Tag Archives: Japan passing

Key U.S.–Japan meeting overshadowed by U.S.–China diplomacy

BEIJING — As Japanese Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko visited the White House Monday, the continued strength of the U.S.–Japan relationship was a central message. But this first Washington summit of U.S. and Japanese leaders since the Democratic Party of Japan took control in 2009 was overshadowed in the transpacific news cycle by the U.S. relationship with China.

The timing of the Noda visit may well have been designed to set the stage for the U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, to occur this week in Beijing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner leading a 200-strong U.S. delegation.

The U.S. “pivot” or “rebalancing” to Asia is a major concern in China, and U.S. leaders may have sought to reassure Japan that it is still a centerpiece of U.S. strategy in Asia and the Pacific.

If all had gone as planned, the administration could have enjoyed an Asia-focused news cycle all week, as the Japanese leader visited, followed by the meetings in Beijing.

But in the last days of preparation for the Japan summit, the U.S. government was confronted by a much more high-profile challenge: the escape of Chen Guangcheng a well known blind activist from extrajudicial house arrest, and his apparent flight to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

As it happens, the first question for Obama in the Noda–Obama press conference was about Chen, not about Japan (though the reporter also asked Noda about Japan’s response to a potential North Korean nuclear test).

[Obama acknowledged he’s aware of “press reports” on the Chen case, but wouldn’t make a statement except to say the U.S. government always brings up human rights in its meetings with China.]

A lesser-known disappointment for some about the U.S.–Japan meeting is that it did not include an announcement that Japan would join the eight countries (including the United States) currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement that does not include China but does include other East Asian countries.

There is significant opposition to the TPP overall, mostly over its intellectual property measures that some view as a rehash of the SOPA/PIPA fight and over a perceived lack of transparency in the negotiations. But the greater opposition to the specific question of Japanese participation comes from sectors in Japan that would lose some existing trade protections, and from the U.S. auto industry.

In their White House statement, both leaders mentioned that TPP talks would continue, but the issue lies largely unresolved. Meanwhile, the U.S.–Japan relationship still spends time on the disposition of the U.S. base at Futenma, the challenge of North Korea, and rather generalized concerns about China.

U.S. Scholar Says Japan Should Be More 'Proactive'

It’s been a while; to any loyal readers, my apologies. Since Monday evening I’ve been in Japan traveling, the first time I’ve left China after moving there last July. Writing now on the train between a visit in southern Kyushu on my way to Hiroshima, I’ll save you my personal reflections. I did see something of interest, however, in today’s Japan Times. The paper carried a Kyodo story on a U.S. professor’s advice to Japan.

In brief, the story reports that Kent Calder, director of the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., urges that Japan be more “proactive” in its post-Bush relations with the United States. He also said that an Obama presidency may be more conducive to changes in Japan policy from the U.S. side than a Hillary Clinton or McCain administration.

The article leads with Calder’s comments on a concept called “Japan passing,” meaning essentially U.S. policy discussions going on without much discussion of this country. Indeed, as I wrote earlier, for example, China and Iraq are among the most talked-about countries in Clinton’s foreign policy, whereas Japan plays a small role. (Perhaps I will have time to compare that work with Obama and McCain.) The story may be using Calder’s statements to imply a general apathy in U.S. policy circles toward Japan, which I think isn’t true. Without knowing more about Calder’s work and statements, I can’t say what he thinks, but I do believe that economic and East Asian security concerns would prevent any U.S. government from ignoring Japan.

Calder said energy efficiency and environmental technology are strengths for Japan and might serve as a good way to increase its international influence. “Japan is the only major nation of the major energy producers whose consumption in the last three years or so has gone down,” Calder said.

Anecdotally, I see positive and negative forces at work in Japan on energy efficiency over the last few days. Mass transit is of course a strength here, and over two days in an area of Kyushu with fewer train options, I was glad to see light-engine automobiles either at parity with or outnumbering larger engines. Meanwhile the lack of good insulation in many regular Japanese residential and public buildings represents a huge opportunity for retrofitting to prevent energy waste as heating or cooling is lost through under-insulated walls. (As I write this, I am passing the most industrial and pollution-spewing vista I have encountered in Japan, off the shinkansen tracks near Tokuyama Station.)

I have taken an unanticipated break on this site because of an uptick in my paid workload: Sinobyte, my blog on Chinese technology and society for the CNET Blog Network, is now in its third month. I have also had work to do on some new consulting before what, barring any unforeseen changes, will be my return to the United States this fall for more academic work on East Asia. I am sure I will have more to say after my stay in Hiroshima, and most likely more to come after my return late this month to Beijing.