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Should you be worried about a nuclear war with North Korea?

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The Telegraph, 10 August, 2017

Thursday’s news that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) has announced that it is preparing an attack plan on Guam, a US territory with forces has heightened fears across Asia and the West of a catastrophic conflict.

The past few days contain all the elements of a crisis moving inexorably toward a tragic end. For many, that end seems to be hastened by a US president intent on matching DPRK’s emotive threats.

How close are the United States and North Korea to actual warfare though? Should we be looking to “doomsday prepper” property websites or making another cup of tea and changing channel, safe in the knowledge this crisis, like all before it with North Korea, will die down when both sides really consider their options (and the terrifying outcomes).

As always, with these kinds of black-and-white choices, the truth is probably somewhere near the middle. Looking past the “fire and brimstone” rhetoric, something very real did happen this week and that was the unanimous decision by the United Nations Security Council to impose the most severe set of sanctions yet on the North. They will cut the DPRK’s GDP of $3bn by a third.

This is an astonishing diplomatic victory, if one considers that Nikki Halley, the US Ambassador to the UN not only managed to persuade China to vote “yes”, but that she also persuaded Russia to vote “yes”, only a week after Congress strengthened sanctions against it. This is an incredible diplomatic coup and hints at the long-term strategy of the Trump administration all along.

Trump has predicted that despite their rhetoric, North Korea still needs growth
Like many previous presidents, Trump has used carrots and sticks on North Korea, but this time with Beijing. This is because he believes – correctly, as it happens – that the DPRK’s economic survival depends on China’s benevolence.

Since the regime is ideologically extreme, it seems resistant to low-bar pressures – on reputation, for example – that sometimes drive other middle-sized states. So, Trump – ever the businessman – has predicted that despite their rhetoric, North Korea still needs growth. After all, it has been the regimes secondary policy since Kim Jong-in came into office, after the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Trump’s gambit has been to say, “you can have one or the other, but not both.”

Traditionally, getting China to actually put pressure on the regime (and actually enforce previous sanctions regimes on the North) has always been problematic, and nearly no other president has been willing to risk the trade relationship or good relations. So confident did China become, that it began actively undermining sanctions, in 2011 and 2012.

In his heavy-handed way, Trump has brushed all of the diplomatic considerations aside to apply staunch pressure on Beijing. He has threatened a conflict on China’s doorstep by deploying naval forces to the seas around Korea, while also threatening sanctions on Chinese banks doing business with the DPRK. While China has criticised Trump’s approach and protested its innocent, it has quietly begun shifting its behaviour.

We are where we are because of China’s historical support for the North Korean regime. The first – given the importance of sanctions in Trump’s strategy – is whether China adheres to them at the border. Its past behaviour has been to sign on to sanctions when the pressure is high, and then to undermine them later when Washington was no longer focused on Korea.

If this is Beijing’s intention now, then a DPRK crisis will continue for the next two years, every time Pyongyang develops a technological piece of the puzzle to being able to strike the US mainland. If, however, Beijing decides that it will have to really live up to its sanctions commitments, then all eyes will turn to the DPRK.

While Kim Jong-un’s regime sees much of its own population as “wavering” and “hostile”, it deeply values and depends upon the “loyal” class of Pyongyang-based elites who populate the military, the bureaucracy, and other branches of government. If those elites see that even Beijing has turned against them, and that they begin to suffer real economic hardship, it is likely that they would turn on the Kim family.

While this might sound unlikely, it is precisely the strategy (Operation Matrix) that helped bring down the Milosovich government in Serbia behind the scenes of the 1999 air war over Kosovo. It is also the strategy that took down the de Klerk Apartheid-era government of South Africa. A leadership that is separated from the masses can survive if it keeps the loyalty of the ruling elite and the military – see Assad – but one who is separated from the military cannot last long.

 

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America, Japan and the UK: A New Three-Way Alliance?

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With Chris Bew, Researcher, Henry Jackson Society

The National Interest, 4 April, 2017

In January 2016, standing on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier based in Japan, the UK defence secretary, Michael Fallon, spoke of Washington’s commitment to a “three-way alliance” between the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States. He stated that the three countries would develop their commitment to interoperability by working closely together in the future. This is significant because it comes at a time when there are serious questions about stability in the region, and when the East and South China Seas may become crucial issues in relations between Beijing, Washington and Tokyo.

