Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tokyo

Springtime for China and Japan

Yesterday, Japan’s Yasuo Fukuda returned from his first official visit to China as prime minister. During his four-day “ringing in the spring” trip, he received a red-carpet welcome, bowed to a statue of Confucius at the philosopher’s birthplace, held “heart-to-heart” talks with senior leaders in Beijing, and spoke to students at prestigious Peking University. Fukuda agreed to transfer environmental technology to China, promised to reflect on Japan’s historical mistakes, and abjectly said what Beijing demanded on the subject of Taiwan. In the midst of his heavy schedule he even had time for a game of catch with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, each of them decked out in a baseball uniform and wearing a red cap decorated by a “C.”

Yet the trip, to borrow the words of Tokyo political scientist Takeshi Inoguchi, “was not a home run.” Other leaders come away from Beijing with economic packages or concessions of some sort. Fukuda returned to Japan with only Beijing’s momentary goodwill. Perhaps that was all that Fukuda could achieve in these circumstances.

Yet the object of diplomacy is not maintaining good relations—the object is achieving national goals. Japan, unfortunately, has been particularly unable to do so when it comes to China. The most visible open sores between the two nations are their competing territorial claims, especially the one festering over the gas fields in the East China Sea. On the East China Sea dispute, Beijing issued a stream of wonderful-sounding but essentially meaningless words during Fukuda’s visit. “We feel each other’s sincerity and determination,” Premier Wen said after their talks on the subject.

Of course, we can’t be too tough on Japan for failing to craft a sensible approach to China, because Tokyo is merely taking its cue from a feckless Washington. As Michael Auslin pointed out recently, other nations will become allies of Beijing unless the United States can come up with more resolute policies. On his recently concluded trip, Fukuda said he wanted to establish a “creative partnership” with China and hoped both countries would team up on global issues. If Washington does not want to lose its remaining friends in East Asia—and at this point it cannot afford to give up any of them to Beijing—the Bush administration will have to start exercising effective leadership. Of course the Chinese will try to drive a wedge between Washington and Tokyo. It is up to President Bush to make sure that American alliances in Asia stand firm.

Yesterday, Japan’s Yasuo Fukuda returned from his first official visit to China as prime minister. During his four-day “ringing in the spring” trip, he received a red-carpet welcome, bowed to a statue of Confucius at the philosopher’s birthplace, held “heart-to-heart” talks with senior leaders in Beijing, and spoke to students at prestigious Peking University. Fukuda agreed to transfer environmental technology to China, promised to reflect on Japan’s historical mistakes, and abjectly said what Beijing demanded on the subject of Taiwan. In the midst of his heavy schedule he even had time for a game of catch with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, each of them decked out in a baseball uniform and wearing a red cap decorated by a “C.”

Yet the trip, to borrow the words of Tokyo political scientist Takeshi Inoguchi, “was not a home run.” Other leaders come away from Beijing with economic packages or concessions of some sort. Fukuda returned to Japan with only Beijing’s momentary goodwill. Perhaps that was all that Fukuda could achieve in these circumstances.

Yet the object of diplomacy is not maintaining good relations—the object is achieving national goals. Japan, unfortunately, has been particularly unable to do so when it comes to China. The most visible open sores between the two nations are their competing territorial claims, especially the one festering over the gas fields in the East China Sea. On the East China Sea dispute, Beijing issued a stream of wonderful-sounding but essentially meaningless words during Fukuda’s visit. “We feel each other’s sincerity and determination,” Premier Wen said after their talks on the subject.

Of course, we can’t be too tough on Japan for failing to craft a sensible approach to China, because Tokyo is merely taking its cue from a feckless Washington. As Michael Auslin pointed out recently, other nations will become allies of Beijing unless the United States can come up with more resolute policies. On his recently concluded trip, Fukuda said he wanted to establish a “creative partnership” with China and hoped both countries would team up on global issues. If Washington does not want to lose its remaining friends in East Asia—and at this point it cannot afford to give up any of them to Beijing—the Bush administration will have to start exercising effective leadership. Of course the Chinese will try to drive a wedge between Washington and Tokyo. It is up to President Bush to make sure that American alliances in Asia stand firm.

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Japan’s Hidden Gems

Japan may no longer be the next great superpower, but its traditional culture remains one of the world’s great treasures. Next time you’re in Tokyo with a few days to kill, get off the beaten path and head off to some of the spots most foreign tourists miss:

1. Izumo Taisha: The second main Shinto shrine in Japan, located in Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture on the less-developed Japan Sea side of the main island of Honshu. The shrine of Okuninushi no Mikoto, the nephew of the Sun Goddess, it is perhaps the perfect Japanese expression of architecture’s communion with nature. It is also where Japan’s 8 million gods gather during the tenth month of the lunar calendar (roughly October or early November). Unlike Ise Shrine, dedicated to the Sun Goddess herself, Izumo is still steeped in the raw power of the western clans that ultimately subordinated themselves to the emerging Japanese imperial family in the 3rd-4th centuries C.E..

2. Kinosaki: The place where Japanese go for hot springs, especially in the winter. Located on the Japan Sea, Kinosaki is a charming city of traditional inns, many with their own hot springs, bisected by a picturesque canal. Be sure to go when it’s snowing, and to plod through the streets in traditional wooden clogs, wearing just a thin kimono while hopping from hot spring to hot spring. Afterwards, you can indulge in a huge feast back in your inn (don’t stay in a modern hotel). A short drive takes you to the Japan Sea, where you can stand on cliffs and gaze out towards the continent that has been entwined with Japanese history for millennia.

3. Mt. Takachiho: Kyushu, the southernmost island in Japan, is where the Sun Goddess sent her grandson to begin conquering the divine land, according to the Japanese myths. He descended to earth at Mt. Takachiho, located roughly on the border between Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures in the south of the island. You can climb it in about two to three hours taking one of two paths, and at the summit will reach the Shinto shrine marking his arrival. The views are stunning, including a crater lake in the extinct volcano you climb on the way up, and not far away are some of Japan’s best hot springs (look for one called “Tengoku” or Heaven—though I haven’t visited for years and can’t tell you where it is).

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Japan may no longer be the next great superpower, but its traditional culture remains one of the world’s great treasures. Next time you’re in Tokyo with a few days to kill, get off the beaten path and head off to some of the spots most foreign tourists miss:

1. Izumo Taisha: The second main Shinto shrine in Japan, located in Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture on the less-developed Japan Sea side of the main island of Honshu. The shrine of Okuninushi no Mikoto, the nephew of the Sun Goddess, it is perhaps the perfect Japanese expression of architecture’s communion with nature. It is also where Japan’s 8 million gods gather during the tenth month of the lunar calendar (roughly October or early November). Unlike Ise Shrine, dedicated to the Sun Goddess herself, Izumo is still steeped in the raw power of the western clans that ultimately subordinated themselves to the emerging Japanese imperial family in the 3rd-4th centuries C.E..

2. Kinosaki: The place where Japanese go for hot springs, especially in the winter. Located on the Japan Sea, Kinosaki is a charming city of traditional inns, many with their own hot springs, bisected by a picturesque canal. Be sure to go when it’s snowing, and to plod through the streets in traditional wooden clogs, wearing just a thin kimono while hopping from hot spring to hot spring. Afterwards, you can indulge in a huge feast back in your inn (don’t stay in a modern hotel). A short drive takes you to the Japan Sea, where you can stand on cliffs and gaze out towards the continent that has been entwined with Japanese history for millennia.

