Friday, July 31, 2009

ACCJ Meeting on Japanese Election

As Prime Minister Taro Aso has dissolved the Diet on July 21, the Government Relations Committee of the American Chambers of Commerce in Japan hosted a forum on Japanese General Election to be held on August 30. The meeting which was held on July 22, focused on the impact of this election on lobbying processes.

The most critical point is how to secure lobbying links which was built through long time efforts. ACCJ and American businesses have been exploring to expand policymaking network into Japanese diet, bureaucracy, and business. It is vital to find a right person for lobbying activities, according to the agenda. Once finding right contacts among Japanese leaders, American lobbying groups provide “education” for policymaking.

Most attendants expressed serious concern that possible victory of Japanese Democrats will destroy the lobbying link, and American businesses need to spend much time to find right lawmakers and “educate” them. Though one attendant insisted that the Democratic Party was realist enough to maintain close US-Japanese alliance, American lobbyists were worried that they would have to deal with the sheer number of newcomers who did not know sufficiently about critical policy agendas. Quite interestingly, attendants at the forum were not obsessed with Karel van Wolferen’s strong antagonism to Japanese establishments and the system. As opposed to Wolferen, they regard Japanese bureaucrats as reliable partners, rather than unaccountable and arrogant elitists. In other words, they are very realists to make use of established Japanese policymaking processes. American lobbyists in Tokyo are completely different from some idealistic policymakers in Washington, whether positively or negatively.

During the discussion, a similar change in the past had come up to my mind. In 1993, Morihiro Hosokawa was elected as the Prime Minister to put an end to single party dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party since 1955. I asked one lawyer who has been in close contact with Japanese politics whether American lobbyists learned some lessons from past experience under the Hosokawa administration. He replied that Democrat newcomers would be so incompetent that he would only have to wait until the return of the LDP.

Unlike Bill Clinton who assumed US presidency during the Hosokawa era, current President Barack Obama is reluctant to impose American idealism on Japanese bureaucrats. He is even willing to talk with America’s enemies. Judging from his attitude to Iran, Honduras, and Russia, Obama shall never dream of Clintonian intervention to crack down “notorious” Japanese bureaucrats. Furthermore, he is too shy to address American or Western idealism in his diplomacy. Therefore, both Washington policymakers and Tokyo lobbyists will take substantially different approaches to the post election administration of Japan from those taken under the Clinton administration, whether they learn some lessons from the Hosokawa change or not.

The Government Relations Committee Meeting is an invaluable opportunity to understand US-Japanese political interactions. Committee members are directly involved in Japanese politics to pursue their business interest. Some agendas discussed at the meeting are more vivid than those talked at the forum of Washington think tanks. Policy experts in Washington do not have to care about day-to-day profits. I had good experience to attend conferences by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center, in the past. A combination of non-profit academic approaches and business oriented approaches will be of much help to understand American foreign policy and US-Japanese relations.

Special thanks:
ACCJ Government Relations Committee

Note: This post does not entirely reflect the viewpoint of the American Chambers of Commerce, and the contributor is responsible for everything written here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

ACCJ Event on Japanese National Security

The Aerospace & Defense Committee of the American Chambers of Japan hosted a forum on Japanese defense policy on June 24, and members of the Aero-Defense and the Government Relations committees were invited. The guest speaker was Hiroshi Imazu, Member of the House of Representative, Liberal Democratic Party. Mr. Imazu has been engaged in Japanese defense policy ever since he won a national diet seat. Mr. Shigenobu Tamura, Chief Policy Researcher of the Liberal Democratic Party, sat beside Representative Imazu. Mr. Tamura is a mentor to my Japanese language blog friend Dr. Cat a.k.a. Koshu Takamine.

The ACCJ hosts numerous events to exchange viewpoints on social, economic, and political issues. However, since the Chamber is a businessmen organization, most of the events are held in well known hotels. Fortunately, this was a small scale forum held at the ACCJ’s board room, and it was not so expensive. Considering my interest, it was a quite attractive opportunity.

There are various fields of committees at the ACCJ, and I belong to the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and the Governmental Relations committees. The atmosphere differs from one committee to another. The CSR Committee is relatively young, and somewhat like an enthusiastic college student circle for global friendship and public interest. On the other hand, the Government Relations Committee and the Aerospace & Defense Committee are extremely professional. Most of the members at both committees are experienced senior executives of renowned companies.

