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Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

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Showing posts for "Sheila A. Smith"

Another Election in Tokyo

by Sheila A. Smith
Passers-by are reflected on an electronic board showing Japan's Nikkei stock average and the Japanese yen's exchange rate against the U.S. dollar (top) at a brokerage in Tokyo, November 17, 2014. Japan's Nikkei share average tumbled 2.6 percent to a one-week low on Monday morning after Japan's economy unexpectedly slipped into recession. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced that he will postpone a planned consumption tax increase in an effort to stimulate Japan's economy. (Courtesy Reuters) Passers-by are reflected on an electronic board showing Japan's Nikkei stock average and the Japanese yen's exchange rate against the U.S. dollar (top) at a brokerage in Tokyo, November 17, 2014. Japan's Nikkei share average tumbled 2.6 percent to a one-week low on Monday morning after Japan's economy unexpectedly slipped into recession. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced that he will postpone a planned consumption tax increase in an effort to stimulate Japan's economy. (Courtesy Reuters)

Snap elections are a staple of parliamentary democracy, and every now and then, ruling politicians decide that an election is needed to ensure that they continue to have a popular mandate if they change course. Prime Minister Abe has just announced he will dissolve the Diet on November 21, and hold a snap election in December to gain the Japanese public’s endorsement of his leadership of Japan’s economic recovery. Prompted by worse than expected economic results for the third quarter of this year, Abe has decided to postpone a second tax hike that would have raised the consumption tax to 10 percent, and instead focus on stimulating Japan’s economy. Read more »

Japan and China Get to Yes on an Abe-Xi Summit

by Sheila A. Smith
Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda (L), chairman of the Boao Forum for Asia, meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 29, 2014. (Courtesy REUTERS/Kyodo News/Takaki Yajima/Pool) Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda (L), chairman of the Boao Forum for Asia, meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 29, 2014. (Courtesy REUTERS/Kyodo News/Takaki Yajima/Pool)

On November 7, Japan and China revealed they had reached an understanding on their differences that would allow for a resumption of diplomacy. After several years of a virtual shutdown in bilateral talks, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping are preparing to meet face-to-face at next week’s APEC meeting. Economic needs may be driving Xi, but strategic concerns are on the top of Abe’s agenda. Read more »

Japan’s Pivot to India

by Sheila A. Smith
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a signing ceremony at the state guest house in Tokyo September 1, 2014.  (Shizuo Kambayashi/Courtesy Reuters) India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a signing ceremony at the state guest house in Tokyo September 1, 2014. (Shizuo Kambayashi/Courtesy Reuters)

India’s newly elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, made his first geostrategic move in Asia’s complex new dynamics this week, and together with Prime Minister Abe, catapulted the Japan-India relationship into a “special strategic and global partnership.” Two goals focused their attention: bolstering their national economies and contending with China’s growing influence. Read more »

Can Abe Build Support for Security Reforms?

by Sheila A. Smith
Empty voting boxes are seen at a ballot counting center for the upper house election in Tokyo July 21, 2013 Empty voting boxes are seen at a ballot counting center for the upper house election in Tokyo July 21, 2013. (Yuya Shino/Courtesy Reuters)

Even as regional challenges to Japan’s security have intensified, the domestic debate over security reforms continues to reveal deep divisions in Japan. Since coming into office a year and a half ago, the Shinzo Abe cabinet has sought an overhaul of its security policy, including a revision of the U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation guidelines that shape alliance military planning. Abe’s predecessor, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), argued for similar alliance reforms. Upgrading alliance cooperation has not been an easy process as political change in Japan has created a complex legislative balance in the Diet. Read more »

Reinterpreting Japan’s Constitution

by Sheila A. Smith
A protester raises a placard as they gather at a rally against Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to expand Japan's military role in front of Abe's official residence in Tokyo June 30, 2014 A protester raises a placard as they gather at a rally against Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe's push to expand Japan's military role in front of Abe's official residence in Tokyo June 30, 2014. (Issei Kato/Courtesy Reuters)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed a reinterpretation of Japan’s postwar constitution to allow the military to use force alongside other national militaries, a right that postwar Japanese leaders have to date refused their Self-Defense Force (SDF). Japan’s decision will shape the way the SDF cooperates not only with the U.S. military but with other militaries in Asia, where relations are increasingly fraught. Japan has already expanded its security consultations with a variety of regional powers, including Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, and India, and has relaxed restrictions on the transfer of military technology. Now, the SDF could play a role in building regional military coalitions. Read more »

