Balancing Hard and Soft: Japan's Search for Stability in East Asia

March 7, 2007

Joseph Nye
, Distinguished Service Professor, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Mark Halperin
, Political Director and Correspondent, ABC News

On March 7, 2007, Joseph Nye of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard spoke with Japan Society about the dynamics of Japan’s relationships in East Asia.

Professor Nye took his theme from a new study group report, “U.S.-Japan Alliance: Getting Asia Right through 2020,” which he and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage released through CSIS in February as an update on their landmark October 2000 report.

Going back “more than a decade ago,” Professor Nye reflected, “as we looked at the future for East Asia out to 2020, we thought of a policy in which of these three major players, U.S., China, and Japan, the ability to welcome China into the world community would depend in a great extent on the ability of the U.S. and Japan to maintain their relationship, the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

“And that basically has been the policy of the United States for more than a decade now,” he said. “Essentially it’s to integrate China, to welcome China, bring them into the WTO--as Bob Zoellick put it, to welcome China as a responsible stakeholder--but within the context of a very close U.S.-Japan relationship.”

“Now this is a different policy than is sometimes advocated by those who say well we should see China as an enemy, and treat China as an enemy, and contain China,” Professor Nye emphasized.

“Developing a close U.S.-Japan relationship to deal with China is very different from becoming so fearful that we create the enemy that we don’t want to have.”

“If we treat China as an enemy now, we’re guaranteeing an enemy for the future. If we keep the question open, and offer China integration as a responsible stakeholder, we may avoid some of those worst futures.”

“The great danger,” he said, “is that we sometimes fail to realize that for all the attention that people are placing on China, that Japan still has an economy bigger than China’s, still has a military which is the fourth-ranking military in the world; and Japan itself has a great deal of soft power.”

He cautioned, “The pity of course is that for internal domestic political reasons, Japan often winds up stepping on its own message, interfering with the growth of its own soft power.”

“If you think about the attraction, or attractiveness, of anime, of Japan technology, of the capacity to run a good society, these are things that attract others to Japan. What is the worst thing you could do from the Japanese point of view? It’s get people to think about the 1930s, which is a different Japan. And yet what is it that Japan political leaders do? They make people think about the 1930s. I mean this seems to me self-defeating in many ways, in terms of the rise of Japan’s soft power.”

In their report, Messrs. Nye and Armitage address both Japan’s hard power and its soft power. “We would like to see Japan recovering economically, growing economically even more rapidly than it is, dealing with the problems of productivity that it’ll need to deal with its demographic challenges,” and gaining “greater capabilities in the security field and in foreign affairs”; and at the same time, “we’d like to see Japan increasing its soft power, becoming a major factor in world politics globally.”

The issue of Article 9 revision is not one on which foreigners ought to make recommendations, Professor Nye said. However, the study group report does endorse the idea of legislation in Japan to set out conditions for deployment of Japanese self-defense forces. “Sometimes there may be a short-term need for rapid action which makes it difficult if you follow the current framework, and so we felt that it would make more sense to have general legislation on this.”

From a regional perspective, he said, Japan and the U.S. need to “coordinate our approaches to China” not only in the area of defense, “but also in positive trilateral cooperation. If you look at the questions of energy, and the questions of climate change, it’s extremely important that the U.S. and Japan and China work together on this. With China starting a new coal-burning plant every week, it makes no sense for us to deal with this in isolation.”

Having India involved in the East Asian Summit, and in East Asian diplomatic relations as a whole, is also important, he said.

“We also felt that in the near term, it was important to get the Korean problem right. I know Chris Hill spoke here at the Japan Society yesterday, so I won’t go into any great detail on that, but it does seem to me that as we said in our report, our objective at this stage should be to cap and contain the North Korean nuclear program, and gradually to reverse it as best we can; but that’s going to be very difficult to do with a society where you’re not able to inspect and know what’s really happening or going on.”

“And in the report what we say is that the long-run solution to this will probably be in the context of Korean unification. But it’s extremely important that before that, that we’re able to cap and contain this program, so that it doesn’t continue to get out of control.”

In conclusion, Professor Nye said, we need to keep in mind that “this metaphor of a triangle of good relations of U.S., Japan and China, that the triangle is one in which the Japan-U.S. leg will always be closer.”

“There is a formal alliance here, and long-term relationship, something which will I think serve both our interests in that long term,” he reflected. “And I think the reason that Rich and I felt that it was important to release this report, which is an update of something we did on a bipartisan basis in the year 2000, before the election, is to remind people that the U.S.-Japan relationship remains the bedrock of stability for a sensible balance in East Asia out to 2020.”

