For Japan in 2021, COVID-19-related disruption was again the dominant storyline. Its impact transcended societal consequences to affect Japan’s economy, politics, and foreign affairs. It frustrated Japan’s economic recovery and, for the second time in as many years, contributed to a prime minister’s premature resignation. Yet the year also witnessed major positive developments, including…
To conclude that widespread narratives exaggerate Abe’s individual impact is not to deny his agency or influence. Abe altered Japan’s image as a nation plagued by frequent leadership turnover and struggling to exercise international leadership. He accelerated important institutional reforms, and his busy diplomatic schedule and active management of the foreign
policy apparatus reflected a clear desire to enhance Japan’s international stature. Undoubtedly, Abe left office in 2020 with a list of foreign policy accomplishments.
However, his track record also demonstrates that there are
clear limits on the ability of a Japanese leader to fundamentally transform the country’s foreign policy. To exaggerate the individual significance of any prime minister is to risk overlooking the other, sometimes larger forces reshaping Japan’s foreign policy trajectory—forces that will remain important even now that Abe has passed the baton to his successors.
My latest publication… a short reflection on the big year for Japan-Taiwan relations that was 2021, plus a look ahead to 2022 … is now available *open-access (free)* via the […]
No Time to Waste
Ten years ago, the Obama administration pledged that the United States would pivot to Asia. It rightly identified the region as the “key driver of global politics,” called the US role “irreplaceable,” and articulated a compelling vision for leadership along six lines of action. The Trump administration repeatedly spoke of the Indo-Pacific as its priority theater and competition with China as a defining foreign policy challenge. Yet the record of the past decade reveals a recurring gap between rhetoric and action.
Although circumstances have improved significantly under Biden, after nine months warning signs are emerging. Notwithstanding the efforts of the administration’s Asia team, the United States is not back in the region—at least not yet. As the new administration and Congress look to learn from US missteps over the past decade, three top priorities should be: (1) re-centering US strategy on Asia, rather than China; (2) embracing a positive regional economic agenda; and (3) rebalancing significantly enhancing diplomatic and military resources to prioritize the region.
Despite America’s recent struggles, the importance of Asia to US interests and the core strategic logic of the pivot have only become clearer over the past decade. In addition to the rapidly growing region’s inherent economic and strategic importance, Asia is the central stage of a competition that will define key standards, rules, and norms of regional and global geopolitics and geo-economics for decades to come. This competition is not some far-off, future challenge. It is already here.
US leaders must humbly reflect on the shortcomings of past efforts and invest in a comprehensive agenda focused on positively shaping the region’s future. In the months and years ahead, the administration and Congress will have to act far more proactively, affirmatively, and multilaterally to ensure that this will truly be America’s Pacific century.
Japanese leaders in 2021 have made an unusual series of high-profile statements and comments concerning Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait. These appeared to crescendo last month, when global headlines asserted that July 5 remarks by Japan’s deputy prime minister meant “Japan pledges to defend Taiwan if China attacks” or marked a fundamental change in Japanese policy…
“It makes little difference how many times U.S. officials or congressional leaders say the United States is competing with China or pivoting, rebalancing, or shifting its focus to Asia. What matters more is what they actually do.”
My latest study … an analysis of recent developments in Japan-Taiwan relations and prospects for deeper Japan-Taiwan-U.S. cooperation beyond deterrence… was published yesterday by the nonpartisan Wilson Center as part of […]
JAPAN’S LEADERS BEGAN 2020 full of hope and expectation, and with lofty ambitions. As then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzō (2020a) proclaimed at his New Year’s press conference, “Together with the Japanese people, I will make this historic year . . . a year for carving out a new era for Japan.” Indeed, 2020 was not just any year. Perhaps more than any other in recent memory, the Japanese public (and Abe himself) had long anticipated that 2020 would be one for the history books. In 2013, Japan had been awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The following January, Abe predicted in a major policy speech that in 2020 Japan would “be newly reborn,” just as, he argued, it had been in 1964, the last time Tokyo hosted a Summer Olympics, just 19 years after Japan’s defeat in World War II (Asahi Shimbun 2014). In 2017, not only was it announced that 2020 would also be the first full year of Japan’s new Reiwa imperial era, but also Abe began repeatedly pledging that he would make it the year that Japan finally revised its (never-amended) US-drafted 1947 constitution—a deeply held ambition central to Abe’s personal and political legacy and a key pillar of the 1955 founding charter of his conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
But COVID-19 had other plans for Japan in 2020.
In a provocatively titled article published earlier this month, Nikkei reported that “Japan lawmakers want ‘Taiwan Relations Act’ of their own.” The article, which was published in English and attracted attention from U.S.-based Asia policy experts, further suggested that a “2-plus-2 dialogue among the foreign and defense ministers of Japan and Taiwan” is being discussed in Tokyo.
Were Japan’s National Diet to actually pass legislation analogous to the landmark U.S.’ 1979 Taiwan Relations Act or to set up a Cabinet-level government-to-government “2-plus-2 dialogue,” it would be a groundbreaking and historic development in Japan-Taiwan relations. It is therefore no surprise the article attracted so much attention in Washington, D.C.
But neither seems likely to happen…at least not anytime soon or in the manner many may assume.
My latest publication… an analysis of the significance and expected legacy of Japan’s Defense Reforms under Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (2012 – 2020) … is now available as part of […]
“…All the aforementioned challenges threaten foundational pillars of Japan’s economy and national security. Indeed, if the order were to collapse or the United States to “withdraw” or “abdicate” in the manner already suggested by some and feared by many, defining assumptions of Japan’s foreign policy would be fundamentally undermined…”
Taken collectively, the results suggest that Japanese citizens believe the liberal international order has been crucial to postwar national prosperity and peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. There is also robust support for Japan adopting a relatively more proactive posture in international trade and security affairs-within limits. In the economic domain, survey respondents strongly support the idea that Japan has benefited greatly from international free trade and should play a leadership role in that domain regardless of what the United States does. This comports with Solis’s argument that Japan is no longer a follower on free trade, as reflected in its effort to champion the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP, also known as TPP-11) after the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the twelve-member Trans-Pacific Partnership in January 2017. With regard to security affairs, the survey reveals strong support for strengthening ties with the United States, for Japan deepening ties with other countries in the region as a counterweight to China, and for pursuing more robust defense capabilities to bolster deterrence, such as increased defense spending. These goals all appear congruent with U.S. policies.
“…This paper focuses on the competition between China and Japan over their festering territorial dispute in the East China Sea. Though political frictions over the Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese) Islands are decades-old, since a 2012 contretemps over the islands led Beijing to begin regular, provocative deployments of government vessels into the islands’ contiguous zone and territorial seas, the dispute has become the most significant geopolitical flashpoint and locus of security competition between China and Japan today…
In September 2019, Brookings Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy Bruce Jones convened seven Brookings scholars and affiliates — Richard Bush, Lindsey Ford, Ryan Hass, Adam Liff, Michael O’Hanlon, Jonathan Pollack, and Mireya Solís — to discuss Japan’s present and future path in this era of great power competition. The edited transcript below reflects their assessment of the current state of Japanese strategic choices.
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of Japan’s strategy for dealing with China’s rise and critique of the idea that Japan is seeking a middle ground between the U.S. and China… […]