Monday, September 25, 2017

Trump Retreats on Korean Trade

KORUS Is Safe for Now

By Richard Katz
, Editor Oriental Economist and APP Member,
Foreign Affairs, SNAPSHOT, September 15, 2017

The American political system faced a tough test in the first week of September when U.S. President Donald Trump proposed withdrawing from the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). Thankfully, the system passed. Trump was forced to backpedal in the face of near-universal condemnation from trade and foreign policy experts, the Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, governors whose states would be hurt, and some senior administration members who quietly voiced their concerns. In the middle of all this, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s test of an enormous bomb made Trump’s plan look even more reckless.

Trump dropped the plan—at least for now. The good news, then, is that the American system is still able to constrain the president, even one who combines extreme willfulness with intense disdain for expertise. The bad news is that, as some experts fear, the KORUS withdrawal plan could come back into the spotlight at any time.

That fear is valid, given that Trump really did intend to withdraw from KORUS rather than just send a threatening signal, according to our sources in Washington. Axios reported it was “as close as it gets to a done deal.” Consider the sequence of events: On June 30, South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited Trump in Washington. The preset agenda focused on the threat from North Korea, the possible deployment of THAAD missile defense systems by South Korea, and trade issues. Renegotiating KORUS was not on the agenda.

Nonetheless, in an unusual step, Trump departed from the prepared agenda soon after the discussion began, telling Moon that the two countries would renegotiate KORUS immediately. Moon did not acquiesce, but that didn’t stop Trump from making a unilateral announcement at their joint press conference later in the day that KORUS renegotiation would soon begin. Moon kept a diplomatic silence then, but the next day, he told South Korean reporters that there was no such agreement. Two weeks later, on July 13, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent a letter to Seoul asking for a special session of the KORUS Joint Committee to discuss “possible amendments and modifications.” At the August 22 meeting, according to Inside US Trade, the United States demanded that South Korea implement all of its planned reduction in farm tariffs immediately instead of on the dates set out in KORUS. At the same time, it insisted that the United States be allowed to postpone its own tariff reduction by five to ten years from the dates set in KORUS. Washington offered nothing in exchange. Seoul refused, as would any country.

In reaction, Trump decided to withdraw from KORUS. A week later, on August 28, just hours before North Korea shot a missile over Japanese air space, a Trump aide presented the withdrawal plan at a meeting of cabinet secretaries and other senior officials. An attendee told one of our sources that the matter was couched as an issue of personal loyalty to Trump. Dissent would have been extremely awkward for anyone who wanted to keep their job. Only one attendee dissented at the meeting, although others offered their objections to Trump in private. Among those were Trump’s chief of staff, his national security adviser, and his defense secretary. They were rightly concerned that a rupture in U.S.-Korean relations would encourage Kim in his belief that aggressive tactics could split the alliance between the United States and South Korea, as well as the United States and Japan. The secretary of agriculture also objected privately. American farmers, who are major beneficiaries of KORUS, were up in arms.

Nonetheless, Trump continued talking in public of withdrawal, despite the missile launch over Japan and even after North Korea’s test of a purported hydrogen bomb. It took three days and an extraordinary mobilization by American economic and security groups and individuals to set Trump back on his heels. The White House made no statements; the news came out via press leaks and private briefings of Congressional leaders. Thankfully, Trump cannot match his loud barks with much of a bite.

Why did Trump want to blow up KORUS? Administration insiders have told our sources two different stories. Some discounted it as just a hard bargaining tactic with Seoul. Others say that Trump was trying to send a tough message to Canada and Mexico that, if they did not succumb to U.S. terms in the NAFTA discussions, Trump might withdraw from NAFTA as well. But it is likely that a third explanation coexists with the second. Trump has not delivered much to his base. He couldn’t get Obamacare repealed. He couldn’t get Congress to fund his proposed border wall with Mexico. He is waffling on assorted immigration issues. A tough stance with South Korea would offer something to his base. In fact, Trump reportedly first spoke to his aides about withdrawing from NAFTA, which is loathed in the five traditionally “blue” states in the Midwest whose turn to Trump made him president. However, Peter Navarro, the extremely hawkish head of the National Trade Council, advised Trump that such a move would hurt U.S. firms and workers. As the alternative sacrificial lamb, said our source, Navarro put forward withdrawal from KORUS.