3. Mt. Takachiho: Kyushu, the southernmost island in Japan, is where the Sun Goddess sent her grandson to begin conquering the divine land, according to the Japanese myths. He descended to earth at Mt. Takachiho, located roughly on the border between Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures in the south of the island. You can climb it in about two to three hours taking one of two paths, and at the summit will reach the Shinto shrine marking his arrival. The views are stunning, including a crater lake in the extinct volcano you climb on the way up, and not far away are some of Japan’s best hot springs (look for one called “Tengoku” or Heaven—though I haven’t visited for years and can’t tell you where it is).

4. The Asuka Region: An hour train ride south of Kyoto lies the cradle of Japanese civilization. In this small valley lived the nascent imperial family and the great clans who, within the space of two and a half centuries, from C.E. 550 to 800, created the classical Japanese state. Here was introduced Buddhism, and Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple, Asuka-dera, still exists; the first palaces also were built here, and the earliest tomb mounds still dot the landscape. Rent a bicycle and pedal leisurely through the countryside. Excellent museums abound, including the Kashihara Archeological Institute Museum, filled with ancient pottery, ornaments, and weapons.

5. Mt. Mitake: For those who want to stay closer to Tokyo, a 90-minute train ride west from Shinjuku will take you to one of the famous pilgrimage mountains from the Edo period (17th-19th centuries). A cable car takes you near the top of the mountain and an easy walk past small teahouses precariously perched on the pilgrimage path leads to the shrine at the top. But don’t end there: stay overnight at Shukubo Komadori-sanso, an inn dating back to 1776, which also offers special rates for foreigners. Try to go in autumn, when they serve a special seasonal meal that was the best dinner I’ve ever had in Japan. When nighttime comes, the absolute stillness of the mountain is awe-inspiring.

For inns at or near any of these locations, check out the Japanese Inn Group; general travel information is available at the Japan National Tourist Organization website. A Japan Rail Pass is the best way to travel, and the most economical (available only through JNTO offices abroad).

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Nepotism is Good

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

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Kidnap Victims & Nukes

At this moment, the monstrous state run by Kim Jong Il is holding over a thousand South Koreans against their will. Approximately 540 of them are Korean War prisoners who, in violation of the 1953 armistice, were never repatriated to the South. Another 490 or so, according to conservative accountings, have been abducted by Pyongyang’s agents since the end of that terrible conflict. Some estimate the number of kidnapped individuals is in the thousands.

Is help on the way for Asia’s most undeserving victims? As Michael Auslin noted in this forum, Lee Myung-bak scored a landslide win in yesterday’s presidential contest in South Korea. Among other things, the conservative victor has promised a tougher policy toward Kim’s regime. “I assure you that there will be a change from the past government’s practice of avoiding criticism of North Korea and unilaterally flattering it,” the president-elect said at his post-victory news conference. “The North’s human rights issue is something we cannot avoid in this regard, and North Korea should know it.”

Of course, there is no guarantee that Lee’s brand of “pragmatic diplomacy” will free South Koreans trapped in the North, yet it’s a safe bet that he will end his country’s unconscionable silence on the issue. Moreover, it’s unlikely that South Korean diplomats, especially those stationed in China, will continue to resist helping South Koreans who have escaped from the North. A state’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens, and now Seoul will live up to that for the first time in a decade.

Agents of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il abducted Japanese as well. Tokyo says that North Korea snatched 17 of its citizens from 1977 to 1983, but some believe the real number is over a hundred and others claim 400. Kim has admitted that rogue agents employed by his father—did his dad have any other kind?—abducted only thirteen Japanese citizens. In 2002, he returned five of them and claimed that the others had died. Kim also maintains that any South Koreans in the North are there of their own free will.

Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister, made the return of the Japanese abductees one of his highest priorities, but the nation’s current leader, Yasuo Fukuda, is wavering on this matter. Fukuda is wavering in large part because the Bush administration, in a mad dash to convince the North to give up its nuclear weapons, has made it clear that it considers the abductions unimportant and will not permit them to complicate the disarmament process.

Yet the abduction and nuke issues should be considered one and the same for America’s purposes. If Kim Jong Il is not prepared to make an honest accounting of the South Koreans and Japanese his government forcibly took or detained, how can we ever expect him to come clean on a matter of far greater importance to him? Sometimes, complex matters of diplomacy boil down to simple questions like this one.

At this moment, the monstrous state run by Kim Jong Il is holding over a thousand South Koreans against their will. Approximately 540 of them are Korean War prisoners who, in violation of the 1953 armistice, were never repatriated to the South. Another 490 or so, according to conservative accountings, have been abducted by Pyongyang’s agents since the end of that terrible conflict. Some estimate the number of kidnapped individuals is in the thousands.

Is help on the way for Asia’s most undeserving victims? As Michael Auslin noted in this forum, Lee Myung-bak scored a landslide win in yesterday’s presidential contest in South Korea. Among other things, the conservative victor has promised a tougher policy toward Kim’s regime. “I assure you that there will be a change from the past government’s practice of avoiding criticism of North Korea and unilaterally flattering it,” the president-elect said at his post-victory news conference. “The North’s human rights issue is something we cannot avoid in this regard, and North Korea should know it.”

Of course, there is no guarantee that Lee’s brand of “pragmatic diplomacy” will free South Koreans trapped in the North, yet it’s a safe bet that he will end his country’s unconscionable silence on the issue. Moreover, it’s unlikely that South Korean diplomats, especially those stationed in China, will continue to resist helping South Koreans who have escaped from the North. A state’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens, and now Seoul will live up to that for the first time in a decade.

Agents of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il abducted Japanese as well. Tokyo says that North Korea snatched 17 of its citizens from 1977 to 1983, but some believe the real number is over a hundred and others claim 400. Kim has admitted that rogue agents employed by his father—did his dad have any other kind?—abducted only thirteen Japanese citizens. In 2002, he returned five of them and claimed that the others had died. Kim also maintains that any South Koreans in the North are there of their own free will.

Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister, made the return of the Japanese abductees one of his highest priorities, but the nation’s current leader, Yasuo Fukuda, is wavering on this matter. Fukuda is wavering in large part because the Bush administration, in a mad dash to convince the North to give up its nuclear weapons, has made it clear that it considers the abductions unimportant and will not permit them to complicate the disarmament process.

Yet the abduction and nuke issues should be considered one and the same for America’s purposes. If Kim Jong Il is not prepared to make an honest accounting of the South Koreans and Japanese his government forcibly took or detained, how can we ever expect him to come clean on a matter of far greater importance to him? Sometimes, complex matters of diplomacy boil down to simple questions like this one.

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Missile Defense, Asian-Style

Yesterday, a Japanese destroyer, equipped with the Aegis battle-management system, shot down a dummy missile over the Pacific. This is the first time that an American ally has done so, according to Japanese and U.S. officials.

The medium-range missile destroyed in the test resembles ones in the North Korean arsenal. That was no coincidence: Pyongyang’s August 1998 launch of its Taepodong missile, which arced over Japan, spurred Tokyo to cooperate with the United States in building a defensive system. “This was a monumental event in the Japan-U.S. security relationship,” a Japanese Defense Ministry official said at a news conference in Hawaii, where the target was launched.