Putting this rhetoric into practice, on October 20, 2016, the chief of the Japanese Maritime Force and the chiefs of the British and U.S. navies sat across the table from each other at the Pentagon to sign a trilateral cooperation agreement. This agreement commits all three navies to closer cooperation, with increased exercises and joint patrols in the future. Signed at the service-level, this agreement sets forth a roadmap for what it calls “mutually desired strategic effects.”

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–>Why Team Up?
In the context of an increasingly uncertain world, we are seeing more and more states aligning with each other in non-traditional security relationships at the global level. These alignments are non-traditional in the sense that they are not formal alliances, but rather informal and ever-expanding arrangements. Covering a host of different areas, they are in many ways a reaction to the complex level of threats facing liberal democracies these days. Considering Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union, forming alliances with other powerful nations around the world is fundamental. With the United Kingdom, United States and Japan each being liberal democracies and having vested interests in the maintenance of the international rules-based system, they make natural bedfellows.

 

UK-Japan Relations
Focusing closer on the relationship between the UK and Japan, the current bastion of UK-Japan security cooperation is the 2+2 meetings. These have been held annually since 2015. At these meetings, the foreign and defence secretaries from both sides come together, usually for two days of meetings, to discuss a range of common areas of interest. The 2+2 arrangement allows both states to talk about areas of common concern, which allows them to signal both each other, and third-party states about their intentions and interests.

During the January 2016 2+2, both countries affirmed their support for the rule of law in the East and South China Seas. They also expressed a full commitment to Ukrainian sovereignty, adding their concern over North Korea’s missile and nuclear program. To those listening, the 2+2 is perhaps a hint of the security preferences of both the UK and Japan. Other purposes of the 2+2 meetings include helping to socialise each other towards common security interests and enabling both countries to create a framework for bilateral security cooperation.

In the last January 2017 2+2, both countries signed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) to facilitate closer bilateral defence logistics. This agreement will enable the two militaries to cooperate abroad on combined exercises and peacekeeping operations, alongside humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions. Ultimately, this will increase the efficiency of both country’s forces. So, for instance, British tankers will be able to refuel Japanese aircraft, or Japanese ships might be able to refuel British vessels, and so on. An ACSA is really the first step in the holy grail of interoperability for conventional militaries. This agreement improves future cooperative expediency because it removes the need for further individual case-by-case agreements.

UK-Japan Future Cooperation
The tightening of UK-Japan relations comes at a time when rising powers in Asia-Pacific are causing critical uncertainty in the region and beyond. This has led to policymakers strengthening alliances around the world. The United Kingdom and Japan are a strong example of such an alliance that has been redoubled in recent years.

Another significant area of future cooperation between London and Tokyo includes a joint research project on Chemical and Biological Protection suits and other weapons systems. In an age of shrinking defence budgets and rising threats, it makes sense to partner with other liberal democracies, sharing useful technology and pooling precious research and development funding. This follows the success of the first round of talks of a new Joint New Air-to-Air Missile. This sharing of technology is significant because it builds a framework for ever-closer collaboration between both countries for the foreseeable future in a world where nations are choosing their alliances extremely carefully. In a time of growing insecurity, such partnerships are to be welcomed.


RUSI Commentary, August 11, 2016
China’s determination to gain control or assert its possession over various remote islands in its adjacent seas may seem inexplicable. But there is a perfect logic to what China is doing – much of this relates to the way the country’s communists seek to bolster their domestic legitimacy

The situation in East Asia has become increasingly troubling; for those watching the global economy, the fact that China and Japan, the world’s second and third powers, are engaging in a showdown over a few tiny islands not only seems ludicrous but also reckless, since any potential conflict could do serious damage to precarious recovery from the global financial crisis.

Last week, Japan claimed that a flotilla of more than 230 Chinese fishing vessels and eighteen coastguard ships entered Japanese waters around the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Given their lack of running water and economic activity, it is not even certain that the islets would be afforded island status, especially after the recent finding by the Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected China’s claims in the South China Sea. So why do both states want the islands so much and why is China risking the global economy and conflict with Japan for patches of land not much larger than a football pitch? The explanation lies in recent Chinese history and how the Communist Party perceives it.