Reading Japan’s Deal With North Korea

by Sheila A. Smith
Photographers take pictures of Shigeru Yokota (L) and his wife Sakie (C), parents of Megumi Yokota who was abducted by North Korea agents at age 13 in 1977, during a news conference in Kawasaki, west of Tokyo, March 17, 2014 Photographers take pictures of Shigeru Yokota (L) and his wife Sakie (C), parents of Megumi Yokota who was abducted by North Korea agents at age 13 in 1977, during a news conference in Kawasaki, west of Tokyo, March 17, 2014. (Yuya Shino/Courtesy Reuters)

Last week, the Japanese government announced a new deal with Pyongyang to reopen discussions over the fate of the Japanese citizens abducted decades ago by the North. While Seoul and Washington worried that this initiative by Tokyo might undermine trilateral cooperation, this is far from an effort by the Shinzo Abe cabinet to craft a new grand bargain with Kim Jong-un.

Rather, this is a limited effort in response to Pyongyang’s attempts to pursue humanitarian diplomacy with both Seoul and Tokyo. Movement on bilateral talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang is long overdue, and Tokyo—like Beijing and Seoul—may want to develop some leverage in its talks with North Korea. Read more »

Japan’s New Conversation on Its Constitution

by Sheila A. Smith
Article 9 (from 4th L to the edge of left) is seen on the replica of an official original copy of the Constitution of Japan, during a photo opportunity at National Archives of Japan in Tokyo May 21, 2013 Article 9 (from 4th L to the edge of left) is seen on the replica of an official original copy of the Constitution of Japan, during a photo opportunity at National Archives of Japan in Tokyo May 21, 2013. (Issei Kato/Courtesy Reuters)

On Thursday, the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security presented Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with its long anticipated report advocating for loosening the restraints on the use of force by the Japanese military. The panel advocates a reinterpretation of the Constitution to allow the SDF to use force on behalf of other nations.

This call for an expansive review of existing policy on how the Self-Defense Force (SDF) currently operates, however, is not government policy. In his statement yesterday, Abe outlined a narrower ambition. Over the remainder of this year and into the next, we should expect to see an important debate in Japan over how to honor the spirit of the postwar Constitution while revisiting this question of when and how the Japanese military can use force. Read more »

Our Anxiety as the President Heads to Asia

by Sheila A. Smith
U.S. President Barack Obama walks among Cherry Blossoms in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington March 20, 2012. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama walks among cherry blossoms in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington March 20, 2012. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)

Anxiety is everywhere these days in the debate over U.S. policy toward Asia. Here in Washington, there seems to be deep anxiety about the Obama administration’s ability to fulfill its promise to rebalance to Asia. In Asia itself, the anxiety is more about the staying power of the United States in a region undergoing a challenging geostrategic shift, and often that anxiety is manifest not in what the United States does on a daily basis but in what the president will or will not say out loud when he goes there next week.

There is reason for anxiety, to be sure. But let’s make sure we are anxious about what matters. Let’s have a conversation about policy goals instead of atmospherics and personalities. And, rather than declare Obama’s visit to Asia doomed before it even begins, it might be wise to consider on balance the positive accomplishments as well as the limitations of current U.S. policy initiatives in Asia. Read more »

The President as Facilitator in Chief

by Sheila A. Smith
U.S. President Barack Obama holds a tri-lateral meeting with President Park Geun-hye of the South Korea (L) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan (R) after the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague March 25, 2014 U.S. president Barack Obama holds a tri-lateral meeting with President Park Geun-hye of South Korea (L) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan (R) after the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague March 25, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

As if on cue, Pyongyang yet again emphasized the importance of trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan, and South Korea when it fired two Nodong missiles into the Sea of Japan. The timing was perfect—President Barack Obama was meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Park Geun-hye at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. The focus of their talks? North Korea’s threat to regional security. Read more »

Japan’s Painful Choice on the Ukraine Crisis

by Sheila A. Smith
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a signing ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow April 29, 2013. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Gazprom is ready to help Japan with construction of new facilities for gas imports, but stopped short of offering Tokyo concrete participation in gas projects in Russia. REUTERS/Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS ENERGY) - RTXZ3HU Russia's president Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe during a signing ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow April 29, 2013. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/Courtesy Reuters)

This post is one of a three-part Asia Unbound series on the implications for Asia of the crisis in Ukraine. See related posts from my colleagues Elizabeth Economy and Alyssa Ayres.

The Russian decision to send military forces to the Ukraine has created a painful set of choices for Tokyo. Like some in Europe, Japan’s energy dependence on Russia makes the idea of sanctions troubling. Yet Tokyo too is particularly sensitive these days to the international community’s willingness to oppose the use of force to seize territory. With China increasingly challenging its sovereignty over islands in the East China Sea, Japan can hardly hesitate to stand up for others around the globe who are challenged by great power land grabs. Read more »