Though what future path Japan-Taiwan relations will take is uncertain, in confronting these complicated challenges, Japan is not alone. Policy debates in Washington and other major democratic partners, including Australia, the UK, and the EU, evince similar dilemmas vis-à-vis democratic Taiwan, “One China,” and stable ties and economic exchange with an increasingly powerful, assertive, and authoritarian Beijing. At least so far, and as additional indicators of the vagueness and flexibility built into the “One China” framework, developments during the fiftieth-year post-normalization suggest many in Japan and beyond are eager to continue deepening support for and practical cooperation with Taiwan—even as their official positions on “One China” remain frozen in time…
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of the history and contemporary policy implications of the post-1970s “One China” framework in international politics … has just been published by The China Quarterly. Given […]
In 1992, Korea’s first democratically-elected government was clearly eager to normalize relations with Beijing. Nevertheless, it did not give in to pressure to recognize Beijing’s ‘One China principle’ as it concerns the essential claim that Taiwan is part of the PRC. Coupled with this study’s historically- grounded case study and comparative analysis with the similarly vague U.S. and Japanese official positions and other countries’ ever-evolving ‘One China’ policies, this reality demonstrates that Seoul’s relative reluctance to publicly express support for or significantly expand practical cooperation with Taiwan is best understood as due to a succession of ROK leaders’ subjective political judgments about what is in Korea’s national interest—not any putative commitment made to Beijing thirty years ago…
In answering the “who interprets the constitution?” and “whose interpretation shall prevail” questions foundational to large literatures in both constitutional law and political science, the scholarship on constitutional review has generally focused on three competing models: judicial supremacy, legislative supremacy, and departmentalism. The former two schools argue that the buck should stop with the judiciary or the legislature, respectively, while not necessarily excluding other branches in the process. The latter, in contrast, essentially treats each branch as, in the words of political scientist Keith Whittington, “an equal authority to interpret the Constitution in the context of conducting its duties… [because] each branch of government has its own, non-overlapping set of interpretive responsibilities.”
What this massive and important debate has generally overlooked heretofore, however, is the prospect of a fourth model: de facto executive supremacy. The theoretical literature has also neglected a particularly compelling real-world case that suggests its viability: Japan’s Cabinet Legislation Bureau, at least under some conditions. Indeed, for 70 years Japan’s postwar CLB has exercised extraordinary influence over constitutional review in the world’s third largest economy. Throughout this period, it has acted as the de facto supreme interpreter of the constitution and draft statutes, despite the existence of a court explicitly empowered by Japan’s Constitution to do so.
By introducing Japan’s CLB to this important interdisciplinary literature, emphasizing the distinction between law in books and law in action, and comparing the CLB with France’s Conseil d’État and the U.S. Office of Legal Counsel, this article highlights the important role executive institutions can play in the law-making process in both theory and practice, discusses several preliminary implications of de facto executive supremacy as a “fourth” model of constitutional review, and calls on scholars to continue the debate. Several potentially fruitful avenues for future research related to the “whose interpretation shall prevail?” question, in particular, are to broaden the conventional scope of analysis in the study of constitutional review as a whole, and to conduct more theoretical, empirical, and normative research specifically on the prospects for de facto executive supremacy as a fourth model.
In April 2021, Japan’s then prime minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. president Joe Biden made global headlines when they jointly “underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encouraged the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”—the first such reference in a summit-level statement since 1969. This statement catalyzed a striking degree of public discussion in Japan and expressions of concern about cross-strait stability from Japanese leaders. It also elicited widespread, though often misleading or inaccurate, assertions overseas that Japan’s position vis-à-vis a “Taiwan contingency” had abruptly or radically transformed. Especially given the proximity of Japan (and U.S. military bases in Japan) to Taiwan, soberly appreciating the complexity and incremental evolution of Japan’s nuanced and intentionally ambiguous positions and policies, as well as its unique domestic constraints, is critical. Doing so is especially crucial for policymakers to accurately assess the status quo, manage expectations within and beyond the alliance, and ensure sound decision-making as the cross-strait deterrence challenge seems all but certain to deepen in the years ahead.
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.
“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.”
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.
“…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.
My latest analysis … of the rapidly evolving maritime gray-zone competition between China and Japan in the East China Sea … has just come out in print as part of a […]
Abstract: In 2013, Japan’s first-ever National Security Council (NSC) was established as the leading edge of ambitious reforms to Japan’s foreign policy-relevant institutions. Within weeks, Japan’s new national security tripod was firmly in place: the top-level, political NSC ‘control tower’, Japan’s first-ever National Security Strategy, and its first-ever National Security Secretariat. In the years since, the NSC has played a central role in every major aspect of the Japanese strategic trajectory that has attracted so much global attention (and controversy) in ‘the Abe era’. This study analyzes the motivations driving Japan’s decision to establish an NSC, the institution’s key characteristics, and offers a preliminary assessment of the current and likely future implications of this historic institutional reform. Beyond NSC’s impact on policy, of potentially greater long-term significance is its effects on Japan’s foreign policy decision-making processes: in particular, expanded Kantei-centered political leadership of national security affairs and more ‘whole-of-government’ approaches specifically designed to transcend the ‘vertical hurdles’ traditionally dividing Japan’s powerful bureaucracies. The goal of these reforms is as straightforward as it is ambitious: to transform Japan’s ability to flexibly and independently cope with a rapidly changing, increasingly complex, and ever more uncertain security environment in East Asia and beyond.
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of Japan’s reforms to national security policy and institutions in the “Abe era” (since 2012)… has just been published by Texas National Security Review, an exciting new peer-reviewed journal based at the University of Texas and published by War on the Rocks.