Yes, it is monumental. A layered defense will protect the United States from North Korea. Despite a failed launch last July—a Taepodong exploded about 40 seconds into its flight—this type of missile can hit Alaska and Hawaii today. With expected improvements, within five to seven years the Taepodong will be able to reach any portion of the United States. Japanese help on missile defense may enable the Pentagon to defeat an attack from North Korea, which is unlikely to develop an arsenal much larger than the one it has now.

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Yesterday, a Japanese destroyer, equipped with the Aegis battle-management system, shot down a dummy missile over the Pacific. This is the first time that an American ally has done so, according to Japanese and U.S. officials.

The medium-range missile destroyed in the test resembles ones in the North Korean arsenal. That was no coincidence: Pyongyang’s August 1998 launch of its Taepodong missile, which arced over Japan, spurred Tokyo to cooperate with the United States in building a defensive system. “This was a monumental event in the Japan-U.S. security relationship,” a Japanese Defense Ministry official said at a news conference in Hawaii, where the target was launched.

Yes, it is monumental. A layered defense will protect the United States from North Korea. Despite a failed launch last July—a Taepodong exploded about 40 seconds into its flight—this type of missile can hit Alaska and Hawaii today. With expected improvements, within five to seven years the Taepodong will be able to reach any portion of the United States. Japanese help on missile defense may enable the Pentagon to defeat an attack from North Korea, which is unlikely to develop an arsenal much larger than the one it has now.

Russia, which possesses almost 800 missiles, can defeat any defense Japan and the United States can mount. Yet that has not stopped the Kremlin from complaining. “We are opposed to the construction of a missile defense system aimed at securing military superiority,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the eve of his trip to Japan. China, with many fewer ballistic missiles, has long voiced its opposition to joint U.S.-Japan cooperation.

The Chinese have two concerns. First, the People’s Liberation Army actually thinks about launching missiles against the American homeland. Its last public threat to incinerate the United States was made as late as July 2005. Second, Beijing worries that Washington may adapt defenses developed in Japan to protect Taiwan. This June the Taiwanese expressed their desire to join the American-Japanese system.

At present, the United States is merely upgrading Taiwan’s Patriot missiles. Yet yesterday’s successful test should persuade Washington to ask the Taiwanese to participate in the joint American-Japanese efforts. Taipei acknowledges that such an extension of missile defense would be “politically sensitive.” Yet why should we be concerned about offending autocrats who think nothing of threatening to destroy American cities?

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Jabbing Japan

Japan’s new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, arrives in Washington tomorrow for talks with President Bush on Friday. This is his first foreign trip since taking office in September, after the resignation of Shinzo Abe, a staunch supporter of the United States.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of tensions between Tokyo and Washington. The issue that gets the most attention is the withdrawal of Japan’s naval mission in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, there are other matters unsettling relations between the United States and its most important ally in East Asia. The one that can do the most immediate damage on Friday relates to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang demands that the State Department remove it from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Japan, for its part, insists the United States take no such action until the North comes clean on the whereabouts of Japanese nationals it has abducted. The Japanese public has rightly become transfixed over the plight of the victims, especially Megumi Yokota, a schoolgirl who was nabbed in late 1977 on her way home from badminton practice in Niigata.

In a gesture to then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, Kim Jong Il admitted that rogue North Korean agents—are there any other kind?—had abducted the young Yokota and twelve other Japanese from 1977 to 1983. Five of the abductees were still alive, Kim said. Megumi, however, was not among them. She had, according to the North Korean leader, taken her own life in 1993. The government said it could not locate her remains.

The North Koreans then tried to get the Japanese to accept the actuarially-improbable notion that almost two-thirds of the young abductees had croaked and the medically-incredible claim that both a 24-year-old male and a 27-year-old female had died of heart disease. Since then, Pyongyang has issued more prevarications, inventions, and fabrications about the abductees. Fortunately, the Japanese public has not bought any of the perverse untruths. Tokyo’s envoys have also been resolute.

American diplomats, however, have taken a less inspiring stand. For example, Christopher Hill, the State Department’s lead negotiator in the North Korean disarmament talks, appears to have cut another of his famous side deals recently. It looks like he promised to take North Korea off the terror list in return for Pyongyang’s cooperation on disabling nuclear facilities and disclosing its nuclear programs. Fukuda, who has a reputation as a dove, has reportedly been upset on being undercut by Washington on the abductee issue.

What do the Japanese abductees have to do with the American terrorism list? Pyongyang kidnapped the thirteen-year-old Yokota and other Japanese to obtain language and culture instruction for its undercover agents. Pyongyang won’t release Yokota and the seven others because, it appears, they know too much about Kim Jong Il’s responsibility for clandestine activities and terrorist acts, especially the downing of a South Korean jetliner in 1987.

Americans seem to be fascinated by abductions. But we’ve negelcted Megumi Yokota, wrongly: her fate is now bound up with ours. People might disagree with me if I said that we cannot truly solve any of the problems involving North Korea until we solve all of them, so let me make a more modest point: I do not see the logic in offending Japan, an old friend, to please a dangerous adversary, North Korea. North Korea should stay on the State Department’s list until it frees Yokota and the other abductees.

Japan’s new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, arrives in Washington tomorrow for talks with President Bush on Friday. This is his first foreign trip since taking office in September, after the resignation of Shinzo Abe, a staunch supporter of the United States.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of tensions between Tokyo and Washington. The issue that gets the most attention is the withdrawal of Japan’s naval mission in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, there are other matters unsettling relations between the United States and its most important ally in East Asia. The one that can do the most immediate damage on Friday relates to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang demands that the State Department remove it from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Japan, for its part, insists the United States take no such action until the North comes clean on the whereabouts of Japanese nationals it has abducted. The Japanese public has rightly become transfixed over the plight of the victims, especially Megumi Yokota, a schoolgirl who was nabbed in late 1977 on her way home from badminton practice in Niigata.

In a gesture to then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, Kim Jong Il admitted that rogue North Korean agents—are there any other kind?—had abducted the young Yokota and twelve other Japanese from 1977 to 1983. Five of the abductees were still alive, Kim said. Megumi, however, was not among them. She had, according to the North Korean leader, taken her own life in 1993. The government said it could not locate her remains.

The North Koreans then tried to get the Japanese to accept the actuarially-improbable notion that almost two-thirds of the young abductees had croaked and the medically-incredible claim that both a 24-year-old male and a 27-year-old female had died of heart disease. Since then, Pyongyang has issued more prevarications, inventions, and fabrications about the abductees. Fortunately, the Japanese public has not bought any of the perverse untruths. Tokyo’s envoys have also been resolute.

American diplomats, however, have taken a less inspiring stand. For example, Christopher Hill, the State Department’s lead negotiator in the North Korean disarmament talks, appears to have cut another of his famous side deals recently. It looks like he promised to take North Korea off the terror list in return for Pyongyang’s cooperation on disabling nuclear facilities and disclosing its nuclear programs. Fukuda, who has a reputation as a dove, has reportedly been upset on being undercut by Washington on the abductee issue.

