Tag Archives: Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Asia scrum


Rather suddenly there is a welter of developments turning Asia’s dozen-odd countries into a cat’s cradle of conflicting interests – some new — that could lead to war.

Central, of course, is “a rising” China. The Chinese, themselves, have given up the phrase “a peaceful rising”. That was a promise that the new boy on the block would not repeat a united Germany’s late arrival as a strong player in Europe, setting off two world wars. Now almost daily aggressive rhetoric in official Chinese media is matched by extravagant territorial claims against its neighbors in northeast and southeast Asia coupled with a rapid naval buildup. Infringement of the cease fire lines in the Himalayas accompanies temporary military thrusts against Indian forces.

China’s only ally in the region, North Korea – dependent on Beijing aid for its very existence – has turned even more enigmatic. A highly publicized – unusual in such frequent eruptions – purging of its No. 2 leader is inexplicable even to the experts. Its tightly controlled media showed Jang Song Thaek being yanked off to prison. Then the uncle by marriage to the 31-year-old Kim Job-Un, third member of the Kim dynasty, was summarily executed.

One side effect has been both official media in China and North Korea accusing each other of perfidy; Jang was close to Chinese official and business interests. Yet there is no sign that they are not still wedded in their opposition to Japan and the U.S. These events have written a death notice for Washington’s continuing hope that Beijing could and would intervene to halt North Korea’s expanding weapons of mass destruction program. And the Obama Administration, like its predecessors has no answer to the conundrum of the continuing Pyongyang blackmail for additional aid as an incentive to halt its weapons program.

On the other side of the East [or Japan] Sea, most of which Beijing now claims as a restricted area, Japan’s extremely popular Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has defiantly defended Tokyo’s longstanding claim to sovereignty of disputed rocks between its Islands and the Mainland. His attempt to restore Japan’s economy, dawdling for a decade, has been accompanied by a campaign to regain a sense of national purpose. His strategy includes breaking through the virtual monopoly of the leftwing mainstream media not excluding the government radio and the Communist Nikyoso teachers union. Visiting Japan’s shrine to its fallen war dead was part and parcel of that cultural offensive. But because of the enshrinement there of World War II war criminals, it was looked on askance [and for propaganda] by Beijing and South Korea.

Obvious self-interest is being flaunted for political advantage: Beijing threatens to impose economic strictures on Tokyo. Seoul has refused needed Japanese ammunition for its UN Peacekeeping Force under attack in South Sudan. In a period of rapidly declining GDP and attempts at reform, Beijing can ill afford to abandon its heavy reliance on Japan for China assembly for third Japanese markets. Furthermore, Beijing has always looked to Tokyo not only for investment but for technological and management know-how, reflected in Japan being China’s No. 1 supplier in their $334 billion trade [2012]. Seoul’s collaboration with Japan, including such recent joint naval exercises, is essential for any effective counter to China’s power sponsored by the U.S. in Asia.

Abe, anticipating that Beijing despite all the talk of reform will not be able to boost its domestic consumption, long the holy grail of Japanese and Western business, is encouraging Japanese business to look elsewhere. Already Japanese direct investment into China plunged by nearly 37% in the first nine months of 2013, to only $6.5 billion, in part because of the outlook for Chinese markets. Alternatively Japanese investment in Southeast Asia’s four major economies ­— Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines —­ surged by over 120% to almost $7.9 billion.

Tokyo is moving quickly to exploit the new opening in Burma through its traditional special relationship there, Not least it cultivates opposition leader Suu Kyi, whose father, one of the martyred leaders of the independence struggle, was a Japanese protégé. Tokyo has written off more than $5 billion in debt for the reforming generals, and offered new infrastructure loans. Completing the circle, Tokyo has just announced $3 billion for Burma’s long-suffering minorities in off and revolt against the central government since independence.

Japan’s attempt to move away from China toward South Asia has its geopolitical aspects as well: a recent joint naval exercise with Indian forces off that country’s coast, a first, backs up its attempt to encourage an export led investment in the other Asian giant. It is part of a growing Japanese military, integration with its U.S. ally, and projection of its power and prestige overseas.

Radical shifts are taking place elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Thailand’s feud between an urban Sino-Thai Establishment – including avid supporters of the King and Queen – and rural voters is escalating. Rioting with upcoming elections – which the opposition threatens to boycott – have already dampened continued rapid expansion of tourism which accounts for over 7% of Thailand’s economy. And it could threaten foreign investment which has made region’s leading automobile industry a cog in the growing worldwide car assembly network.

