be the region's top dog." I'm not altogether sure there's anything anyone can do to prevent this outcome, least of all Japan, which despite it's economic recovery remains poorly governed and insecure. The best that the region's powers -- not least the US, Japan, and Australia -- can do is to shape the regional environment so that China is convinced to choose cooperation over antagonism. Does Abe realize this, or is he listening to Nakagawa Shoichi instead?

Meanwhile, a step like this report of enhanced cooperation between the US, Japan, India, and Australia -- without commensurate efforts to calm Chinese fears of encirclement -- would be disastrous at this stage. Every country in the region needs to think carefully about the consequences of its decisions in the region; when the US and Japan urge China to be more transparent about its security decision making, they must be equally transparent about their own decision making in the region.

So the US, Australia, Japan, India and any and all comers are free to talk amongst themselves, but they better make sure to talk clearly and frequently with China, because for all the threatening signals, there are plenty of signs of cooperation -- and not just in economics, as this post by the Arms Control Otaku about Chinese PKO contributions suggests -- that cannot be dismissed lightly.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Nobody running in 2008 is qualified to be president"

So says The New Republic's John Judis, in an article that more or less sums up my take on the US presidential election that is still more than a year and a half away.

Judis makes the case that foreign policy being the unique preserve of the presidency, the main criteria by which to evaluate presidential candidates should be the candidate's foreign policy experience. Wrote Judis:
...For a century now, America has played a large, and since World War II, the largest role in global affairs; and by the the Constitution's delegation of military leadership and initiative in treaty-making and appointments, the president rather than Congress has the chief responsibility for America's role in the world. Congress and the public can stop a president from privatizing social security, but the president regularly wages war without a declaration from Congress--and sometimes, as in the case of American intervention in the Balkans, without significant public support. It would seem that the first question voters should be asking is about a candidate's foreign policy experience. And with the war in Iraq still raging, and America's relations with the rest of the world in disrepair, that's particularly true in the forthcoming presidential election. But you wouldn't know if from the current frontrunners.
It is for that reason that I am particularly dismayed about this presidential campaign already.

The US needs to have a serious, sustained national discussion about the US role in the world, and it seems that a presidential campaign would be the ideal time to have such a discussion. But, as Judis, notes, barely any of the candidates have serious, comprehensive ideas about American foreign policy, in part because so few of them have ever been in an important foreign policymaking position. The exception is Senator John McCain, who has long been involved with US foreign and defense policy in the Senate, and as an Asian specialist I'm especially inclined to support Senator McCain because he actually has a clue about the changing shape of the Asia-Pacific region. (It is telling that McCain called attention to the publication of the second Armitage-Nye Report on the floor of the Senate.)

But, that said, I don't think McCain has necessarily risen to the challenge of the moment, which demands a serious reconsideration of American power and the ends to which it can and should be used in an international system that is more complex, a system in which the traditional tools in a state's toolbox (read military power) are harder to use. I'm with Daniel Drezner in this post: the problem is bigger than the perceived failure of American stewardship. It's also not simply a function of setting up the proper international institutions, as this post at Winds of Change seems to suggest in reference to the same piece to which Drezner was responding.

So I will continue to wait for a candidate (or candidates) to outline a more comprehensive foreign policy perspective, but I am not getting my hopes up. I fear that the US will continue to muddle through in response to changing circumstances, rather than pausing to consider the best course of action.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Japan's governance problem

John Plender, columnist in the FT, has a column (subscription only) in Wednesday's edition talking about the "accountability gap" in Japanese corporate governance.

He wrote:
...There is a corporate governance vacuum. Before the economic bubble burst in the early 1990s, the postwar model of capitalism known as “Japan Inc” incorporated governance disciplines based on a main bank that monitored corporate performance, removed underperforming managers and choreographed turnrounds at ailing companies. This relationship system was buttressed by cross-shareholdings, which also had the effect of protecting companies from hostile takeovers. Lifetime employment was the norm in large corporations and the state provided a guiding hand. Boards rarely had outside directors and were largely ceremonial.

Since Japan’s banking crisis, main bank cross-shareholdings have been run down and the lifetime employment system has eroded. Now that the country is no longer in catch-up mode and the economy has matured, the state’s guiding role has become less effective. In some parts of industry and commerce there has been a greater focus on profits rather than market share, though not to the point where aggregate returns have risen to anywhere near US levels. Dividend pay-out ratios remain low even in mature industries.

