When thinking about Asia’s regional order and Japan's role, I think three perspectives or elements are critical.
The US retreat
First and most important is the US’s position towards the world and East Asia. Asia has had its share of security challenges in the past. The Soviet military build-up in the 50’s and 60’s, China becoming a nuclear power in 1964, the North Korean crisis that has gone on for 25 years, and China’s recent maritime build up, to name just a few. However, all of these crises did not change the fundamentals of East Asian security, because the US’s relative military superiority and resolve were never in question. So long as the region could count on the US’s commitment, other factors were of secondary concern.
What has changed in the era of President Trump is US resolve. Although I would argue that the trend started before President Trump. I believe the beginning of the end of the US empire became clear during the failure of the Iraq War around 2005. The defeat of the Republican Party during the 2006 midterm elections shifted the direction of US policy. Rumsfeld was out, and the US started looking for an exit. Although the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan went on, and took on new dimensions of its own, it was never the same “change the world in the image of the US” type of Neo-con story talked about during 2002-03.
From the Asian perspective, there was a clear turning point in US resolve during this period. It was as if the White House suddenly, lost interest in East Asia. East Asia affairs were handed down to State Department experts to manage. The collapse of the six party-talks, DPRK’s fist nuclear tests, all followed this period. Obama’s pivot towards Asia was more talk than action. And “Strategic Patience” on the Korean Peninsula was code for doing nothing, or at least not increasing US commitment. The US’s role to deter China’s maritime build up in the South China Sea has been “just for show” at best.
This is all understandable. The US is a democracy, thus making it a democratic empire. In this context, not only is US capability important, but equally important is its will to continue to be an empire. The emergence of Trump in the Republican Party, and the enthusiasm mirrored around Bernie Sanders and Elisabeth Warren on the Democratic side is a clear sign of shifting priorities in the US to maintain such an empire.
I do not believe the US will simply let go of its grip as the dominant power in the world to China. Its recent focus on economic pressure towards China, or its rebuilding of prominence in the technology sphere is a clear sign that it doesn’t intend to do so. From the security perspective, the US’s modernization of its nuclear arsenal, investment in technology, AI, cyber, Space warfare is a sign of its imperial resolve. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into regional hegemony in East Asia.
Last week, in the Meetings of NATO Minister of Defense, Secretary of Defense Esper said that the US’s longer-term security threat is China, and the US will focus on East Asia rather than counter-terrorism activities in the Middle East. It is true that the US’s defense community favors such policy. Although, the White House attitude towards China is not necessarily in line, and neither is the general public. The US pressured DPRK in the whole year of 2017 with serious military threat of invasion, but President Trump suddenly chose to directly meet with Kim Jong-un, without specific agreement of denuclearization. That policy was the most favorable one among President Trump’s foreign policy to the public, for 77% approved of Trump’s plan to meet Kim Jong-un according a CNN poll. Therefore, it is dangerous to assume that the policy of the United States shall be determined by professionals. Besides, the US’s military deterrence cannot deter the type of salami slicing tactics deployed by China.
The second factor that will shape Asia is China’s continued economic growth, and continued power projection on to the security arena. As many experts have suggested, the quiet diplomatic philosophy of not exerting excessive influence is over. Xi-Jinping’s China is clearly different from Den-Xiaoping’s China.
This is evident from China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea as well as in the East China Sea. It is clear from its leadership role in central Asia, expansionism in South East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The “Belt and Road” initiative is likely the most comprehensive and most aggressive infrastructure development program since the Marshall plan after WW2. It is a means to establish Chinese Economic dominance and political leverage across the Eurasian Continent.
I don’t necessarily blame China for its ambition, as it’s trying to mirror its influence in the political spectrum to that in the economic spectrum.
However, I do fear what that will mean for the world order especially in Asia. The post WW2 world led by the US, for all its shortcomings, tried to recreate the world in its own image. Democratic principles, free and open trade, and the rule of law, were pillars that made up the world. US allies such as the G7 countries were given preferential status in this world. Unlike the pre-war block economies, Japan was given access to US markets that enabled its post-War recovery.