Moderator Mark Halperin of ABC News asked the first questions:

In the debate over revision of the Japanese constitution, what outcome do you think would be in America’s interest?

“If I looked at it as an American analyst, and I say are you worried that if you change Article 9 the Japanese are going to develop into a military behemoth, no, I’m not worried about that,” Professor Nye responded. “On the other hand, I’ve spent enough time with Chinese high-level officials and others to know that they still do worry about that.”

“The best thing for Americans to do is to stay out of saying what Japan should do on revising the constitution, but merely to say we welcome a stronger Japan, better able to contribute to a global public good of security,” he said.

“As I understand it,” he added, “there’s some differences between the LDP and the DJP” on the specifics of revision, and thus the debate is likely to proceed at a rather slow pace.

If you think about U.S.-Japan tensions, over the level of U.S. support for Japan’s gaining a Security Council seat, or trade issues, or other things--issues that between the U.S. and other allies, or Japan and other allies, might be a big deal--is the U.S.-Japan bond so close that anything can really be contained under the closeness of the relationship?

“Well I think all the things you mentioned, Mark, are serious. I mean they’re issues that we have to be attentive to. But I don’t see any of them as sort of precursors to divorce,” answered Professor Nye.

“As I see the U.S.-Japan relationship, it’s a pretty stable old marriage, and there is always going to be bickering among the two partners about who does the dishes, or cleans up, or has one task or another; but the larger interests that we share, and the institutional framework that we’ve created for it, means that I don’t think any of these are going to get out of hand.”

Questions from the audience followed:

I’d be interested in your assessment of the policies, for good or ill, of the Bush administration toward Japan.

“I would give them quite high marks on the Japan relationship” and on Asia generally, aside from Korea, where the Bush administration “waited six years too long,” Professor Nye said.

It’s ironic and unfortunate, he indicated, that failures in the Middle East have overshadowed these successes in Asia. “Or somebody said, what are the priorities of the White House, it’s Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. It sucked all the oxygen out of everything else.”

Mr. Halperin asked a follow-up question:

The Bush-Koizumi relationship was very close, very distinctive. Is this a legacy that can be built on?

“It was helpful, but I think the U.S.-Japan relationship is based on something much stronger than that relationship--which is good; I mean we want something which doesn’t depend upon personal relationships,” Dr. Nye answered.

“I think if you go back to the Clinton-Hashimoto declaration, in April of ‘96, where they declared that the U.S.-Japan alliance was going to be the basis for stability in East Asia in the 21st century, that to my mind was the turning point,” he commented.

“Remember when Clinton first came into office, this was the period when a number of Americans were saying the Cold War is over, and Japan has won. And people were saying geo-economics has replaced geopolitics, and Japan is the new threat.”

“That nonsense, if I can put it bluntly, was very prevalent around ‘91, ‘92, ‘93. And to go from that to the Clinton-Hashimoto declaration, which said this U.S.-Japan relationship is the bedrock for stability--that was a big change.”

“The interesting thing is that when the Bush administration came in and kept the Clinton policy there, as opposed to the Middle East where they basically reversed the Clinton policies, it was done quietly, and then you developed this good personal relationship on top of it.”

“I think the personal relationship was icing on the cake; the cake was already there.”

Historically, America has adopted a policy never to establish one big power in Asia; does the triangle policy of your report with Armitage reflect this conventional wisdom?

“I think the Americans have historically worried when it looked like one country would dominate Europe, or when one country would dominate Asia,” responded Professor Nye.

“But I think the attitude that the Americans have taken has been quite different from the Cold War, in the sense in the Cold War, the view was you contained the Soviets; you didn’t trade with them; you prevented their having influence.”

“I gather that, from Chinese friends and also from Zoellick, who’s my former student, that when the phrase first was used, people were rushing for dictionaries all over China, saying what in the world does this mean, ‘responsible stakeholder’? But I think they very quickly learned that it meant that we were willing to accept China as a rising power, but it depended on how China behaved. So in that sense it’s different from a containment strategy or a strategy of preventing a major power rising.”

Mr. Halperin asked:

What’s the single way you think U.S. and Japan interests in China, towards China, militarily, economically, or in any other way, are most divergent right now?

It was the history issue, Professor Nye said; “I thought Abe handled that deftly with his initial trip to China, and that that had removed it off the table, until this new comfort-woman issue came to replace it.”