Although trashing KORUS might provide some emotional satisfaction to some of Trump’s blue-collar constituencies, it will do virtually nothing to help their living standards. Even if Trump could bring South Korea’s trade surplus with the United States back down to where it was before KORUS, that would give Americans just $35 each. The reality is that Trump has little control over the size of the deficit, with or without KORUS. White House illusions about this stem from believing its own misleading numbers. For example, Lighthizer wrote in his letter to Seoul that “Since KORUS went into effect [in 2012], our trade deficit in goods with Korea has doubled from $13.2 billion to $27.6 billion, while U.S. goods exports have actually gone down. This is quite different from what the previous Administration sold to the American people when it urged approval of this Agreement.”

Yes, South Korea’s goods imports from United States did fall three percent between 2011 and 2016, but that is not due to KORUS. It is mostly due to slower growth in Korea. In fact, during the same period, Korea’s imports from the rest of the world fell 24 percent—eight times as much. And yes, South Korea’s trade surplus with the United States has doubled since 2011, but, during the same period, its trade surplus with the rest of world tripled. Myron Brilliant, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote, “Without KORUS, U.S. exports of agricultural and manufactured products, as well as services, would likely have fallen substantially over the past five years.”

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has stressed that, in 2016, 90 percent of the United States’ entire trade deficit with South Korea came from passenger cars and auto parts. This, it says, proves how “closed” the country is to American automotive goods. Let’s take a closer look. American imports of South Korean cars and parts doubled during 2011-16. The cause lay not in KORUS but in the explosion of U.S. auto sales from just 13 million units in 2011 to a record 18 million in 2016 and the fact that, as quality soared above even that of Japanese brands in J.D Powers’ surveys of customers, the Korean automakers were able to sell pricier models.

Meanwhile, since KORUS came into effect, American automotive exports to South Korea have also doubled. In fact, Korea’s global car imports have risen from just 0.4 percent of car sales in 2000 to eight percent in 2011 just before KORUS went into effect, to 15 percent in 2016. The problem is that the U.S. share of South Korean car imports is still just eight percent, the same share as in 2011. This compares to 15 percent for Japan and 76 percent for Europe (the EU also has a free trade agreement with South Korea).

Trump does have an alternative that could appeal to his base without blowing up the U.S.-South Korean relationship. Between January and July of this year, America’s trade deficit with Korea fell 30 percent from the same months of 2016 and the deficit for the whole year may show an even bigger drop. Trump could take credit—as he has on other matters—even though he has nothing to do with it. In the famous expression from the Vietnam era, he should just declare victory and go home.

Thankfully, Trump cannot match his loud barks with much of a bite. He threatened to veto the budget—thereby causing the government to shut down—if Congress refused to fund his border wall with Mexico. Congress refused and Trump backed down. He will undoubtedly back down on his bluster about “stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea” as well. Stopping trade with China would wreak havoc on the U.S. economy. Nonetheless, the more Trump’s approval ratings erode, the greater will be his temptation to give his base something to send their pulses racing. Without constant vigilance, a return to his attempt to withdraw from KORUS is very possible. The U.S. political system has passed the test so far, but more trials lie over the horizon

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Monday in Washington, September 25, 2017

NATIONAL SECURITY OVERSIGHT: CONGRESSIONAL CASE STUDIES AND REFORM PROSPECTS. 9/25, 10:00-11:30am. Sponsor: Cato. Speakers: Norman Singleton, President, Campaign for Liberty; Daniel Jones, Founder and Leader, The Penn Quarter Group; Sue Udry, Executive Director, Defending Rights and Dissent; Daniel Schuman, Policy Director, Demand Progress; Moderator: Patrick Eddington, Policy Analyst, Cato.  

, 10:30am- Noon. Sponsor: Maureen And Mike Mansfield Foundation. Speaker: Pomnyun Sunim, Chairman, Peace Foundation. 
UNDERSTANDING CONGRESS. 9/25, 10:00-11:30am. Sponsors: Brookings Executive Education; Brookings Press. Speakers: Lan Dubin, Associate Director, Brookings Executive Education; John Hudak, Deputy Director, Center for Effective Public Management; Trevor Corning, Project Manager, Chief; Reema Dodin, Congressional Veteran; Kyle Nevins, Co-Founder and Partner, Harbinger Strategies. 