What would the world look like in which China creates in its own image? Cut-throat economic competition, state dominated decision making, the prominence of order over human rights, a hierarchical approach to international society, come immediately to mind. These realities are already taking root in areas that China has established economic dominance, for example in the continental states within ASEAN.
Will the current international order be able to sustain the principles it has established over the last 70 years? There are definitely signs of encouragement such as the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific partnership between Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam) where Japan showed its leadership. Having said that, I must confess I am less optimistic of the long-term trend.
The third element is about Japan’s policy. Japan’s approach towards this rapidly changing Asia is, ambivalent. Or more simply put, domestically divided. On the one hand, there is the Abe administration and the Japan’s “ruling elites” that base “incrementalism” as the basis for creating policy. The objective for regional policy is to maintain the status quo as long as possible. But in order to maintain the status quo, Japan has to broaden its security cooperation, and its capacity to defend themselves. Unfortunately, The US retreat is often either neglected or minimized in importance in Japanese society including politicians. There is no real drive towards wider independence either. This view more or less represents the main factions of the ruling LDP and the bureaucracy.
On the other side, you have a “reluctant isolationism” embodied by the liberal leaning media and the opposition parties. The pacifist sentiment that characterized post-War Japanese public opinion is deteriorating.
Today, an overwhelming majority of the Japanese public has a negative perception towards China. All the while, the anti-US sentiment evident among the left is still prominent. Thus, the Japanese left neither likes the Americans or the Chinese, doesn’t want to build up an independent defense capability of its own, nor do they want to pursue market-oriented reforms to re-establish Japanese economic productivity.
In the short term, the instrumentalists in power will pursue a reactive yet stable policy. Even as we speak of an US retreat, of course, no one in the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet is going to admit to US’s lack of resolve in Asia, or comment favorably on the White House’s lack of coherent policy towards Asia. But people such as former Defense Secretary Mattis embody US presence, is already gone.
The desire to cling to the old world is understandable. The Abe administration will gradually increase defense spending, and allocate much of that towards the purchasing expensive US weapons systems. Although I assume the US-Japan relationship will become much more stressful in coming years. There will be increased pressure on trade.
On the trade front, to be sure there is merit to the point that the Japanese market is complex and not necessarily open in its practices. However, American cars don’t sell well in Japan for a reason. And in other areas, US companies have built great businesses in Japan. For example, the iphone has the highest market share in Japan among any of the major markets. Even higher than in the US. Thus, if the product is good, then it sells well in Japan. The same can be said for American companies in other sectors, such as Boeing, Goldman Sachs, and Coca Cola.
In any case, unrealistic pressure in the economic arena will reopen Japanese assertiveness not seen since the 1990’s. What will be difficult for the administration is that Japan has to confront a Trump led often-unreasonable US in the age of increasing dependence on the Security side. This is likely be quite difficult politically.
I talked about three aspects which is important to Asia’s regional order, the US retreat, China’s expansionism, and Japan’s domestic ambivalence. Now, I will talk about Japan’s recent relationship with the US, South Korea, China, and Russia, and how alliance is viewed in East Asia.
Ten years ago, most of the people in Japan and other regional allies of the US believed in the bright future of the alliance. During the past 3 decades, Japan has gone through a redefining process of the alliance. In 1999, it passed legislation enabling it to provide logistic support for US forces during a military crisis around Japan. In 2003, it passed three defense legislation designed to deal with a military attack from abroad. Until then, Japan lacked the legislative framework for dealing with a foreign attack. Through these reforms, the alliance was updated. Furthermore, the 2015 security law reform allowed Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense. The Japan-US alliance has become more reciprocal than ever.
However, in 2016, Mr. Trump as a presidential candidate, questioned the alliance. While he acknowledged the relationship with Israel whose security policy is quite independent, he talked about the old alliances in doubtful, punitive way. He called Japan a free-rider and made very clear that he wants more from the alliance with Japan.