Eighty-six-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is ill and apparently unable, especially given his closest followers’ involvement, to make his usual intervention to calm political waters. And the Thai military, which many hoped had been ruled out of a new democratic, booming society, now have hinted they will lapse back into their old coup habit as they did in 2008 if street violence continues. Meanwhile, no one is paying much attention to a growing insurgency in Thailand’s Malay provinces on its southern border. That augurs badly for the region with Malaysia’s own increasingly Islamicist Malays moving toward conflict with its Chinese and Indian minorities, and more radical politicians arising in the more isolated states on Thailand’s border.

Indonesia, largely ignored despite its fourth largest population in the world nearing 250 million – almost a third under 14 — has temporarily staved off a balance of payments crisis. But its meager 3.6% increase in gross national product in 2013 is not what is required for one of the world’s most resource endowed countries with a generally docile and hardworking population. Highly dependent on a few mineral and agricultural specialty exports, Indonesia has been hard hit by the downturn in the world commodity prices. Despite large oil and gas potential, one of the founders of the Organization of Petroleum Export Countries [OPEC] became a net importer in 2009. Corruption, protectionism and fluctuating economic and fiscal policies have discouraged foreign investment and technological transfer. Despite conventional wisdom that Islam in Indonesia is moderate and catholic, incorporating large elements of its pagan and Hindu past, the world’s largest Muslim nation has always had a virulent jihadist movement. Indonesian authorities have been less than prescient in cracking down on it. In a deteriorating economy, it could become a major factor in the worldwide Islamicist terrorist network.

It was into this rapidly moving miasma that Sec. of State Hillary Clinton just two years ago announced the Obama Administration’s “pivot”, a turn from concentration on the Middle East to focus on Asia. But to continue Clinton’s metaphor, a pivot is a “central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates”. It could well be that in the world of diplomacy – and geopolitical strategy — one does not reveal the fulcrum. The U.S. has every reason to hope and even pretend that the growing aggressive rhetoric and behavior of Communist China is not the central issue in Asia for the foreseeable future. But to ignore that threat publicly is not to make it central to the strategy shift which was so loudly proclaimed.

Yet, particularly in its relations with Japan, since 1950 the keystone of American strategy in Asia, the Obama Administration appears not to have a China policy beyond associating itself rhetorically with China’s neighbors resisting Beijing’s encroachment. It may be just as well that U.S.-Japanese military integration under an expanded Mutual Defense Treaty is moving rapidly ahead on autopilot. For despite Tokyo’s continued public espousal of close relations, the coolness between Abe’s Tokyo and Obama’s Washington are an open secret. The strong – by the exotic standards of formal diplomatese – of Washington denunciation of Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine [“disappointing”] — was a shock in Tokyo despite an earlier warning. Washington’s refusal to take a direct hand in smoothing relations between its two most important bilateral allies in Asia, Japan and South Korea, has been …disappointing in Tokyo and elsewhere. That is particularly true since U.S.diplomats [and retired Foreign Service Officers] and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have publicly espoused mediation between Japan and China.

The Washington-sponsored Trans Pacific Partnership, an ambitious attempt to create a vast new common market including 40% of U.S. trade, all North America and some hangers-on, is stagnating, in part because of inattention from the Administration’s leaders. And it is no secret that excluding China from the TPP – even if there were not substantial justification given its unfair trading practices – is presumably a part of the pivot.

But shaking off the Middle East, even with repeated attempts at “leading from behind”, is certainly not conclusive. This weekend’s crisis in Iraq and Washington’s promise to intervene short of boots on the ground shows how hard it will be to disentangle the U.S. from primary concentration on the area. Sec. of State John Kerry’s persistent – if unrealistic – devotion of enormous time and energy toward a breakthrough in Israel-Palestinian relations, too, points in another direction

The U.S. President is scheduled for a swing through Asia in April. It remains to be seen whether the Administration will publicly try to tidy up its “pivot’ with new initiatives.

.Until then the “pivot” is flapping in the growing East winds of change.

sws-05-01-14

 

 

Advertisements

In a world he never intended [to make]


Normal
0

MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

 

The Obama Administration’s foreign policy begins to look like that tightly wound ball of crocheting thread which the kitten has been playing with for several hours and is now finally completely unraveling. How innocent the kitty is may be a question in the eye of the beholder. But the disarray is so vast as to be unfathomable:

 

Iran

 

The agreement not to reach agreement on a six-months pact for adjusting U.S. and Western interests with Iran, which Pres. Obama said only had a 50-50 chance, is falling apart even before it officially begins. Sources from inside the never very effective UN International Atomic Energy Commission say the agreement cannot be policed or enforced. The $10 billion in additional oil exports it permts the Mullahs in Iran will help bail them out of crisis economic situation while they continue to hurl threats at the world and call for an end to all sanctions. The Administration after giving Tehran relief by not instituting penalties against new violations of the existing sanctions regime, has now reserved itself. But Pres. Obama opposes bipartisan Senate and House members pushing legislation for new sanctions if and when the short-term agreement collapses. All sides admit/claim that Iran’s search for enriched uranium and nuclear weapons and a delivery system is going forward without hindrance during the truce period.