, 2:00-3:00pm. Sponsor: South East Asia Program, CSIS. Speakers: Joaquin Castro, U.S. Representative, Texas’s 20th Congressional District; Ann Wagner, U.S. Representative, Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District; Amy Searight, Senior Advisor and Director, Southeast Asia Program, CSIS.

ONE NATION AFTER TRUMP. 9/25, 2:00-3:45pm. Sponsor: American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Speakers: Strobe Talbott, Brookings; E.J. Dionne, Brookings; Thomas E. Mann, UCB; Norman J. Ornstein, AEI; Moderator: Karlyn Bowman, AEI.

5:00-6:00pm. Sponsor: Institute of World Politics (IWP). Speaker: Brandon J. Weichert, CEO, Weichert Report.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Monday in Washington, September 18, 2017

TAIWAN'S ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERSHIP. 9/18, 8:30-10:00am. Sponsor: China Studies, CSIS. Speakers: Lee, Ying-yuan, Minister of Environmental Protection, Taiwan; Jane Nishida, Acting Assistant Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; David Ribeiro, Senior Researcher, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; Moderator: Scott Kennedy, Deputy Director, China Studies, CSIS. 

USTR LIGHTHIZER ON U.S. TRADE POLICY PRIORITIES. 9/18, 11:00-11:45am. Sponsor: CSIS. Speaker: Robert Lighthizer, USTR. Location: CSIS, 1616 Rhode Island Ave., NW. Contact:

MOVING FORWARD WITH ABENOMICS. 9/18, 1:30-2:30pm. Sponsor: Hudson. Speaker: Toshimitsu Motegi, Minister, State for Economic and Fiscal Policy, Japan. Moderator: Kenneth R. Weinstein, President and CEO, Hudson.

COMPETITION POLICY FROM A EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE: A CONSERSATION WITH EU COMMISSIONER FOR COMPETITION MARGRETHE VESTAGER. 9/18, 1:30- 2:30pm. Sponsor: AEI. Speaker: Margrethe Vestager, European Commission; Moderator: Jeffrey Eisenach, Visiting Scholar, AEI, Director, NERA Economic Consulting.

POPULISM AND THE ECONOMICS OF GLOBALIZATION. 9/18, 2:00pm. Sponsor: Inter-American Development Bank (IADB). Speaker: Dani Rodrik, Professor, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

WEIGHING BAD OPTIONS: REFLECTIONS ON PAST DIPLOMACY WITH NORTH KOREA AND ALLIANCE OPTIONS TODAY. 9/18, 2:00-3:30pm. Sponsors: U.S.-Japan Research Institute (USJI); Carnegie. Speakers: Christopher Hill, Ambassador, Denver University; Mitoji Yabunaka, Professor, Ritsumeikan University; Keiji Nakatsuji, Operating Advisor, USJI; Doug H. Paal, Vice President, Carnegie; Moderator: James Schoff, Senior Fellow, Asia Program, Carnegie.

THE IMPACT OF THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ON US-TAIWAN RELATIONS. 9/18, 2:00-3:30pm. Sponsor: Stimson Center. Speakers: Dr. Hung-jen Wang, Assistant Professor of Political Science at National Cheng Kung University.

AMID TRANSITION AND CONFLICT, 70 YEARS OF U.S.-BURMA TIES. 9/18, 3:00-4:30pm. Sponsor: U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). Speakers: U Aung, Ambassador of Burma to the United States; W. Patrick Murphy, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Southeast Asia, Department of State.

CHINA’S ARCTIC AND ANTARCTIC AMBITIONS. 9/18, 4:00-5:00pm. Sponsors: Kissinger Institute at Wilson Center, Polar Initiative. Speaker: Anne Marie Brady, Fellow, Kissinger Institute. Discussant: Michael Sfraga, Director, Polar Initiative. Moderator: Robert Daly, Director, Kissinger Institute.

