March 26, 2013

China Now Has Even Less Leverage Over Japan


Ever since China imposed an export ban on critical rare earth minerals to Japan (minerals Japan's high-tech industry feeds on for products such as GPS chips and solar panels), China has seen its resource weapon lose considerable potency. Even after lifting the ban in 2010, China has not recouped its lost shipments. In 2012, Japanese imports of Chinese rare earths fell to their lowest level in 10 years thanks to Japan's efforts to diversify sources, recycle more aggressively and use alternatives.

Now things are about to get worse for China.

According to Reuters, Japanese researchers have found "astronomically high levels" of rare earths in the ground near an island Southeast of Tokyo. (The thing with "rare" earths, as RCW contributor Daniel McGroarty has explained, is that they aren't rare at all.)

Of course, these resources aren't immediately exploitable, but they do bolster Japan's ability to insulate itself from resource-bullying. It also underscores just how foolish it is for states to wield resource weapons in the first place. The importers, like Japan, suffer in the short-term but over the long-term, it's the producing states that wind up hurting the most as alternative measures are implemented.

(AP Photo)

March 20, 2013

Japan Moves Closer to Revising Critical Piece of Constitution to Permit "Self Defense"


According to Japanese press reports, three political parties, comprising 76 percent of the seats in the lower house, have called for a change in Japan's Constitution. Specifically, they wish to revise "Article 9" which enshrines Japan's post-World War II pacifism.

The move to revise Article 9 is being led by the Liberal Democratic Party, whose leader, Shinzo Abe, is currently Japan's prime minister.

Most of the proposed revisions would assert Japan's right to "collective defense" and bestow official recognition on the country's Self-Defense Forces. The move is seen as a necessary first step for Japan to bolster its combat capabilities in light of its increasingly contentious standoff with China.

There is still some ways to go before Article 9 can be amended. A two-thirds majority in favor of the amendment must be achieved in both houses of congress. Elections for Japan's upper-house are due this summer.

That hasn't stopped Chinese media from firing a shot across the bow. Writing in the China Daily, Cai Hong claimed that the Abe government was ditching "Japan's commitment to world peace," which combined with his government's refusal to apologize for "Japan's aggression during World War II, the revision of Japan's constitution and easing of Japan's weapons exports is cause for concern for the rest of the world."

(AP Photo)

March 1, 2013

China Uses a "Stealth Navy" to Ratchet Up Sea Tensions


With no formal Coast Guard but plenty of coastal waterways in dispute, China has been cultivating its State Oceanic Administration into a "stealth navy" to "challenge existing maritime demarcations," writes Miles Yu.

Yu writes that the Marine Surveillance division of the Oceanic Administration has blossomed into robust fleet consisting of 13 ships, including several 4,000 tonners, and plans to launch 36 more vessels in the coming year. This ostensibly civilian service has 400 vessels, 10 aircraft and a transport plane, Yu notes.

According to a U.S. Navy official quoted by Yu, this fleet's sole purpose is harass other states' boats as it seeks to stake its claim in contested waters. Just last week, Japan claimed three ships from the Marine Surveillance division entered its territorial waters.

(AP Photo)

February 27, 2013

Japanese Minister Knows One Thing: Japan Will Never Stop Eating Whales


For the last several years, Japan's whaling industry has come under increasingly intense international criticism from countries like Australia. Japanese whalers are also engaged in a quasi-war with a group called the Sea Shepherds -- a self-styled conservation group that has been attacking Japanese whaling boats in an effort to end the practice (just this week a U.S. court labelled the group as pirates for their aggressive tactics).

Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan's newly appointed fisheries minister, will brook no criticism of the country's whaling practices. He told the AFP that criticism of whaling amounted to "prejudice against Japanese culture.... In some countries they eat dogs, like Korea. In Australia they eat kangaroos. We don't eat those animals, but we don't stop them from doing that because we understand that's their culture."

He also vowed that Japanese will never stop eating whale meat. But just how much whale meat do the Japanese eat? Australia's ABC estimates that only five percent of the population regularly consumes the stuff. There is reportedly 5,000 tons worth of whale meat simply lying around in cold storage.

Meanwhile, the whaling industry itself is struggling to stay profitable, relying on costly injections of government subsidies to stay afloat (if you will).

(AP Photo)

February 23, 2013

Understanding the Sources of Japan-China Tensions

Watch China Looms as Main Concern in Obama and Abe Meeting on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Mike Mochizuki, associate dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, was on the NewsHour yesterday and gave an interesting overview of the rising tensions between China and Japan.

February 20, 2013

How China Killed One Billion Japanese Last Year


They've done it at the movies:

Nearly one billion Japanese soldiers or enemies were killed off in TV productions filmed last year at Hengdian World Studios, the studio facilities known as the Hollywood of China, the Guangdong-based Yangcheng Evening News reports, suggesting that Chinese TV audiences like to achieve some degree of catharsis for their anti-Japanese sentiment with a high body count of enemy combatants in historical dramas.

As this figure breaks down as 2.7 million deaths per day for 365 days — a rate of over 30 per second — it seems reasonable to assume that most of these "deaths" occurred off-screen — or that this represents the cumulative total of every death in every series broadcast on myriad domestic networks. Put it this way: somewhere on Chinese television right now, Japanese people are being killed. And probably in large numbers.

In 2012, out of the more than 200 TV series broadcast on national networks, more than 70 of them had a wartime or anti-Japanese theme, more than any other "genre." The trend is definitely set to continue this year, said the newspaper.

The Yangcheng Evening News looks a bit like China's equivalent of the UK's Sun paper, so we shouldn't take these figures as authoritative.

(Photo: Reuters)

January 15, 2013

Is Japan Rearming?


The anchor of U.S. policy in Asia since the end of World War II has been to prevent the re-militarization of Japan. Since the end of the Cold War and the rise of China this policy has been increasingly called into question as a more powerful Japan could serve as a useful counterbalance to China and a means for the U.S. to more effectively share the burdens of regional security in Asia. Still, any moves by Japan to bolster its military power tend to make people nervous.

So it's not surprising that a recent decision by the newly installed government of Shinzo Abe to request more funds for defense after over a decade of cuts has raised eyebrows.