In 1989, the Communist Party barely survived the Tiananmen Square unrest. Following the crackdown, it developed a three-way strategy, which it has since boldly followed.

First, it enacted a massive ‘patriotic’ education programme, which sought to identify China with the Communist Party. It played up the narrative of victim, pointing to the ‘century of humiliation’ by foreign powers, including European and Japanese imperial interlopers. And while these approaches are based in fact, they miss the point that China the victim has also been China the perpetrator in such cases: it has in its long history attempted to invade and conquer its neighbours, particularly Korea and Vietnam, many times. As Bill Hayton, an expert on Chinese maritime claims, has asserted, disputes about the South China Sea or the Chinese-claimed Diaoyu Islands are really about recovering from the perceived loss of face that China endured in the past. Thus, the public is strongly supportive of the claims, and the insertions of large flotillas into contested waters – such as last week – buttress this Communist Party’s desire to be the sole defender of Chinese claims, and the sole avenger of previous wrongs.

Second, China’s Communist Party decided after crushing the Tiananmen protests that communist ideology was no longer enough to provide legitimacy, and set about a daring innovation in the 1990s – mixing the nationalist agenda with Deng Xiaoping’s economic reform, while restraining political reform. In other words, it concluded that if it provided enough refrigerators, televisions and opportunities to travel to exotic destinations, the public would submit to the total rule of the Communist Party. As well as the carrot, it also used the stick of repressing internet freedoms, censoring the media, and curtailing anything that might infringe on the absolutism of the party within the Chinese state. Kerry Brown, a China scholar, notes that President Xi Jinping’s rise has not been at the expense of the party, and although he has attacked its corrupt elements, his purpose is to strengthen the arty.

One only has to note the recent wave of trials of Chinese lawyers, such as Wang Yu and Zhou Shifeng, affiliated with political rights’ groups, to conclude that the party is serious about holding power and crushing dissent. However, if the Chinese public is to accept such repression, the party reasons that it must continue to deliver something in the realm of public wealth. The push to reform the economy falls into this category, but it also has a security strategy for harnessing nearby wealth and resources by claiming the valuable South and East China Seas fishing grounds, some of the richest in the world. Attempts to ban Vietnamese and Philippine fishing fleets are part of this strategy. So is the possibility of rich undersea gas fields in the East China Sea, an additional lure. For the party, securing these resources is directly linked to regime security.

Third, the Communist party has developed a strategy to push China into a position of East Asian superiority, and to do this, it has to prise the US from the region. Aware of the ‘Thucydidean Trap’, by which rising powers provoke a conflict with already-dominant powers, China’s strategy would seem to be to go about achieving its objective through indirect means. Looking purely at Beijing’s actions over the past decade, it would seem that Chinese military thinkers have decided the best way to expel the US as a regional power is by incrementally taking de facto control of the trade route that feeds the US’s allies.

Beginning with European ports and Middle Eastern oil terminals, the most strategically sensitive route moves goods and energy products worth $5 trillion annually through the Indian Ocean, past the Malacca Straits and through the South and East China Seas. China’s effort to dominate this vital route is achieved by slicing into the territory of smaller South China Sea states, with each initiative based on the calculation that Washington would not dare risk a war over territories non-essential to the US national interest. And Beijing’s calculations are likely correct. Projecting military power from those islands gives China de facto control of the region’s largest trade route. Enough – Beijing reasons – to compel regional powers to bandwagon with China.

If on the way, it must risk conflict with the US and Japan, China will do so, although it will attempt to avoid direct confrontation. Many of the issues that continue to bedevil the region arose in 1989, as a result of the route the Communist Party took in trying to ensure its survival. Its three-fold strategy of promoting nationalism and economic growth at the expense of political reform, and the development of a greater Chinese strategy for the region, has landed the nation in its current situation.

The inner corridors of power in Beijing see nothing wrong with this grand strategy. After all, it has been highly successful: the party remains dominant in China, and is still closely identified with the health and prosperity of the nation. China’s economic and military growth has allowed it to begin to reorder the region to suit its own preferences. The question is how far will it go, and at what point will it cause an unpredictable reaction from the US, Japan, or neighbouring states. And although no-one outside China can predict this, neither can any Chinese official.


Are Japan and the UK Trading Places?