THE GLOBALIZATION OF VENALITY: KLEPTOCRACY'S CORROSIVE IMPACT ON DEMOCRACY. 9/18, 4:00-5:30pm. Sponsor: National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Speakers: Oliver Bullough, Author, Let Our Fame Be Great and Last Man in Russia; Brett Carter, Professor, University of Southern California; Daniel Fried, Distinguished Fellow, Future Europe Initiative and Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council; Cynthia Gabriel, Founder, Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism; Moderator: Christopher Walker, Vice President, Studies and Analysis, NED. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Monday in Washington, September 11, 2017

INTERNATIONAL LAW AND THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: USE OF FORCE UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW. 9/11, 11:30am-12:30pm, Online. Sponsor: GWU Law School. Speakers: Jack Goldsmith, Harvard Law School, former Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice and former special counsel, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense; Oona Hathaway, Yale Law School, former special counsel, Office of General Counsel for National Security Law, U.S. Department of Defense; Moderator: Laura Dickinson, GWU Law School, former senior policy adviser, U.S. Department of State.

. 9/11, Noon-1:30pm. Sponsor: USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy. Speakers: Matt Chessen, Senior Technology Policy Advisor, U.S. Department of State; Jennifer Lambert, Deputy Director of Analytics, International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State; Luke Peterson, Director of Analytics, International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State; Lovisa Williams, Digital Strategist, PD's Office of Policy, Planning, and Resources, U.S. Department of State; Moderator: Shawn Powers, Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.
FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE CIA TALKS RUSSIA, VENEZUELA AND NORTH KOREA SANCTIONS. 9/11, Noon-1:30pm. Sponsors: Institute of International Economic Law (IIEL), Georgetown University; Atlantic Council. Speaker: David Cohen, Former Deputy Director, Central Intelligence Agency.

HARNESSING THE DATA REVOLUTION TO ACHIEVE THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS. 9/11, 1:30-3:00pm. Sponsors: Project on Prosperity and Development Cordially, CSIS; Japan International Cooperation Agency Research Institute (JICA-RI). Speakers: Naohiro Kitano, Director, JICA-RI; Alex Attal, Head, Digital Services; Shawn Dolley, Industry Leader, Health & Life Science Cloudera; Kenichi Konya, Senior Director, SDGs Mainstreaming Team, JICA; Claire Melamed, Executive Director, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data; Paul Zeitz, Former Director, Data Revolution For Sustainable Development, U.S. Department of State; Moderator: Daniel F. Runde, Director, Prosperity Project, CSIS.

NATO'S ADAPTATION AND PROJECTING STABILITY. 9/11, 1:30-3:00pm. Sponsor: Elliot School, GWU. Speaker: Gen. Denis Mercier, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, NATO.

UN AND INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION IN THE ERA OF TRUMP. 9/11, 2:00-3:30pm. Sponsor: U.S.-Japan Research Institute (USJI). Speakers: Kazuhiro Maeshima, Operating Advisor, USJI; Yasuhiro Ueki, Professor, Global Studies, Sophia University; Edward Luck, Professor, Columbia University; Barbara Crossette, Journalist, The Nation.

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AL-QA’IDA: SIXTEEN YEARS AFTER 9/11 AND BEYOND. 9/11, 2:00-4:00pm, Arlington, VA. Sponsor: Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies (IUCTS) and International Center for Terrorism Studies (ICTS), Potomac Institute; Inter-University Center for Legal Studies (IUCLS), International Law Institute; Center for National Security Law, University of Virginia School of Law. Speakers: Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann (Ret.), President, American Academy of Diplomacy; Mir Sadat, Policy Strategist, Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy. Moderator: Yonah Alexander, Director, IUCTS, Potomac Institute.

9/11, 4:00-5:00pm. Sponsor: History and Public Policy Program, Wilson Center (WWC). Speakers: Jeremi Suri, Chair, Leadership in Global Affairs, University of Texas at Austin (UT), Author, The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office; Moderators: Christian F. Ostermann, Director, History and Public Policy Program, WWC; Eric Arnesen, Professor, History, GWU.