CFR's Scott Snyder, however, argues that it's not a sign of rising militarism:

There is a serious debate among policymakers as to whether this is actually sufficient to deal with the growing challenges Japan could face in the years ahead. Prime Minister Abe’s new government is widely seen as more hawkish, and thus the interpretation of this budget’s meaning differs widely. Martin Fackler’s NYT piece early in the week sees this as the new prime minister’s effort “to bolster Japan’s declining influence,” while a WSJ article views this week’s announcements in Tokyo as “paltry” and instead admonishes Japan’s new prime minister “to get serious about defense, and fast.” Expect this conversation to continue as the specifics of Japan’s defense policy develop.
The U.S. needs just enough Japanese rearmament to deter China and keep the U.S. tab as low as possible without stoking a confrontation. On the plus side, fears of Japanese "free-riding" may be overblown (although the $1.3 billion increase is pretty small beer as far as these things go). As Snyder notes, we won't know the full contours of Japan's defense policy and any substantive changes Abe plans to make until the government releases its National Defense Program Guidelines document, which is due at the end of 2013.

(AP Photo)

December 27, 2012

Nationalism in Japan? Maybe Not as Much as You've Heard

With the election of Shinzo Abe, many Japan watchers have warned that a rising nationalism could pull the country into a dangerous confrontation with China. Yet, from the looks of Abe's cabinet, Reiji Yoshida argues that the first priority of the Abe government is getting its economic house in order:

With the Upper House election approaching in July, Abe this time around seems to be focusing on economic issues first by appointing most of his close aides and party heavyweights to the economic and financial posts.

Among them are Finance Minister Taro Aso, a former prime minister and advocate of public works spending, who has hinted he might delay the 2014 sales tax hike.

Abe has also created the new post of "economic revitalization minister" and given it to Akira Amari, one of his closest allies.

His hawkish diplomacy meanwhile seems to be on hold — at least for now. The new foreign and defense ministers — Fumio Kishida and Itsunori Onodera — are not regarded as outright hawks, choices that apparently reflect Abe's newfound efforts to soften his diplomatic profile and avoid more friction with Japan's neighbors, who still have memories of the war.

Indeed, Abe's comments repeatedly emphasize that his focus is on economic issues and the Upper House election.

Yoshida notes that there's still an appetite among Abe's cabinet for measures, such as watering down apologies for World War II-era crimes (no "apology tour" for Abe), that will stoke regional unease.

October 15, 2012

Japan's Noda Takes Hawkish Turn

Speaking at a naval ceremony, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda fired off what some are calling surprisingly hawkish rhetoric:

Surprising even military officials, the address included an expression used in a slogan for naval battles during the Russo-Japan War in the early 20th century. The prime minister also took the unusual step of including in his speech slogans that have been recited by Japanese naval cadets since before World War II.

“The security environment surrounding our nation has become more difficult than ever before,” Mr. Noda told the troops on the destroyer JS Kurama. “We have a neighbor that launches missiles disguised as satellites and engages in nuclear development. We are facing various cases related to territory and sovereignty,” the prime minister said, referring to North Korea, and to territorial disputes with China and South Korea, respectively. The prime minister was wearing a tailcoat, the designated garb for top civilian government officials at formal military ceremonies.

For decades, U.S. foreign policy has been predicated on suppressing signs of Japanese militarism but with China rising and the U.S. drowning in a sea of red ink, it makes sense for front-line states to assume larger security roles. Unfortunately, for all of Japan's bluster, they're not putting their money where Noda's mouth is.

September 25, 2012

Is Japan Really Cutting Defense Spending?

We've heard a bit in recent days about how Japan's security establishment is drifting to the right - becoming more assertive over its claims to disputed Islands also claimed by Russia and China.

But as Justin Logan points out, nationalist bluster aside, Japan is actually cutting its defense spending. Moreover, in response to the U.S. pivot, China is upping its own defense budget. These are two trend lines moving in the wrong direction.

Of course, the U.S. taxpayer is on the hook, as Logan notes:

So if Japan’s leaders are getting increasingly concerned about security, why are they cutting defense spending? Simple: They believe that they have a defense commitment from the United States that can serve as their deterrent against China.

So when you hear members of Congress rending their garments about sequestration, remember what they are worried about: the prospect that the transfer payments from American taxpayers to taxpayers in places such as Japan may be trimmed.

August 17, 2012

Mitt Romney Insults Japan! (Or Not)

One of the more persistent criticisms of President Obama's conduct of foreign policy is that he is insufficiently supportive of U.S. allies - insensitive to their needs and willing to trash them in pursuit of other objectives. Fortunately for the president, Mitt Romney has quickly established himself as a candidate willing to insult U.S. allies as well.

The latest kerfluffle is over Japan, as Josh Rogin reports:

"We are not Japan," the presumptive Republican nominee told donors at a $2,500-a-plate fundraiser Thursday. "We are not going to be a nation that suffers in decline and distress for a decade or a century. We're on the cusp of a very different economic future than the one people have seen over the past three years."

Japan experts on both sides of the Pacific told The Cable that Romney's offhand assertion that Japan has been in decline for "a century" isn't a fair characterization of a nation that emerged from the ashes of World War II to build the world's second- (now third-) largest economy on a small island with few natural resources.

Moreover, they worry that Romney is needlessly insulting the face-conscious Japanese and giving them the impression that is he wins in November, his administration won't appreciate the importance of America's top alliance in the East at a time when the United States is attempting a diplomatic and military "pivot" to Asia.

Oh please - how can we presume anything about a Romney administration's Asia policy from an off-the-cuff remark at a fundraiser? The irony here is that this likely would have passed without a mention had Romney's advisers not worked themselves into a tremendous lather about all of Obama's perceived slights against U.S. allies. Obviously, U.S. officials should speak respectfully about American allies in public or on the record, but the fetishization of the alliance system is a partisan absurdity - one that Romney himself is now putting to bed.

July 25, 2012

Why Japan Won't Go Nuclear

Mira Rapp-Hooper writes that the U.S. alliance will stay Japan's hand:

[I]t is highly unlikely that Japan will seek its own nuclear arsenal in the foreseeable future. Beyond public opposition to nuclear weapons, which has only increased since the Fukushima disaster, Japan does not yet have reason to believe it needs an independent deterrent. The U.S.-Japan military alliance has strengthened with the passing decades and has proven highly responsive to Japanese security concerns. On several occasions, Japan has reassessed its non-nuclear status, and has always concluded that the U.S. security guarantee is a superior option. There is little reason to believe that Japan will rethink its commitment to that alliance now.

Michael Auslin doesn't sound as confident:

To Tokyo, this highlights the continuing importance of its alliance with the U.S. With no close partners in the region, Japan remains reliant on America as the keeper of the peace. It is now watching to see if Washington's "pivot" to Asia results in less focus on Japan's security needs.