I think there is great wisdom in Plender's analysis, but, at the same time, I think it's important to look beyond the Japanese corporate environment to Japanese society at large.

In recent months, Japanese newspapers have reported massive governance failures in every sector of Japanese life. The Abe Cabinet has been riddled with reports of corruption from ministers -- most recently Matsuoka Toshikatsu -- and poor management of the policy agenda. The opposition, too, has had its problems, most notably the improprieties of former Upper House Vice President Tsunoda (discussed here), DPJ President Ozawa's shady real estate development scheme, and now reports that DPJ member Nakai Hiroshi misreported funds in a manner similar to Matsuoka.

Of course, the long-standing relationships between bureaucracy and industry, via amakudari and bid-rigging, persist, even as authorities try to limit these practices.

Meanwhile, in recent months there have been reports of major cover ups across Japanese society: food (Fujiya), baseball (the Seibu Lions), securities (Nikko Cordial), and nuclear power (Tohoku Electric Power).

The problem is not that cover ups and inappropriate relationships between public and private sectors exist; no country is free of corruption and the misuse of power. What's different in Japan, however, is the lack of mechanisms to ferret out wrongdoing, to deter others from doing the same, and to create the impression that laws are not, in fact, made to be broken. In Japan, it seems that only real crime is getting caught; interestingly in all of the above-mentioned scandals, it seems that the illegal practices for which the guilty party is under fire are widespread in the industry concerned.

Japan is woefully lacking in the kinds of institutions and actors dedicated to exposing these misdeeds. Inspectors general, ombudsmen, NGOs, activist shareholders, and even investigative journalists backed by large media organizations: Japan is woefully lacking all of these means of keeping large, powerful institutions honest and accountable, and exposing their failures to the light of public scrutiny. (See Transparency International's excellent report on Japan's National Integrity Systems -- available for download here.)

Accordingly, for all the reports of Japan's economic recovery and greater assertiveness abroad, the foundations of the state are weak and crumbling. In this atmosphere of massive, persistent institutional failures, the Abe Cabinet's push to restructure the postwar institutions -- especially the constitution -- looks misplaced. Under Abe, Japan, flush with cash for the first time in a while, has decided to install a new kitchen and refurbish the facade, rather than focus on the crumbling foundation, the institutions of Japanese society whose persistent cover ups, fraud, and outright criminality have gravely damaged public trust and raise serious concerns about the ability of Japan to remain prosperous and growing in light of Japan's demographic problems and the changing regional and global environment.

This is not another mutual security treaty!

I take issue with the opinion cited in this post at Japundit, which cites Shen Dingli, Chinese academic, as arguing:
If China wanted to invade Japan, Australia would come to Japan’s aid, and if China were to invade Australia, Japan would come to its aid. But if we don’t invade either of them, such a pact doesn't really work against China’s legitimate interests.
I'm not quite sure what agreement Shen is talking about. There is nothing in the joint declaration that evens hints at its being a mutual security treaty along the same lines as the Mutual Security Treaty (MST) between Japan and the US, in which,
Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations in accordance with the provisions of Article 51 of the Charter. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
Take another look at the Japan-Australia agreement. Is there anything remotely resembling this kind of clause? Japan is still unable to promise any security reciprocity to the US. What makes him think that it is prepared to extend that kind of reciprocity to Australia, or that Australia is ready to commit fully to the defense of Japan in any and all circumstances?

Methinks that the international news media, which prefers the "conflictual" rather than the "cooperative" Asia in its news coverage, has blown this agreement far out of proportion.

Questions to think about

Novelist Thomas Mallon, writing at The American Scholar, provides a list of questions -- no answers -- about "the future of the humanities in America." (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

For a short piece of ten questions, Mallon provides an awful lot to think about. I particularly like number ten: "Are we also willing to admit that the universalization of English is more apparent than real? And that our general failure to know foreign languages is an act of both laziness and arrogance — one that threatens America’s legitimate claims to leadership in the world?"

I'm sure that will resonate readers with experience in teaching in Japan or elsewhere, but Mallon hints at a larger problem. It's not just laziness and arrogance, it's a general inability to empathize with foreign peoples, to try to understand their concerns, hopes, and confidences instead of just assuming to inside every foreigner is a red-blooded American patriot. I fear that too often Americans -- or at least the American media -- tend to group other countries and peoples into "those who like us" and "those who hate us." The world, however, is far more complex than a public opinion poll.