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The National Interest, July 18, 2016

At times, British and American policymakers and academics have wondered if Japan might become the “Britain of the Far East” by playing a larger role in foreign affairs, more supportive of the liberal rules-based system, and more in line with American global security strategy. Britain would have responsibility for the Western hemisphere, while Japan covered the Asia-Pacific. However, as the past decade has seen an emboldened and increasingly capable Japan attempting define a role for itself in global security, the same period has seen a UK seemingly less able or less willing to shoulder its responsibility. A combination of post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan war-weariness saw Parliament usurp Prime Minister Cameron’s attempt to intervene in Syria in 2013, while Brexit and the slight chance of a second Scottish referendum have created political chaos in Westminster, raising the possibility that Britain may be too consumed by internal affairs to take part in foreign policy for the next three to four years.

Of course, the machinery of government will go on, but Britain’s loss of focus occurs at a time critical to the liberal international order. On one flank, China pushes hard to gain de facto control of one of the world’s most strategic shipping lanes, and in doing so establishes a baseline for its attitude toward international law and smaller powers. On the other, Russia continues to mobilize itself domestically with nationalism and anti-Westernism, in a seeming attempt to recover its Cold War–era buffer zone of satellite states. Though Theresa May as the new Prime Minister has shown some resolve – with regards to Trident – the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling passed by virtually unnoticed in Whitehall, immersed as they were in the formation of the new Cabinet, the Turkish Coup, and the terror attack in Nice.

Despite the UK’s apparent drift, Tokyo and London are optimal allies for the United States. Based off of the continents to which they belong, they have never quite fit into those continents, culturally or politically, showing instead a preference for naval power. Both are comparatively economically powerful within their regions, technologically advanced and governed by liberal democratic systems, sharing similar values to the United States. Because of those values, both have been traditionally strong financial supporters of the United Nations, as well as pillars of the slew of financial international government organizations that collectively made up Bretton Woods. That American policymakers occasionally compared them is not surprising.

The most famous instance of this analogy was within the influential 2000 Armitage-Nye Report, which by suggesting the parallel gave Tokyo an attractive and recognizable template to emulate. Despite skepticism that Japan would ever shift its defensive posture from the easy-riding Yoshida Doctrine, toward collective self-defense or contributing forces to conflicts outside the Asia-Pacific, Tokyo has taken a long slew of incremental steps in both directions and developed new security ties with Australia, India and even the United Kingdom. While some would argue that these steps are still extremely limited, the fact remains that Prime Minister Abe’s “proactive contribution to peace” is a long way from former Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi’s insistence that Japan only had a “pretense of a foreign policy.”

As the United Kingdom reels from the June 23 Brexit referendum and struggles protracted Brexit negotiations and the possibility of a second Scottish referendum, it would appear that Japan is indeed becoming the “Britain of the East,” while Britain seems to be turning into a (Yoshida-era) “Japan of the West.” For it is quite clear that protracted negotiations required for exiting the European market, combined with the hasty search for new foreign trade agreements with economic powers such as the United States, India, China and Japan, will take up much of the energies of Whitehall’s mandarins. While this should only take five years or so, it will nevertheless force a loss of focus for Britain’s elites on its security contribution in the world. The possibility of Scottish independence would only add to the misery, stripping it of many of its best capabilities at precisely the time when NATO, Europe and the world need them most.

It is possible that as a result of these repeated blows, Britain will seek to recover the “splendid isolation” of Lord Salisbury, sans empire, and sans splendor, focusing instead on trade and keeping aloof of continental goings-on. Or it might also seek to leverage its financial sector as a leverage between the old hegemon—the United States—and the world’s newest superpower, China. The third possibility, about which I have written previously, is that Britain could double down on its role as a pillar of the liberal international order. It has already demonstrated that Brexit will not stand in the way of its commitments to eastern Europe by committing to the stationing of troops there.

Coming a full circle, it seems that there is much that Japan and the United Kingdom might do together to add value to their capabilities at this time of uncertainty and change. There is already talk within London’s corridors of the desirability of an FTA with Japan, though this will doubtless take time to negotiate. The two are currently engaged in early defense-industrial cooperative development, and have been widening strategic and foreign policy discussions in the defense minister–foreign minister talks (2+2). The possibility for greater U.S.-UK-Japan trilateral cooperation opens up all sorts of possibilities within the intelligence, cyber and space sectors. Regardless of Brexit or continued incrementalism within Japan, both London and Tokyo have a large range of institutional and industrial assets at their fingertips. Both are also seeking closer ties with New Delhi at the moment, a further area of potential cooperation.