What do the Japanese abductees have to do with the American terrorism list? Pyongyang kidnapped the thirteen-year-old Yokota and other Japanese to obtain language and culture instruction for its undercover agents. Pyongyang won’t release Yokota and the seven others because, it appears, they know too much about Kim Jong Il’s responsibility for clandestine activities and terrorist acts, especially the downing of a South Korean jetliner in 1987.

Americans seem to be fascinated by abductions. But we’ve negelcted Megumi Yokota, wrongly: her fate is now bound up with ours. People might disagree with me if I said that we cannot truly solve any of the problems involving North Korea until we solve all of them, so let me make a more modest point: I do not see the logic in offending Japan, an old friend, to please a dangerous adversary, North Korea. North Korea should stay on the State Department’s list until it frees Yokota and the other abductees.

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Gates the Inoffensive

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates concluded his week-long trip to North Asia. Although the issues he handled in the three capitals he visited were markedly different, he approached all of them in a similarly low-key approach. In Beijing, he shied away from confronting Chinese leaders on the issues he came to talk about, such as their nontransparent military buildup. In Seoul, he avoided saying anything that might have influenced the presidential election to be held next month and even adopted a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea than his dovish hosts. In Tokyo, he used the mildest words possible to influence the various political parties that are in the midst of an intense internal debate on the nation’s security posture. He managed to not upset anyone in the region. But did he accomplish anything?

Gates partisans can say that he avoided the controversy that followed his predecessor everywhere he went in Asia and that he even undid some of the damage of the Rumsfeld years, especially in South Korea. This positive assessment is correct. Yet the test of American defense policy in East Asia is not merely assuaging hurt feelings at this particular moment; it is establishing an enduring security architecture that both protects the interests of the United States and its allies in the region and encourages the creation of free markets and the institutions of representative governance. Gates has gone about these crucial tasks by downplaying the threat of resurgent authoritarianism and employing virtually every bromide and anodyne statement formulated since the end of the Cold War.

“The major challenges facing the region—such as North Korea and nuclear proliferation—cannot be overcome by one, or even two countries, no matter how wealthy and powerful,” the defense secretary said as he addressed students yesterday at Tokyo’s Sophia University. “They require multiple nations of shared interests to come together to deal with a number of key challenges—areas where each partner can bring its unique capabilities to bear for the common good.”

Unfortunately, North Asia is full of zero-sum contests among competitors who do not share Gates’s notions of common good. There are, for example, border disputes aplenty—China and Japan, for instance, maintain competing land and sea claims. Japan and South Korea are squabbling over a set of islands in the sea that separates them. Pyongyang and Seoul dispute waters off their western coast. Even South Korea and China have a latent border dispute. Then there are other pressing concerns. Chinese military vessels regularly violate Japanese waters with impunity. North Korea not only threatens to proliferate the most destructive weapons on earth, its government is engaged in various forms of criminal behavior, sometimes with Chinese support.

Even when these three nations share objectives, there is no agreement on tactics and strategies. North Asia is volatile, and unlike the Middle East, potential adversaries maintain large militaries and have the present capability to inflict real harm. None of the Chinese, Koreans, or Japanese holds any of the others in high regard, and the first two groups bear historical grudges while the third is developing one.

None of this will be solved with clichés that the West developed in the heady days after the fall of the Soviet Union. American leadership, realistic and strong, is required. And judging from Gates’s performance earlier this week, it is in limited supply.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates concluded his week-long trip to North Asia. Although the issues he handled in the three capitals he visited were markedly different, he approached all of them in a similarly low-key approach. In Beijing, he shied away from confronting Chinese leaders on the issues he came to talk about, such as their nontransparent military buildup. In Seoul, he avoided saying anything that might have influenced the presidential election to be held next month and even adopted a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea than his dovish hosts. In Tokyo, he used the mildest words possible to influence the various political parties that are in the midst of an intense internal debate on the nation’s security posture. He managed to not upset anyone in the region. But did he accomplish anything?

Gates partisans can say that he avoided the controversy that followed his predecessor everywhere he went in Asia and that he even undid some of the damage of the Rumsfeld years, especially in South Korea. This positive assessment is correct. Yet the test of American defense policy in East Asia is not merely assuaging hurt feelings at this particular moment; it is establishing an enduring security architecture that both protects the interests of the United States and its allies in the region and encourages the creation of free markets and the institutions of representative governance. Gates has gone about these crucial tasks by downplaying the threat of resurgent authoritarianism and employing virtually every bromide and anodyne statement formulated since the end of the Cold War.

“The major challenges facing the region—such as North Korea and nuclear proliferation—cannot be overcome by one, or even two countries, no matter how wealthy and powerful,” the defense secretary said as he addressed students yesterday at Tokyo’s Sophia University. “They require multiple nations of shared interests to come together to deal with a number of key challenges—areas where each partner can bring its unique capabilities to bear for the common good.”

Unfortunately, North Asia is full of zero-sum contests among competitors who do not share Gates’s notions of common good. There are, for example, border disputes aplenty—China and Japan, for instance, maintain competing land and sea claims. Japan and South Korea are squabbling over a set of islands in the sea that separates them. Pyongyang and Seoul dispute waters off their western coast. Even South Korea and China have a latent border dispute. Then there are other pressing concerns. Chinese military vessels regularly violate Japanese waters with impunity. North Korea not only threatens to proliferate the most destructive weapons on earth, its government is engaged in various forms of criminal behavior, sometimes with Chinese support.

Even when these three nations share objectives, there is no agreement on tactics and strategies. North Asia is volatile, and unlike the Middle East, potential adversaries maintain large militaries and have the present capability to inflict real harm. None of the Chinese, Koreans, or Japanese holds any of the others in high regard, and the first two groups bear historical grudges while the third is developing one.

None of this will be solved with clichés that the West developed in the heady days after the fall of the Soviet Union. American leadership, realistic and strong, is required. And judging from Gates’s performance earlier this week, it is in limited supply.

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Japan Leaves the War on Terror

Today, the vessels of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces are serving proudly in the U.S.-led Maritime Intercept Operations, along with the navies of seven other nations. Tokyo’s role has been maintaining a “free gas station” in the Indian Ocean for American and other vessels involved in the war against terrorists on the high seas and in Afghanistan. “This mission is part of an international effort,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters recently. “What would the other countries think if Japan were to pull out?”

We will soon find out because the legislative authority for Tokyo’s refueling activities expires this coming Thursday. Moreover, the authorization will not be extended until sometime next year, if ever, so this week Japan will end the mission begun in 2001. Fukuda has submitted a watered-down reauthorization bill—which would not permit Japan to refuel vessels involved in military operations, including those in Afghanistan—in the lower house, controlled by his Liberal Democratic Party, of the Japanese legislature, the Diet. Yet this “antiterrorism” legislation will be blocked by the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house. The DPJ has vowed to stop the refueling mission on the grounds that the United Nations has not fully authorized coalition operations in Afghanistan, the mission violates Japan’s constitution, and oil supplied to the United States Navy has been used in the Iraqi war.

The Japanese public is closely split on the refueling mission, and the opposition DJP appears to be using the issue to unseat Fukuda’s LDP in the next elections for the lower house. Matters have been complicated by the Defense Ministry’s underreporting of the amount of fuel supplied and unrelated allegations of corruption—this time involving a former official accused of going on more than 200 golf junkets arranged by a contractor. The result is that the world’s second-largest economy, which obtains virtually all of its oil from the Middle East and depends on the United States for the safety of tankers bound for Japanese ports, will drop out of multinational efforts to secure the sea lanes.