If Americans cannot break this habit of simplifying the world outside of the US, the coming decades, in which the vaunted "American way of life" will be subject to events abroad more than ever before, then the US is in for a rough century.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Japan's second "ally"

As planned, Japan and Australia -- at a meeting between Prime Ministers Abe and Howard -- agreed to the Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation.

The agreement, available at MOFA's website here, is as modest as the initial news reports have suggested. The concrete elements are all well within the prevailing constraints of Japanese security policy, and the agreement bears no resemblance to the US-Japan alliance, with its open-ended commitment on the part of the US to defend Japan.

But the value of the agreement is in its modesty. In particular, Japan needs to develop the habits of cooperating with partners other than the US. Australia, as a regional power with (limited) global reach, can help enhance Japan's ability to contribute to the missions outlined in the agreement, including maritime security, PKO, and humanitarian relief -- without the baggage that comes with security cooperation with the US, not to mention the thorny issues surrounding US bases in Japan.

At the same time, though, as I mentioned in this post, it is important not to overestimate the importance of this agreement. Paul Kelly, writing at the website of The Australian, provides one example of letting rhetoric run away from reality. Japan is normalizing, yes, but it is hardly a linear process -- nor is it clear to exactly the ends to which Japan's "normalization" is aimed. He wrote, "Japan is in the process of becoming one of Australia’s closest security partners. Nobody should have any illusions about the consequences. To believe this new agreement is a minor matter is to miss its import entirely."

But to accept Kelly's argument means accepting that hidden in the terms of this agreement is the core of a trilateral maritime alliance between Japan, Australia, and the US -- and accepting that Australia has chosen Japan over China. To the first point, I wonder if Kelly has watched the tortuous process of reforming the US-Japan alliance, which is strewn with seemingly ambitious agreements that proved hollow. And to the second, has Australia actually chosen Japan over China?

Kelly answers his own question: "...Australia is being sucked into the politics of a more complex Asia."

In other words, this agreement -- while perhaps an important milestone in the process of Japan's becoming a "normal" country -- is but another detail complicating the Asian balance of power, rather than clarifying it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Free-for-all in the LDP

I want to call attention to this post by Adamu at Mutantfrog Travelogue, which thoroughly dissects the prevailing circumstances of the Abe Cabinet, including Abe's recent quashing of rumors hinting at a cabinet reshuffle.

I just want to add a couple points to his cogent analysis.

The problem, I think, with the Abe Cabinet is the Koizumi inheritance. Abe not only has had to act in the shadow of his much more charismatic predecessor, but he has inherited a party that was only half-destroyed by Koizumi. The traditional power centers appear to have been weakened by Koizumi's push to create a more programmatic, dynamic party, but new mechanisms have yet to be established. Similarly, the younger generation -- most significantly Abe and Shiozaki -- have risen to positions of prominence in the party, but their precociousness has not made them capable of forging a centralized mechanism to complete the LDP's transition to a disciplined, programmatic party.

The other point is, of course, that whereas Koizumi (or Koizumi and Takenaka) had a program that they forced upon the LDP, Abe seems to have decided that it's less risky to substitute poorly explained slogans for an actual program, which, combined with his lack of charisma, has resulted in a vacuum at the top and plummeting popularity numbers, apparently now dipping below 40%.

Of course, a dysfunctional LDP run by callow youngsters may be better than a LDP ran by the old men, devoted to divvying up the spoils.

At the same time, however, Japan may be in for another period of prolonged political instability, as during the mid-1990s, because -- as Adamu notes -- no party enjoys the public's favor at present.

Dr. Pacifist and Mr. War Crime?

The consequences of Prime Minister Abe's indiscretions on the comfort women question continue to unfold, with this editorial in Korea's Chosun Ilbo, suggesting that Abe may have completely undone all of his diplomatic efforts with his remarks.

Key paragraph:
...Abe is not listening. He is listening to the recommendations of nationalistic lawmakers and considered launching a new investigation on whether the mobilization of sex slaves was forced. He is trying to buy time by starting another long and tedious investigation, while overturning the apology made by former Cabinet secretary Yohei Kono in 1993. Not satisfied with simply lobbying to block the passage of a U.S. House of Representatives bill demanding an apology from Japan, Tokyo is seeking the right to refute the critical reports by U.S. media. These are the faces of Japan under Abe, who came to power with the support of an increasingly right-wing public.
Now, I don't doubt that the LDP's "study group" plan is intended to buy time and defuse the issue slightly. But I think the idea of an "increasingly right-wing" Japanese public more than slightly exaggerated. Undoubtedly, since the end of the cold war and the emergence of a new generation of leaders there has been a more pronounced nationalist streak in Japanese public discourse, but I don't think that explains Japan's reluctance to account fully for its historical mistakes, nor do I think it explains the supposed "hawkish" turn in Japanese foreign policy in recent years.