 

Israel

 

Ignoring the fact Secretary John  Kerry’s negotiations mandate is only dealing with one of the three Palestinian elements – the PLO on the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan – new obstacles have arisen. Kerry has thrown over bitterly and long time negotiated U.S.-Israeli guidelines for its security if a Palestinian state comes into being. So he has inadvertently manufactured a new crisis over Israel’s continued presence in the JordanValley. With growing threats from Iran-armed officially designated terrorists, Hezbollah in the Lebanon north and Hamas in the Gaza south, armed by Iran, no Israeli government is going to accede to any major concessions on their eastern flank with an always fragile Jordan now facing new difficulties with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

 

Syria

 

Washington has had to abandon the dribble of aid to the “moderate” opposition in Syria fighting for an overthrow of the Assad regime because of a takeover of the motley anti-Assad forces by jihadists. A new and even more violent jihad group has supplanted earlier groups linked to Al Qaeda. There are no prospects for the proposed U.S.-Soviet sponsored conference to end the civil war. Not only has the mechanics for disarming Assad’s chemical weapons collapsed, but the bloody dictator – perhaps now in the hands of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – is currently carrying out a bloody air war against opposition elements in the second city of Aleppo. In part because of Obama’s maybe-in, maybe-out Syrian initiatives, the Assad government has a new lease on life, But this more and more desperate use of air power and heavy weaponry against poorly armed opposition forces and civilians not only continues the humanitarian crisis, but threatens to spread the war to its neighbors, including Israel.

 

Saudis and Gulf States

 

:The U.S. has lost all credibility with its longtime allies, the Saudis, and the Gulf sheikhdoms, because of its failure to formulate an effective Syrian policy and its hostility to the new military-sponsored government in Egypt [below]. Reports of Saudi overtures to both the Soviets and Iran are probably propaganda, but the Saudis – always pragmatic – are now apparently thinking of trying to compromise their differences with the Shia mullahs given the seemingly inevitable approach of a nuclear-capable Tehran. Intelligence cooperation between the Israelis and the Saudis, sharing their mutual hostility to Washington’s flirtation with Tehran, are probably exaggerated. All this is complicated for the vulnerability of the Saudis [and the rest of OPEC] to the shale revolution in the U.S. which is turning North America into major net exporter of fossil fuels and breaking the hold over the longer term of Mideast oil. China’s appetite for increasing imports of energy are also feeding into a deteriorating presence of the U.S. in the region, ironically despite the fact that the President is surrounded by “Arabists” long sympathetic to anti-Israel machinations of the radical Arabs.

 

Egypt

 

Washington’s alliance with Cairo [which along with the Egyptians’ peace treaty with the Israel and the alliance with Jerusalem] has been the cornerstone of U.S. middle east policy for almost four decades. It is now in tatters. The Obama Administration’s refusal to recognize the general popularity of the military coup which overthrew a growing oppression of the Islamicist regime of the Muslim Brotherhood has alienated the Egyptian military. And for the first time since former Pres. Anwar Sadat threw the Soviets out of the Mideast, Cairo is letting the Russian nose back under the tent. Moscow probably cannot fulfill its promised deliveries of arms to Cairo – nor are the Saudis and the Gulf sheikhdoms now footing Egypt’s deficits likely to permit it – but it has handed Russian President Vladimir Putin another bit of useful propaganda. The erosion of U.S. relations wit Egypt, by far the most populous Arab state and the longtime center of Sunni culture, is a major disaster for peace and stability in the area.

 

Russia.

 

With his tacit ally, Iran, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin has become the arbiter of the Syrian situation, continuing to support the Assad regime against the jihadist-dominated opposition which Washington now fears to support. By going to the aid of Pres.Viktor Yanukovych with emergency financing and discounted natural gas prices, Putin has forced the Ukrainian regime to curb its growing ties with the European Community. The hostility between the nationalist western Ukraine and the Russian-speaking eastern rust-belt threatens the unity of a very fragile new state. But Putin can, at least for the moment, quietly trumpet it as part of a growing successful plan to reassemble the old “Soviet republics” into a new Moscow sphere of influence and customs union resembling the old Communist state. Despite the refusal of the German, British and American heads of state to attend, Putin has lavished some $70 billion – and still counting – on the February Winter Olympics where he hopes to crown his and Russia’s return to superpower status. Obama’s concessions to Moscow on missile defense – embarrassing Polish and Czech allies – and other attempts at concessions for a modus operandi with Putin’s Moscow have fallen disastrously short. And while Putin’s ambitions are likely to be short-lived, he has the capacity to add additional muddle to U.S, policies in the Mideast, Europe and Asia.