A DISCUSSION OF THE KOREAN ECONOMIC AND SECURITY ALLIANCE WITH AMBASSADOR AHN HO-YOUNG. 9/11, 4:00-5:15pm, Washington, DC. Sponsors: WITA; National Economists Club (NEC). Speaker: Ahn Ho-Young, Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the USA, Fee.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Recognizing Japanese War Crimes Prior to 1945

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Documenting German and Japanese War Crimes prior to 1945: The UN War Crimes Commission

Tuesday, September 12, 2017
9:30 AM — 11:15 AM
Light breakfast

Book presentation with Dr. Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London and author of Human Rights After Hitler: The Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes. (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2017. 272 pages)

Cooperative program between Asia Policy Point and the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS)

American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS)
 R. G. Livingston Conference Room
1755 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Suite 700
Washington, DC,  20036 United States


Dr Dan Plesch will present his analysis of thousands of newly available indictments of Germans and Japanese many made during the Second World War and supported by the Allies. His presentation will draw on his book “Human Rights After Hitler: The Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes.” The book is based on the archive of the 1943-1948, 17-nation UN War Crimes Commission. Among the findings are indictments of Nazis for the death camps in 1944, while they were still operating and that these were considered and endorsed by representatives of China and still-Imperial India along with the Western Allies. His research demonstrates: that sexual violence in warfare was recognized during WWII as a war crime; that there was a working definition of a “crime against humanity” during WWII, not after; and that Asian states and Asians were involved in establishing this definition and in identifying war crimes prior to the end of the war. Most interesting, both the German and Japanese governments were aware of the work of the UNWCC and the terms of the indictments.

Dr Plesch directs the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London and his previous books include “America Hitler and the UN” and the “Beauty Queen's Guide to World Peace.” Dr Plesch read history at Nottingham and obtained professional qualifications in social work and public administration from Bristol in 1979 and 1980, he then worked for non-governmental organizations focused on the abolition of nuclear weapons. In 1986, he founded the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and directed it from Washington, DC until 2001, when he became the Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London.

His book will be available at the program or through this LINK

Monday, August 28, 2017

What's China's View On Abe’s Latest Cabinet Reshuffle?

Compared to the past, China has been relatively restrained in its criticism of Abe.

By Pengqiao Lu, was a research assistant at Asia Policy Point, he holds an M.A. in International Affairs from the George Washington University. His research focuses on security and economic governance in East Asia and Cross-strait relations. He has worked at multiple think tanks in Washington, DC. You can follow him on Twitter: @plu91

The Diplomat, August 17, 2017

On August 3, Japanese Prime Minister Abe reshuffled his cabinet. The shake-up came at a time when the prime minister was embroiled in scandals, his political protégé was under great pressure due to gaffes and missteps, and the ruling LDP was crushed in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election. Chinese media and scholars riveted by the shake-up have attempted to make assessments and speculation about its impact. Overall, while recognizing some positive signs, most Chinese commentators are pessimistic about the prospect of the Cabinet and a comprehensive Sino-Japan détente if Abe does not overhaul his domestic and foreign policy.

A Not-so-fresh Cabinet Signals the End of Abe Dominance
One view is that this reshuffle is a wholesale shake-up. A CRI online article tracked previous reshuffles: September 3, 2014, six out of 18 ministers were retained by Abe; October 7, 2015, 9 out of 19; and August 3, 2016, 8 out of 19; notably this time, only 5 were retained. The article hence described this Cabinet shake-up as the “largest political reshuffle since Abe took office.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Stability is another major feature stressed by Chinese commentaries. As China Central Television put it, “for a regime with plunging approvals, another failed Cabinet revamp could be fatal to it; therefore, the key word for the new Cabinet is stability.”

According to Chinese observers, Abe tries to reach that goal in three ways. First, purging cabinet members that — using a Xinhua article’s words — “fail to handle troubles effectively and leave a negative impression on the public.” Xinhua referred to then-Minister of Education Matsuno Hirokazu, then-Minister of State for the Promotion of Overcoming Population Decline and Vitalizing Local Economy in Japan Yamamoto Kozo, and then-Minister of Justice Kaneda Katsutoshi. Second, opting for political veterans over fresh faces in appointing ministers. Safe hands noticed by Chinese observers include the new Defense Minister Onodera Itsunori, new Justice Minister Kamikawa Yoko, new Education Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, and Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy Motegi Toshimitsu. Finally, retaining the core Cabinet members. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Aso Taro and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide as Abe’s “right-hand man” stay on.

Gao Hong, deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, commented that “Abe purged some of his ‘dumb friends,’ and picked some moderate and balanced new cabinet members, which will to some extent mollify Japanese public’s discontent.”