First, on the latter, one cannot understate the fact the contemporary Japanese society is profoundly insecure. Japan has been deprived of the security and predictability (and dullness) of the "1955 system," of competent management by politicians and bureaucrats, and of an unassuming position internationally; it now struggles to return to normalcy economically, watches its position in East Asia erode as China surges, and faces a multi-dimensional threat from North Korea just across the Sea of Japan, in addition to a government that appears to be completely unable to tackle the host of troubles at home (most notably an alarming rise in inequality). So if the government is increasingly driven to cut a more prominent figure in the region and globally -- and if public opinion appears to have taken a more belligerent turn on some issues -- observers should be less quick to attribute it to some kind of latent, militaristic tendency and try to understand the situation in which Japan finds itself at present.

Insecurity is also a factor in the comfort women issue, because undoubtedly the Japanese government and people look abroad and see riled-up nationalists in China and Korea, as well as in the Korean- and Chinese-American communities, and feel ever more alone, hemmed in by frightening circumstances. Images of anti-Japan rallies in South Korea and China, on this issue and others, serve as a constant reminder to Japan of the changing balance of power in the region.

Meanwhile, to play amateur sociologist briefly, Japan's being a "shame" society makes it difficult for Japan to account for its past mistakes to the degree that, say, Germany has, as suggested by Gregory Clark in this opinion piece from October 2005. Without defending Japan's actions, Clark tries to outline what Japan's past looks like to the Japanese. His Japan undoubtedly has a lot of work to do accounting for its past, but Clark implies the need for empathy from foreign countries: "Arguments that Japan as a shame society cannot admit past national mistakes make little impression on us foreigners brought up in guilt societies." If other countries are judging Japan out of good-faith, genuine concern for historical justice and not because interest groups (or the ruling party's interest) demands justice for self-serving ends, then they should at least try to empathize with Japan.

I don't doubt that the "shame" versus "guilt" question is relevant here. Japan does approach responsibility for one's actions differently: it's the common thread connecting the comfort women issue, the scandal surrounding the use of expired ingredients by Fujiya, and this recent story about cover ups at Japanese nuclear plants. Passing a congressional resolution demanding that Japan own up for crimes committed before the current prime minister was born will not reverse this tendency to shy away from unpleasant truths.

If the US Congress truly feels the need to interject itself into the morass of Asia's history problems, it should act less as an instrument of interest groups and more as a concerned observer, offering the good offices of the US to help resolve a thorny issue multilaterally -- coaxing rather than goading Japan to accept the monstrous crimes committed by Imperial Japan fully and unequivocally. Doing so might counter the impression of Japan's being "Dr. Pacifist and Mr. War Crime" that has formed due to the unfortunate connection between Japanese history and contemporary Japanese foreign policy.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Alliance-changing technology?

The image above comes courtesy of this article at Defense Industry Daily.

It illustrates the workings of Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), a system of pooling radar and sensor data among warships and other platforms to provide a more complete image of the battlespace:
The Cooperative Engagement Transmission Processing Set (CETPS) AN/USG-2 coordinates all task force Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) sensors into a single real time, fire control quality composite track picture which significantly improves battle force AAW defense. The CETPS distributes sensor data from each Cooperating Unit (CU) to all other CUs utilizing a real time, high data rate, line of sight (LOS), fire control quality sensor and engagement data distribution network. This CETPS is extremely jam resistant and provides very accurate gridlocking between units. The data is then combined into a common track picture by employing high capacity, parallel processing and advanced algorithms.
Of course, the first thing I thought of when reading this article was the prospective impact of such a system on the US-Japan alliance. Perhaps not profound in and of itself -- Japan has already struggled with the question of whether its Aegis cruisers operating in the Indian Ocean can participate in "collective defense" if a threat against coalition warships was detected, not to mention its ongoing struggle with the collective defense implications of missile defense -- CEC would be another element pushing Japan to interact with allies on a reciprocal basis.

At this point, every little bit helps.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Trilateral alliance or limited hedge?

