Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pacific Alliance

“Japan and the United State face each other, but across the broadest ocean of them all.”
Edwin Reischauer

Yale University Press published a book called “Pacific Alliance” on May 19, 2009. In order to “educate” me, my government “forced” me to order a copy of this book a week after its publication, on May 26. The book itself is not well known. It has an Amazon Best Sellers Rank of 461,166.

The book was written by Ken Calder, the former Japan Chair at CSIS. In the book, Calder briefly mentions the development of that organization. Henry Kissinger, David Abshire, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Harold Brown developed that organization to mediate the relationship between America and China. CSIS also had support from the private sector, from companies such as AIG.

In the first chapter of the book, Calder argued that the alliance between Japan and America was going through a “quiet crisis.” According to him, the bonds joining our two nations were deteriorating quietly, and he gave several examples of this. The number of corporate members of the U.S.-Japan Business Council has declined by 10% over the past few years. The number of Japanese students studying at American universities has declined by 25% over the past decade. The number of American students enrolled in courses related to Japan has declined by more than half.

“It has become counterproductive professionally for first-rate American social scientists to seriously immerse themselves, on a continuing basis, in the details of Japanese domestic affairs,” said Calder.

For the first seventy five years of the 20th century, Japanese-Americans were the largest group of Asian immigrants. But recently, the number of non-Japanese immigrants from Asia has increased dramatically while the numbers of Japanese-Americans has stagnated. For example, the number of Chinese-Americans in San Francisco is now twelve times the number of Japanese-Americans.

Those of us who are Japanese-Americans have become much more assimilated into American society. The cohesiveness in the Japanese-American community has declined. In the past, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the subsequent reparations movement served as a “unifying experience” for my community. But that happened a long time ago. In my experience, most Japanese-Americans have little understanding of Japan or their heritage.

In the second chapter of the book, Calder provides a brief history of the postwar relationship between Japan and America. He provides a surprisingly honest account of the history of Japan, China, and America in the immediate postwar period.

After the war, Japan and America struck a bargain. America would help Japan rebuild its economy by allowing Japanese companies to sell their products to American consumers. In return, Japan would cooperate with America on security issues and would “acquiescence in isolating mainland China.” This arrangement was codified in two documents – a security treaty and a peace treaty.

“Although neither the peace treaty nor the security pact incorporated Washington’s geostrategic designs for Asia explicitly, they did so indirectly, by omission,” said Calder. “Most critically, neither mainland China nor the Soviet Union was signatory to the peace treaty.”

That left Japan with an ambiguous relationship with those two countries “that could easily become the seeds of future conflict.”

America had to work hard to convince Japan to sever its relationship with China. A couple of days after the peace treaty was signed, a group of 56 Senators threatened to reject the peace treaty unless Japan recognized the Republic of China as the sole government of China. Were Japan to do this, she would effectively sever her relationship with China because the Republic of China had been confined to Taiwan while the Communist Party had control of the vast majority of China. Apparently recognizing this, Yoshida hinted that Japan might not agree to abandon its relationship with the mainland. Congress became infuriated. To settle things, John Foster Dulles flew to Japan and had Yoshida sign a letter saying that Japan would not conclude a peace treaty with the Communists.

After dealing with the onset of the Cold War, Calder talked about how America and Japan dealt with the Vietnam War. This section of the book had much more ambiguity than the part about the immediate post war period. Calder seems to hint that America fought the Vietnam War because we feared that the Communists might stage a takeover of Japan if the Communists prevailed in Vietnam.

Specifically, Calder mentions a meeting between Robert McNamara and Takeo Fukuda. During the meeting, McNamara asked Fukuda what would happen to Japan if America lost South Vietnam. Fukuda replied that the Japanese leftists would become more powerful and their protests against stationing U.S. forces in Japan would grow stronger. Japan, it seems, had America in a bind. America couldn’t simply walk away from Vietnam without risking losing Japan.

Calder also briefly talked about why America decided to return Okinawa to Japan. In 1970, Japan had to decide whether or not to renew its security alliance with America. Had America decided not to return Okinawa, Japan may well have ended its alliance with America. Naturally, America decided to return Okinawa to Japan.

To some extent, the relationship between Japan and America seems like series of crises. In his book, Calder talked extensively about the importance of those crises. According to him, each crisis forced America and Japan to develop relationships and build institutions to deal with the crisis.