Moreover, Chinese analysts noted Abe’s emphasis on the factional balance in this Cabinet reshuffle. Li Ruoyu, a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote that “compared to previous Abe Cabinets, the new cabinet features less Abe’s personal preferences and more balancing among LDP’s factions. Diet members, such as Kono Taro and Noda Seiko, that have been keeping some distance from Abe, or even are potential challengers to Abe within the party, all assume ministerial posts in the Cabinet.”

Meanwhile, according to Meng Xiaoxu, an Associate Professor at the China University of International Relations, “for the 19 cabinet members, the number of ministers from the Kishida faction increased to 4, matching the largest faction in the LDP, the Hosoda faction. And Kishida Fumio himself was appointed the critical post of the Chairman of LDP Policy Research Council, a move to balance relations between factions. Appointing dissident Noda Seido also represents Abe’s compromise. Moreover, avoiding filling key posts with Abe’s confidants could also quell intra-party dissatisfaction, reduce internal threats, and stabilize the political situation.”

Since his return to premiership in December 2012, Abe has maintained seemingly invincible political dominance. On the grounds that this Cabinet reshuffle is so cautiously managed and “not-so-Abe”, Chinese analysts assert that such dominance has come to an end, or at least has been crippled. Lian Degui, Professor at the Shanghai International Studies University, observed that “Abe’s status has been shaken. Voters’ discontent is mainly targeted at Abe. Even a Cabinet reshuffle could not reverse the trend of Abe’s shrinking influence.”

Will the Reshuffle be Abe’s Lifesaver?
Barring major policies adjustments, most Chinese analysts are considerably pessimistic about the long-term effects of the cabinet revamp in terms of rescuing the Prime Minister’s political outlook. From their perspective, the current predicament stems from himself: his arrogant ruling style, and more importantly, his rightist policies.

Wang Shaopu, director of the Japan Study Center with the Shanghai Jiaotong University, wrote that “the reshuffle might have short-term effects but cannot ensure stability in the long run. The troubles of the Abe Cabinet were caused by Cabinet members such as Inada Tomomi, but were rooted in Abe… The root is Abe’s insistence on the national policies that are against the trend of the world. Currently there is few sign that Abe will fundamentally adjust those national policies. In this case, it is hard to imagine that Abe cabinet will get out of the mess because of the changes of several cabinet members.” Consequently, he predicted that “in the foreseeable future, Japan will operate under a government with low supporting rates and political infighting will hence intensify.”

Chinese observers used more space to speculate the effects of this reshuffle on the Sino-Japan relations.

The appointment of Kono Taro, the son of the famous China-friendly politician Kono Yohei, as the foreign minister, the increasing influence of dovish Kishida faction within the Cabinet and the LDP leadership, and the retention of other China hands (namely, Vice-President of the LDP Komura Masahiko and LDP Secretary General Nikai Toshihiro) all caught Chinese analysts’ eyes. Some observers gave Abe credit for those arrangements and therefore expressed some optimism about the prospect of improving Sino-Japanese ties.

Gao Hong, for example, commented that “Overall, this Cabinet reshuffle and LDP’s personnel changes do not overtly provoke China. Nikai Toshihiro stays as the General Secretary and Kono Taro is appointed as the New Foreign Minister. Both leave some space for the stabilization and improvement of bilateral relations.”

Lu Zhongwei, the former president of China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), also commented on the combination of a hawkish Itsunori Onodera and a dovish Kono “might suggest that Japan’s China diplomacy will make slight adjustments.”

Zhang Jingwei, Senior Researcher at the Charhar Institute, believed that “the appointment of a China hand Kono Taro as the Foreign Minister will have some positive effects on cracking the history disputes among China, Japan, and South Korea.”

Lian Degui was even more optimistic, claiming that the strong presence of doves in the leadership will push the new Cabinet’s Asia policy “moving toward moderation” and “is bound to be of some help for improving Sino-Japan ties.”

However, Chinese analysts also cautioned against expectations of an overhaul in Abe’s China policy and a comprehensive Sino-Japan détente for three reasons.