The refueling mission is largely symbolic, so its ending will also be full of meaning. The one thing we can say with assurance is that Japan in the Fukuda era is about to take a large step backward as a member of the international community.

Today, the vessels of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces are serving proudly in the U.S.-led Maritime Intercept Operations, along with the navies of seven other nations. Tokyo’s role has been maintaining a “free gas station” in the Indian Ocean for American and other vessels involved in the war against terrorists on the high seas and in Afghanistan. “This mission is part of an international effort,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters recently. “What would the other countries think if Japan were to pull out?”

We will soon find out because the legislative authority for Tokyo’s refueling activities expires this coming Thursday. Moreover, the authorization will not be extended until sometime next year, if ever, so this week Japan will end the mission begun in 2001. Fukuda has submitted a watered-down reauthorization bill—which would not permit Japan to refuel vessels involved in military operations, including those in Afghanistan—in the lower house, controlled by his Liberal Democratic Party, of the Japanese legislature, the Diet. Yet this “antiterrorism” legislation will be blocked by the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house. The DPJ has vowed to stop the refueling mission on the grounds that the United Nations has not fully authorized coalition operations in Afghanistan, the mission violates Japan’s constitution, and oil supplied to the United States Navy has been used in the Iraqi war.

The Japanese public is closely split on the refueling mission, and the opposition DJP appears to be using the issue to unseat Fukuda’s LDP in the next elections for the lower house. Matters have been complicated by the Defense Ministry’s underreporting of the amount of fuel supplied and unrelated allegations of corruption—this time involving a former official accused of going on more than 200 golf junkets arranged by a contractor. The result is that the world’s second-largest economy, which obtains virtually all of its oil from the Middle East and depends on the United States for the safety of tankers bound for Japanese ports, will drop out of multinational efforts to secure the sea lanes.

The refueling mission is largely symbolic, so its ending will also be full of meaning. The one thing we can say with assurance is that Japan in the Fukuda era is about to take a large step backward as a member of the international community.

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Taiwan’s Rejection

Taiwan’s rejection—for the fifteenth time in a row—by the agenda-setting committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations last Wednesday may well be seen, before too long, to have been a turning point. After all, who can believe that Taiwan will be turned down another fifteen times?

Chinese diplomats are nervous. They don’t want Taiwan even on the agenda, because they fear, correctly, that an open discussion might not go their way. They know that no one believes on principle that Taiwan should be excluded. Other countries are simply afraid of China.

How long can China continue to intimidate otherwise free-thinking nations? The answer is, not indefinitely.

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Taiwan’s rejection—for the fifteenth time in a row—by the agenda-setting committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations last Wednesday may well be seen, before too long, to have been a turning point. After all, who can believe that Taiwan will be turned down another fifteen times?

Chinese diplomats are nervous. They don’t want Taiwan even on the agenda, because they fear, correctly, that an open discussion might not go their way. They know that no one believes on principle that Taiwan should be excluded. Other countries are simply afraid of China.

How long can China continue to intimidate otherwise free-thinking nations? The answer is, not indefinitely.

Consider India. In an article on the op-ed page of the Times of India, Ramesh Thakur, formerly a senior vice rector of the U.N. University in Tokyo, wrote:

The biggest and longest running scandal is the way in which Taiwan has been banned from the U.N.. Taiwan is refused membership, is not granted observer status, and does not figure in the U.N.’s statistical databases.

Concluding that the exclusion of Taiwan “has little to do with the merits of the application and everything to do with the geopolitics of China as a permanent member of the Security Council,” Thakur asked:

Where does this leave all the fine talk of democracy, human rights, and self-determination in Kosovo, East Timor, and elsewhere? Taiwan is better credentialed than most of them. Its population of 23 million is almost the combined total of Australia and New Zealand, and bigger than scores of U.N. member states, including East Timor (under one million) and Kosovo (over two million).

To our shame, official jaws in Washington have been clenched tightly shut with respect to this issue, except when reiterating hoary formulas whose authors, with a handful of exceptions, are long dead.

The Bush administration portrays Taiwan’s increasingly audible demands as no more than local political posturing and manipulation, for which their elected president is to blame, and resolutely declines comment on the merits of Taiwan’s case.

Some former officials, however, are talking sense: Michael Green, for instance, Bush’s former top Asian aide, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was recently quoted as saying:

For the U.S. side, we need to recognize the issue of identity in Taiwan is not a political game, it’s not a tactical move in Taipei, it’s a very fundamental issue, not at all unique to its 23 million people…. Look at Korea, Japan, the national identity is at the top of the agenda in every country in Asia and there is no reason why Taiwan should be any different.

Thakur and Green are absolutely right. The issues and processes they describe will not disappear or cease simply because we and China wish they would. We are dealing with nationalism. Difficult as it may be, we need to think ahead.

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Two Collapses

Japan, according to Thursday’s New York Times, is in “disarray.” Its government, rocked by a series of resignations, has fallen apart. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, in office for only a year, checked himself into a hospital for stress after announcing his intent to step down. The country may be on the verge of a historic transfer of power: the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed the country almost continuously for a half century, looks exhausted after its crushing defeat in elections at the end of July. There will undoubtedly be a period of extended infighting, even after a new prime minister is finally selected. The financial community seems to think the stock market will fall and the economy will stumble. Foreign investors look as if they will flee. The outlook for Japan is grim.

The country’s prospects may be even darker than that. Yuichi Yamamoto, a Tokyo blogger, thinks Japan has already collapsed. The old system has failed, he notes, and the nation resembles the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. If he’s right, then the only reason the Japanese aren’t surrendering to neighboring China is because they’re too moribund to raise the white flag.

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Japan, according to Thursday’s New York Times, is in “disarray.” Its government, rocked by a series of resignations, has fallen apart. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, in office for only a year, checked himself into a hospital for stress after announcing his intent to step down. The country may be on the verge of a historic transfer of power: the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed the country almost continuously for a half century, looks exhausted after its crushing defeat in elections at the end of July. There will undoubtedly be a period of extended infighting, even after a new prime minister is finally selected. The financial community seems to think the stock market will fall and the economy will stumble. Foreign investors look as if they will flee. The outlook for Japan is grim.

The country’s prospects may be even darker than that. Yuichi Yamamoto, a Tokyo blogger, thinks Japan has already collapsed. The old system has failed, he notes, and the nation resembles the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. If he’s right, then the only reason the Japanese aren’t surrendering to neighboring China is because they’re too moribund to raise the white flag.

The Chinese, in comparison, look full of vim and vigor. They are also heading to a political transition. The so-called Fourth Generation leadership, led by General Secretary Hu Jintao, is beginning to select the Fifth. The Communist Party will hold its elaborately staged 17th Congress next month. When the last speech is finished to great applause—as such speeches inevitably are—we will know the lineup of the Politburo Standing Committee and thus be able to guess who is in the running to succeed the inscrutable Hu at the 18th Congress, scheduled for five years from now.