I think what has become clear is that Nobody can manage President Trump. PM Abe has invested the most but now with very little to show for. Of course, this was necessary as Japan as a country is most dependent on the US. This is true in both trade and security contexts. The US is Japan’s second most important trade partner, while Japan depended almost entirely on the US for its security
I was part of the National Defense Program Guidelines committee last year, which defined next 10 years Japan’s defense policy guidelines. And I had the opportunity to address this very question. PM Abe in the kick off meeting mentioned that “Japan’s security environment have deteriorated at a faster pace than expected 5 years ago” He also mentioned that Japan is keen to make investments into new areas such as space and Cyber to maintain superiority in these new but important areas.
In addition to these longer-term challenges, there will be a more immediate need to address the US’s retreat and China’s growing assertiveness. But due to our exclusive defense-oriented policy that comes from Constitutional restraints, our weapon system is not necessarily cost effective. Until we are able to change the Pacifist Constitution, our Self Defense Force’s strength shall be very limited.
So, now, we have to face the Constitutional reform, yet it would be very difficult, and even if the reform passed the national referendum, it would not change much of the situation, for in order to change the exclusive defense-oriented policy, we may have to eliminate the entire second paragraph of the Article 9th, which prohibits Japan to have standing military.
Then how people in Japan see the alliance? I will share my thinktank’s recent opinion poll outcome.
The more balanced relationship between Japan and the US nowadays however contains a fundamental gap on US’s commitment. Is US’s commitment real or not in a time of crisis? The wider Japanese public scarcely raise the question of the alliance. They have enjoyed the low cost defense during Cold War, and largely accepted that it is natural to follow the alliance. But at the same time, some of them have become cautious about America’s intention, whether they defend Japan or not.
My recent investigation of public opinion of East Asian countries shows stark contrast between Japan and South Korea concerning trust for the alliance in case of crises. Only 15% of the Japanese population believe the US will take action in case of a Senkaku islands related incident between Japan and China, while half of Koreans believe US action in a North Korean related incident.
Majority of the Japanese and Korean population view the US either as an “ally” or as a “friendly nation.” Although, 30 % of the Korean population (21% of Japanese) think that the risk surpasses the benefit from the alliance, while only 11% (14% of the Japanese) think the benefit surpasses the risk.
Foundations of any alliance is, mutual benefit. The alliance cannot sustain long-term unless it can benefit both sides. But there is something else. Alliance between democratic states should be based on the mutual trust between its peoples and their willingness to maintain the alliance. Such willingness requires unceasing effort. For a long time, Japan has understood the US-Japan Alliance as a necessary evil or in the context of utilitarianism. Now the widening perception gap between Japan and the US concerning the cost, the benefit, and the risks might hurt the alliance itself. There is an interesting outcome from my research concerning nuclear policy preferences. When asked;
“Given the current DPRK nuclear crisis, what kind of nuclear policy should the Japanese government take?”
1/4 chose to maintain the extended deterrence, nearly 20% wanted to strengthen the nuclear deterrence (by developing its own, or nuclear deployment by the US in Japan), and 1/4 wanted to reject current extended nuclear deterrence by the US and remain non-nuclear state. Older people in 60s tends to choose the answer of rejection. The mechanism of choosing this answer is the fear of “entrapment.”
Given the fact that most of the Japanese public does not trust the alliance in case of Senkaku crisis, and 1/4 of the people chooses to reject extended nuclear deterrence for the fear of “entrapment”, there is no strong support for strengthening the alliance. And such attitude will be easily seen as a free rider from the United States.
In South Korea, also US’s important ally, once anti US sentiment was overwhelmingly high. The peak was 2002, but US’s favorability score improved dramatically after the FTA was signed in 2007, and continues to be stable and high until now, even after Trump administration arrived.