As we look toward the remainder of this summer, we see a China that is highly likely to build up its military assets in the South China Sea, ignoring the recent finding of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Simultaneously, we might see calls from within the EU to drop the arms embargo on China from states that have vested industrial interests in doing so. Britain’s absence from the EU’s top tables could have a destabilizing effect on Asia’s already precarious balance of power. Perhaps London and Tokyo might craft a bilateral diplomatic venture within Brussels and the capitals of Europe in that eventuality.

There is something to be said about the UK losing its sheen precisely as Japan begins to step up to the plate as a contributor to global security, but for those who believe the UK is out for the count, should consider London’s pluckiness and the deep support among its population and foreign policy elites for many of the liberal values that undergird the international system. It also has a long history of maritime operations, intelligence and expeditionary warfare that make it a superb partner for Japan. The fact that both work closely with American forces and seek interoperability with NATO allies creates an even deeper synergy for bilateral cooperation. At a time of uncertainty and change, one can never have too many friends.

Should Obama Apologise in Hiroshima?

The National Interest, May 16, 2016

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Now that President Obama has announced his intention to visit Hiroshima later this month, many have debated whether he will proffer regret or apologize for the dropping of two nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States in late 1945. Should he apologize? Given his past speeches in Cairo, Obama has been criticized by some conservative media in the US as America’s “apologist-in-chief”, prompting the White House and Ben Rhodes to declare that the visit is to be “forward-looking” and it will “highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. Despite this, the current debate on Obama’s visit raises all sorts of questions about modern understandings of history, and apology-politics in general. To what extent should state leaders apologize for historic crimes committed before them? Should the United States apologize for its misdeeds? Should it apologize for Hiroshima and Nagasaki in particular?

Certainly, of the two, Japan has a long history of making apologies. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has grappled with the historical legacy of Japan’s conduct during the Second World War and his own vision for Japan. He has been more successful at proffering regret to the United States and Australia, but less successful with South Korea and China. His speech to the Australian Parliament in July 2014 expressed “sincere condolences”. His speech to US Joint Houses of Congress in April 2015 expressed “deep repentance” and “eternal condolences”. In both speeches, Abe seemed to acknowledge Japanese responsibility for instigating the war, though his language was constrained by the domestic political realities of his conservative supporters in Tokyo. Prior to these speeches, his views on the Kono Statement, and affiliation with Japanese historical revisionists like Toshio Tamogami raised the possibility that Abe agreed with such accounts. Chinese observers – for geopolitical rather than academic reasons – attempted to shape an isolating narrative around Japan because of these debates, but were stymied by Abe’s nuanced approach from 2014 onwards.

What of the United States? As the leading hegemon, victor in the Second World War, and victor in the Cold War, should it apologize for actions it has carried out in the past? Many would agree with Walter Benjamin that “History is written by the victors.” However, this is less and less true in the modern world as liberal norms values affect expectations of state behavior in international politics. One only has to consider the whole range of “critical studies” in Western universities to see that in some states, at least, history has become a deeply contested area, continuously open to debate and self-criticism. Though open to abuse, this is ultimately a positive thing, enabling societies to move past historic grievances. Furthermore, is it really true that only winners write history? Turkey after the First World War, (vis a vis Ataturk, and the Armenians). Though North Korea lost the Korean War, it still teaches that it was the South who started the Korean War. Russia after the end of the Cold War continues to teach its own version of history. These are but a small sample of states that maintain and protect – often using legal means – their own historically regressive narratives.

What is the American relationship with its own past? As has been implied by the above examples, the domestic nature of the regime often determines the state’s attitude to history, though sadly some liberal states have flirted with state control of textbooks. The United States is a liberal democratic power with a strong set of ideals and values, which it ascribes to in its foreign policy behavior. It does not always live up to its own standards, but very often civil society, American academics and journalists will swiftly point this out in the public arena. Like Japan, the United States has apologized for its past. Few foreigners will know that the US has apologized to native Americans and Hawaiians a number of times for historical grievances.  While it has not yet dealt with the US-Philippine War, it has attempted to redress the stripping of benefits from Filipino soldiers, who served on the American side in the Second World War. Clearly, Americans increasingly believe that it should face its history head-on apologize for past grievances. What of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima? Should the United States apologize for those specific acts? Here the answer – like Abe’s speech to Congress – should be more nuanced.