With Australian Prime Minister John Howard set to arrive in Japan today for a four-day visit, Australia and Japan have reportedly agreed to a new security declaration that will likely (I say likely because it hasn't been released to the public yet) enhance bilateral cooperation on a range of defense issues, including intelligence sharing, PKO, and humanitarian relief. Prime Ministers Abe and Howard will meet on Tuesday.

It is probably a mistake -- for both Beijing and Washington -- to overestimate the value of this agreement, because Australia is especially trapped between the prospect of an antagonistic China and a cooperative China.

On the one hand, relations between China and Australia have enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years (see this speech from 2004 by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer). The economic relationship has been particularly strong, with China hungrily importing a range of primary products and services from Australia, as this overview of the relationship provided by the Australian government as background to a China-Australia FTA attests.

At the same time though, under Prime Minister Howard, Australia has strengthened its alliance with the US, acting as the third partner in a kind of global Anglosphere posse (the activities of which are, to say the least, distinctly at odds with China's vision of the global order).

Howard captured Australia's unenviable position in this mealy-mouthed comment in a joint press conference with Vice President Cheney during the latter's recent visit to Australia:
In relation to China, Australia, as you know, has striven over the last decade to build a very close relationship with China. But we've always done it against a background of being realistic about the nature of political society in that country. We have no illusions that China remains an authoritarian country. We have sought to emphasize in our relations with China those practical things that we have in common. And we do, I hope, with appropriate modesty regard it as one of the foreign policy successes of this country over the last decade that we have simultaneously become ever closer in our relationship with our great ally the United States, but at the same time built a very constructive, understandable relationship with China.

But we always look at these things from a practical standpoint. We have no false illusions about the nature of China's society. But we see positive signs in the way in which China and the United States have worked together, particularly in relation to North Korea. And nothing is more important to the stability of our own region at the present time than resolving the North Korean nuclear situation. And I think the way in which China and the United States have worked together on that is wholly positive and is obviously to the credit of both of those countries.

So to view this agreement -- together with last year's US-Japan-Australia Trilateral Strategic Dialogue -- as anything more than a slight hedging option in the midst of very real cooperation between all three countries and China is overblown. Each is trapped in its own way by mutual interdependence with China.

As overblown responses go, that includes China's, which, according to The Australian, has voiced reservations of the Australia-Japan declaration. If Australia, Japan, and the US are bolstering their hedge against Chinese belligerence, it's because China has given them enough reason for concern: hedging by these countries is a sign of Chinese policy failure, not belligerence on the part of the trilateral partners. If China were to sound slightly more conciliatory and look slightly less like a country eager for regional hegemony buttressed by military power, each party to the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue would be less likely to push for a hard hedge.

I can't help but wonder what post-Howard Australia will look like in terms of its Asia-Pacific policy. Will Australia, in some sense like post-Koizumi Japan, compensate for Howard's emphasis on strong ties with Washington by reorienting to continental Asia and placing less emphasis on the nascent tripartite maritime hedge?

Friday, March 9, 2007

Pilling interviews Fujiwara

The FT's David Pilling writing in Lunch with the FT -- easily my favorite regular feature in the FT -- interviews Fujiwara Masahiko, mathematician, professor at Ochanomizu University, and author of the bestselling book The Dignity of the State.

As Pilling suggests, the book revives Nihonjinron arguments for a new, more uncertain age. As with most books of this type, emphasizing the uniqueness of the Japanese requires a bit of historical revisionism.

My favorite paragraph is this:
The model of liberal democracy that Japan inherited is flawed, Fujiwara says. As well as putting faith in unreliable masses – he prefers a cool-headed elite – it overemphasises rationality. “You really need something more. You might say that Christianity is one such thing. But for us Japanese, we don’t have a religion such as Christianity or Islam, so we need to have something else: deep emotion.”
Can anyone detect the glaring contradiction in his quote?

In any case, I don't doubt the importance of "deep emotion" -- all too often manifested as a kind of maudlin sentimentality -- to the Japanese, but arguably "deep emotion" has contributed to a number of catastrophes throughout Japanese history.

In any case, read the whole thing.

And for more on Fujiwara's book, Marxy of neomarxisme blogged his reading of Fujiwara's book last summer. (I can't find permalinks to the posts, so you'll have to search; they are, however, well worth reading.)

UPDATE: Links to Marxy's posts are in the comments section.