The US and South Korea deepened their relationship, and past ambivalence of Korean public towards the US was mostly overcome. But the overall distrust towards the US government still remains, because 38% of the Korean people think that the US is neither an ally or friend (ally 33%, friend 22%). There is a widespread shock among elites in the United States, when the Special Advisor (Security and Foreign Affairs) to President Moon, Chung-In Moon spoke during an interview with The Atlantic in May 2018, and said he wants to “get rid of the alliance.” This is not a hostile notion in nature, but clearly means that he doesn’t want South Korea to be “entrapped” in an US-China rivalry. Those feelings might have a long-term impact. In South Korea, the fear of abandonment is relatively small, but the fear of entrapment is big.
So the allies of the United States have fear of “entrapment,” and sometimes casually ignores that they benefit from the alliance. Fear of “abandonment” has never played a defining role in both countries.
US alliance weakened
Now I will try to compare the alliance in Asia with other regions. Looking at the numbers of US favorability in Pew Research Center’s global opinion poll, it is clear, that the US favorability in Asian allies didn’t drop at all. Philippines 83%, South Korea 80%, Japan 67% in 2018 poll. US favorability in Australia dropped from 60 to 48% in 2016, but now popped up to 54% which is reasonable number.
The difference of Asia from Europe is that we don’t have NATO in Asia. Each ally of the US is embedded in hub-spokes systems, in which the US is dominant power, and they don’t have other security insurance. Along with that, we have China right in front of us. China’s favorability in this region is low (Philippines 42%, Australia 36%, South Korea 34%, Japan 14%, according to this year’s poll) compared to that of the US. For that reason, the US’s presence in Asia is unreplaceable. The research outcome shows that the US’s economic and cultural attractiveness, won the trust and favorability across the region. Which reminds us of the “Soft Power” by Prof. Joe Nye.
But recent development of the US-China trade war, and the Trump administration’s exploit of the US’s resources formed by its past legacy, threatens the US capital even in this region. The US tries to shut out Huawei, China’s largest technology company from its ally’s network, though this move is not welcomed worldwide. Apart from the member state of 5 eyes (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), there is not so much followers.
Germany, Brazil say they won’t ban Huawei from their 5G network. ASEAN and South Korea didn’t decrease their ties with Huawei. Neither would Turkey, I assume. In retrospect, The US shouldn’t have opened two fronts war, against China and the allies. It is not logical to expect cooperation from the allies when the US pressure the alliance and threaten to withdraw. Then the natural choice of its ally would be diversifying their security and economic counterparts.
However, in Asia, diversifying security counterparts is very challenging. For example, Japan-South Korea relation is bitterly soured after historic issues regenerated by the progressives in South Korean society. Sentiment is very bad. Have never been good in Korea, but has also worsened in Japan. South Korean government announced that they withdraw from intelligence sharing scheme, GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement), after historic issue was escalated, but US strongly opposed such decision. And then South Korea’s relationship with the US has also became awkward. South Korean newspaper last week argue that they underestimated the US’s will to keep GSOMIA, and that the US government is unfortunately close to Japan’s position. Why South Korea underestimated the US’s position to oppose such hostage diplomacy is worth thinking.
The US fiscal constraint and 2020 campaign
Most of the allies of the US, doesn’t understand the situation that the US faces. Iraq war and Afghan war costed 4 trillion dollars including lost profit, according to Profs. Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes. The US military spending is about 4% of its GDP, and the recent focus is new type of warfare, including Cyber, Space, and unmanned weapon systems including AI, Drone technologies. They reassumed the policy to invest on tactical nukes, which will cost another 1.2 trillion dollars. Plus, they face domestic needs of spending or shortage of federal revenue. Social security spending is rising in the United States, for aging society and also partly because of years of policy to introduce immigrants as cheap labor. That kind of policy boost the economy, but the immigrants who are paid poorly would not contribute to the federal revenue. President Trump introduced drastic tax reform, which is good for the economy, but fiscal pressure was increased.