First, the doves’ influence in the Cabinet will be constrained as Abe is the ultimate decision-maker. Li Ruoyu, for example, wrote that “whether Abe’s appointment of Kono Taro as the Foreign Minister signals an all-around transition in Japan’s foreign policy? Not necessarily. Even if we assume Kono Taro completely follows his father’s foreign policy, it is certain that an independent foreign policy under the Foreign Minister is impossible… Kono could only take limited initiatives under the premise of implementing Abe’s foreign policy approach.”

Lu Yaodong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences viewed Abe’s appointment of Kono more as a move to stabilize LDP factions and earn their support, and to make preparations for submitting the Diet a draft new Constitution.

A Global Times editorial mocked: “Abe is a born hawk; even if he stuck several doves’ feathers in his wings, his eyes, his mouth and his voice couldn’t hide his hawkish gene.”

Second, Abe shows no sign of fundamentally shifting his Asia policy. Arguing that “the nation’s rightward trend has not changed,” Lu Zhongwei thought that “Abe see that as the historical mission of the LDP and the political standard for picking officials to make sure the new Cabinet continue to push Japan moving forward along this path.” Meanwhile, he also believed that “[Abe’s] thinking of leaning on the U.S. and confronting China has not changed.” In a word, “this move seems new, yet old in essence, entailing not many adjustments to the ever-existing political mindset and governance style over the past five years,” he wrote.

Finally, the structural contradictions have decided the limits of Sino-Japan détente. Zhang Jingwei predicted that “even if Abe steps down, no matter who succeeds, Sino-Japan relations still face structural conundrums. The geopolitical situation in the Northeastern Asia shifts as the power pendulum sways. Deep down, the historical impasse and contemporary contradictions are not caused by Abe himself, but rather a reality of many interweaving factors.” Similarly, a CRI online article warned that “the structural contradictions will not disappear with Cabinet reshuffle or administration change.”

An Opportunity for Sino-Japan Ties?
The examination of Chinese views toward Abe’s latest Cabinet reshuffle indicates that in contrast to their harsh rhetoric in the past, Chinese sources are relatively restrained in their criticism against Abe. Judging from their commentaries, this is because of a strong dovish presence in the Cabinet and LDP leadership that could potentially check Abe’s rightward impulses. And many Chinese analysts interpret such presence itself as Abe’s signal to show his willingness to improve Sino-Japan ties.

Unfortunately, their analyses also reveal their ingrained mistrust of Abe. They seriously doubt he would make any fundamental shift in his China policy. Meanwhile, when compared to 2006, when Koizumi’s step-down ignited optimist feelings that Sino-Japan ties would quickly rebound, many Chinese observers now seem to believe that the structural contradictions are so deep that even if Abe cabinet could not last, a comprehensive Sino-Japan détente would still be unrealistic. On these grounds, they contend that the warming of ties would be tactical and limited.

Nonetheless, as long as steps toward détente are steady, a little bit sluggishness does not matter. One critical reason for the chilliness in these years’ Sino-Japan exchanges is that there are fractures in the foundation of the relationship. If those fractures could be carefully healed, a Sino-Japan springtime will come, sooner or later.

Koike tests possibilities and perils of populism in Japan

Populism is revanchism by another name in Japan

BY Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan and APP Member


The horrendous images beamed around the world from Charlottesville, Virginia, serve as a poignant reminder that white-supremacist populism is a toxic force in the United States. President Donald Trump’s repugnant response, coming out on the wrong side of history on both Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, inflamed passions and reminded everyone that he is unfit to be president.

The Brexit vote, Trump’s election and French President Emmanuel Macron’s thumping victory are symptomatic of the age of anger we live in. Populism is about claiming to represent the “real people” and targeting the establishment, corruption and immorality. Populists feed on social discontent and promise to clean up a bankrupt system that is rigged for the favored few while the interests of the “real people” are neglected. They invoke culture wars and promise to revive and protect traditional values and community ties that have been sundered by a self-seeking elite. They promise a better life and trade in disappointment and nationalist grandstanding.

Populists have astutely exploited unease about job security and rising inequality, stoking resentment against the broken promises of globalization made by the political and business establishment.

So why no populist revolt after Japan’s economic bubble collapsed in 1990 or the 2008 “Lehman shock”? Perhaps this is because Japanese politics is influenced by a culture that esteems self-effacement, proper conduct and harmony. This is to say that a bumptious and meretricious candidate like Donald Trump is unthinkable.