Seen and heard at the Diet

I was in attendance at today's session of the Upper House's Budget Committee, where it was my boss's turn to question the government.

I managed to see a line of questioning derived entirely from my own research posed to Prime Minister Abe and Defense Minister Kyuma, which was satisfying -- although the acoustics of the chamber (and lousy mics) made it difficult to hear the replies.

Meanwhile, having sat in that room, I can understand why one often sees members in attendance asleep in the background; between the marathon length of the meetings and the excessive heating in the committee room, it's amazing that anyone can stay awake. (And let's not forget the prime minister's anti-charisma.)

One thing I've noted in watching Diet deliberations is how sensitive the Japanese political establishment is to (critical) commentary on Japan from abroad. In a short span of time today, both the recent NY Times editorial on the comfort women resolution, discussed in this post, and the recent Newsweek cover article on Abe's unpopularity were cited by questioners. This was not the first time that I've heard Diet members draw on Western coverage of Japan. (If anyone knows of a "political psychologist" who has studied Japan's national "neuroses" -- surely a rich topic -- please let me know.)

International criticism shows no sign of letting up. The latest publication is The Economist, which in the current issue has both a leader and an article about Abe's problems in the wake of his comments on the comfort women resolution. (Adamu beat me to writing about this article.) Abe remains in trouble, but he's also been fortunate in his enemies; despite weeks of opposition questioning in the budget committees of the Lower and Upper House, the opposition parties seem to have done little to hasten the pace of the decline in Abe's popularity . The Abe Cabinet has remained particularly defiant on the issue of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (AFF) Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu's unusually large budget projections for "light, heat, and water" for an office at the Diet which had no utilities costs, with Minister Matsuoka still refusing to account for the irregularity (with no apparent pressure from the prime minister or other senior officials).

Matsuoka, for his part, is the subject of a recent book by Australian scholar Aurelia George Mulgan, called Power and Pork, which I am in the process of reading -- and which I plan to review.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Driving a wedge in the alliance

Once again a response to a post deserves a fuller response. Adamu of Mutantfrog Travelogue noted in reply to this post:
You keep saying that America is abandoning Japan, but wouldn't a grand nuclear bargain that works be more in Japan's interest than letting the whole thing fall apart over the abduction issue?
It's a fair point. Of course a grand bargain that meant North Korea's giving up nuclear weapons and becoming integrated into the region would be preferable than continuing to demand that Pyongyang come clean on abductions from decades ago, but then, that would depend on a government that was able to take a more balanced view of Japan's national interests.

The reason that Japan should be -- and, I think, is -- fearful of being abandoned is because given Washington's new realism, I don't think the Bush administration would turn down a deal that contained the possibility of a disarmed North Korea just to stand alongside Japan on the abductions issue. I think Pyongyang knows this, and is going to do everything in its power to entice the US to abandon its ally.

This just goes to show that the time for the US and Japan to reassess the political character of their alliance is long overdue. It may be necessary to revisit this idea, raised in the first Armitage-Nye Report, published in October 2000: "We see the special relationship between the United States and Great Britain as a model for the alliance." The first Armitage-Nye Report looked at the special relationship almost exclusively in military terms, but the US-Japan alliance should seek to emulate the US-UK relationship in political terms: for all the talk of Blair being Bush's "poodle," Britain has not hesitated to pursue its own political projects internationally, and has maintained a steady, if occasionally bumpy, relationship with Brussels on the side (i.e., Janus-faced Britain, as described by Timothy Garton Ash). But all of that is done in the confidence that the US and Britain share values and interests, and have in place the mechanisms to pursue both when necessary -- and they are capable of communicating when they have disagreements (once again, criticism of Blair notwithstanding).

The US-Japan alliance needs to move strongly in this direction, and the US can start by cautioning Japan against forgetting its other interests on the Korean Peninsula, instead of just telling Japan what it wants to hear, as it seems Cheney did on his visit. The same goes for Japan: comments by a cabinet member critical of one US policy or another should not be the cause for controversy. But clear, honest, and regular communication requires a mechanism or mechanisms -- and an attitude that sees openness between allies as an essential part of a more robust political alliance. On this foundation, the allies can craft an alliance in which each partner can pursue independent initiatives without fearing for the long-term durability of the relationship.

But there appear to be depressingly few signs that the allies are moving in this direction; rather, they seem to be playing a game whereby each ally pursues its own initiatives, while occasionally reassuring the other that the alliance is strong.