 

China

 

While Beijing’s dependence on exports and massive overexpansion of its capital plant and infrastructure has had to be reigned in, U.S. economic policy still refuses to confront the enormous and increasing trade deficit with China which threatens the U.S. dollar. Luckily, Beijing does not have any place to go with its foreign exchange hoard – Sterling long ago was defrocked as a reserve currency, the Euro is in an attenuated crisis, and the Japanese refuse to permit the yen to become a reserve currency. But the Obama Administration refuses to indict the Chinese for currency manipulation which has gutted much of U.S. manufacturing and permitted the Chinese to have pretensions for their own internationalization of the yuan and to make significant if small overseas investments. Increasingly the U.S. is faced with a dilemma of either permitting semi-government Chinese companies to acquire American assets – with their record of mismanagement and corruption – or inhibit the play of market forces in the U.S. economy. The “pivot” to East Asia so portentously announced by former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton – despite all denials an effort to meet an increasing aggressive “rising” China – is being inhibited by the continuing pull of the Mideast on military resources and a lack of clarity on the U.S. strategy in Asia. In riposte, the Chinese are proceeding with more and more territorial claims against their neighbors in the East and SouthChinaSeas further incurring demands on American military capacity.

 

Japan

 

The Obama Administration has failed to enthusiastically grasp the popularity and strategic clarity of the Abe Administration. In the case of the contested Senkakus Islands, it has taken an internally contradictory stand: it recognizes Japanese longtime occupation, it has repeatedly said the little, uninhabited rocky outcroppings which may or may not sit above fossil fuel deposits, are covered by the U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. But the masters of ambiguity at Foggy Bottom maintain Washington does not take sides in the dispute and does not recognize Japanese sovereignty. There must be some limit even to diplomatic “modalities”! Having initiated the Trans Pacific Partnership, an initiative to create a vast new common market – excluding China but including Japan – the Obama Administration has been allowed the project to dawdle. With Canada and Mexico having joined in, the issues are enormous for all the partners, especially for traditionally protectionist Japan with Abe staking his political life on their negotiating success. Yet it has not engaged the President in more than an occasional passing reference. And, probably correctly, it is no secret that Abe has maintained a stiff upper lip in the face of relatively little attention from his ally, and, in fact, political embarrassment with a growing suspicion in Tokyo’s elite circles that the President’s coterie is incompetent.

 

Korea

 

Seoul, succumbing to a campaign of seduction by Beijing, has steeped itself in the old arguments of the bitter half century of Japanese Occupation. Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel, on his recent tour, shocked Tokyo and discomfited Seoul when he indicated he would be trying to mediate the growing Tokyo-Beijing tension, but then publicly refused to play conciliator to the two most important bilateral allies in the region, Japan and Korea. The Obama Administration seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that an accomodation between Japan and South Korea is the sine qua non of any multinational alliance in Northeast and Southeast Asia to meet the growing aggressive feints of the Chinese regime.

 

Meanwhile, coordination in a joint effort to anticipate the next unpredictable events in North Korea is less than adequate among the three allies, the U.S., Japan and South Korea. Washington’s continued reliance on Chinese intervention seems to be the weakest reed with the recent purges in Pyongyang, apparently, in part aimed at elements seeking to take Chinese advice and move toward liberalization of the economy. The current South Korean administration, with few illusions about North Vietnam, is nevertheless not in synchronization with Washington. Even military strategy, with its ultimate goal the further reduction in American forces but maintaining the nuclear shield is not being given its due priority. The conundrum remains of a North Korea, with the example of Qadaffi’s Libya before them and its profitable technical collaboration with other rogue states such as Iran, which is most unlikely ultimately to abandon its nuclear weapons. The Allies’ alternative is to seek regime change. But fear of the chaos of a post-Kim North Korea is preventing the formulation of alternative strategies to Pyongyang’s continued blackmail for additional aid to keep a starving if militarily advanced economy from collapsing.