What is unique about President Trump’s policy is that he does not believe in small government, at least not as much as the fellow Republicans. While campaigning through 2015 and 2016, he promised the public that social security will not be touched. He promised infrastructure investment. He focused on simplifying tax credit and put it back to middle class as family credit. He favored the riches, yes, but he also focused on protecting working class, middle class. It is center-right economic policy, not far-right. Well, he was once a Democrat, you know. But the Democrats became far more left these days, and the current top runner of Presidential candidates, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign promises are quite drastic and far left economically. She claims wealth tax, and obligatory healthcare insurances. Wealth tax is very problematic, for it didn’t work in Europe, for massive implementation problem, bad influence on people’s economic activities, and damage investment, as another candidate Mr. Andrew Yang correctly pointed out. But people’s expectation is growing, and if she wins, the US government should increase its spending. Where can they find such resources?
Democratic administration who tackles domestic social and economic problems tries to find resources for it, ends up with targeting military spending, as President Clinton did.
So, now, we are facing 2020 Presidential election. On one hand we have President Trump who threatens the allies and claim that one should takes care of its own tankers, not interested in multinational cooperation, and creating economic risks concerning trade war with China. On the other, we have Senator Warren, whose main interest is absolutely domestic, and also has isolationist sentiment. Both will not be likely to start major war, but both shall be isolationist.
Chinese magnetic power
Thus, inward-looking isolationist feeling in the US would leave China the opportunity to grow its political influence. As a part of the Belt and Road Initiatives, Chinese business entities rapidly grow its activities, apart from cost calculations. Car industry, infrastructure business to name just a few. Their business platform is widened, investment surpasses its profits. Such activities can only be realized through government-controlled finance systems and special status of state owned companies.
For now, many of the early warning from the US experts may be exaggerated to some extent. Hambantota port, the Sri Lanka’s largest port was recently acquisitioned by China, due to unreasonably huge debt of the government to China. Sri Lankan government also handed over 15,000 acres of land around the port to China for 99 years, which reminds us of the very colonial negotiation China once suffered. The incident was given spotlight, of course, for it might be the future of many other states invested by China. But still, it is one isolated incident, and we should not overestimate “the fear” of China.
Yet, it is true that Chinese business activities or government loan shall be closely watched and examined. There is no problem if Chinese business seeks their own profit. Although in China, capitalism is not fully realized in its real meaning. State owned companies work for its own economic purpose as well as Chinese government’s political purposes.
Then the problem of economic statecraft would emerge. As China grows its regional dominance, I fear Seoul will be more driven towards Beijing. Resulting in an ever more fragile bilateral relationship with Japan. Well You might ask, “if you know the consequences, why Japan cannot cope with South Korea?” Why not?
It is because there lacks a natural driving force of peace between these two countries. I will show you through the following slides.
East Asia’s economic interdependence
How is the relationship among regional states? My research reiterated overall trends that have appeared in many past surveys where Japanese sentiments towards China and Korea, and Chinese and Korean sentiments towards Japan stand out negatively in both width and depth. This well-known trend, however, has different shades or degrees across different social, economic, and physiological segments. In all three countries the bellow segments responded relatively positively;
- The highly educated (University graduates and post graduate degrees)
- People who believe their income will increase over the coming years
- People who have close friends & acquaintances overseas
- People who have a certain fluency of a foreign language
Graph shows the favorability of 6 countries by the Japanese public. As it shows, only 12.1% of Japanese public likes China, and overwhelming majority of the people dislikes China. South Korea gains only 23.3% of favorability, and India is not known well by Japanese public even though Abe administration works hard on Indo-Pacific Initiatives. Next graph shows the impact of economic interdependence between Japan and South Korea on Japanese side.
Next Graph shows the favorability of 6 countries by South Korean public. Notable trends among Korean respondents is; there are negative sentiments towards Japan while younger segments are more favorable; The favorability of Japan was improved by around 10 points in three years, and the favorability of China decreased by around 10 points during the same period.
Though South Korea has the same structure that business interests in Japanese market or companies help improving people’s perception (next graph), only 5 people out of 2000 samples answers that he or she finds economic benefit from the business relationship with Japan would grow fastest in the future. The economic interdependence is not yet deepened enough to create positive impact on the whole figure. Current relationship of Japan and South Korea is not fruitful at best, and historic issues overshadows the prospect of future cooperation. Tourists from South Korea last month decreased by 58% compared to last year. Business is overshadowed by future political risks, and South Korean government started to shift towards decreasing dependence to Japanese parts and materials which are used for semiconductor, one of the main export goods of South Korea.