In fact, while Washington may depend on Japan for military bases, it's wary of being drawn into Tokyo's disputes with its neighbors, particularly over the Senkakus.

After a similar dispute with China in 2010, the State Department reaffirmed that the Senkaku Islands fall under provisions of the mutual defense treaty with Japan, but Washington made clear it expects Tokyo and Beijing to resolve the dispute through negotiation. Washington is willing to give even less support over the Kurile Islands. More broadly, the Pentagon is facing drastic cuts that will make it riskier to get involved in a conflict except for the most serious of issues, like an invasion of Taiwan.

That means Japan will be on its own when it comes to playing dangerous games over these islands. Yet Japan can't simply give up its claims to either group, since that would spur all its neighbors to make demands. Tokyo will have to perform a solo balancing act but expect it to focus more on the growing power in Asia: China.

Parsing Japan's territorial claims and those from Russia and China is tricky business - a minefield of historical animosity and power politics. The U.S. has to walk a fine line between defending a legitimate principle - that these issues must be settled through negotiation and not brute force - and being roped in to defend Japan irrespective of the merits of the Japanese position.

July 13, 2012

China-Japan War Game Stokes Ire

A new game - Defend the Diaoyu Islands - recently popped up on Apple's app store. According to the Register, the game had players defending islands in the East China Sea from a Japanese invasion. From the game's description:

Defend the Diaoyu Islands, for they are the inalienable territory of China! Recently, the Japanese government has been sabre-rattling, making attempts to seize the Diaoyu Islands and even arresting our fishermen compatriots while selling off fish from the islands. Today, you can vent your anger by trying this game demo, working together to eradicate all Japanese devils landing on the island and turning them back towards their own lands. Defend the Diaoyu Islands!

Given the inflammatory nature of the app, Apple pulled the game from its store. The Diaoyu Islands are known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan.

March 9, 2012

Japan May Send Navy Into the Persian Gulf

According to Japan Security Watch, Japan is considering sending naval forces into the Persian Gulf to escort its tankers in the event things heat up:

This appears to be an expansion of the principles guiding the anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, and if they were to decide to go ahead with a dispatch, then it is possible that they will allow the vessels of other nations to apply for protection as in the Gulf of Aden. However, this will involve the possibility of Japanese vessels being attacked by another state’s military force, not just a non-state actor such as terrorists or pirates. This in itself seems a major obstacle to the possibility of a deployment and will necessitate neutrality that the Japanese government would be hard to feign given their close ties to the US.

The fact that Japan is debating this step seems to provide further proof that, should the U.S. seek to off-load some of its global policing duties, other nations would indeed step up.

February 8, 2012

Japan's Demographic Time Bomb

The Japan Times charts it:

The estimate shows that Japan's population will shrink by around 30 percent to 86.74 million by 2060, and that the percentage of people aged 65 or older will increase from 23.0 percent in 2010 to 39.9 percent in 2060. People will also live longer than now. The average life expectancy will rise from 85.93 years in 2011 to 90.93 years in 2060 for women and from 79.27 years to 84.19 years for men during the same period. Nursing care and medical services will become increasingly important. The government should show clearly the costs and benefits of such services so that people will be better prepared to accept the burden of higher social welfare costs.

December 13, 2011

A Street View of Japan Tsunami Damage


Via Google:

Back in July, we announced our initiative to digitally archive the areas of Northeastern Japan affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Today, we’re making good on that promise—after driving more than 44,000 kilometers through the affected regions, 360-degree panoramic imagery of those areas is now available through the Street View feature in Google Maps. The images can also be viewed via a special website called “Build the Memory,” where you can easily compare before and after shots of the towns changed by these events.

A virtual tour via Street View profoundly illustrates how much these natural disasters have transformed these communities. If you start inland and venture out toward the coast, you’ll see the idyllic countryside change dramatically, becoming cluttered with mountains of rubble and debris as you get closer to the ocean. In the cities, buildings that once stood proud are now empty spaces.

You can start this grim tour here.

August 30, 2011

Fukushima Radiation Exceeds Chernobyl

According to a report in Mainchi Daily News:

A government map of soil radiation levels mainly within a 100-kilometer radius of the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant shows 34 locations with levels of cesium-137 exceeding 1.48 million becquerels per square meter, the level that was used for determining bans on living near the Chernobyl plant.

The map was released on Aug. 29 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Cesium-137 has a half-life of around 30 years. The greatest concentration was found in the town of Okuma, which holds part of the plant, at 15.45 million becquerels per square meter. The six municipalities with levels over the Chernobyl level are Okuma, Minamisoma, Tomioka, Futaba, Namie, and Iitate.

(AP Photo)

August 5, 2011

Should America Love the Bomb?

Rob Long at Ricochet quotes from an interesting passage from Paul Fussell's Thank God for the Atom Bomb - a book I'll admit I haven't read - concerning his perspective as a member of the 45th Infantry Division, preparing for an invasion of Japan:

John Kenneth Galbraith is persuaded that the Japanese would have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thinks the A-bombs were unnecessary and unjustified because the war was ending anyway. The A-bombs meant, he says, “a difference, at most, of two or three weeks.” But at the time, with no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking American vessels, the Indianapolis was sunk (880 men killed), and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. “Two or three weeks,” says Galbraith.

Two weeks more means 14,000 more killed and wounded, three weeks more, 21,000. Those weeks mean the world if you’re one of those thousands - or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost.

That’s a bit of what happened in six days of the two or three weeks posited by Galbraith. What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don’t demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn’t.

There have been scads of papers and essays on this topic over the years, but I'm interested in what the Compass readership thinks. Let's set aside the question of the individual moral decisions made along the pathway to the atom bomb's deployment - lest we get into Jon Stewart territory and start calling American heroes war criminals - and just pose this question: should America apologize for dropping the bomb?

(For context's sake: we didn't last year.)

July 25, 2011

Japan's Views on Nuclear Power, Prime Minister

A new poll from Kyodo News measured Japanese sentiment on nuclear power and Prime Minister Kan:

A weekend telephone poll conducted by Kyodo News found 70.3 percent of respondents support Prime Minister Naoto Kan's call for a society that does not rely on nuclear power, but public support for his Cabinet sank to 17.1 percent, the lowest level since it was inaugurated just over a year ago, from 23.2 percent in the previous poll.

