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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"

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 »

An East China Sea Update

by Sheila A. Smith
Admiral Samuel J. Locklear (L), Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the start of their talks at the Abe's official residence in Tokyo February 3, 2014 Admiral Samuel J. Locklear (L), Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the start of their talks at the Abe's official residence in Tokyo February 3, 2014. (Kimimasa Mayama/Courtesy Reuters)

Since China announced its new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on November 23, there has been much debate over what this means for the U.S.-Japan alliance. In the East China Sea, the acute political tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over the Senkaku Islands have not abated nor has Beijing responded to Japan’s call for developing maritime risk reduction mechanisms. Meanwhile, a recent Nikkei poll revealed that 84 percent of its respondents were “anxious” about relations with Washington. Read more »

The Constancy of Contest with Okinawa

by Sheila A. Smith
Coral reefs are seen along the coast near the U.S. Marine base Camp Schwab, off the tiny hamlet of Henoko in Nago on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, in this aerial photo taken by Kyodo on January 14, 2014. (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters) Coral reefs are seen along the coast near the U.S. Marine base Camp Schwab, off the tiny hamlet of Henoko in Nago on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, in this aerial photo taken on January 14, 2014. (Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters)

On Sunday, voters in Nago City re-elected their mayor, Susumu Inamine. Compared with his predecessors, Inamine’s margin of victory was high—more than 4,000 votes more than his challenger. Unlike his predecessors, however, Inamine campaigned solidly against the relocation of the U.S. Marine airfield to his community, a policy advocated by Japan’s prime minister. Despite the Okinawa governor’s decision to approve construction of a new runway just weeks earlier, Inamine proclaimed that he would do all that he can to thwart the construction of the runway for the U.S. Marines in his city. Read more »

Abe’s Yasukuni Visit: The Consequences?

by Sheila A. Smith
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) is led by a Shinto priest as he visits Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo December 26, 2013 Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe (C) is led by a Shinto priest as he visits Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo December 26, 2013 (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters).

On December 26, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an official visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, drawing harsh criticism from Japan’s neighbors and a public rebuke from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Now that he has done it, what are the likely policy consequences? Read more »

A New Strategy for a New Era

by Sheila A. Smith
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (4th L), flanked by Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera (5th L), reviews Japan Self-Defence Forces' (SDF) troops during the annual SDF ceremony at Asaka Base in Asaka, near Tokyo October 27, 2013 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (4th L), flanked by Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera (5th L), reviews Japan Self-Defence Forces' (SDF) troops during the annual SDF ceremony at Asaka Base in Asaka, near Tokyo October 27, 2013 (Issei Kato/Courtesy Reuters).

Calling it a “proactive strategy for maintaining peace,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today announced Japan’s new long-term National Security Strategy (NSS). This strategy statement is new for Japan, and represents the first comprehensive, “whole-of-government” effort to articulate the ends and means for Japan’s long-term security. While North Korea remains a serious challenge, the Abe cabinet has abandoned past hesitancy and has clearly identified China and its maritime activities as Japan’s primary security concern. Read more »

Drawing Lines in the East China Sea

by Sheila A. Smith
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks after a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013 U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks after a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013 (Lintao Zhang/Courtesy Reuters).

When Vice President Joe Biden originally planned his trip to Northeast Asia, the policy agenda for each of his stops differed. In Japan, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was high on his list; in Beijing, it was cementing his friendship with China’s new leader, Xi Jinping; and, in Seoul the road ahead in coping with Pyongyang seemed most important. Liz Economy does a terrific job of evaluating the vice president’s impact in China, and Scott Snyder offers his insights on how Biden managed the sensitive diplomatic moment in Seoul. Read more »