 

India

 

Just as its predecessor Republican administrations, the Obama team has had illusions about the prospects of an alliance with New Delhi. India’s dreams of hegemony in the Indian Ocean, its largely continued reliance on Russian weapons, and the predisposition of its professional foreign service corps for a close relationship with Moscow, always defeat any American effort at closer relations. With the Indian economy still hidebound by its inheritance from its socialist and colonial past, there are dwindling prospects of extensive foreign investment and transfer of technology to accomplish the kind of economic superapid progress China has made in the past two decades.

 

The blowup over the arrest and indictment of a member of the Indian New York City consulate-general for alleged maltreatment of an employee seems a legitimate action of the American criminal justice system. But it does seem that the State Dept. with its inordinate pride in its diplomatic traditions might have handled the problem more discreetly. The degree to which the episode has been exaggerated and exploited in New Delhi suggests the underlying faultlines which continue to divide the U.S.-India relationship. The Obama Administration appears to have only deepened them.

 

It was, of course, unavoidable that the immense and complicated structure created since 1948 with the central theme its effort to fend off Communist aggression, would have had to be modified and reorganized after the post-1990 implosion of the Soviet Union. But afterfive years of the Obama Administration, it is caught in the toils of its leftwing participants’ fight against the largely post-World War II U.S. foreign policy. It has only contributed to further confusion. It remains to be seen if in three years, another administration in Washington, whether Republican or Democratic can rescue the still necessary role of American leadership in the world.

 

sws-12-21-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:10.0pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;}

 

Japan’s unseen revolution


In a world of moldering journalism, nothing quite equals the inadequacies of Japan reporting. Despite this short shrift, Japan remains the U.S.’ most important relationship in Asia — especially as China is increasingly seen as an adversary and with an unpredictable North Korea.

It is an important trading partner — $170 billion through October this year with a $61 billion deficit in Japan’s favor. Even though that is dwarfed by China’s $468 billion for the same period, with a staggering $268 deficit in Beijing’s favor, it has heft beyond the numbers. Japan is rapidly becoming a major scientific center with the third largest budget for research and development at $130 billion with 677,731 world class researchers. Most important, Japan’s civil society, despite its unique characteristics, is a major partner in the world democratic alliance. Its remarkable modernization dating now back more than a century and a half is still a role model, particularly China, and other less developed countries. Challenged by the growing aggressiveness of China and North Korea, it is the keystone of American military strategy for maintaining peace and stability in Asia and the world.

What then is going on in Japan?

The most popular politician in a generation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is a typical Japanese revolutionary – little talk, much covert action, and stubborn resolve. A member of the traditional political elite, partially American-educated, Abe appears destined for leading an historic transition. Two aspects of Abe’s strategy are indeed getting some halfasymetrical [cq] “coverage”: “Abenomics”, his effort with fundamental reform to reflate the world’s third largest economy, stagnant now for a generation, and a military buildup coupled with a more assertive foreign policy.

But what isn’t being reported, is a cultural revolution undertaken ever more quietly. That is a movement to shake off Japan’s half century of self-abnegation, a heritage from its Word War disastrous defeat and the postwar American Occupation. Abe’s aim is simply for Japan to assume its rightful role as a leading nation.

One problem, of course, is that Abe – like the rest of us – carries a lot of baggage. He is the grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, an “unindicted war criminal”, the chief economic architect for the wartime militarists but twice a brilliant postwar prime minister. Furthermore, his wealthy Kyushu forebears, mines and factory owners, impressed Korean labor and Allied POWs, explained if not excused by miserable wartime conditions. Furthermore, when in 2006 he did climb the ladder of the conservative party to be one of Japan’s youngest prime ministers ever [he’s 69 now], he blew it in less than a year.

If reported at all, these juicy [especially for the left] tidbits are fitted into a familiar gaggle of World War II epithets which belie the real story of contemporary Japan.

Contrary to popular prejudice, Japan has expressed as much contrition for its past as Germany. Anyone who knows the Japanese, gets it in full measure at a personal level from the new generations. Japanese leaders have formally apologized dozens of times for their wartime criminal activities. The latest was Abe, himself, after he took office again, on October 18, 2013 said:  “Japan inflicted tremendous damage and suffering on people in many countries, especially in Asia. The Abe Cabinet will take the same stance as that of past Cabinets.”

Whatever else Abe is doing, he is not the 1930s Japanese ultranationalist attempting to recapture that past. But that is the way he is often presented in his own almost solidly leftwing mass media, regurgitated by the Western MSM. A central, complicated problem is that legitimate, traditional Japanese cultural institutions were shanghaied by the military to promote their aggression. Disentangling this cultural inheritance is as hard as it is for other civilizations to shed undesirable aspects of their history.