The unfortunate relationship is partly explained by the similar economic structure of two countries, for their strength is overlapping. Consumer electronics, automotive industry etc. Anyways, the political tension between two important allies of the US cannot be solved soon, unless the economic structure would change drastically.
China-Japan relations improving and the prospects for that
Then what about the relationship with China?
What is clear is that although political relations between Japan and China have been rocky at best, Japan is also dependent on China and vice versa at least economically.
Despite this fundamental truth, the Abe administration’s approach to Japan-China relations has been a very cautious one. It is not a containment policy, but harder than engagement policy. This represents the fundamental shift in in Japan’s perception towards China that has occurred during the last 10 years. PM Abe, when he first rose to power in 2006, led the normalization of relations with China.
High level talks had halted during the Koizumi era’s due to the maverick PM’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine in 2006. Abe also visited the controversial shrine in late 2013. This reflects PM Abe’s nationalist tendencies, but also the fundamental shift in Japanese public opinion towards China. Now, less than 10% of the Japanese public have a positive image towards China, according to my thinktank’s opinion poll. Mistrust and fear towards China is almost universal. Actually, worse than the Chinese public’s perception towards Japan (almost 50% favors Japan in city areas). Thus, there is much more acceptance of a more nationalistic stance towards relations with its neighbors.
However, there is much potential for cooperation between Japan and China. Recently, representatives of the Auto industries in Japan and China agreed on a common standard for electrical vehicles. Together the two countries represent 90% of the world production. Thus, if Japan and China can agree, then it becomes de facto standard, which is competitive advantage. As far as the automobile industry goes, the next big battle is regarding autonomous cars. Players such as Google, Apple, and Tesla are in this race. This will be a more fundamental battle towards industrial prominence in the 21st century. The points is that there is much potential for Japan and China to corporate.
The obvious impact of personal economic prospect on the negative image of China is shown in a next Graph. As it shows, people who believe his or her household income would increase a lot dislikes China less by 23.2 points. The people who believes his or her household income would decrease a lot dislikes China more by 10.9 points.
As you see, there is a stark contrast between people who can believe in the future, and people who cannot. So, to be fair, the strong negative feeling towards China in Japan is driven by economic discontent and envy. This explains a lot. I believe that these factors that affect public perception could serve as a hint to policy makers to drive improved public perception among the three countries’ population.
Another clear trend that emerged was that people who have business related exposure clearly had a more favorable perception towards Japan. This trend was particularly strong among the Chinese population (show graph).
I am hopeful that this quantification of the impact of economic interdependence and its impact to public opinion could lead to a more comprehensive narrative between international economics and security. Although, it would be hard for Japanese to compete in Chinese market. And getting to know China better does not necessarily help improve perceptions, for, as I already mentioned, Chinese government and companies often do not share the same values and concept of rules and enforcement as liberal democratic societies. Even if all those shortcomings would be completely dealt with, Japanese people still suffers from bitterness of China’s rise.
From now, I would like to talk about Chinese perception towards the US.
Actually, attitude of Chinese people towards the US is very favorable one as well. According to my thinktank’s opinion survey in China (which is limited to the city areas by the way, due to various constraints) conducted for four years show that the US is liked, admired, and trusted by most of the people. In Dec. 2017, the favorability of the US of 2000 samples from 30 cities of China, was 66%. In Dec. 2018, approximately a year ago, it was still 62% (Graph). As far as the concrete imaged of the US, the sources of the favorability are unchanged. The US in the eyes of Chinese people is trustable, cool, strong, innovative, gentle, rich, fair, energetic, free, tolerant, diverse, kind, clean, and friendly. The perception towards whether the US keeps international law, or be peaceful is divided, but yet, the percentage of those who agree with such notion surpasses that of those who doesn’t.