In the survey, 66.9 percent said they want Kan to quit by the end of August when the Diet session ends, while the disapproval rating for the Cabinet climbed to 70.6 percent from 61.2 percent in the last poll conducted June 28 and 29.

July 1, 2011

Korean Teens See Japan Threat

Interesting poll via Japan Security Watch on a recent survey of youth in South Korea:

Asked about enemies, 44.5% chose Japan, 22.1% chose North Korea, 19.9% chose the United States, 12.8% chose China and 0.6% chose Russia, showing that 44.5% of teenagers believe that Japan is an enemy.

June 7, 2011

The View from Japan


Pew Research conducted some polling on Japan, following up on the country's attitudes following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March:

In the aftermath of the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan, the Japanese public is resilient. Indeed, a majority believe that as a result of the disaster, Japan will become a stronger, rather than weaker nation. And while personal pessimism about the future has crept up slightly, on balance the public's overall sense of personal well-being appears little changed by the calamitous events of 2011.

What is clear, however, is that most Japanese foresee a rocky economic road ahead. A 52%-majority expect economic conditions to worsen over the next 12 months. In 2010, as the national economy showed signs of recovering from the global recession, only 33% of the Japanese public thought economic conditions would deteriorate in the coming year.

The U.S. image in Japan has been bolstered by post-quake aid. According to Pew:

A majority say the U.S. has done a great deal to help with relief efforts in Japan. Far fewer say the United Nations, European Union or China have done a great deal to assist Japan with the aftermath of the disaster. Thanks in part to American relief efforts, favorable opinion of the U.S. is at its highest point in nearly a decade, climbing to 85% positive this spring. The image of the United Nations has also improved in conjunction with earthquake assistance, and China's image has seen a modest uptick.

March 17, 2011

An Exceptional Nation


For the last five days, newspapers have been full of articles about what we can learn about nuclear power from Japan’s tragedy. But the country has equally valuable lessons to teach us about the human capacity for composure and courage in the face of epic tragedy. - Jonathan Kay

(AP Photo)

March 16, 2011

Hyping Japan's Nuclear Dangers?


Robert Zubrin says the press is needlessly fanning fears about Japan's nuclear dangers:

Let us be clear. Compared to the real disaster at hand, the hypothetical threat from the nuclear stations is zero. The reactors in question were all shut down four days ago. The control rods have been inserted, and the cores have been salted with boron. It is physically impossible for them to sustain a fission reaction of any kind at this point, let alone cause another Chernobyl. Only the fission-byproduct decay heat remains, and it is fading fast as the short half-life material (which accounts for most of the radioactivity) performs its decay reactions and ceases to exist. At this point, the total heating power in the reactors is only about 0.3 percent of what it was when the reactors were operating. That means that a system previously capable of generating 1,300 megawatts of heat would now yield 4 megawatts thermal -- about the same as that emitted by a dozen 100-horsepower automobile engines. The Japanese engineers can certainly deal with that with water cooling. And even if they were to stop, there just isn’t enough heating power in the system anymore to generate a dangerous plume of radioactive materials, which is doubly impossible at this point since all the more active short half-life stuff is already gone.

I am utterly unqualified to discuss nuclear physics so caveat emptor with Zubrin's analysis. Nevertheless, this Reuters analysis does seem to confirm that the levels of radiation released thus far have not reached a seriously dangerous level.

(AP Photo)

February 7, 2011

U.S. Views on Forward Deployments

Rasmussen offers some grist for the coming austerity battle:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 49% of Likely U.S. voters think we should remove troops from Western Europe and let the region defend itself. Forty-eight percent (48%) feel the same way about Japan. However, 60% say the United States should leave its troops in South Korea....

Earlier polling found that voters are fairly evenly divided as to whether the federal government spends too much or too little on national defense, but most also appear to dramatically underestimate how much is actually spent. Removing troops from Western Europe and Japan could reduce military spending by tens of billions of dollars annually.

December 24, 2010

Balancing China

One argument made by proponents of the U.S. foreign policy status quo is that absent a strong American presence in key regions of the world, democratic allies will wilt under the oppressive influence of autocratic powers. But if we have learned anything in 2010 is that precisely the opposite happens, at least in Asia. China's "assertive" behavior hasn't precipitated a bout of regional appeasement but has instead catalyzed regional states to bulk up their defenses. As Barbara Demick reports:

Chinese behavior in the South China Sea has reversed the alliances of the Vietnam War, with Hanoi now edging toward the United States as it seeks protection. Vietnam is investing in submarines and long-range combat aircraft because of dozens of incidents over the last year in which Chinese vessels have harassed its fishing and oil ships. China's territorial claim to 1 million square miles of the sea has also unnerved Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, pushing them closer to the U.S.

Japan, too, recently announced that its new defense strategy will not entail becoming a satellite state of communist China but instead will be revamped to reflect China's emergence. Arms purchases in Asia are on the rise.

None of this is to suggest that the U.S. should "disengage" from Asia. But it is a telling reminder that if the U.S. were to disengage from, say, Europe, the result wouldn't be the collapse of Western Civilization.

December 23, 2010

Distrust of China

A new poll finds that a majority of Japanese and Americans do not trust China:

The Gallup poll published Wednesday by the Yomiuri Shimbun was conducted among 1022 Japanese and 1002 Americans and showed that 87 percent of Japanese and 65 percent of Americans do not trust China....

The poll found that Japanese people feel relations between Japan and the U.S. have been worsening due to the planned relocation of U.S. base in Okinawa. Some 40 percent of Japanese respondents said bilateral relations deteriorated, up from 26 percent last year. In contrast, the proportion of those who thought the two countries are on good terms fell from 48 percent last year to 33 percent this year.

Asked about the reasons, 79 percent of Japanese cited complications caused by the relocation plan.

December 20, 2010

The Other China-Japan Dispute

It's over a giant robot statue:

Sotsu Co. is investigating whether a Chinese amusement park copied the design of a large statue of the Gundam robot, first built in Japan last year to resemble the huge fighting machines in the legendary Japanese anime series “Mobile Suit Gundam.”

The Tokyo-based company, which manages the copyrights to the comic series, said it started looking into the matter after an outsider alerted the company about the statue last week. The company hasn’t been in direct contact with Floraland, the Chengdu-based amusement park in question, according to a company spokeswoman.

You can view photos of the robot in question here.

Japan Sours on China

According to a report in the Asahi Shimbum:

A record 77.8 percent of respondents to a government survey at the end of October, at the height of the fallout from the Senkaku Islands dispute, said they did not "feel close" to Japan's giant neighbor.