Although their governments are completely different in structure, both Japan and China will pick their next leaders in backroom deals arranged by heads of factions wielding immense power. Both governing systems are rotten in their own ways, and both are fragile. The only difference is that the breakdown of Japan’s “1955 System”—yes, it’s that old—is taking place in public view and change will eventually come at the ballot box. In China, the Communist Party will not give up power without the loss of even more life.

So Japan only looks like it’s failing. We are seeing the regeneration of politics in Japanese society as the old is reluctantly making way for the new. In China, the transition to the next form of governance—coming soon—will not be as smooth.

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Abe’s Hard Road

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe so far has defied predictions of his imminent political demise. Refusing to take the traditional Japanese path and accept responsibility for his party’s crushing defeat in parliamentary elections last month, he has instead forged a new cabinet of the leading politicians in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). His bold tactic, however, may well make it even harder for him to govern, thus hastening the end of his premiership.

Abe’s party lost the last election due in no small part to scandals among his ministers. Today’s news brings word of yet two more resignations, these from a Cabinet not two weeks old. Abe’s tactic was to turn around his team and forge ahead on important domestic and foreign issues, but the opposition party will certainly push as hard as possible for early elections that would likely further weaken the LDP.

Most importantly, the presence of LDP heavyweights, including former foreign and defense ministers, has the potential both to dilute policy-making and neutralize Abe’s primacy. He will have to navigate among a group of experienced, equally ambitious leaders, who have been brought in precisely because Abe couldn’t deliver the first time around. Former Foreign Minister Taro Aso, moved from the Foreign Ministry to Secretary General of the LDP, has already made clear his intent to try to succeed Abe. The tendency toward lowest-common-denominator politics after the roller coaster years of Koizumi and the first Abe cabinet may naturally assert itself.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe so far has defied predictions of his imminent political demise. Refusing to take the traditional Japanese path and accept responsibility for his party’s crushing defeat in parliamentary elections last month, he has instead forged a new cabinet of the leading politicians in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). His bold tactic, however, may well make it even harder for him to govern, thus hastening the end of his premiership.

Abe’s party lost the last election due in no small part to scandals among his ministers. Today’s news brings word of yet two more resignations, these from a Cabinet not two weeks old. Abe’s tactic was to turn around his team and forge ahead on important domestic and foreign issues, but the opposition party will certainly push as hard as possible for early elections that would likely further weaken the LDP.

Most importantly, the presence of LDP heavyweights, including former foreign and defense ministers, has the potential both to dilute policy-making and neutralize Abe’s primacy. He will have to navigate among a group of experienced, equally ambitious leaders, who have been brought in precisely because Abe couldn’t deliver the first time around. Former Foreign Minister Taro Aso, moved from the Foreign Ministry to Secretary General of the LDP, has already made clear his intent to try to succeed Abe. The tendency toward lowest-common-denominator politics after the roller coaster years of Koizumi and the first Abe cabinet may naturally assert itself.

The result of this would be at best muddling through and at worst a rudderless leadership, at a time when Japan is facing serious domestic and foreign problems. Abe’s first major test is renewal of the special law permitting Japanese naval ships to refuel coalition forces in the Indian Ocean. Failure to secure the extension would further complicate relations with the United States, which are already under strain due to the Bush Administration’s continued negotiations with North Korea through the Six Party Talks. Tokyo has so far stuck fast to its refusal to participate further in the talks until North Korea releases the numerous Japanese citizens it has kidnapped.

Abe has to start showing results. The Japan-ASEAN free-trade agreement reached two weeks ago is an important and laudable achievement; it goes a long way toward maintaining Japan’s presence in Asia. But more needs to be done. Abe’s call for a partnership of democracies or his “arc of freedom and prosperity” is still just rhetoric. Abe’s values-based diplomacy has yet to move beyond mere words—what kinds of partnerships, organizations, or policies is he imagining? How will he move toward them? Will he embrace all democracies in the regions, including South Korea and Taiwan, or is he aiming at strategic partnerships with India and Australia? Just as important is the question of how well, if at all, Abe can balance his desire to engage China with his apparent strategy of countering its rise by promoting the partnership of democracies.

Abe’s refusal to scale back his ambitious vision for Japanese diplomacy is perhaps his one salient similarity to Koizumi, who was famous for doggedly sticking to a goal once he had pledged himself to it. Whether he can match Mr. Koizumi’s longevity in office, however, is another thing entirely.

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(New) Leader of the Free World

On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, addressing the Indian parliament, proposed the formation of a partnership of democracies in Asia. The grouping, an “arc of freedom and prosperity,” would include, in addition to India and Japan, Australia and the United States. “This partnership is an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy, and respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests,” Abe said.

Is Tokyo becoming the leading proponent of a free world? Since July of last year, Japan, among the democracies ringing the Pacific Ocean, has adopted the most resolute foreign policy positions on Asia. For instance, the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions on North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs were unsatisfactory, but they would have been weaker still if Tokyo had not persuaded Washington to adopt a stiffer attitude. Now, Abe is pushing a grand coalition that Washington should have proposed.

President Bush likes to talk about “ending tyranny in our world,” but he’s not been very good at it. And no wonder—he’s been too busy trying to cooperate with Russia and China, nations with dangerous ambitions and the ruthlessness to pursue them. Abe does not have the diplomatic clout to put together his proposed “broader Asia” partnership of democracies, but the United States does. Obviously, Abe won’t be running in next year’s American presidential election, but those who will should be talking to him, the most interesting leader in the free world.

On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, addressing the Indian parliament, proposed the formation of a partnership of democracies in Asia. The grouping, an “arc of freedom and prosperity,” would include, in addition to India and Japan, Australia and the United States. “This partnership is an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy, and respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests,” Abe said.

Is Tokyo becoming the leading proponent of a free world? Since July of last year, Japan, among the democracies ringing the Pacific Ocean, has adopted the most resolute foreign policy positions on Asia. For instance, the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions on North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs were unsatisfactory, but they would have been weaker still if Tokyo had not persuaded Washington to adopt a stiffer attitude. Now, Abe is pushing a grand coalition that Washington should have proposed.

President Bush likes to talk about “ending tyranny in our world,” but he’s not been very good at it. And no wonder—he’s been too busy trying to cooperate with Russia and China, nations with dangerous ambitions and the ruthlessness to pursue them. Abe does not have the diplomatic clout to put together his proposed “broader Asia” partnership of democracies, but the United States does. Obviously, Abe won’t be running in next year’s American presidential election, but those who will should be talking to him, the most interesting leader in the free world.

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Book Review: In the Ruins of Empire

More than six decades after the end of World War II, Asia continues to grapple with the legacy of war. Unlike in Europe, where countries have attempted to create a new set of norms and institutions designed to link them ever more closely together, Asia in many ways seems stuck in history, revisiting old wounds and squabbling over the same territory. In his compelling new history of the aftermath of war in the Pacific, In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia (Random House, $27.95), Ronald Spector argues that the region’s future was largely determined in the year after the Japanese surrender, and was doomed primarily by the misguided and unrealistic attempts of the victorious Western allies to impose order on the chaos unleashed by Japan’s surrender and abandonment of its occupied territories. Washington spent much of the cold war dealing with the resulting instability.