But there is also a tendency that we should worry about. As the next Graph shows, over 40% of the respondents say they decreased their spending for US products and services. This is a new trend came up in 2018. Chinese people, whose income is drastically increasing, enjoyed buying US products. Four years ago, there was virtually no movement for boycott. This level of action is similar to those towards Japan during the height of tensions oriented by historical issues.
So, the sentiment towards the US is mixed in China. In this respect, I might fear, that the US has opened unwise war towards China. Chinese people have strong nationalism. Even the Hong Kong protesters and severe violence by the police towards them didn’t get much sympathy from the people living in the continent. For they see the protesters are “the separationist”, in some limited sense, it is true. China is becoming second to the superpower, sometimes damaging the other states’ interests, but they do not see things in that way. The process of expansion is for Chinese people, the historic “recovery” from long colonial age. It is historic necessity for the Chinese people. But then, the US get in front of them, and denied its economic activities.
Sometimes, I see these two counties do not know each other, seeing different image in each other. For China, 2049 is the 100th anniversary for the PRC. But at the same time, 200 years from the Opium War. It was fought against Great Britain, and Hong Kong was strived from China as the outcome of war. We, Japan and Turkey, as the old non-western powers, would know what it means. China, Japan, Turkey are all the victims of the great power game, and at the same time, sometimes aggressors in it. We all share the experience for being lost in great wars. China’s natural choice shall be waiting until it would be able to prevail, while waiting, they will build up their capacity, in both military and economic sense.
In 1990s, China lost in military diplomacy against the US over Taiwan Straits. Taiwan, which China claims its own, introduced democratic Presidential election in 1996. Chinese military, PLA, conducted military exercise around the straits, and fired missile near Taiwan. But the US intervened with Aircraft Career task force, and then PLA reluctantly backed off. This experience gave PLA a bitter memory, and after the incident, they drastically invested in sea power, introducing anti-aircraft career submarines. 20 years after now, PLA have built up its capacity dramatically.
The same thing will happen in next 10-20 years. China now knows its weakness; too much dependency on the US market. They will minimize the risks of dependency, speeding up creating China-led market, i.e., loose but certain form of block economy. As an US ally, Japan may be excluded by China from their economic bloc, which is grave concern and risks in the future.
Now I have to talk about North Korea as well. Japan is not a player in the short term. As it stands, Japan has not outward projecting capabilities thus cannot really influence DPRK’s nuclear and missile capabilities. Only route possible for Japan is to influence US policy, which is increasingly difficult under Trump administration.
Although the US seems ever more willing to compromise towards DPRK, Japan will likely continue to take a pretty firm stance. The Japanese public will likely only support a hard line, in nuclear, missile, and abductee issue. For those who do not know the abductee issue, they are Japanese citizen abducted by North Korea to educate Japanese language for special forces and spies there. The whole number is unknown, but Japanese government formally admit 17 people who were abducted.
Currently US-DPRK negotiations doesn’t work well, despite the move that President Trump fired John Bolton, national security advisor, and renowned hawk. The problem is, there is no example that state developed nuclear weapons in a complete sense and abandoned them. South Africa and Libya is not the right example, and Iraq was invaded just because they don’t have nuclear weapons. It is true, that negotiations itself can create peace. But the economic sanctions over DPRK cannot be removed without nuclear abandonment, and she will not intend to do so.
In the history of US non-proliferation policy, one might notice, that there is always a tipping point of changing perceptions towards the nuclear developing states. After France succeeded in nuclear test in 1960, NPT was signed in 1968. From then, the US never allowed its allies to have nuclear weapons. South Korea President Pak in 1970s tried to develop nuclear weapons of their own, out of fear of abandonment by the US. But due to the US pressure, he couldn’t follow through. He died in 1979 killed by his own KCIA director. Taiwanese institute also secretly sought to develop nuclear weapons from 1967 to 1970s, but also due to American pressure to stop military aid, abandoned the secret plan in 1976. They restarted the development in 1980s as well, but also banned by the US. On the other hand, the US has ambiguous attitude to those countries who are not the US ally, nor the adversary. US has been soft on India, Israel, and also Pakistan. To these countries, the US keeps formal policy of non-proliferation until they succeed in the development. And then, the US change their attitude given the change of circumstances.
