Showing posts with label Abe India trip. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Abe India trip. Show all posts

Saturday, August 25, 2007

For Abe, it's still February 2003

Gordan Chang, the anti-China polemicist writing at Commentary's Contentions blog, has a very different take than I on Mr. Abe's dangerously irresponsible community of Asian democracies.

Abe's proposal, Chang thinks, is simply grand: "Is Tokyo becoming the leading proponent of a free world? Since July of last year, Japan, among the democracies ringing the Pacific Ocean, has adopted the most resolute foreign policy positions on Asia. For instance, the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions on North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs were unsatisfactory, but they would have been weaker still if Tokyo had not persuaded Washington to adopt a stiffer attitude. Now, Abe is pushing a grand coalition that Washington should have proposed."

Abe is "the most interesting leader in the free world."

To Chang, the Bush administration has been cowardly, sucking up to China and Russia in an effort to, I don't know, keep the peace. Instead it seems that the US should be needling those enemies, ensuring that they have even less interest in maintaining some semblance of order in the region, and bravo to Shinzo for doing what Washington has lacked the courage to do.

For Chang — and his admirer Ampontan, it seems — it is still early 2003 and the US and allies can do anything they please when it comes to promoting the spread of democracy abroad. Remember what President Bush said at the American Enterprise Institute in February 2003:

Much is asked of America in this year 2003. The work ahead is demanding. It will be difficult to help freedom take hold in a country that has known three decades of dictatorship, secret police, internal divisions, and war. It will be difficult to cultivate liberty and peace in the Middle East, after so many generations of strife. Yet, the security of our nation and the hope of millions depend on us, and Americans do not turn away from duties because they are hard. We have met great tests in other times, and we will meet the tests of our time.

We go forward with confidence, because we trust in the power of human freedom to change lives and nations. By the resolve and purpose of America, and of our friends and allies, we will make this an age of progress and liberty. Free people will set the course of history, and free people will keep the peace of the world.

Democracy promotion is a luxury from a more carefree age. After four years of learning just how limited American power is as a transformative force, returning to such rhetoric is dangerously naive. Mr. Bush may want to, but with the shift in the balance of power in his administration — at least as far as Asia policy is concerned — the US is less apt to rely on the heady rhetoric of liberty and democracy for all in East Asia. The US has more urgent interests at stake.


Mr. Abe, however, never got the memo about scaling back the democracy rhetoric, outlining how too much rhetoric coupled with too little action (or even worse, wholly counterproductive action) actually diminishes a country's influence and ultimately its security.

The (most interesting) leader of the free world? More like the most dangerously naive leader in the free world. At a time when the shifting international environment — especially in Asia — demands nimble foxes, Mr. Abe is a stubborn hedgehog, a relic from a time when the developed democracies thought they could do whatever they wanted without having to sully themselves in dealings with unsavory regimes.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Does an "Asian NATO" serve US interests?

Prime Minister Abe has made his speech in New Delhi, visited the descendants of Subhas Chandra Bose and Radhabinod Pal (the judge who criticized the Tokyo tribunal from before it began, making him a favorite of Japan's right), and is now off to Malaysia on the last leg of his Asian tour.

But what of the consequences of his flighty rhetoric at the Indian Parliament, in which he spoke "on behalf of the citizens of another democracy that is equally representing Asia" and called for an Indo-Japan "Strategic Global Partnership" that will be embedded in "an immense network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the United States of America and Australia. Open and transparent, this network will allow people, goods, capital, and knowledge to flow freely." The partnership will also, of course, "carry out the pursuit of freedom and prosperity in the region" and will serve as a basis for both to defend "vital interests in the security of sea lanes."

Both Asahi and Yomiuri editorialize on Mr. Abe's address today. Yomiuri, of course, is full of praise for the young prime minister and the multi-faceted agreements reached in discussions with Prime Minister Singh, encapsulated in the massive joint statement they released. Asahi, however, refuses to take the prime minister's rhetoric at face value, suggesting that for all the glories of the "confluence of the two seas" the partnership might not be nearly the confluence of national interests that the prime minister thinks.

Asahi also pauses to consider what impact the deepening ties between India, Japan, Australia, and the US — set to deepen further with a US-Japan-Australia security summit scheduled for September 8th in Sydney — will have on each country's relations with China. Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Aso have been enthusiastic supporters of deeper relations among the region's democracy, perhaps more enthusiastic than any of their counterparts. But Asahi has the prime minister's number: "From the first, Prime Minister Abe's values diplomacy has been tinged with the color of encirclement of China."