Japan is one of the US’ closest allies. It has played an extremely positive role in international society since the end of the Second World War and is a strong supporter of the liberal international order and its attendance infrastructure. It is also deeply important partner in American security strategy for the region. However, things have not always been thus. President Obama could take a pragmatic line with his Japanese audience in Hiroshima and remind them of the ethical, strategic, and geopolitical reasons for dropping the nuclear weapons. The classical argument – from the American side – is that the US was fighting a ‘just war’ against Japanese aggression. A stronger ethical argument was that the bombings actually saved lives. The idea that Operation Downfall (the planned invasion of Japan) would cost millions of casualties is bolstered by the large numbers of casualties involved in the invasion of Okinawa (150,000 casualties in three months). It is also bolstered by the fact that the bombings were the crucial element in Japan’s Emperor Hirohito’s push for peace. Obama might have argued that both targets were hubs of military industry. He might also have argued that a costly invasion of Japan might have led to Soviet involvement, and ultimately the Cold War partitioning of Japan into two halves. Given Korea’s continued dismemberment, it is impossible to gloss over the human suffering that such an event would have cost Japan in the long run.

However, the most important function of any apology is the implicit promise that one will not repeat the offensive behavior. Without this commitment, apologies are meaningless. Prime Minister Abe’s speeches in both Australia and the United States both held that implied commitment. Japan– he stated – valued “freedom and democracy”. It held “human rights and the rule of law dear” as “a member of the Western world” and would never again “fall back onto force or coercion.” Japan – he said clearly – had changed. President Obama’s decision to speak on nuclear non-proliferation is thus a masterful stroke of symbolism. It expresses regret, without having to face the apology debate head-on. It is, within itself, a form of apology. It is a nuanced, thoughtful approach to the whole historical debate that permeates Asia Pacific narratives of the Second World War and speaks to the sense of pain that Japanese still feel on the bombings, without putting forward the pragmatic arguments above. Though these remain valid on the American side, using them is unlikely to serve a healing function. There is a danger that his visit panders to some elements within Japan who see the bombings as symbols of Japan’s victimization. Such narratives derive from revisionists, who tend to overstate Japanese suffering and underplay American, Chinese and allied suffering. However, if handled correctly, President Obama’s presence in Hiroshima, his message of peace, and nuclear non-proliferation will provide their own balm to the wider nation of Japan and its very real sense of suffering. If one considers the needs of the US-Japan Alliance for what promises to be a rocky regional future, such a conversation – between allies – is vital to the long-term strength and integrity of that commitment. What could be more American than a face-to-face attempt at closure between two old friends?


Book Review: Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China 

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RUSI Journal, April 2016

No country feels China’s rise more than Japan. With this simple assertion, Sheila A Smith takes us through a superb and badly needed analysis of the current state of Sino–Japanese relations in Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China. She argues that for the past forty years, the relationship has been built on the premise that economic interdependence is the key to postwar reconciliation between the peoples of both nations. And in many ways, the bilateral economic relationship has produced astounding results. Between 1972 and 2004, Sino– Japanese trade increased 161-fold, from $1.04 billion in 1972 to $167.89 billion in 2004. Between 1994 and 2003, Japan was China’s largest trade partner, and by 2005, China comprised 20 per cent of Japan’s trade. In many ways, China’s rise has rested partly on Japanese investment, trade and official development assistance. So why have relations soured so dramatically over the past decade?

In trying to answer this question, Smith uses foreign-policy analysis to uncover the domestic drivers of Japan’s China policy. She is well equipped to take this approach: using her extensive contacts, her list of interviews in Japan includes no less than four prime ministers, four foreign ministers, and a large number of cabinet secretaries, senior bureaucrats and academics. Furthermore, her seat in the Council on Foreign Relations – a prestigious Washington think tank – means that she understands the policy and research communities. She was able to secure access to many prominent Japan and China experts based in the US; these included the likes of Elizabeth Economy, Kurt Campbell and Jeffrey Bader, among others. With this wealth of inside sources, combined with excellent research skills, she delves deeply into a range of issues from economic interdependence, to territorial disputes, to food-safety concerns; in doing so, the author takes a hard look at the role that history plays in the bilateral relationship.