That marked a sharp 19.3 percentage points increase over a year earlier and was the worst figure since 1978, when the Cabinet Office survey began.

The number of Japanese who did not feel the bilateral relationship was good rose 33.4 points to 88.6 percent.

The survey results mark a new high in negative feelings toward China over the last two decades. Throughout most of the 1980s, about 70 percent of Japanese respondents to the survey said they felt close to China.

November 7, 2010

Some Sunday Fun with Maps

1) Go to Google Maps.

2) Click on 'get directions.'

3) Type in 'Japan' as the start location.

4) Type in 'China' as the end location.

5) Go to direction #43.

6) Laugh, dammit!

October 4, 2010

Japan Pile-On

First it was a flair-up with China over disputed islands to its south. Now Japan and Russia are locking horns over the Kuril Islands to Japan's north.

This is certainly the kind of dynamic that could force a reappraisal inside the ruling DPJ about the merit of U.S. defense ties.

September 27, 2010

Japan Gets Tough


Yoree Koh says that the Japanese government has come out swinging today against China by demanding payment for damage done to their vessels by a Chinese fishing boat in addition to ordering more Chinese fishing patrol boats away from the contested Senkaku islands and summoning the Chinese ambassador for a talking to.

If you're interested in what the fuss is all about, Global has a good primer on the actual islands in contention.

(AP Photo)

August 30, 2010

Japan Rethinks Defense Posture


A national security advisory committee to Japan's Prime Minister has apparently made some radical suggestions about reforming Japan's defense posture. Among them: rethinking the basic concept of Japan's military as a defensive force, rethinking the ban on nuclear weapons entering the country, and easing the nation's ban on weapons exports. The Asahi Shimbum writes:

Ever since the National Defense Program Guidelines were established in 1976, the premise was one of restraint--the nation would "not directly confront a threat, but maintain a bare minimum defense force so that it would not become a destabilizing factor itself."

However, the report, in a drastic policy switch, says Japan should become a country that confronts threats.

What has changed?

The report points to the waning of U.S. military supremacy, the modernization of China's military and North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile development.

Japan's status as a great economic power without a military to match was useful during the Cold War but it's increasingly untenable in an area of emerging great Asian powers.

(AP Photo)

August 18, 2010

Japan: Losing That 'Hungry Spirit'


Yoree Koh reports that the Japanese couldn't care less that the Chinese have vaulted ahead of them as the world's second largest economy:

Japan is taking the demotion with a shrug.

“It can’t be helped,” said Koichi Matsubara, 36, who works in real estate. “Business has been drifting overseas, our population is shrinking. We’re a small island, and given the size of our country, we were perhaps at the top longer than expected. I think we will continue to lose ground.”

But the fall is more often attributed to Japan’s lack of fighting power compared to the days of post-World War II yore when it was chasing after its more developed European rivals.

“Japan lost its momentum,” said Kazuyoshi Ono, a 58-year-old former banker. “The thinking in the past was, ‘If I work hard, the harder I work the more likely I’ll succeed,’ but we’ve lost that hungry spirit.”

August 16, 2010

Japan & China: Still Wary


A new survey shows that negative impressions between Japan and China run deep in both countries:

About 70 percent of Japanese and 60 percent of Chinese have negative impressions of each others' countries on food safety, historical differences and a bilateral dispute over resource development, according to the results of a poll released Saturday....

The annual survey found that while the ratio of Japanese who view China negatively was nearly unchanged from the previous year, the proportion of Chinese with negative feelings toward Japan fell by more than 10 points, apparently reflecting more positive coverage of Japan through the Chinese media.

(AP Photo)

August 3, 2010

Keeping Japan On Side

This is an interesting approach:

In an attempt to get hip with Japan’s younger generations, the U.S. military is turning to manga to teach the importance of the half-century-old security alliance between the two countries.

A cover shot of the new Japanese-language comic book series published by the U.S. military to teach the importance of the U.S.-Japan security alliance. The first issue will be released online Wednesday.

The U.S. military is releasing the first issue of a comic book series entitled “Our Alliance — A Lasting Partnership” online Wednesday in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the security treaty. The first publication also comes on the eve of the 65th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. A U.S. representative will be attending the annual peace ceremony in Hiroshima for the first time this year.

The U.S. military said it decided to publish the text in the manga format because of its wild popularity among young adults.

Who needs an arms race when you can win them over with manga?

An Asian Arms Race

Michael Auslin disagrees with my blase attitude about an Asian arms race:

Greg writes that “uncertainty isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it catalyzes an arms race in Asia” and that “if the Obama administration is creating some uncertainty in the minds of America’s Asian allies about the U.S. commitment, and that uncertainty is catalyzing greater defense expenditures on the part of our allies, is this really a bad thing?”

In a word, yes. I’m not in favor of any more arms races in Asia, since they by nature change the status quo, insert new levels of uncertainty and anxiety, and can give a mistaken and tragic sense of bravado to countries with both legitimate and made-up dissatisfactions. Undoubtedly, part of the secret to Asia’s general success the past decades has been some sense of boundaries that the United States would not allow to be transgressed (think 1955 Quemoy and Matsu, continued presence of U.S. troops in Japan and South Korea, and the 1996 Taiwan Straits incident). We have no way of knowing what the effects on state competition and rivalry would be from losing that sense of ultimate security, no matter how instinctual and undefined.

Japan (and other liberal nations) should certainly be increasing its naval and airpower capabilities, and purchasing more submarines is an important first step. However, I’m less comfortable that a desired outcome (i.e., more submarines) is resulting from an undesirable condition (less confidence in U.S. capability and will). It would be far preferable for Japan to decide to purchase more subs in conjunction with the United States, so to speak, than to be doing so in order to hedge its bets.

I'd agree with this but here's the rub - how to incentivize our allies to bolster their own defenses without cutting them completely loose (which I don't think we should do). This is easier said than done. Take Europe, where defense budgets fall irrespective of Washington's beseeching.

An Asian arms race obviously isn't an ideal scenario, but the other scenario, having the U.S. taxpayer foot the bill so that the wealthy economies in Asia don't have to, strikes me as an equally bad deal, especially now, when America's balance sheet is in such disrepair. I guess I might be more sympathetic to the notion that America has to play the hegemonic stabilizer in Asia if it was understood that we would do so with the cost savings accrued by abandoning that role in the Middle East and Europe. But somehow I don't see that happening.