“So I suppose that we’re back with that issue, though the other one of course will be the way in which the U.S., Japan and China deal with the North Korean issue. And there, the abductee question will become, could become, a problem.”

What are the prospects for loosened restrictions in Japan on acquisitions of Japanese entities by foreign companies, and on other forms of FDI?

“It is remarkable when you look at foreign direct investment in Japan how much Japan is an outlier among the OECD countries,” based on “not just formal but informal restrictions,” reflected Professor Nye.

He added, “Abe has not had the same reformist zeal that perhaps Koizumi had, and that that includes not just the post office, but includes things like trying to break through some of these networks that constrain foreign direct investment.”

Is it a danger for the U.S. to see U.S. Treasury marketing depending on Chinese decisions?

“Well, I think the U.S. debt problem is a problem, but it’s not the way it’s sometimes phrased,” he answered.

“Thirty years ago, Robert Keohane and I wrote a book called Power and Interdependence. We said that when you’re trying to understand power and economic interdependence, you don’t just look at the assets that are held by either side, you look at the symmetry of the dependency.”

“What’s interesting here is there’s quite a lot of symmetry. I think Larry Summers called it a balance of financial terror. It’s true the Chinese could dump the dollars and destroy the Treasury-bill market, but in doing so, they would have such repercussions on a domestic China problem, which is the ability to export to American markets and to absorb the labor that I referred to earlier as the floating population, those that are being released from the state-owned enterprises, that it would cause enormous political instability at home.”

“Does it make sense to run the kind of fiscal policy we have that runs up these types of debts? And I think the answer to that is no. But it’s not because it gives power to China.”

Leaving aside Iraq, how might America set about improving its soft power capability?

“Being seen to be making efforts to make progress on the Palestine problem, the Israel-Palestine problem, is another policy that reverberates across the whole arc of the Muslim world from Morocco to Indonesia.”

“Doesn’t mean you can solve it,” he cautioned, “but it means that the efforts to be doing something about it are important.”

How do you see China-Japan relations today? Are there changes with the Abe government?

“Well, I think that Prime Minister Abe bought himself some time and tolerance by his early visit to Hu Jintao, and I was interested that the Chinese response to the comments about the comfort women was as moderate as it was. That’s a good sign,” responded Professor Nye.

What should the U.S. and Japan do, and not do, in order to get South Koreans to remain on our side?

In South Korea, “opinion toward the United States varies by generations. And if you look at the older generation who remember the Korean War, they tend to be relatively pro-American. If you look at the next generation, the students in the 1980s who had their heads beaten in as they were protesting against the regimes, they tend to be quite anti-American. But there’s a younger generation now, which is somewhat more balanced, neither pro- nor anti-American, but sort of more realistic.”

For the U.S., “what we have to do is just to accept, you know, Korean concerns, requests for more control of the military situation, and so forth; we should just accept that. And we are making progress of moving troops out of the center of Seoul and so forth.”

“For Japan though, the question is again, goes back very much to this history question,” and how to avoid damaging the positive image of Japan that the young people of South Korea have. “So in that sense the best thing for Japan to do is look ahead and leave the past be, you know, just get out of this framework of the past.”

Recently there have been reports about the deploying of new Stealth fighters in East Asia, and missile sales to Taiwan. At what point should a line be drawn on arms sales in the region?

With Japan, there’s a formal alliance, and “I think we should share technology very fully,” Professor Nye answered.

“Taiwan’s a different case. Taiwan is a very neuralgic issue for China. The larger framework of Taiwan is to argue that we do not support Taiwanese independence, but neither do we support the use of force to stop Taiwan doing, having the kind of domestic system it has now.” Thus, U.S. policy is to sell defensive systems to Taiwan, “enough to keep them from being taken over quickly,” but not to provide so much in the way of military technology as “to make them feel that they can declare independence and get away with it.”

In the intermediate or near-term future, how tightly do you see India being integrated into either East Asian or Southeast Asian organizations, and what is driving this process?

“I think the initiative for this comes in large part from India. I was in Delhi in January and talking with a number of high officials, and it was clear that they see their interests as including an interest in East Asia, and they were talking about how to increase their relationships with both China and Japan, and participate in the East Asian Summit,” responded Professor Nye.

“I think the Japanese are actually quite interested in India playing a larger role in East Asia,” he added. “I’m not sure the Chinese are.”
Topics:  Policy

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