The story she tells in the relationship between Tokyo and Beijing seems to be one of repeated missed opportunities. The leaders of both nations never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, to borrow Abba Eban’s phrase. In 1992, she writes, Japan’s leaders put their misgivings to one side and agreed to send the country’s emperor and empress to China on a state trip. At a welcoming dinner at the Great Hall of the People, the emperor spoke of ‘the unfortunate era when our country caused immense pain and suffering to the Chinese people’ (p. 42). His unprecedented words could have heralded a new era of Sino– Japanese relations. Instead, President Jiang Zemin used his 1998 visit to Tokyo to berate Japan for its history at a state dinner hosted by Japan’s emperor and empress. Televised nationally in Japan, Jiang’s harsh speech put the relationship back in the freezer. More often than not, relations between the two countries have been characterised by missed opportunities like this one, with leaders on both sides pandering to the worst elements of their domestic base.

The regular visits of Japanese prime ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine – on which the names of Class-A war criminals are inscribed – have become a perennial problem for the two countries and are a case in point. Junichiro Koizumi – perhaps one of Japan’s greatest prime ministers of the past forty years – made annual visits to the shrine, which regrettably have become traditional. Attempting to sidestep Korean and Chinese sensitivities, he insisted the issue was purely domestic. However, since the museum attached to the shrine contains a highly revisionist account of Japan’s imperial history, visiting Yasukuni became more than just honouring Japan’s war dead; it was a place for rejecting foreign criticism of the country’s war history. Koizumi’s win as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party was down – Smith believes – to his campaign promise to visit the shrine. For a man increasingly disenchanted with Japan’s pork-barrelling party-faction system, the trips to Yasukuni were essential to maintaining his hold over the party. However, the visits only seemed to justify those hardliners in Beijing who wished to use anti-Japanese sentiment for domestic purposes. It is odd that two states which have such close economic ties, and which share such close cultural and historical features would so consistently and grievously risk the Golden Goose upon which their mutual prosperity depends.

Smith dedicates a full chapter to maritime territorial disputes, since they have become so important to regional security and American naval policy over the past few years. Her account of the situation in the East China Sea is quite troubling. By her account, the issue was a slow-burning one in which the two sides went from shelving the dispute, to a gradual increase in coast- guard maritime activity, followed by the use of military patrols. Though both sides were initially willing to adopt an accommodating position on the Shirakaba/Chunxiao gas fields in a 2008 agreement, negotiations were stymied by a host of issues: first, there were the open-ended rules in the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for demarcating exclusive economic zone boundaries, which led to other problems. There were large numbers of domestic actors – state and non-state – in both countries who advocated the most extreme interpretation for which UNCLOS allowed. In China, fishing commercial firms, coast guards, nationalist groups, and military planners all lobbied actively for the largest territory, while in Japan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs struggled to maintain control of the issue, as Japanese nationalists and fishing firms became increasingly vocal over Japanese territorial rights. For those who follow the region, Beijing’s current focus on the South China Sea and disputes there has reaffirmed in Tokyo the idea that China is a revisionist power, intent on revising the post-war order using the implicit use of force. Frankly, that’s an interpretation that many in the US and the region have come to share, though with various caveats.

Smith’s book comes out at a time when China has risen as a great power in the region and seeks to reorder that region to suit its national security preferences. It also comes at a time when Japan seeks to find a role for itself more in keeping with its economic stature. At no other time in history have the two nations both been strong like this. It says much about the dynamic that both nations see the other’s efforts to integrate the region economically – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or Hatoyama’s East Asian Community – in binary terms. The success of one, seems to rob from the other. Smith’s book should be on the must-read list for anyone attempting to understand East Asia and the future of the global order. The relationship between the world’s second- and third- largest economies is an important case study of how China handles complex relationships and hints at its own vision for the world. On the more narrow issue of the bilateral, one sees a sad trend of missed opportunities for both sides to look forward – China could celebrate the fact that Japan has invested billions of dollars into its economy and build on that. Japan for its part, could resist the domestic pull of imperial-era nationalism and understand that its history is not purely a domestic issue. Given the complexity of these issues, it is good to have Smith on hand, guiding our understanding and shedding light on their domestic drivers. Useful for both policy practitioners and academics, this book is a must-have on one’s shelf.