July 28, 2010

Japan to Add Submarines


According to a report in the Japanese press:

Japan is to increase its submarine fleet for the first time in 36 years, the Sankei Shimbun reported Sunday. The plan apparently aims to counter China's naval build-up by partially filling the void created by the U.S. reduction of submarines in the Pacific area.

The paper said the Japanese government plans to increase the number of submarines from the current 18 including two trainer submarines to more than 20 when it revises its Defense Program Guidelines by year's end.

Michael Auslin sees this development as reflecting "uncertainty" about Japan's ties to the U.S. It could be. But this uncertainty isn't necessarily a bad thing if it catalyzes an arms race in Asia: front line states should be the ones that assume the lion's share of the burden and cost of their own defense.

I think the role of the U.S. as a balancer of last resort should be maintained, but we should certainly not be discouraging countries like Japan or South Korea if they want to make a more substantial investment in their own defenses. If the Obama administration is creating some uncertainty in the minds of America's Asian allies about the U.S. commitment, and that uncertainty is catalyzing greater defense expenditures on the part of our allies, is this really a bad thing?

Notice also that instead of "bandwagoning" with China, key Asian states are asserting their own interests. As the Lowy Institute's Graeme Dobell writes, China's handling of North Korea has definitely pushed the South Koreans closer to the U.S. when the conventional held that South Korea was primed to fall into China's "orbit."

(AP Photo)

July 23, 2010

The Opposition at Home


Earlier in the week we passed along speculation that Japan's current Prime Minister Naoto Kan may not make it a year in office. Apparently, his wife agrees:

In a new book, the wife of Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan questions whether he is fit for the nation's top job and suggests his tenure might be short-lived.

In "You are Prime Minister, So What Will Change in Japan?" which was released this week, first lady Nobuko Kan lists a host of her husband's shortcomings, from his failure to do any housework to his hot temper.

(AP Photo)

July 21, 2010

Another Japanese Prime Minister?


Here's a staggering statistic: Japan has had 14 prime ministers in 20 years. And, according to Tomomichi Amono, it could have yet another in September:

Goshi Hosono, deputy secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, left some room for speculation at a news conference Wednesday on what could happen at the ruling party’s internal election to choose its new leader in September.

Here is why we should listen to Mr. Hosono carefully. The 38-year-old lawmaker is a rising star within the ruling party, known for his expertise in economic policy issues. But more importantly, he is known as a close associate of Ichiro Ozawa, the powerful politician who presided over the DPJ’s personnel matters until he was forced to step down as party secretary general in June.

In order to stay party president, and thereby prime minister, Naoto Kan must win approval of party members in the September election. And there is speculation in the media that Mr. Ozawa and his followers may choose their own candidate to run against Mr. Kan.

Asked about pressure from within the party to make Mr. Kan step down, Mr. Hosono said he believes that DPJ members want to avoid what happened during previous governments, when the head of the state changed frequently. “There was a common understanding within the DPJ that we don’t want to do the same thing,” he said.

However, Mr. Hosono suggested a change in party leadership is possible in September. “A suitable leader emerging (as the result of the election) is not a bad thing,” he said. “It will be preferable for the DPJ if discussion is actively conducted (ahead of the elections).

RCW contributor Todd Crowell explored why Japan burns through prime ministers here.

(Current - for now - Prime Minister Naoto Kan. AP Photo)

July 1, 2010

Suicidal Iran


If you believe, such as I do, that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, then you essentially have two optional schools of thought for assessing the regime's motives. One theory is that the regime is seeking the bomb in order to guarantee its own security; while, perhaps, advancing its own hegemonic desires in the Middle East.

The second, arguably less prevalent school of thought takes it a step further. This theory assumes that Iran has a demonstrated history of suicidal, nihilistic behavior, and that a nuclear-armed Iran may actually use such a weapon (possibly against Israel) in a global display of Death By Cop. Proponents of the "Suicidal Iran" theory will often cite anti-Israel comments made by President Ahmadinejad, or even older Ayatollah Khomeini lines rejecting the nation-state; others will note that martyrdom and sacrifice play a prominent role in Shiism - especially in Iran.

Which camp you fall in likely affects whether or not you believe Iran can be a nuclear 'good citizen' should it attain a nuclear weapon. Bret Stephens, entrenched, I'm assuming, in the second camp, makes the predictable argument against containment:

A credible case can be made that Communism is no less a faith than Islam and that Iran’s current leadership, like Soviet leaders of yore, knows how to temper true belief with pragmatic considerations. But Communism was also a materialist and (by its own lights) rationalist creed, with a belief in the inevitability of history but not in the afterlife. Marxist-Leninist regimes may be unmatched in their record of murderousness, but they were never great believers in the virtues of martyrdom.

That is not the case with Shiism, which has been decisively shaped by a cult of suffering and martyrdom dating to the murder of Imam Husayn—the Sayyed al-Shuhada, or Prince of Martyrs—in Karbala in the seventh century. The emphasis on martyrdom became all the more pronounced in Iran during its war with Iraq, when Tehran sent waves of child soldiers, some as young as 10, to clear out Iraqi minefields. As Hooman Majd writes in his book The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, the boys were often led by a soldier mounted on a white horse in imitation of Husayn: “the hero who would lead them into their fateful battle before they met their God.” Tens of thousands of children died this way.

All this suggests that a better comparison for Iran than the Soviet Union might be Japan of the 1930s and World War II—another martyrdom-obsessed, non-Western culture with global ambitions. It should call into question the view that for all its extremist rhetoric, Iran operates according to an essentially pragmatic estimate of its own interests.

Japan is indeed a more appropriate comparison than the Soviet Union, but I think Stephens misses the more optimistic lesson in the U.S.-Japanese relationship. The Mutual Cooperation and Security treaty signed by both nations in 1960 came just fifteen years after the peak of Kamikaze attacks on American naval vessels. Japan went on to become a close U.S. ally, and today a military base in Okinawa constitutes as a "row" between the two governments.

Iranian wave attacks, while obviously senseless, wicked and inhumane, were carried out by a regime drunk with revolution, and they were carried out in reaction to Iraqi invasion. Stephens should keep in mind that it was Iraq that suffered at the hands of Iran's suicidal tendencies during that war - not Israel or the United States.

Yet today, Iran's inability to supply Basra with a sufficient amount of electricity constitutes as a "row." The two countries enjoy warmer relations, and Iranian goods flood Iraqi markets.

My point: even history's most suicidal of states can - and have - changed. Iran is already one of them. So if Iraqis can trust a once suicidal Iran, why can't Americans and Israelis?

