China and South Korea Appear Ready to Deal With Abe

You could say I’m behind, not yet having addressed Abe Shinzo’s official announcement that he’s running for LDP president, and the more important announcement that he would get behind constitutional revision full-force as prime minister. “I’d like to draft a new constitution with my own hands,” he said.

In fact, top LDP officials have said publicly for months that the U.S.-imposed “Peace Constitution” should be revised to more accurately reflect present day military realities. Certainly, the existence of the Self Defense Forces and Japan’s status as the fourth largest military spender in the world betray the reality that Japan does not adhere to Article 9 of that constitution, in which it “forever” renounces force or the threat of force as an instrument of foreign policy and bars the maintenance of armed forces. That Abe came out in support of a change is no surprise, and it’s probably not a bad idea.

What’s surprising is that regional reaction seems to be subdued. My experience in reading public rhetorical exchanges from across the East China Sea led me to expect a firm negative response to the revision; I expected that the Chinese regime would hail this change as part of a “new rise in Japanese militarism.” I expected a similar response from South Korea.

On the contrary, China’s state-controlled media have been mostly silent (from what I can see in English) on Abe’s announcement, with only a straight news-style report from Xinhua. Meanwhile, South Korea has invited Abe to meet with Roh Moo Hyun, who has refused to meet with Koizumi since November over his Yasukuni visits.

Abe has said that improving regional ties is a key goal of his presumed premiership. A Voice of America online article notes that this common-sense sentiment is not unique to Abe. Although Foreign Minister Aso Taro has essentially no chance of winning election, he has weighed in, saying that personality differences between Koizumi and regional leaders were the problem, not his shrine visits. (This makes sense from a man who is perhaps more of a nationalist than Koizumi and who advocates the re-nationalization of Yasukuni.) The finance minister, Tanigaki Sadakazu, another long-shot LDP candidate is the only candidate to say he would not visit the shrine as prime minister. Japanese finance ministers, who need to work with Chinese and South Korean counterparts even in a tense diplomatic climate, tend to be less controversial internationally.

No one knows whether Abe will continue visiting the shrine, but the mere change of leadership gives all sides the opportunity to recast the Yasukuni issue, which had been mired in Koizumi’s rhetoric since 2001. It is by no means inconceivable that Abe will visit the shrine and improve ties with China and South Korea. If the debate is reframed so that no one has to go back on any strong public stances, then there is a great deal of diplomatic wiggle room in Northeast Asia.

Japanese Foreign Minister Machimura Nobutaka acknowledged that fact Sunday, saying: “The Japan-China relationship is not so simple that it does not go anywhere unless we decide what is right on the Yasukuni issue.” Machimura sees a Japan–China summit as possible as early as November, at the APEC meeting.

One thing is for certain, Yasukuni has been no one’s litmus test in the selection of Abe. It has stayed mostly out of the picture, and we will have to wait and see what happens to the site’s symbolic significance following Koizumi’s departure.

Poll Finds Both Japan and China Popular in S.E. Asia

A survey conducted in seven Asian countries found that more than 90 percent of people in Southeast Asian countries felt their countries had a good relationship with Japan and between 70 percent and 90 percent said Japan was a trustworthy nation.In particular, 96 percent of respondents in Indonesia and Thailand said their countries had “very good” or “rather good” relations with Japan, followed by Vietnam with 92 percent and Malaysia with 91 percent.

People in Southeast Asian countries also held a favorable view of China, whose economy is growing rapidly, indicating they feel their ties with China are warming, according to the survey. [full story | Yomiuri]

Japan and the U.S. 'Beyond Bilateralism': Introduction

“Challenges to Bilateralism,” T. J. Pempel’s wide-ranging introduction to 2004’s Beyond Bilateralism (which he edited with Ellis S. Krauss) lays out a compelling narrative for post-WWII U.S.–Japan relations. One of modern history’s strongest and most enduring bilateral relationships, he writes, is giving way to a complex network of ties involving other actors: in short, moving “beyond bilateralism.”

The story goes like this: From occupation through the 1980s, the relationship was characterized by common priorities, established means for negotiations in important policy areas (which were kept separate by a tacit “non-linkage rule”), all in an overtly asymmetrical relationship. The countries were on the “same side in the bipolar international arena,” their economies were intimately related, and they shared a commitment to democracy, albeit in different forms.

Since the mid- to late 1980s, Pempel writes, these strictly bilateral relationships have been increasing in complexity and ambiguity. Among the causes for this change are (1) the end of Cold War geopolitics, (2) the development of other Asian economies, coinciding with a huge growth in cross-border capital flow, (3) the rise of regional and global multilateral institutions, and most recently (4) the effects of 9/11 on global politics.

This frame for the book starkly coincides with the perspective of my current line of thinking when Pempel takes on the issue of China as an element of the changed U.S.–Japan arena.

For the three countries, the relationship has clearly become trilateral, as Mochizuki’s analysis in Chapter 3 shows [I will address this soon]. U.S. unilateralism pushes Japan and China closer together, while any warming of ties between either Japan or China on the one hand and the United States on the other forces a re-calibration of interests by the party left out. Japan fears that closer U.S. ties to China may come at Japan’s expense. Japan–China ties remain the triangle’s weakest link, but American policymakers have long worried that closer links between those two countries would come at the expense of American influence in Asia. And as China grows economically, some people in Japan feel similarly threatened, despite the short-term profitability to many Japanese corporations derived from investment in and trade with China. (17, emphasis mine)

This is the most concise statement I have yet seen on the significance of the U.S.–Japan–China triangle as grounds for analysis. (It also courteously underlines the importance of the thesis work I did, phew.) The chapter also demonstrates the importance of taking other actors into account in any set of relations, whether bilateral, trilateral, or multilateral. I look forward to the remainder of this book.