Certainly in comparison to Europe, postwar Asia seemed almost incomprehensibly complex. Moreover, as Washington grappled with creating a pax Americana, Asia appeared less strategically important than Europe, in part because nothing like the specter of all-out conflagration hung over the region, and in part due to the absence of ethnic connection to the Atlantic world. And yet at the same time, while the cold war certainly affected Asia, causing extensive destruction in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the region’s nations were spared Europe’s draining twilight struggle.

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More than six decades after the end of World War II, Asia continues to grapple with the legacy of war. Unlike in Europe, where countries have attempted to create a new set of norms and institutions designed to link them ever more closely together, Asia in many ways seems stuck in history, revisiting old wounds and squabbling over the same territory. In his compelling new history of the aftermath of war in the Pacific, In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia (Random House, $27.95), Ronald Spector argues that the region’s future was largely determined in the year after the Japanese surrender, and was doomed primarily by the misguided and unrealistic attempts of the victorious Western allies to impose order on the chaos unleashed by Japan’s surrender and abandonment of its occupied territories. Washington spent much of the cold war dealing with the resulting instability.

Certainly in comparison to Europe, postwar Asia seemed almost incomprehensibly complex. Moreover, as Washington grappled with creating a pax Americana, Asia appeared less strategically important than Europe, in part because nothing like the specter of all-out conflagration hung over the region, and in part due to the absence of ethnic connection to the Atlantic world. And yet at the same time, while the cold war certainly affected Asia, causing extensive destruction in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the region’s nations were spared Europe’s draining twilight struggle.

American and European policymakers found themselves at odds over what to do with Asia almost as soon as the Japanese surrendered. For Americans, the basic template they applied to Europe—liberalism versus Communism—quickly dominated their thinking. The potential loss of China was contrasted with the success of a democratizing Japan, while naked aggression by North Korea against the South in 1950 would be repulsed as the front line in the struggle against Communism in Asia. The British, French, and Dutch tenuously sought to recreate their prewar spheres of influence and control. Both the Americans and Europeans, however, found themselves enmeshed in the quicksand of the numerous liberation movements, revived ethnic conflicts, and simple power struggles that erupted throughout the region, from Indonesia to the Korean peninsula.

Best known for his classic one-volume history of the Pacific War, Eagle Against the Sun, Spector here turns his gaze on the confused conditions prevailing immediately after Tokyo’s surrender in August 1945. Noting that the traditional historical narrative assumes that the end of war meant the end of fighting and the spontaneous regeneration of order, Spector argues that the post-World War II “peace” in Asia was the continuation of war under another name (with, in some cases, fiercer fighting than during the war). His book, inasmuch as it tells this story, neatly complements John Dower’s Embracing Defeat, which tells a similarly revisionist tale of the U.S. occupation of Japan. Both works give primary importance to the mistakes, failures, and naiveté of the so-called victorious powers; both assert that domestic players and local conditions truly created postwar Asia.

The central dynamic in Spector’s story is the disintegration of empire—that of wartime Japan, and the feeble attempts at reconstituting the empires of prewar Europe. The Japanese had erected an ideological scaffolding of colonial liberation over their wartime occupation of most of Asia. They justified their brutal control over China and Korea with the goal of creating a new Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The conditions the Japanese had faced quickly transferred to the victors. In some areas of Japanese control, such as in China, occupation overlay an existing condition of civil war. In Indochina, Japanese troops fought rebels, like Ho Chi Minh, who were experienced in combating European powers. The pre-1937 dynamics continued into the postwar period, and were realized fully in China: stabilizing Chiang Kai-shek became Washington’s primary Asian policy. Spector’s first three chapters cover well-trodden ground, emphasizing the incompatibility of America’s attempt to act as an honest broker between the Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists with its effort to secure Chiang’s victory. (Not even the great George Marshall could square that circle.)

That, indeed, is the leitmotif of Spector’s book: the basic inability of the Allied powers to adjust to the realities on the ground. Wishful thinking and good intentions proved no match for unleashed nationalist passions, as Spector’s subsequent chapters show. In Malaya, for example, the British attempt to reassert control lasted less than a year, until April 1946. The ineffective British Military Administration proved helpless in the face of intense ethnic strife between Chinese and Malays, in which Communists and mystical Islamic movements all contributed to chaos and bloodletting. Nor were the Allies above using their erstwhile enemies, the Japanese, thousands of whom were enrolled to fight rebels and Communists; for these soldiers, too, the end of war did not bring about the end of fighting. Spector condemns in particular the French and Dutch (as well as the rapacious Soviets), whose violent and stubborn attempts to reconstitute prewar empires in Indochina and Indonesia, respectively, led to widespread atrocities and scuttled any possibility of reaching some type of negotiated settlements among the parties. The particular tragedy of Vietnam, where the anti-colonial animus of the Americans was subordinated to supporting a European ally, underscores Spector’s analysis of the irreconcilable tensions in U.S. Asian policy.

What also emerges with crystal clarity from Spector’s account is the importance of personalities. Bucking the trend among professional academics, Spector shows that individuals count, and in some cases were the deciding elements in the paths their countries took. Not only well-known figures such as Mao and Ho, but equally important leaders in Indonesia and Korea, who frustrated European and American plans, and labored to realize their own visions.

Given the rich history of post-1947 Asia, one might be dissatisfied with the limited chronological scope of Spector’s book. The pivotal events in the region all happened after 1947, and none of them was foreordained. In that respect, it is impossible to judge whether Spector’s assertion—that the vacuum of the immediate postwar months set the path for the following decades—is accurate or overstated. Moreover, strained comparisons between postwar Asia and postwar Iraq, which read like afterthoughts, fail as attempts to make the book somehow more timely or relevant. As his fluid prose and thorough archival research show, telling the story of the battle for postwar Asia needs no justification.

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Japan’s Bad Memories

“Japan caused great damage and pain to people in many countries, especially in Asia,” Shinzo Abe said yesterday. “With a strong sense of regret, I express my sympathy to these victims on behalf of the people of Japan.” On the 62nd anniversary of Tokyo’s surrender in World War II, Japan’s Prime Minister paid his respects at a secular memorial. Yet he did not visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead.

Some criticized him for not doing so. About ten sound trucks showed up in front of the prime minister’s residence blasting nationalist slogans and labeling Abe “a traitor to the Japanese people.” Abe stayed away from Yasukuni in an effort to avoid triggering protests in Asia, and to keep relations with the region on track. Beijing and Seoul, in particular, have been upset by the regular visits to Yasukuni by Junichiro Koizumi, Abe’s immediate predecessor. (Koizumi, incidentally, visited the controversial Shinto shrine yesterday, greeted with shouts of “Banzai!” from his supporters.)

Analysts will undoubtedly pore over yesterday’s events in Tokyo. Many worry about rising nationalism in Japan. Even Abe, who has devoted much of his short tenure to soothing relations with neighbors, has worked to institute patriotic education and strengthen Japan’s military. He has also triggered controversy this year by making comments absolving the Japanese government and military for sexual slavery during the war. China, for its part, has authorized a new round of commemorations of the Nanjing Massacre, in which, beginning in December 1937, tens of thousands of Chinese civilians (if not more) were slaughtered by Japanese troops. If Koizumi replaces the unpopular Abe, as some Liberal Democratic Party stalwarts want, we will undoubtedly see a new round of Yasukuni visits—and protests around Asia.