All this is intimately related to Japan’s neighbors, especially China and Korea, who seek to use the old crimes to further current negotiations. Indeed, it ill behooves a Chinese Communist regime to propagandize Japanese wartime history while refusing to acknowledge its own policies since 1949.costing at least a hundred million of its own people’s lives through persecution and government-induced famine. South Korean chauvinists, too, are too ready to forget more than 200,000 Koreans served in the Imperial armies, that its post-Korean War leadership has often been closely affiliated with, granted, a brutal half century Japanese Occupation.

Furthermore, Tokyo has repeatedly made restitution. Starting in 1955, for 23 years Japan paid 600 billion yen [$588 billion in current exchange] reparations to 16 countries, an enormous amount for an economy destroyed by the war. Another $589 million was scraped up for the cost of the seven-year U.S. Occupation. However, much more important: while in its self-interested race from the 1950s to become an economic superpower, Japan helped lay the basis for the current Asia boom [not excluding China]. That came about almost accidentally after Japan, partially blocked by protectionist quotas in export markets, notably the U.S., initiated “outsourcing” — the first glimmerings of later “globalization”. [This powerhouse was recognized by China’s Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-shek, a graduate of Japanese military schools, when he refused formal reparations in the immediate postwar period hoping for just this kind of collaboration.]

No other government has poured as much into UN coffers [11% of the UN budget against 25% for the U.S.] and since 1989, stretched its:”no war” constitution for participation in UN peacekeeping. That framework, dictated by the American Occupation, originally prohibited all military forces. Abe, as his predecessors, is wrestling with how to amend the document – difficult to achieve given a small but strident opposition – to conform to demands of a normal country which must see to its own defenses, and contribute increasingly to a common defense led by the U.S.

In pursuit of this program, Abe has just completed a special session of the Japanese parliament aimed at restructuring the economy, particularly opening it to foreign investment. As in any other Western democracy, it was tough sledding against vested interests. The measures were to meet the anticipated shock of the American-initiated Trans Pacific Partnership proposal for, essentially, a common market. This requires industrialization of Japanese agriculture, so long chained to uneconomic rice subsidies which Abe has begun to disassemble, a project still unfinished to meet the challenge of lower priced, subsidized American agricultural imports.

What caught the attention of the mass media, however, in Japan and the West, was Abe’s legislation setting up a new security framework. This included not only a copy of the American national security council but a tough new anti-espionage law. It’s no secret that one problem afflicting the now accelerated integration of U.S. and expanding Japanese military has been the sieve of Japanese technical leaks. [Although this is an argument harder to make post-Snowden!] American and allied submarines, for example, still suffer from an earlier commercial transfer of underwater sonar technology to Soviet and then Chinese and North Korean weaponry.

Opposition to Abe came out in dramatic form, not seen since the proposed 1960 anti-Eisenhower visit – which had to be canceled but did not stop the signing of the mutual defense treaty. If history does repeat itself, as Friedrick [cq] Engels said, the first time as drama, the second time as farce [referring, of course to Napoleon and his grandson Louis Napoleon’s reigns], this was an example. The powerful Communist and leftwing socialist trade unions created under the American Occupation aegis are long since gone. But Nikkyoso, Japan’s radical teachers union which opposes any patriotic celebration from flag ceremonies and allegiance pledges to singing a national anthem [a poem written by the former empress] was still around. And while no fisticuffs dogged the Diet as in the past, there were on and off walkouts of the outvoted and largely discredited minorities in both houses.

Japan’s three largest national newspapers, all left of center, did a good deal of ranting and some highly suspect public opinion polling But there is as yet no sign that as they predicted Abe’s personal popularity is giving way before these old hot and contested issues. In fact, Abe’s appeal to tradition seems to have rung a bell with what has always been an essentially conservative and very unique Japanese discipline and patriotism. It is no accident, as the Communists were wont to say, that even Beijing leadership looks first to Japan for any model for the very difficult economic and social modernization problems it continues to face even after enormous economic progress if a dead-end toward a civil society..

Abe is a long way from achieving his objectives, of course. And there are larger than life barriers still to be surmounted. Not the least is the demographic catastrophe Japan shares with other developed countries [and China and Russia] but to a staggering degree. If present trends continue, Japan’s population would fall from 128 to 87 million by 2060, from the tenth largest in 2010 to the bottom of the world’s top 20 in half a century. Not only does this present enormous social problems, but it makes the Japanese search for a robotic economy even more pressing.