While I get ready to read the rest of this book, here is a brief summary of some other key points:

  • Pempel alludes to a U.S. idea that helping Japan to develop economically “was all calculated to assist Japan in becoming an economic success story that could be projected as a model for much of the rest of Asian development.” (7) I wonder whose rhetoric this was.
  • There was little unofficial influence on pre-“beyond” U.S.–Japan ties. Non-governmental actors had little pull. (8) Additionally, “Functionally specific agencies in both countries worked with their counterparts on matters within their joint domains relatively independently of agencies dealing with issues in other areas,” (9) meaning that issues were kept separate in negotiations—”a non-linkage rule.”
  • Similarly, when disputes arose, the U.S. president or Japanese prime minister rarely engaged in negotiations, instead depending on counterpart bureaucratic organizations, representing “a network of connectors [running] from one country’s government to that of the other.” (11)
  • Japan being concerned about increased U.S. engagement with China in the ’90s, 9/11 escalated those concerns. “Japanese concerns were enhanced by the American warming toward China and its SCO [Shanghai Cooperative Organization] allies [Russia and four Central Asian states] as a result of the U.S. post-September 11 antiterrorism campaign, as well as by China’s willingness to utilize the antiterrorism label to justify actions against dissidents.” (16) (The latter concern refers to China’s defining Muslim separatists in Xinjiang Province as terrorists. That may be, but the Uighurs in northwest China are not aligned with any strains of the much feared “global Islam.”)
  • President Clinton “personally took the initiative to upgrade the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to include a national leaders’ meeting,” yet the Bush administration has opposed multilateral arrangements. (27)
  • Japan has supported regionalism because “after the many trade frictions of the mid- to late 1980s, Japan was anxious to reduce its dependence on the United States and also on those global multilateral organizations in which U.S. influence was overwhelming.” (29) This last point relates to a recent proposal by Japan to study the creation of a massive free trade area that would exclude the United States, which I will examine later.


I have been a good little bibliophile.

  • Today I read most of China’s New Rulers: The Secret Files by Andrew Nathan and Bruce Gilley. This book has been a deeply informative backgrounder on the personal histories of the CCP’s top leaders, and it will serve as a fine reference during future readings. I will have more on this when I finish with it—I am particularly impressed by the authors’ candor on the sourcing for the book.
  • I began my shopping spree last week when I bought China’s New Rulers and Murakami Haruki’s Kafka on the Shore at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle.
  • The buying continued with a visit to Amazon, which yielded a copy of Embracing Defeat, John Dower’s award-winning history of post-WWII Japan. I’ve read bits and pieces of this book over the last few years, but now I have my own copy. It is up next after China’s New Rulers.
  • Between reading sittings today, I shopped for more books. At Idle Time Books next to the cafe Tryst, I finally bought their copy of Living With China: U.S.–China Relations in the Twenty-first Century, edited by Ezra Vogel at Harvard.
  • Before returning home I discovered yet another bookstore on a bike-ride through Georgetown. There, I happened upon a truly exceptional used book. In 1989, LDP politician Ishihara Shintaro (who later left the LDP and is now governor of Tokyo) and Sony Chairman Morita Akio co-authored an anti-U.S. nationalist manifesto called The Japan That Can Say ‘No’ (「ノー」と言える日本)that was not intended for U.S. publication. A sloppy translation was entered into the Congressional Record and republished by The Jefferson Educational Foundation. That’s the copy that I found. Who cares? Well, most libraries only hold the later, better translation with an introduction by Ezra Vogel, but Morita withdrew his portion of the book before that official English translation because of negative reaction to the unauthorized edition. The unauthorized edition made the rounds in Washington and affected this city’s view of Japan, according to Vogel’s introduction, so the original is a better historical document. The price? Two dollars.
  • My last stop was a swing by the Georgetown University library, which mercifully admits anyone with an ID during reasonable hours. There, I was able to download about half a dozen obscure articles I’ve been needing, and I photocopied key chapters from two relatively recent books edited by T.J. Pempel relevant to my research: Remapping East Asia and Beyond Bilateralism: U.S.–Japan Relations in the New Asia-Pacific (co-edited with Ellis S. Krauss).

Meanwhile in the news, there are two recent diplomatic headlines worth noting, after the jump. Continue reading

N. Korean Warning Over U.S.-South Wargames

Via BBC:

North Korea has threatened to take pre-emptive action in response to US-South Korean military drills currently taking place in the region.

According to the official KCNA news agency, Pyongyang described the drills as “an undisguised military threat” and a “war action”.

US and South Korean troops began the military exercises on Monday.

The drills are an annual event, and the North usually issues a strongly-worded statement against them.

But this year, tensions are higher than normal because of international anger at the North’s recent decision to test-fire a series of missiles.

The North Korean military “reserves the right to undertake a pre-emptive action for self-defence against the enemy, at a crucial time it deems necessary to defend itself”, an army spokesman is quoted as saying by KCNA. [full story]