“When political actors are drawn existentially together and forced by crisis to cooperate, they tend to be bonded to one another and to associate in more routine contexts once the formative crisis that originally catalyzed their relationship waned,” said Calder.

In retrospect, his words seem particularly relevant given what has been happening to me. I imagine that there have been quite a number of meetings to decide on how to deal with my situation.

I imagine the waning cohesiveness of the Japanese-American community, the waning interest in Japan, and the waning knowledge of Japan led someone in Japan to concoct a crazy scheme.

In his book, Calder suggests that America and Japan use the Internet to allow “broader inputs” and a more “dynamic process.” Calder suggested we create a web portal and a chat room “where policy issues in the bilateral relationship could be aired in a systematic way.” In turns out, we decided to use a blog.

Late at night, at a bar, I imagine a very drunk Japanese bureaucrat said the following to his coworkers…
Perhaps we could find a Japanese-American. Perhaps we could tell him our secrets. Perhaps he would reveal these secrets online. Perhaps America would torture him to try to get him to shut up. Perhaps he would refuse to shut up. Perhaps he would succeed in getting the information to the public. Perhaps this crisis would increase the cohesiveness of the Japanese-American community in the same way the concentration camps did. Perhaps this crisis would revive interest in Japan. Perhaps this crisis would force governments to start telling the truth. Perhaps this crisis would force governments to start living up to their ideals.
I can do this. Give me a chance.

In the final paragraph of his book, Calder wrote the following…
They are of different cultures, creeds, and histories, replete with embedded institutions that coexist only uneasily across that vast expanse of both water and misunderstanding that is the Pacific. Yet the challenge of coordination that the two sharply different nations face is of consequence for all the world. Together, they give new meaning to the concept of alliance, and they must not fail.

Monday, May 25, 2009

North Korean nuclear blast is test for Obama and diplomacy

North Korea test detonated a nuclear weapon on May 25, 2009. According to McClatchy News, this latest North Korean provocation would be a good test for the Obama administration and its diplomacy. It is ironic that McClatchy referred to this provocation as a test for the Obama administration. At about the same time that this story was published, an American think tank (I believe it was the Brookings Institute), held a panel in which the North Korean issue was discussed. One of the participants of the panel was a Japanese official. He also referred to the North Korean provocations as a test for the Obama administration.

I think Japan often arranges “tests” for America and for others. Japan uses these “tests” to determine the true intentions of others. In Japan, people often keep their true feelings hidden. In Japanese, a person’s true feelings are referred to as “honne” (本音) while their “tatemae” (建前) is their “façade” – the way they act in public, which may be different from their true feelings. Deciphering a person’s true intentions in Japan, therefore, can be quite difficult when people say and act in a way that could be the opposite of one’s true feelings. Consequently, “testing” other people (or other countries) might be a good way to determine their true intentions.

In the case of the North Korean provocations, Japan wanted to find out how the Obama administration would handle North Korea. Towards the end of the Bush administration, the relationship between Japan and America had been damaged when the Bush administration took North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Now that a new administration had taken over, Japan was anxious to see how it would respond to North Korea.

To deal with the threat posed by North Korea, in the McClatchy article, one U.N. diplomat spoke of the “need for (new) diplomacy,” what he referred to as a fresh diplomatic approach that involved thinking outside the box. The diplomat noted that South Korea and Japan had their own issues with North Korea and that might complicate things.

As always, the New Diplomacy involved having people like me divulge information on the Internet in an attempt to get other nations to bend to our will.

Did I mention that this is a really stupid idea? After all, a close examination of the facts show that they do not run in our favor.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

An Alliance in Need of an Update

The New York Times published an op-ed written by Jim Foster, a former State Department official, on May 14, 2009. According to him, the upcoming elections in Japan would probably lead to further political deadlock. Meanwhile, the Chinese economy continued to expand, as did its military.

“Couple this with the unending discussions between the United States and Japan over the future of U.S. bases on Okinawa and there’s a recipe for trouble,” said Foster.

Apparently, Foster thought the discussions on Okinawa were a waste of time. Perhaps Foster believed that Japan raised the issue to avoid tackling other issues that America wanted to address. If so, Japan certainly succeeded. And Foster was right – there certainly was trouble. Unfortunately, America decided to retaliate against Japan’s dithering. In response, Japan had noooo choice but to move even closer to China and East Asia.

Whoops.