UPDATE: My comparison has received some push back in the comments section; also worth a read.

(AP Photo)

June 22, 2010

Japan's War on the Beard

From Japan Times:

A growing number of Japanese, including athletes, are being prohibited from turning up for work unshaven so they won't "offend" the public.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co. is particularly strict about the appearance of its employees and says it won't hire men with beards.

"We might fire workers growing beards regardless of whether they are regular staff or part-time workers," a public relations official said.

Oriental Land Co., owner of the Tokyo Disney Resort, also bans beards, like its U.S. counterpart.

June 4, 2010

Photo of the Day


(Japanese retailers begin discounting their Yukio Hatoyama cookies. AP Photos)

June 3, 2010

Can Japan Be an Equal Partner?


Dan Twining reflects on the fall of Japan's Prime Minister:

And that is ultimately the point: Washington needs a vibrant Japan as an alliance partner in a region of tectonic power shifts -- and in a world where global governance requires all the responsible, capable, like-minded partners we can find. The DPJ's historic ascension to power last year brought with it the promise of a more equal alliance with the United States. The U.S. should welcome the greater equality in alliance relations that would follow from the restoration of Japanese growth and vitality. Prime Minister Hatoyama did not succeed in inducing it. The U.S. should endeavor to help his successor do so. A stronger and healthier alliance relationship would surely follow.

This is a fine sentiment, but how does it work in practice? There's no question that Hatoyama - like all politicians - over-promised and under-delivered. But the premise of his campaign promise (which, after all, got him elected) was to remove a U.S. military base from Okinawa. And the U.S. said "no." That is not an equal relationship.

Indeed, it seems impossible to forge an equal relationship when one party is dependent on another for its most vital security needs. It seems to me, looking over the course of sixty years of American strategy, that an equal relationship (let alone an independent foreign policy) is literally the last thing the U.S. desires in a partner. Now, the U.S. is not alone in this respect and there are clear realpolitik arguments in favor of trying to maintain some measure of veto power over Japan's security policy and America's military footprint in the country.

But for the sake of an honest discussion about U.S. foreign policy, those are the arguments that need to articulated and defended. The U.S. cannot have an equal alliance relationship with a party that is not - militarily speaking - its equal. And Washington does not want Japan to develop the capacity to defend itself independent of the United States.

(AP Photo)

June 2, 2010

Obama's First Regime Change?


There's been no shortage of tedious commentary driving home the narrative about how the Obama administration is tougher on America's allies than on America's enemies. But in the case of Japan, I think it's pretty clear the administration put an ally in an impossible situation. Japan's Prime Minister won office in large measure because of a pledge to renegotiate a deal over a U.S. airbase in Okinawa. Rather than try to work with its fellow democratic ally, the U.S. insisted that a deal was a deal and even launched a rather obnoxious PR campaign implying that the Japanese were too short-sighted to understand what was in their own best interest.

It appears Hatoyama didn't have much room to maneuver and so he relented on the base, betrayed a campaign promise, and is now resigning in disgrace. It's not solely due to the basing issue, of course, but it surely was the most dramatic of Hatoyama's problems.

Japan hasn't figured much in the usual indictment of the Obama administration's treatment of allies because when push comes to shove, these critics tend to value the entrenchment of American military power over respect for (and fidelity to) American democratic values. Something to keep in mind the next time someone bleats about Obama selling out on human rights.

(AP Photo)

May 4, 2010

Japan's Base Problem


Shortly after the revolt in Kyrgyzstan, there was the obligatory spat of commentary about how awful realism is because making deals with autocratic governments never ends well. James Kirchick wrote:

Nonetheless, the most important lesson to be learned from the events in Kyrgyzstan this past week is that supporting authoritarianism, no matter how valid the excuses, comes with a cost. This is something that everyone, especially "realists" who say that regime type should be irrelevant in the determination of foreign policy, ought to acknowledge. Soft-pedaling criticism of dictators who assist this or that American foreign policy objective, ­whether it be hosting a military base or supplying us with oil, may bring promised "stability," but it is always illusory. As the behavior of Kurmanbek Bakiyev demonstrated, authoritarians are by their nature irrational and unpredictable. Worse, when an authoritarian regime falls, the people who take over naturally feel resentment toward anyone who supported those who oppressed them.
So how are things going in democratic Japan? The New York Times reports on the on-going battle over the relocation of a Marine Corps air base:
Mr. Hatoyama is now scrambling to put together a modified version of the 2006 agreement, which called for relocating the Futenma base from the center of the crowded city of Ginowan to Camp Schwab in Okinawa’s less populated north. He is now considering options, including building a smaller air field at Camp Schwab, government officials said. Mr. Hatoyama also wants to lessen Okinawa’s burden by moving training activities and up to 1,000 of Futenma’s 2,500 Marines to Tokunoshima, said Takeshi Tokuda, Tokunoshima’s Lower House representative, who was briefed on the plan.

Mr. Tokuda said he firmly opposes the move.

“Prime Minister Hatoyama is just trying to save face at our expense,” said Mr. Tokuda.

The mood on the island is now overwhelmingly against the plan. The main road along the coast of this mountainous island is now lined with hand-painted signs saying “No Base!” The mayors of the island’s three towns agreed on Saturday to meet with the prime minister, but only to express their opposition to his face, they say.

Hatoyama's approval ratings are in the pits, but it's not like a potential successor government is going to find Okinawans any more open to the idea of hosting the base. So... what to do? Bow to the wishes of the Japanese people, scrap U.S. relocation plans and start from scratch? Wait for the Hatoyama government to fall and hope that its successor will run roughshod over local wishes in the service of a larger strategic partnership? It's a genuinely thorny problem that would likely bedevil realists and neoncons alike.

(AP Photo)

May 3, 2010

Majority in Japan Dissatisifed With Government

More bad news for Japan's Prime Minister:

Public confidence in the government headed by Yukio Hatoyama has eroded considerably in Japan, according to a poll by Mainichi. 51 per cent of respondents disapprove of the current cabinet, up 34 points since October 2009.

April 26, 2010

Poll: Japan's PM on the Rocks


Via the Washington Post:

Two out of three Japanese voters disapprove of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and nearly 60 percent think he should resign if he fails to resolve a feud over a U.S. airbase by an end of May deadline, a media poll showed on Monday....

The Nikkei newspaper poll, conducted over the weekend, showed 68 percent of voters disapprove of Hatoyama, up 11 percentage points from the previous poll last month, partly on frustrations over the Futenma U.S. base row.

