Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fukuda Gets Some Breathing Room

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda must have breathed a sigh of relief, at least for a couple months, as the Diet adjourned for the summer, giving him a respite from the debilitating confrontations with the opposition-controlled upper house of parliament that have dogged his months in office.

The embattled premier seems to have arrested the steady slide in the popularity of his government, which a month ago had fallen to a 20 percent approval rating, and for the moment speculation over a possible successor or a general election has abated. He has achieved his immediate goal of hosting the G-8 summit in a Hokkaido in a couple weeks.

Fukuda shrugged off a motion to censure the premier that passed the House of Councillors June 11 as if it were a mosquito bite. In a way it was a milestone – no post-war Japanese premier has ever been censured before. But as it had no binding force, it was irrelevant – worse, it was pointless.

Opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa had been pressing for such a vote for months, seemingly convinced that it would cause the Fukuda government to crumble. But as it came in the context of fairly routine legislation concerning health care for the aged rather than any malfeasance by the premier, it lacked any moral punch and was seen for what it was, a purely political ploy.

Meanwhile, the government could point to a solid accomplishment with announcement last week of an agreement with China to share development of oil and gas reserves in the East China Sea, an area of potential conflict. Japan will invest in exploration and exploitation of two sites straddling the median line, halfway between the two countries in return for a share of the profits.

The agreement sidesteps the knotty question of which country, under international law, is actually entitled to the undersea resources, which most experts say are fairly modest. Left undecided was whether exploitation of undersea resources ends at the median line, half way between China and Japan (Tokyo’s position) or at the end of the continental shelf much closer to Japan (Beijing’s position).

Tokyo pulled out the stops to hail the deal, pushing two senior cabinet members in front of the cameras. They included Foreign Minister Masahiro Koumura, who said that the agreement “proves that Japan and China can solve difficulties together.”

China was much more circumspect in its handling of the announcement. It was left to a foreign ministry spokeswoman to announce Beijing’s agreement and to remind everyone that the boundary issue remains unsettled. “China does not recognize the so-called middle line.” said Jiang Yu. She made it plain China was not giving an inch on sovereignty

Fukuda has made improving relations with China a major theme of his administration. Relations had reached a nadir under former prime minister Junichi Koizumi. His successor, Shinzo Abe, had made a start in improving relations which Fukuda has built on. He hosted a highly successful visit in May by China’s president Hu Jintao.

Such were the good feelings lingering from the visit, that after the disastrous Sichuan earthquake, the Japanese entertained the idea of sending relief supplies into the Chinese interior on Air Self-Defense Force cargo planes. Even Beijing seemed agreeable until cooler heads decided this might be taking the feelings of good will too far.

Even so, a Japanese destroyer arrived in China to make the first port call by a ship flying the Rising Sun flag since the end of World War II. It reciprocates a visit last November by the Chinese destroyer Shenzhen to Tokyo Bay. However, the two sides did pick a fairly obscure port of call, Zhanjiang in Guangdong province, rather than, say Shanghai or even Hong Kong.

It remains to be seen if current thaw will last long past the summer because it is, in part, a product of Beijing’s desire not to do anything that would spoil the Beijing Olympic Games, in which it has invested an enormous amount of prestige. After that more potentially antagonistic interests may reassert themselves.

Ironically, the gas and oil field compromise came just as another East China Sea border issue flared. A Japanese coast guard ship collided with (rammed, say the Taiwanese) a pleasure fishing boat in waters claimed by Japan off the uninhabited Senkaku islands (known as Daioyutai by the Chinese). All members of the boat were rescued.

Taipei recalled its unofficial ambassador to Japan and sent a boat full of demonstrators into waters off Senkaku waters escorted by half a dozen Taiwanese coast guard boats. Tokyo protested this intrusion into what it called its territorial waters.

Fukuda benefits from the fact that several developments such as the recent earthquake on northern Honchu island and the shocking attack on pedestrians in downtown Tokyo by a deranged man with a knife, who killed seven people and injured 10 others, has tended to push political news off the front pages and television newscasts.

The summer vacation may be short lived, however. The Diet returns into session in late August, and with it come more opportunities for gridlock and confrontation. High on the agenda will be Fukuda’s plan to divert gasoline taxes away from road construction to general fund, which will bring him into conflict with many in his own party whose elections depend on support from the construction industry.

Other potentially difficult issues include raising the sales tax and potentially another political donnybrook over renewing once again authority for Japanese navy ships to support coalition operations in the Indian Ocean. But things are not completely smooth sailing for the opposition either as Ichiro Ozawa is up for re-election as party president in September, and there is discontent in party ranks over some of his tactics.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fortress Guam

When in 2006, the United States and Japan agreed to move 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014 they may not have fully understood the magnitude of such an undertaking. Only the political imperative to reduce the American military “footprint” on the island was paramount.

Okinawa has been a garrison island for the U.S. since the end of World War II. Approximately half of the US military personnel in Japan and 70 percent of the land dedicated to military uses are concentrated on the small southern island, cheek-by-jowl with the Okinawan people.