There’s a new growing if unpublicized geopolitical concern, as well. While Abe maintains a stiff upper lip in what is widely seen in Japanese circles to be utter disappointment with the Obama Administration, the cracks are telling. Reportedly, after initial protestations, in recent bilateral consultations with Joe Biden, Abe heard out the U.S. vice president’s proposed mediation suggestions in the growing tension between Japan and China.

But the Japanese were already bewildered by the inconsistencies of the Obama Administration position on a dispute focused on rocky islands between the two countries [and the possible fossil fuel beneath them]. Washington acknowledges their long Japanese occupation and the fact they were covered in the agreement for the 1971 return of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty. U.S. spokesmen have also reiterated several times that, therefore, they are covered under the mutual defense treaty. But the State Department’s insistence it does not recognize Japanese sovereignty, and statements seemingly apportioning blame equally to both sides for the dispute, is a puzzlement to all, not least an ally. The fact that Biden on his tour, which accidentally coincided with a new Chinese grab for control in the seas between the Mainland, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, included a specific refusal to mediate Tokyo-Seoul tension is another anachronism no one in Asia ignores.

All this is quite a bundle for even a talented Japanese leader, not likely to get a sympathetic ear from the mainstream media, at home and abroad.

sws-12-08-13

Moves speed up on a complicated Asian chessboard


A new era of increasing instability is opening in East Asia.

The death of North Korean leader Kim Il Jong is only adding another, if explosive, element to an already volatile equation:

· China enters a period of substantially slower economic growth, if not a crash, on the eve next autumn of a takeover by a new generation of undistinguished Communist Party leaders.

· Japan wrestles with efforts to remake its domestic politics, but buoyed by its always magnificent – if constipated – bureaucracy, pursues a security buildup despite, ironically, a left-leaning governing party precariously clinging to power.

· South Korea’s miraculous ascendancy to world economic leadership and prosperity is imperiled by its export-led strategy now facing world economic shrinkage, and with the prospect of continued harassment from the North.

· North Korea attempts continuance of its highly leverage Communist monarchy but its balancing act could well succumb to both internal rivalries and Western pressure to halt its profitable foreign arms sales.

· Taiwan goes to another democratic election in January under the evil eye of Beijing that fears recent increasingly binding economic ties may be countered by “nationalists” intent on maintaining de facto independence.

· The Obama Administration has made new commitments, particularly in Southeast Asia, of resistance to aggressive Chinese claims despite rapidly reducing the navy as it backs out of two, long and inconclusive wars.

Beijing’s high growth rate – despite its majority largely left out of the Coastal Cities boom – is dropping precipitously, because of inherent weaknesses built into its state capitalism and the world economic downturn. Having abandoned Maoism two decades ago, conventional wisdom held such rapid growth essential to sustain one-party, elitist rule. While there is no organized national opposition, there are increasing signs local Communist cadre have lost control. Massive infrastructure overexpansion, declining export prospects and untenable internal debt levels could produce a breakdown.

Furthermore, Pyongyang provides new concern for Bejiing’s conflicted view of North Korea. China’s aid supports Pyongyang at the same time North Korea rejects “the China model”, the Kim leadership believing – after a failed trial — it could not maintain control were widespread private initiative permitted. Contrary to conventional wisdom, refugee flows from an implosion resulting from the burden of one of the world’s largest militaries and developing weapons of mass destruction would not be the principal threat. What Beijing fears most would be Korean reunification, which led the young Communist China to risk intervention in the stalemated Korean War for control of the peninsular.

Again, conventional comparisons of Korean reunification to Germany are inappropriate. Assuming China could not prevent an internal crackup which might come suddenly – as it did to once seemingly impregnable East Germany and model Communist dictatorship Romania – South Korea could absorb a North Korean colony, and, in fact, longer term turn it to economic advantage. To the consternation of Japan and the U.S., too, as well as China, the world might suddenly face a strong, new nuclear armed power.

As it has for a century, much will depend on China’s relationship with Japan, always uppermost in Beijing’s calculations. Beijing has rejected Tokyo’s proposal for defusing the Japan [East] Sea flashpoint by joint development of gas. Meanwhile, despite the leftwing careers of many now serving cabinet members and its declining population, Tokyo continues to move to quality manufacturing, heightened industrial R&D, and consolidating defenses with purchase of F35s from the U.S. [As always, Tokyo sees joint manufacturing arrangements enhancing Japan’s technology.] The current U.S. defense appropriation dropped funds for moving American forces from Okinawa to Guam; probably not in the strategic interests of either country given the Island’s unique geographic centrality. The Japanese are pushing a trilateral strategic relationship with India and the U.S. – which may again include Australia now that Canberra is lifting its export ban on uranium to New Delhi – in a not very subtle effort to counter China’s Indian Ocean expansion, a continuing Tibet buildup and encroachment on northern India and Pakistan, and central Asian initiatives including Afghanistan. Moves to end Japan’s postwar ban on arms exports could be strategically significant, negotiated, possibly, as part of the Obama Administration’s Trans Pacific Partnership still running up against protectionist Japanese agricultural interests.