Populism feeds on significant disparities in wealth, power and cultural values between the governing elite and “the people” and harps on a shared feeling of exclusion — slim pickings here as income disparities are relatively modest and social cohesion is strong.

Anti-immigrant activism is also quite limited because there are not many in Japan. Non-Japanese legally resident in the country total about 2.23 million, with an additional 200,000 foreign trainees and 240,000 foreign students. Japan’s welcome mat for asylum seekers is minuscule, with the government accepting just 28 refugees from a total of 10,901 applicants in 2016, so there is not much to grandstand against.

Zaitokukai, a right-wing fringe organization, has been at the forefront of xenophobic agitation, targeting Japan’s Zainichi community of ethnic Koreans who came to Japan in the prewar era, mostly under duress, and remained after Japan’s 1945 defeat. But its hatemongering confronted much larger counter-demonstrations, and in the 2016 Tokyo elections the group’s founder ran and won 110,000 votes. That’s puny compared to the nearly 3 million votes that clinched Yuriko Koike the governorship, but that’s still a lot of xenophobes.

Populism in Japan is not feeding on resentments stirred by glaring economic disparities, a large immigrant population or significant cultural divisions. Instead, Koike is riding an anti-establishment populist wave like her mentor, Junichiro Koizumi. He became president of the Liberal Democratic Party in 2001 by promising voters that he would destroy the party. He didn’t sugarcoat his agenda, instead embracing the slogan “No pain, no gain,” offering hope of better times down the road, but only if the public would bite the bullet now; voters loved it. He was a populist neoliberal raging against the conservative establishment who convinced people he was on their side against the vested interests, even as his popularity helped the party that represents those interests.

Telegenic and charismatic, Koizumi was the first Japanese prime minster who understood the power of media in the theater of politics. He barked out pithy sound bites, controlling the message by giving the media what they needed on his terms.

Current PM Shinzo Abe is no populist, but he has learned about the threat of populism. Koike emulates Koizumi in the theater of politics, winning public acclaim by promoting transparency and accountability regarding the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the relocation of the iconic Tsukij fish market. The public lapped up the spectacle provided by hearings that skewered the LDP old guard for sweetheart deals and greenlighting the market’s relocation to a toxic site. It was classic David vs. Goliath — we the people against the powers that be — earning Koike kudos for having the guts to challenge the powerful dinosaurs that call the shots in Japan.

Koike embraces right-wing political positions very similar to Abe’s, so her new party, Nippon First no Kai (Japan First), will struggle to stake out policy positions that make it an appealing alternative to the LDP. Her formula for success has been outing cronyism, promoting transparency and making the establishment look fusty and clueless, admittedly not a big challenge when you can serve up ex-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and Yoshiro Mori, head of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, as exhibits A and B. In championing transparency and accountability, she has made a name for herself on issues that Abe is vulnerable on given recent scandals, missing documents and his having let Tomomi Inada off the hook for what appears to be a scandalous role in an alleged coverup at the Defense Ministry on her watch.

Koike faces stiff challenges, however, in translating her appeal in Tokyo into a nationwide populist movement. Just ask former Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto, who tried and failed.

Problematically, Abe occupies Koike’s ideological comfort zone, so she needs to cannibalize his base to get any traction. It is thus imperative that she presents an alternative policy agenda to highlight their differences and tap into simmering dissatisfaction with the status quo. Pushing for a comprehensive indoor smoking ban in Tokyo and promoting work-life balance to cut down on excessive hours will help, but she needs much more. She could gain considerable support by declaring opposition to nuclear reactor restarts and pledging to phase out nuclear energy.

Success brings heightened scrutiny. Back in 2012, Kazusa Noda, who Koike named as head of Tokyo First in 2016, suggested the current Constitution should be invalidated and that Japan should return to the pre-World War II version. But isn’t that Abe territory?

As Koike’s record comes under closer scrutiny, the media may pop her populist bubble. Indeed, the Asahi and Mainichi are now challenging her pro-transparency image, with the Asahi giving her a grade of ‘F’ for her first year in office due to her “black box” approach to policymaking. They assert that there was no transparency in her signature policy reforms and she is acting just like her predecessors.

Populists thrive on the limelight, but it could prove Koike’s undoing, as France’s Macron now knows all too well. Bet she now wishes she had not made a point of saying how similar they are.