This is my concern.

It has become increasingly popular to look at East Asia as the equivalent of Europe in the decades leading up to World War I, characterized by increasingly prosperous, nationalistic states channeling more of their wealth into their militaries, with numerous potential conflict points. (Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating has essentially just made this argument to demand that next month's Australia APEC summit address the Northeast Asian arms race.) But the World War I analogy is too facile. Of course there are similarities, not least in the form of China, in which the PLA, like the Imperial German Army in Wilhelmine Germany, has an unknown but in all likelihood outsized and unconstrained role in national policy making. But that similarity should give pause to supporters of a community of Asian democracies that has a significant security component. As in prewar Europe, military cooperation that appears to encircle China will bolster the more hawkish elements of the PLA, potentially leading Chinese foreign policy down a dangerously confrontational path. The US, Australia, and Japan must do everything in their power to avoid giving the impression of forming a coalition to contain China.

The reality is that wise and prudent leadership in the region, not least by the US, can greatly diminish the potential for conflict in the region. For all the concerns raised by the ongoing Asian arms race — it's by no means just China and Japan — the region's flashpoints, most significantly the Taiwan Straits and the Korean Peninsula, are manageable, and may even resolve themselves over the long term. But all powers must recognize the role the US has played in the post-cold war era in dampening security tensions throughout the region, in spite of growing arms expenditures. With the end of the cold war the US transitioned relatively smoothly from focusing on containment to focusing on its role as a security provider for the whole region. While many have suspected that the US Military's post-cold war Asian presence was based on the idea of China has a replacement for the Soviet Union, the PLA is to this day a poor substitute for the Red Army — and China's heady embrace of capitalism and pronounced aspirations to become a responsible great power suggest that the (tacit or overt) containment of China would be a futile mission.

But now it seems that Mr. Abe would rather the US "choose sides" in Asia, converting the US military presence from the ultimate guarantor of peace and stability to the core of an Asian NATO that will fight for freedom and democracy in Asia. (Of course, he has sympathizers in Washington and Canberra.)

The US must above all be on the side of stability, and its alliances are useful only insofar as they stabilize the region.

Admittedly, part of the problem is that technological change has had political consequences. With the US Military's growing sophistication, even NATO allies have had a hard time fighting alongside the US. Imagine the US trying to achieve interoperability on the fly with ad-hoc allies (like India) in the event of the worst-case scenarios coming to pass in East Asia — for which the US would be irresponsible not to prepare. But it's a thin line between conducting exercises to enhance military-to-military cooperation and assembling what looks an awful lot like a coalition to contain China, as USPACOM is discovering in the run-up to its planned exercises with Indian Navy. I give Admiral Keating credit for trying to dispel the impression of a balancing coalition, but his efforts need more backing from Washington.

The US must step back and consider its Asian vocation. What role should the US play in the region over the coming decades? Is a militarized community of Asian democracies in the interests of the US? Or should the US be ramping up its efforts as a dispassionate offshore balancer that abjures from causes and crusades and makes the maintenance of a stable security environment its profession?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mr. Abe's half-baked scheme

As expected, Mr. Abe went to Indian Parliament on Wednesday and called for "a 'broader Asia' partnership of democracies that would include India, the United States and Australia but leave out the region's superpower, China." (Reuters)

At an earlier point in my intellectual development, I might have praised Japan's pushing for an organization of Asian democracies, with a significance leadership role for Japan. But at this point, this gesture is futile, and as a concept it might be shorter-lived than Mr. Abe’s government.

First, on a personal level, I have a problem with Mr. Abe's calling for an organization of democracies when it is clear from his book (and his actions over the past month) that he has only a passing acquaintance with the meaning of a democratic society. As seems to be his wont, Mr. Abe is once again trying to play Winston Churchill. (As much as I admire Mr. Churchill, I sort of hope someone will write a new, devastatingly revisionist account of Churchill that will diminish his reputation for a while so that the moral midgets governing democracies today will stop trying to appeal to his legacy.) It is more than a little pathetic for Mr. Abe, criticized at home even by his own party for failing to acknowledge the clear message sent by the people last month, to stand at the rostrum in New Delhi and hold forth about the virtues of democracy and the need for democracies to cooperate.

Second, as I wrote on Wednesday, I'm not exactly clear on how Japan or any other country would lead such an organization, because US leadership may not be forthcoming thanks to the black hole that is Iraq (more on this later).