Whatever else, pieces are moving rapidly on the Asian chessboard. But as always, unanticipated events are likely to dictate eventual outcome of the best laid plans of mice and allies.

sws-12-23-11

Obama [tries] to move the drama East


The Obama Administration is trying to turn an historical page.

The president’s current Pacific tour is promoted as “a return to Asia”, an acknowledgement of its rapidly growing economies, and, of course, recognition of China as a world power. History has a way of dictating its own terms, however. [When asked what next in his agenda, Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan reminded a young inquirer, “Events, my dear boy, events!”]

As much as the Administration stages in a too long neglected legitimate theater, it’s also an attempt on the eve of a presidential campaign to shuck emphasis on the continuing dismal Middle East scenarios – where Barack Hussein Obama plunged with such enthusiasm only a little over two years ago.

Massive PR only partly obscures how far Washington can escape the Mideast – even with a much publicized exit from Iraq [with an intermediate stop in Kuwait] and a devil-take-the-hindmost Afghanistan withdrawal. The Arab Spring is turning as feckless as its 1968 Prague Spring namesake, offering little resolution of fundamentals — e.g., jobs for the world’s largest demographic bulge. Syria, where wish has betrayed realism in American policy, ticks ominously. Mr. Obama’s repeated profitless overtures to Tehran’s mullahs are concluding with an eminent threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. NATO’s vaunted southwestern tentpeg, Turkey, lurches from one contradictory foreign initiative to another with an overblown economic bubble about to burst.

Furthermore, the President’s company of players including speechwriters cavalierly promoted to geopolitician will encounter a host of equally difficult – many no less pressing — issues. Meetings with an alphabet soup of Asia-Pacific organizations and brief encounters with national leaders won’t resolve outstanding strategic issues Washington long has had on backburner.

Taking precedence is Japan, cornerstone of all U.S. Asian strategies, after this Administration too often has given it short shrift. But Washington will have to continue dealing with a Japanese administration holding on to power by its geta hana-oh. Unresolved is Okinawa military redeployment, with this current Tokyo government more beholden than former conservative administrations to rapacious locals threatening invaluable U.S. regional bases. And now Washington has handed Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda another piece of hot tofu: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed nine-nation free-trade pact from Chile through the U.S. and Japan to Singapore. Tokyo’s highly subsidized and politically powerful agricultural lobby sees a threat to protected food markets at a time commercial and political relations with China – not included in this party round — are Tokyo’s overriding concern. The North Korean ghost haunts from offstage: a juvenile delinquent holding weapons of mass destruction to neighbors’ heads, a trading and technological partner to every other world pariah with its own only alternative strategic prospect anarchic implosion.

Realists would ask more seminal questions: Will Mr. Obama’s one-on-one in Hawaii with outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao smooth the unequal bilateral trade playing field, not a small cause of current world currency and fiscal imbalances? It’s not likely Chinese manipulated currency and intellectual property theft will be remedied. Complicating negotiating these Chinese practices will be Beijing’s ultra-mercantilism becoming a louder and louder wild card in coming American presidential debate. In Beijing, itself, a Communist generational switch – perhaps not going as smoothly as thought a few months ago – struggles with Party dogma attempting to finesse restraining inflation while simultaneously spurring super rapid growth, so long seen as the only card the regime holds as civil dissidence rises.

Thus the combination of Mr. Obama’s continued denigration of America’s historic role, the Washington domestic economic policy tangle, the increasingly aggressive Chinese menace, all challenge the Obama Administration’s modeling a new American Pacific presence.

In fact, it’s a call historically as inaccurate as Mr. Obama’s earlier Istanbul and Cairo speeches summoning myth rather than history for an accommodation with Islam. America’s Asian role always has loomed large since the late 19th century. But alas! Mr. Obama did not take a leaf from Pres. Ronald Reagan’s economic strategy: The Gipper used his “stimulus” in part to rebuild American defenses to face down the Soviets. A new call now to American Pacific destiny rings hollow as the U.S. Navy’s decades-old hegemonic East Asian role erodes in the face of a rapid Chinese buildup with an American fleet soon smaller than any since pre-World War II — however revolutionary its new technologies.

Careful! That trumpet call could sound tinhorn.

sws-11-12-11