And the natives are getting restless, tired of the constant aircraft noise, the heavy traffic and the occasional misbehavior of the young American troops on the island. Both Tokyo and Washington agree that unless these concerns are assuaged, it could endanger the entire alliance.

Earlier this month opposition parties wrested control of the prefectural assembly from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The election is thought to have turned more on national issues, such the health care system for the aged on which the opposition-controlled upper house censured the Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, not bases per se.

Nevertheless, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) saw its numbers in the Okinawan legislature increase, and it seems likely that it will be happy to play anti-base sentiment to the hilt in its determined quest to push the LDP out of power at the national level.

Successive reports by the General Accounting Office (GAO) the investigative arm of Congress the latest one produced in May, have seriously questioned whether the US can meet the agreed deadline of moving the Marines.

“It is ambitious and optimistic considering the possibility that the [required] environmental impact statement could be delayed, the complexities of moving thousands of marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam and the need to obtain sufficient funding from the governments of the United States and Japan to support the Marines Corps,” Brian J. Lapore, director of defense capabilities and management for the GAO, told Congress.

Indeed, Congress will be asked to begin appropriating part of the estimated $13 billion cost for military expansion on Guam in 2010 even before the assessment is completed, which some consider unwise, but not all that unusual in base alignments in other areas such as Europe and the continental US.

In outline, Okinawa and Guam look fairly similar, except that Guam is only about half as large as Okinawa. But Okinawa boasts a much higher population, 1.2 million people on 463 square miles compared with Guam’s 171,000 people on 206 sq miles.

Guam already has a large military presence. Anderson Air Force Base occupies the northern tip, where, since 2004, the air force has been rotating B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers from U.S. bases. The Apra harbor naval base services some submarines and supply vessels. In all, about 14,000 servicemen and dependents make Guam home.

But the military buildup on Guam goes beyond the 8,000 Marines now on Okinawa and their 9,000 dependents. The U.S. is determined to make Guam into a strategic hub, underscoring both the importance of the region and the desire to project power from U.S. territory rather than foreign bases. Emphasizing the importance that Guam holds for America’s Pacific strategy,
Defense Secretary Robert Gates made it his first stop on his recent tour of Asia.

The navy plans to expand its berthing facilities to support a transient nuclear aircraft carrier, plus other surface combatants and high speed transports. The air force wants to develop a global intelligence, surveillance and unmanned reconnaissance strike hub at Anderson using the Global Hawk surveillance aircraft.

The army envisions basing a ballistic missile defense task force on Guam. Additional Marines may be moved there from bases in Hawaii and the mainland U.S., especially as Washington wants to expand the Marine Corps by 25,000 men, and some may be based there.

Additional amphibious shipping capability and airlift capability is necessary as the forces will be stationed at a greater distance from potential conflicts. For example, it takes with five hours from to fly to Korea from Guam but just two hours to fly from Okinawa.

In all, the active-duty and dependent presence on the island is expected to leap from 14,000 to nearly 40,000, effectively increasing the island’s population by 23%. It is as if Hong Kong were suddenly asked to taken in an additional 1.6 million people.

The GAO outlines in considerable detail Guam’s relatively weak civilian infrastructure which cannot support such a massive influx without considerable help. The military buildup alone would require that the commercial port double its current capacity simply to accommodate construction materials that need to be imported.

“Guam’s highways may not be able to bear the increase in traffic associated with a military buildup, and its electrical system may not be adequate to deliver the additional energy needed. Its water and waste water treatment systems are already near capacity, and its solid waste facilities face capacity and environmental challenges even without the additional burden associated with the projected increase in U.S. forces,” maintains the GAO.

There are not enough construction workers among the native population for all of the planned new civilian and military infrastructure. Plenty of labor is available in the region, of course, and President George W. Bush last month signed into law an amendment to the immigration law to permit more foreign labor into Guam on five-year permits over and above current limits.

It is estimated that the military construction, barracks, headquarters, warehouses, training facilities to support the influx will cost $13 billion. Of that amount the Japanese government has agreed to pay about $6 billion, a little less than half as an outright donation and the rest as an investment for which it expects to be repaid (such as through housing rentals).

That assumes that the LDP-Komeito coalition remains in power and is not replaced in the next year or so by a DPJ or DPJ-led coalition government, which may balk at the expenditures. The Fukuda government’s popularity is low (though recovering slightly), and the DJP is pushing strenuously for a general election.

Earlier this year the DJP had a lot of fun criticizing the “sympathy budget”, which Japan uses to underwrite much of the expense of maintaining American bases in Japan, complaining Japanese have to pay to maintain golf courses for the Americans and their dependents. So it is possible that 2014 will roll around with the 8,000 marines still on Okinawa.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The New Asian Power Game


It is not often these days that the author of a new book on foreign policy opens with a tribute to President George W. Bush. Bill Emmott begins his new book on emerging Asian power dynamics by describing Bush’s initiative to establish closer ties with India.

