Tuesday, August 22, 2006

President Bush's Advisor Comments on Reshaping Japanese Security

Japan is at crossroads to reconsider its security and postwar pacifism. As this country faces increasing pressure from China and serious threats by North Korea, the Japanese public is turning toward self-assertive in national security. The Yasukuni problem causes dreadful trouble between Japan and its neighbors, China, South Korea and North Korea. These issues are critical agenda in Japan’s prime minister race this September, as Prime Minister Koizumi steps down.

In an interview with Foreign Policy (web exclusive, August), Michael Green, President’s Advisor on East Asia until quite recently, answers questions related to these issues. Green has extensive personal contacts in Japan’s power corridor, as he has some experiences to work in Japanese National Diet. Let me review the interview.

Question 1: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid another visit to the Yasukuni shrine. Is it simply a public relations issue or do they really affect regional security?

Michael Green worries that the Yasukuni problem allows Chinese military to push for more hawkish policy against Japan. He says that civilian control over the People’s Liberation Army is so weak that it is difficult for Chinese leaders to soothe the military if anti-Japan sentiments become rampant. In addition, I would like to point out that the Yasukuni conflict provoke South Korea to move toward more pro-China and pro-North Korea. Currently, Seoul’s loyalty to the alliance with the United States is questionable. The war shrine problem reinforces the Sino-South Korean common front against Japan. This undermines American strategy in the Far East.

Question 2: Should the United States pressure Japanese leaders to stop the shrine visits?

Green says “No.” He says that the United States should be cautious to deal with this issue, and high-handed US policy would undermine the US-Japanese alliance. It would give an impression that America does not trust Japan. Furthermore, he says, “If it looks like the prime minister has changed course on Yasukuni because the Americans—who dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—made him do it, it’s going to create a backlash and further polarize Japanese society.”

Green is a complete realist on this issue. But it is necessary to understand his implicit message. America does not intervene the Yasukuni problem, because it needs to sustain the alliance with Japan, and consider power politics against China. He does not say that the United States should support Japan on this issue. The shrine retains prewar ideology, which is at odds with postwar regime change in Japan.

Question 3: Is it likely regional tensions on the shrine issue will escalate?

Green points out that China is dependent on Japan in trade and investment. In addition, the Chinese authority worries that students uprising against Japan may shift their focus to the Communist regime in their country. This is very important to understand the Sino-Japanese conflict.

Question 4: How would you assess the strategic balance between Japan and China?

Green mentions the following points. Japanese forces are more effective than Chinese forces. Today, it is really the first time in history that both Japan and China are great powers in international politics. In addition, there are some cold wars between both countries at sea, such as Senkaku Islands.

He talks about critical points. However, I regret that he does not mention anything about the clash of civilizations between China and Japan. I strongly believe there are many similarities between Sino-Japanese and Islam-West relations.

Question 5: What concerns Japan most about military developments in China?

China’s rapid military build-up is too well known. In addition, Green raises serious concern to China’s cyberspace warfare capability. He is right. I was terrified when anti-Japan luddites made cyber attacks to Japanese governmental organizations. They can do something to US forces like this case.

Question 6: How did the North Korean missile tests affect Japan’s security strategy?

Shinzo Abe, Koizumi’s likely successor, talks of preemptive attack on North Korea. Green comments as follows.

It is likely that there will be increasing debate about how much Japan can rely on the United States for its nuclear umbrella and how much Japan should try to have its own independent capability. I think the answer will ultimately be that Japan should rely on the extended deterrent [capability of the United States]. But the United States will have to be highly attentive to Japan’s security concerns and clear about its commitments to the alliance.

I agree with him. Also, Japan should bear it in mind that nuclear non-proliferation is a vital agenda in US foreign policy. Japanese leaders must be cautious enough not to say provocative to upset American policymakers.

Question 7: Where does the issue of amending Japan’s pacifist constitution stand?

Green says as follows.

Very few Japanese politicians would say that China should have a veto over constitutional change, but there is a broad recognition in the body politic that without more stable relations in the neighborhood, it will be hard for Japan to have this discussion in a serious way right now. It’s not likely to happen in the next few years. But I suspect that, if Abe can have a long tenure like Koizumi did, he would like to put a change in place before he leaves office.

In my view, this issue must be considered in terms of stronger US-Japanese alliance.


Michael Green’s analyses are insightful. However, I regret that this interview is excessively focused on China, Korea, and Yasukuni. Based on the US-Japanese alliance, Japan is a leading Western democracy. Global burden sharing with America and Europe is no less important for Japan than conflicts with Asian neighbors. Actually, I am disappointed that Japan’s prime minister candidates miss this point.