To the adversaries, the US first threaten them to strike first to stop nuclear development, because they are the aggressive states and too dangerous to have nuclear weapons. But after reviewing nuclearized adversary for a while, the US changes their judgement, that the adversary became status-quo power. This is the policy of the United States, whether they are conscious or not. Will the case of DPRK follow such scenario like Soviet Union, and China, is yet to be known. But it’s worth mentioning, that some ex high ranking officials of Obama administration noted that DPRK is now a status quo power, during 2017 DPRK crisis.
For Japan, it is hard to admit DPRK became nuclear power, especially when the US is now quite soft on DPRK’s middle ranged missile tests, which would target Japan. South Korea does not share the same view as we have, for they weigh unification with DPRK much more than denuclearization. In economic perspective, DPRK is full of opportunities for South Korea especially given that South Korea suffers from weak domestic demand of the market.
As you see, Our security environment is severe and complicated, and allies of the US are not on the same page.
Japan and Russia
About Russia. Japanese government policy towards Russia is based upon balance of power type of idea. Russia has close relationship with China, DPRK, but they do not see eye to eye on every issue. We have disputed northern islands issue with Russia, so our diplomatic relations go around that issue.
So far, Abe administration’s effort to solve this issue is not successful. Japan-Russo relationship is somehow unfruitful. Our strategic relationship lacks economic incentives. Japanese people’s perception towards Russia is not soured just because of President Putin’s rigid stance on Northern islands, but far from passions or genuine fraternity.
In future Asia, the dominant power shall be either China or the US, not Russia. But other regional challenges made by Russia will weaken the western alliances for sure. Russia conducts gray zone military activities in Ukraine, and also try to expand or recover her past power and influence in eastern Europe.
Post-Post Cold War era
That is why I recently use this expression, “New Balance of Power System” has emerged after Post-Post Cold War era. In the Post Cold War era, the American power was unilateral. Throughout 1990s, the globalization, information age, the US enjoyed both its economic and military hegemony. At that time, China was still recovering from the reputational damage of Tiananmen incident, trying to grow its weak economy. But in 2000s, they emerged as a challenger to the regional hegemony, and in a recent decade, they announced to challenge the US’s economic hegemony.
Russia is also back to the power game. Putin’s Russia emerged as a global military power, even though not economic, reopened the arms race. To be fair, the US’s missile defense system lit the hostility and alertness in Russia’s mind, for that will completely damage Russia’s strategic equal status with the US. And now we are witnessing massive development of weapons systems, including those using AI, Cyber, Drone technology. In such term of the military revolution, nobody can get off the race.
But the will of the US to maintain military superiority does not translate into regional hegemony or security of its allies as I mentioned earlier. The US becomes more and more inward looking, and people’s concern is focused on peace for America. Looking back to the past 20th century, it was American century. Though, It was the outcome of the unique conditions. The US’s resolve created by WWII, strengthened by Cold War and Korean War, was tested in Vietnam, and in the middle east. First the US was reluctant to commit to the middle east. In 1979, when revolution broke out in Iran, the US didn’t understand the nature of it. In 1982, when the US walked into Lebanon, little did they know that they were targeted by the fanatic guerillas. From then, they are stuck with the middle east, even though they are not the old colonial powers.
The conditions do change. Now the US and other Americas can control half of the crude oil supply, LNG, LPG
The alliance is in danger in this region. The US has already an incentive to withdraw, and its allies do not share the same view with the United States. The alliance with the US is, after all, an alliance of interest. In East Asia, the US is still winning in favorability. The problem is the relationship among East Asian countries is not good at all.
Hope exists in the area of economic interdependence and the possibility of cooperation among East Asian States, but relatively few people can engage such economic activities with neighboring countries in China, and Japan-Korea interdependence is not deepened enough. The current scheme for peace is shaken, but the new mechanism for peace is not working fast enough.