On Sunday, 90,000 people turned up at a rally against the U.S. base.

(AP Photo)

April 8, 2010

Growing Disappointment with DPJ Government


Via Angus Reid:

People in Japan continue to grow dissatisfied with the government led by prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, according to a poll by Nikkei. 57 per cent of respondents disapprove of Hatoyama’s cabinet, up eight points since February.

Michael Auslin had a good piece in the WSJ explaining why the Japanese might be tiring of the new government.

(AP Photo)

February 25, 2010

Japan Regains Title as "America's Top Banker"

The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets reported earlier that China, after selling off significant US Treasury holdings at the end of last year, is no longer the biggest holder of US debt:

China sold a record amount of its U.S. Treasury holdings in December, ceding its place as the world's biggest foreign holder of U.S. debt to Japan.

The move triggered concerns about China's continuing appetite to loan money to the U.S. amid a mounting budget deficit here and tensions between Washington and Beijing.

China pared its Treasury holdings by $34 billion to $755.4 billion in December, placing it second behind Japan, with $768.8 billion, according to U.S. Treasury estimates. For the first time since August 2008, Tokyo took over the top spot after steadily increasing its purchases of Treasury debt over the past several years....

Chinese officials have begun expressing "worries" over its significant holdings of U.S. government bonds and concern about the U.S. budget deficit, which is expected to hit $1.6 trillion....

However, China's sales of Treasurys don't necessarily translate into a loss of confidence in the U.S., many analysts said, noting that Beijing's moves in December could simply indicate steps toward diversification. Market observers said the Chinese may simply have moved their money into other dollar-denominated assets, such as corporate debt or private equity.

The increase for Japan appears to have come from private financial institutions shifting investments out of risky, high-yielding foreign financial products into safer assets such as U.S. Treasurys, analysts say....

The Japanese government itself hasn't acquired Treasurys in recent years. However, it may soon ramp up purchases, as officials at the huge government-run postal-savings system have said they are looking to diversify assets away from Japanese government debt and into U.S. government debt.

"The U.S. is having difficulty due to a lack of funds," Shizuka Kamei, the cabinet minister overseeing Japan Post, told reporters recently. "It's only natural that we should support the U.S. when it is weak."...

The rest of the article is well worth reading, and I'll leave the serious monetary analysis to the experts.  But two rather noteworthy things struck a layman like me about this big news. 

Continue reading "Japan Regains Title as "America's Top Banker"" »

February 19, 2010

Marines Make Sales Pitch to Japan


In an effort to shore up Japanese public support for the controversial Futenma air base in Okinawa Japan, the Marines are launching a PR blitz which argues, in effect, that the Japanese are incapable of weighing the strategic grounds of the Japanese-U.S. partnership:

Lt. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, Commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific, said in an interview that while the Japanese are well aware of the direct military threat of North Korea missiles, they may not fully share the U.S. view of the broader "regional threat" that could undermine their nation's trade and economic activities.

To reach out more directly to the Japanese public, he said, the Marine Corps will roll out Japanese-language sites for the Web and cellphones—the preferred mode of information gathering for many Japanese.

"I think one of the things missing in the appreciation of regional security in the Pacific is an understanding how connected all these countries are, economically, financially and in other ways," Lt. Gen. Stalder said during his visit to Tokyo. "There is nothing that happens in the region that will not affect Japan in a very negative way if it's not contained quickly or prevented."

Is it possible that the Japanese are capable of understanding that and still don't want the air base? I'm not sure why the presumption is that they can't grasp their regional environment better than we can....

(AP Photo)

January 29, 2010

R2-D2 to Lead the Global Recovery?


Former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and current Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University Kenneth Rogoff made a fascinating declaration:

As the global economy limps out of the last decade and enters a new one in 2010, what will be the next big driver of global growth? Here’s betting that the “teens” is a decade in which artificial intelligence hits escape velocity, and starts to have an economic impact on par with the emergence of India and China….

In 50 years, computers might be doing everything from driving taxis to performing routine surgery. Sooner than that, artificial intelligence will transform higher learning, potentially making a world-class university education broadly affordable even in poor developing countries. And, of course, there are more mundane but crucial uses of artificial intelligence everywhere, from managing the electronics and lighting in our homes to populating “smart grids” for water and electricity, helping monitor these and other systems to reduce waste.

In short, I do not share the view of many that, after the Internet and the personal computer, it will be a long wait until the next paradigm-shifting innovation. Artificial intelligence will provide the boost that keeps the teens rolling. So, despite a rough start from the financial crisis (which will still slow global growth this year and next), there is no reason why the new decade has to be an economic flop.

For an image of what a future controlled by computers and robots might look like, look no further than Japan, which employs over a quarter of a million robot workers, envisions using robots to counter future economic and demographic challenges, and creates robot fashion-models.

January 24, 2010

China's Growing Clout in Japan


The New York Times' Martin Fackler had a good article over the weekend about China's increasing clout with Japan:

Indeed, political experts and former diplomats say China has appeared more adept at handling Japan’s new leaders than the Obama administration has been. And former diplomats here warn that Beijing’s leaders are seizing on the momentous political changes in Tokyo as a chance to improve ties with Japan — and possibly drive a wedge between the United States and Japan.

“This has been a golden opportunity for China,” said Kunihiko Miyake, a former high-ranking Japanese diplomat who was stationed in Beijing. “The Chinese are showing a friendlier face than Washington to counterbalance U.S. influence, if not separate Japan from the U.S.”

Some conservative Japan experts in Washington have even warned of a more independent Tokyo becoming reluctant to support the United States in a future confrontation with China over such issues as Taiwan, or even to continue hosting the some 50,000 American military personnel now based in Japan.

This is not an "either/or" problem for the U.S. or Japan. The Japanese are already economically intertwined with China and so naturally, good relations with China is a key interest. They are also in our interest as it lessons security concerns between two historic enemies.

The basic reality of China's rise is that it is going to come with more influence in Asia and it is going to lead to a decline in America's influence relative to its former position. This isn't irreversible - China's economy could collapse, it could suffer internal revolts that erode its power, or it could behave in such as fashion as to galvanize surrounding nations to balance against her (pushing them into a tighter embrace of the U.S.). But barring that, China's influence in Asia is going to expand.

In such a circumstance, I think taking a "wait and see" attitude is better than panicking at every diminution or diplomatic slight. Even reducing America's military footprint in Japan isn't the end of the world, especially if it's coming at the behest of the Japanese.

(AP Photo)