The ‘China’ Role of the US-Japan Trilaterals

The National Interest, December 6, 2015

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Asia’s immense economic growth over recent decades has come in tandem with a large increase in insecurity and military spending. Partly in response, the region has seen a quiet revolution in U.S. Asia-Pacific policy as the ‘hub and spokes’ system has been integrated across U.S. ally partners and external powers. The United States and Japan, for example, have developed a number of on-going trilateral security arrangements with states in Asia, including Australia, India and South Korea. All partner countries regularly deny that these groupings are formal alliances, and lacking formal defence commitments in the third dyad (Japan-Australia, Japan-India, Japan-ROK), they are more precisely forms of alignment, not dissimilar to the Triple Entente of pre-1914.

Not only are trilaterals more ad hoc and flexible than alliances, but they are driven by a complex range of factors. They are partly driven by a strand of neoliberal optimism from the late 1990s, as well as by a more realist strand of pessimism found in the early 2000s. The most mature of these groupings, the US-Japan-Australia trilateral Strategic dialogue (TSD) has focused on “human security” activities, such as peacekeeping, capacity-building, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This side of their nature stems from their neoliberal optimism that they can be the building blocks of an integrated security community in Asia, and are part of an inclusive approach to former Cold War adversities, like Vietnam and China. To allied partners like Japan and Australia, the activities are important for “anchoring” the United States to the region, and have allowed both alliances a certain amount of legitimacy by providing “public goods,” while carefully avoiding a security dilemma with China.

On the other hand, the trilaterals also have a hard balancing element: the US-Japan-Australia TSD has included defence-industrial cooperation, the institutionalization of intelligence-sharing and growing military interoperability. With this double logic, they are a classic hedging strategy, as envisioned by political scientist Evan Medeiros. They encourage engagement, integrating regional militaries towards common objectives, as well as provide a form of insurance if Chinese revanchism begins to threaten regional stability. This hedging element is not incidental, but has evolved over time, to match rising Chinese assertiveness and the needs (and concerns) of the trilateral partner states.

The trilaterals are not—as China might think—a means of containment. Rather, they act like a restraining woven paper cup, loosely form-fitting. As one expands one’s hand in the basket, the material naturally tightens around it.

In many ways, it is the ultimate moral high ground, since the cup only tightens in reaction to expansion. In this way, as China continues to expand its power projection capabilities and attempts to expand its territoriality into the East and South China Seas, the trilaterals will continue to tighten around it and create the exact reaction that Deng Xiaoping once hoped to avoid.

The revised US-Japan Defense Guidelines are one aspect of that weaving, as are growing Japan-Philippines and Japan-Vietnam capacity-building behaviors in maritime security.

In some ways, this process is neatly described by the security dilemma in Thomas Christensen’s International Security essays. However, there is one material difference. The United States and its allies have helped China rise by investing trillions of dollars over the past three decades and by promoting Chinese inclusion in almost every important regional and global fora. No one could argue that the alliance partners have not done all they can to make China welcome and included in regional politics. Unlike Christensen’s neutral analysis, the increasing constrainment of China is driven by China’s own behaviour in much the way that occurred with pre-1914 Germany. Again, this is an important moral difference and highlights the reactive and defensive nature of the trilaterals.

Post-Bismarckian German foreign policy was unpredictable, expansionist and supported by a growth in nationalism and militarist culture. Similarly, Chinese revanchism is driven by a narrative of exclusion and regaining its “rightful place in the sun.” No one power—not even the United States—has the power to contain Chinese expansionism. However, an interlocking web of alliances around this struggling behemoth can deter it from unwise adventurism and act as a constraining influence. What happens next, of course, depends on China and its ultimate ambitions. States must understanding that in seeking to constrain China, they are not themselves acting dangerously or – as Hugh White might contend – recklessly. They are doing what they must to defend a rules-based order during a time of structural instability. The real recklessness would be in to appease the rolling ambitions of a newly-risen power, rather than seeking to shape and constrain them.

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