Tokyo and Moscow have never formally signed a peace treaty with each other to end World War II. Even if they do so—not likely, due to ongoing disputes over islands that Soviet troops grabbed at the end of the conflict—it does not appear that the war in Asia will be over anytime soon.

“Japan caused great damage and pain to people in many countries, especially in Asia,” Shinzo Abe said yesterday. “With a strong sense of regret, I express my sympathy to these victims on behalf of the people of Japan.” On the 62nd anniversary of Tokyo’s surrender in World War II, Japan’s Prime Minister paid his respects at a secular memorial. Yet he did not visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead.

Some criticized him for not doing so. About ten sound trucks showed up in front of the prime minister’s residence blasting nationalist slogans and labeling Abe “a traitor to the Japanese people.” Abe stayed away from Yasukuni in an effort to avoid triggering protests in Asia, and to keep relations with the region on track. Beijing and Seoul, in particular, have been upset by the regular visits to Yasukuni by Junichiro Koizumi, Abe’s immediate predecessor. (Koizumi, incidentally, visited the controversial Shinto shrine yesterday, greeted with shouts of “Banzai!” from his supporters.)

Analysts will undoubtedly pore over yesterday’s events in Tokyo. Many worry about rising nationalism in Japan. Even Abe, who has devoted much of his short tenure to soothing relations with neighbors, has worked to institute patriotic education and strengthen Japan’s military. He has also triggered controversy this year by making comments absolving the Japanese government and military for sexual slavery during the war. China, for its part, has authorized a new round of commemorations of the Nanjing Massacre, in which, beginning in December 1937, tens of thousands of Chinese civilians (if not more) were slaughtered by Japanese troops. If Koizumi replaces the unpopular Abe, as some Liberal Democratic Party stalwarts want, we will undoubtedly see a new round of Yasukuni visits—and protests around Asia.

Tokyo and Moscow have never formally signed a peace treaty with each other to end World War II. Even if they do so—not likely, due to ongoing disputes over islands that Soviet troops grabbed at the end of the conflict—it does not appear that the war in Asia will be over anytime soon.

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Peace in Our Time

This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States is thinking of ways of formally ending the Korean War, which was started in June 1950 by Kim Il Sung, the father of Kim Jong Il. An armistice in 1953 ended the fighting, but no peace treaty was ever signed.

The article also notes that Washington is seeking to create a permanent organization to handle security concerns in North Asia, something similar to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The concept is that, if North Korea can be disarmed, there is a possibility of maintaining peace through continual dialogue in an official body.

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This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States is thinking of ways of formally ending the Korean War, which was started in June 1950 by Kim Il Sung, the father of Kim Jong Il. An armistice in 1953 ended the fighting, but no peace treaty was ever signed.

The article also notes that Washington is seeking to create a permanent organization to handle security concerns in North Asia, something similar to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The concept is that, if North Korea can be disarmed, there is a possibility of maintaining peace through continual dialogue in an official body.

Since the end of hostilities in Korea, military alliances have remained in place. On one side, China and North Korea are each other’s only formal military ally. On the other, there are American mutual defense treaties with South Korea and Japan. The Journal reports that Washington planners are concerned that if the North Korean threat disappears, the main justification for the two American alliances ends.

Memo to the Bush administration: If North Korea were to give up all its nuclear weapons, all of its missiles, and every last ounce of plutonium tomorrow—a pleasing thought, but don’t hold your breath—Seoul and Tokyo would still want the protection of the American military. The Koreans and Japanese each perceive the Chinese, the local hegemons, as a threat. The border between Korea and China has moved hundreds of miles in each direction over the last half millennium, and even today it is not stable. China and Japan, which also have a tradition of warfare against each other, currently have territorial disputes involving islands and huge portions of waters. Moreover, the Koreans and Japanese are not on good terms with each other, due to recent grievances piled on top of ancient historical reasons.

It’s the United States, in the end, that maintains the peace in North Asia. Creating a permanent organization to give a greater voice to an increasingly assertive China will only make matters worse.

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Beyond Japan’s “Peace Constitution”

On Monday, Japan’s Diet enacted a law establishing procedures for national referenda on amendments to the country’s constitution. On Tuesday, China publicly complained. This is not really surprising: for many Asians, Japan’s constitutional arrangements have long been a matter of international concern.

Japan’s “peace constitution” was imposed in 1946 by General Douglas MacArthur, the so-called “second emperor.” In article nine of that document the Japanese people “forever” renounced both “war” and “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” They also promised “never” to maintain “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential.”

But article nine has not been enforced for decades. Tokyo now maintains approximately 240,000 soldiers, sailors, and pilots supported by the world’s fifth-largest military budget. Article nine today is narrowly interpreted as a ban on participation in “collective self-defense,” but even that prohibition has been eroded. Japan sent minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1991, an Aegis destroyer to the Indian Ocean in 2002 to support U.S. operations, and, most notably, a contingent of troops to Iraq in 2004. The Iraq deployment was the first time Japan has sent ground troops to a war zone since the end of World War II. And, unlike Japan’s 1992 mission in Cambodia and later peacekeeping efforts, the soldiers sent to Iraq operated outside a UN framework.

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On Monday, Japan’s Diet enacted a law establishing procedures for national referenda on amendments to the country’s constitution. On Tuesday, China publicly complained. This is not really surprising: for many Asians, Japan’s constitutional arrangements have long been a matter of international concern.

Japan’s “peace constitution” was imposed in 1946 by General Douglas MacArthur, the so-called “second emperor.” In article nine of that document the Japanese people “forever” renounced both “war” and “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” They also promised “never” to maintain “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential.”

But article nine has not been enforced for decades. Tokyo now maintains approximately 240,000 soldiers, sailors, and pilots supported by the world’s fifth-largest military budget. Article nine today is narrowly interpreted as a ban on participation in “collective self-defense,” but even that prohibition has been eroded. Japan sent minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1991, an Aegis destroyer to the Indian Ocean in 2002 to support U.S. operations, and, most notably, a contingent of troops to Iraq in 2004. The Iraq deployment was the first time Japan has sent ground troops to a war zone since the end of World War II. And, unlike Japan’s 1992 mission in Cambodia and later peacekeeping efforts, the soldiers sent to Iraq operated outside a UN framework.

Other Asians are uncomfortable with Japanese participation in such military efforts. As Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, famously said, permitting the Japanese to carry arms abroad is like “giving liqueur chocolates to a reformed alcoholic.” The new referendum law caused “high concern and misgivings among the people of Asia who suffered Japanese invasion and enslavement,” according to a statement released by Beijing’s official Xinhua news agency. “People have begun to doubt whether Japan will continue its path of peaceful development.”

Paradoxically, however, Tokyo’s attempt formally to legalize its defensive forces is a necessary step in ensuring that peaceful development. Article nine makes it extremely difficult for the Japanese to have honest debates among themselves about their history. The constitution stigmatizes the past and, as one of the country’s most prominent journalists said to me recently, prevents Japan from becoming “a normal country.”

East Asians may never feel fully comfortable with a rearmed Japan, but their unease is heightened by Tokyo’s openly violating the country’s constitution. The way to end, finally, the long aftermath of World War II in Asia is for the Japanese to amend their constitution—and subsequently to adhere to it.

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