Even at this writing it is unclear whether or not the nuclear deal that Washington negotiated with New Delhi will be ratified. India agreed to place the commercial part of its nuclear program under international safeguards. In return, Washington agreed to lift bans on nuclear power exports in place since India detonated its first atomic bomb in 1974.

The deal has been hung up in the Indian parliament for months due to knee-jerk left-wing opposition of the government’s coalition partners. But even if the specific deal should collapse, this new sense that the two countries share more interests in common and that India is needed to balance a growing China is set on an irreversible course.

The administration displayed the kind of audacity in overturning years of conventional wisdom that former President Richard Nixon showed when he went to China in 1972. It also displayed a keen strategic sense. In the “new Asian power game”, to use Emmott’s phrase, there are now three powers – rivals, if you will – Japan, China and India.

Of course, the U.S. has had a strong alliance with Japan for many decades. In the past 35 years since Nixon’s trip to Beijing it has nurtured a fruitful relationship with China. Now Washington has begun a rapprochement with the third big power in Asia.

Most people know about China’s extraordinary economic development over the past 30 years. It is on track to displace Germany as the world’s third largest economy after the U.S. and Japan. Not so many people understand that India’s economy now is growing at almost the same breakneck pace.

This is the first time that there have been three powerful and prospering nations in Asia, like three large tectonic plates grinding up against each other. How this rivalry plays out in the coming years will determine to a large degree the future of Asia, and by extension, the future of the world. “The rise of Asia is not going to pit Asia against the West. It is going to pit Asians against Asians,” he writes.

Bill Emmott undoubtedly understands the underlying dynamics of the evolving power rivals in Asia as well as anyone, first from his perch as Japan bureau chief of the Economist magazine in the 1980s, where he wrote the prescient book, on Japan’s coming decade of stagnation, The Sun Also Sets, and later as editor of the Economist from 1993 to 2006.

There are numerous books with titles ranging from Japan Inc. to China Inc., from Japan, the Fragile Superpower to China, the Fragile Superpower, that examine these countries individually. The value of the Rivals: How the Power Struggle between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade, lies Emmott’s knowledgeable examination of the three “rivals” and the interplay of their competing interests.

For the most part, China kept its head down during the 30 years after Deng Xiaoping opened the country to outside influences, concentrating overwhelmingly on its own economic development. This low profile is no longer feasible as China continues to develop, and more pressure is brought to bear on China to use its influence positively in places like Myanmar, Sudan and North Korea.

But these countries are on the periphery, compared with China’s interactions with the other Asian big two, its rivals for supremacy in Asia, especially Japan. The author reminds us that China and Japan have, of course, been rivals for generations stretching back into the mists of history. It is easy for us who grew up in the anomalous post World War years to forget that.

The two countries have issues going back to the war and beyond, but for the moment, anyway, they are have been papered over to present a friendly face to each other. President Hu Jintao’s state visit to Japan in May, the first by a Chinese president in a decade, was one of the friendliest on record.

There were even hits of a deal in the making over one of their flashpoints. That would be possible joint exploitation of the gas fields that lie within their conflicting economic zones in the East China Sea. The recent devastating earthquake was another opportunity for more interchange, although Beijing had second thoughts about allowing Japanese emergency aid to be delivered in Air Self Defense Force cargo aircraft, a sign of the memories that still linger.

Nevertheless, Emmott writes, the natural, historical relationship between the two countries is one of tension and rivalry for influence that requires constant diplomatic amelioration. It is is possible that the Chinese are being unusually accommodating in these summer months preceding the Olympic Games, with Beijing fearful that anti-Japanese demonstrations might ruin the good will of the games in which it has invested an enormous amount of prestige.

Emmott sees Asia as a single unit, which may seem like stating the obvious, but it has not always been the case. However, the region still lacks the unifying institutions that have helped Europe to manage its disputes. So for the foreseeable future Asia will remain an arena for balance-of-power politics, as shown by the Bush administration’s overtures to India, even at the expense of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The most important thing for the immediate future, he says, is to ensure that the emerging big three of Asia have a voice in international organizations commensurate with their new status. Otherwise, resentment will build up between themselves and with other countries in the world.

While the presumptive Republican nominee for president John McCain talks about booting Russia out of the G-8 summit and forming a vague “League of Democracies , Emmott would expel Canada and Italy from the G-8. Nothing personal, you understand. It’s just that they don’t have the economic and political clout of China and India. He also advocates a veto for India and Japan on the U.N. Security Council.

Emmott sees two broad outcomes of the rivalry. The most pessimistic would see China bungling its rapid economic development, becoming even more nationalistic with increasing tensions with the U.S., India and Japan. “The warm glow of the Olympic Games would then be remembered only through the thick smog of tension.”

The more benign outcome sees China making a transition to a more pluralistic, if not outright democratic society and India lifting millions of people in the subcontinent out of poverty. The self-confidence would make it easier for the three main powers to work together in relative harmony.