Third, whether on a regional or a global scale, an organization of democracies suffers from the simple problem that it is wholly unclear to me what a "democratic" foreign policy is. No democracy conducts a purely democratic foreign policy; realpolitik in some form or another is unavoidable. Had Mr. Bush been more sensitive to this, he would not be talking of himself as a frustrated dissident. What exactly will an organization of Asian democracies be able to achieve that the member states won't be able to achieve within the other international organizations that dot the Asian landscape?

Fourth, what of China? Defenders of this idea might argue that it is a natural response to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Is the best response to China's cooperation with the countries in its continental periphery really an organization of (maritime) democracies with a vaguely defined purpose that could rather easily take on the form of an anti-China military bloc? Will this community be strictly economic? If so, how can it exclude China, with which each democracy in the region has substantial ties? Will it be a security organization? If so, how will it avoid giving China the impression that it is being encircled?

Fifth, what of the US? Is the US in a position to commit the time and energy to make such an organization work? Washington is having a hard enough time cooperating with preexisting Asian organizations; there is little reason to believe that it will suddenly be able to dedicate substantial support to an organization that is redundant and/or dangerously provocative. Also, given that the environment in Washington of late has favored the "responsible stakeholder" approach to China, it seems that the Bush administration would be disinclined to go along with this at a time when it is trying to work with China on financial issues and the bilateral economic relationship, and North Korea. Now if Mr. Abe called for an organization without the US, that would be one thing, but calling for the US to be involved — borrowing US leadership to paper over the significant differences between Asian democracies (between Japan and South Korea, for example) — risks turning it into an anti-China bloc by another name.

At most, his scheme will result in yet another talking shop in the region to join the myriad already extant. The reality is that the region's democracies have no alternative to working with China to manage the region, and no regional power should harbor illusions to the contrary. Is there a substantive issue in the region that can be solved without China's involvement? All effort should go to making preexisting arrangements more effective and binding upon China, not excluding it from regional leadership and forcing it to make its own regional organizations and thus play by its own rules. If the US, Japan, and others want China to play by the rules, they have to let China participate in the rule-making process.

We should not, of course, forget the role played by Mr. Abe's domestic circumstances in producing this proposal, because Mr. Abe undoubtedly believes that appearing statesmanlike on foreign stages makes him appear to be a better leader back home. Or it could simply be that Mr. Abe likes being treated as an honored guest by foreign legislatures, instead of facing the hostile legislature waiting back home.

Whatever the case may be, I do not expect that we will hear much more of Mr. Abe's "broader Asia" democratic partnership after he returns home for his ongoing lesson in democracy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What does Abe's trip mean for Japan and Asia?

Much is being made of Prime Minister Abe's trip to India, where he is scheduled to address India's parliament today.

The trip will likely feature lots of talk of the values shared by Japan and India, naturally to contrast both Asian powers with China.

I remain less than convinced that Japan and India will be able to build a "special relationship" that can function as a kind of pincer movement against China, not least because it is in the interests of neither country to court a Chinese reaction to a more formal partnership.

Economic ties? Sure. More military exercises? Fine. But joint Indo-Japanese leadership in Asian multilateral fora? What are their shared interests? A China that is a "responsible stakeholder" in the region? How exactly will an Indo-Japan partnership serve to make China more responsible?

There's nothing wrong with closer Indo-Japanese relations — and closer ASEAN-Japan relations— but it is important not to get carried away. It is not entirely clear what Japan's vision for the region is, and accordingly it is difficult to imagine Japan's playing anything but a supporting role as the region's map is redrawn over the coming decades. Japanese money will ensure that Tokyo always has a seat at the head table, but I don't think rhetoric about "democratization" and "good governance" constitute Japanese leadership in the region. That was the message Prime Minister Abe delivered to ASEAN in Jakarta, where he talked about the need for ASEAN to foster good governance among its member states and ensure that governments respect the will of the people (it would be nice if he tried that at home).

ASEAN will no doubt be thrilled to play Japan and China off one another, pocketing the investments of both, but I would hardly call that a leadership role for Japan. Indeed, the competition between Japan (and the US) and China over ASEAN suggests that regional leadership may in fact come more from ASEAN than from the great powers that are struggling to enhance their influence over the region, particularly if the US military presence in the region remains in place, providing an implicit security guarantee that keeps the peace, thereby creating the space in which ASEAN can push for a region-wide political and economic community.

So regardless of the rhetoric that the prime minister delivers in Delhi today, it is important to remember that Indo-Japanese cooperation will be but one facet of each country's approach to an increasingly complex Asia. The future of Asia will not rest in the hands of a concert of democratic powers.