The Aerospace & Defense Committee is a closed membership club, and everything spoken at the meeting is completely confidential. According to Mr. Jean-Pierre Bolat, Chairman of the Aerospace & Defense Committee, this is because mutual trust between the guest and the committee is vital for policy discussion with Japanese leaders. There are numerous issues extremely sensitive to publicize in defense policy and inside stories of political corridors, and I understand it.

The lecture by Mr. Imazu was very helpful to understand Japan’s defense policymaking process. Contrary to popularly believed, LDP policy team plays no less important role than supposed to be the best and the brightest bureaucrats.

At the Q & A session, I was impressed with questions by attendants. Every piece of word spoken in Japanese suggests their involvement in Japanese political corridors. Diet man Imazu replied to questions by attendants including me very sincerely. It was a great meeting, and I hope that I will be able to see participants and guest speakers on another occasion.

Special thanks to:
The Honorable, Member of the House of Representatives, Hiroshi Imazu
Mr. Shigeo Tamura, Chief Policy Researcher, Liberal Democratic Party
ACCJ Aerospace & Defense Committee

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fanatic Devotion to “Stalin=Putin” in Russia

As nationalism is growing in Russia, people crave for a strong leader. As shown in the video below, Al Jazeera reported the result of a recent poll on the greatest leaders in Russian history on December 13, 2008. According to the poll, No. 1 was Alexander Nevsky, Grand Prince of Novgorod and Vladimir in the 13th century. Nevsky was venerated as a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church because he defeated Roman Catholic invaders from Sweden and the German Order. The second was Peter the Great. The third, comes a controversial leader, Josef Stalin.

What makes Stalin so popular? A woman on the street of Moscow smiles gently, and replies in the interview that despite criticism to his brutalism, Russia needed Stalin to defeat Nazi and transform the nation into a superpower. Yet, critics, such as Masha Lipman, Editor of Pro et Contra journal of the Carnegie Moscow Center, argue that people miss that Stalin was a butcher and sent millions of people into labor camps.

Such devotion to Stalin is coincided with enthusiasm to current strongman in Russia, Vladimir Putin. In the following video of Aljazeera broadcasted on November 30, 2007, a military cadet applauses Putin as a Stalin in her own era. Putin renamed Volgograd into Stalingrad.

A British distributor of news and documentaries, called Journeyman Pictures, sheds lights on Stalin debates in current political context in Russia. Russian human rights activist Grigory Shvedov points out Putin and his Kremlin comrades make use of Stalin nostalgia to govern the narod. See this video by Journeyman Pictures on November 7, 2007.

In political anomies in Russia where money and capitalism dominates the society, the elderly and the young are increasingly getting infatuated with the legend of Josef Stalin.

Quite interestingly, Stalin replaced the Socialist Internationale of the Lenin era with new Soviet national anthem, and Putin restored it when he inaugurated the presidency from Boris Yeltsin. This song was originally composed to encourage Soviet soldiers fighting against Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War. Compared with the Internationale, it sounds too Russian, and is not a cosmopolitan labor union song of Workers of the world, unite. Whether Socialist Russia or Capitalist Russia, no other anthem is so nationalist as to repeat motherland, motherland, and motherland. I posted an article on Russian anthem in the past, and watch the video of the Internationale below. Listening both, you will understand how different they are.

Dictators capture the heart of narod as shown in the following videos. The Red Army Choir sings in the Stalin version lyrics in both Stalin and Putin videos (Commonly known Soviet anthem is the Brezhnev version lyrics, sung from 1977 to the collapse of the Union). Seeing "Stalin, a Great Leader!" video, I feel as if I were praying to St. Josef Stalin at the Russian Orthodox Church. I hope they will be of much help for you to understand “Putin=Stalin”.

Also, see pictures below. Yes, with only moustache and hair, Putin is completely Stalin!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reset with Russia? Just Wait

Unlike previous tours to Europe and the Middle East, it was difficult for President Barack Obama to tame the Fierce Russian Bear simply through charming smile and sweet words and phrases. The Media focus on the strategic arms reduction talk, but issues like democracy and human rights are no less important, as eminent foreign policy experts have sent an open letter to the President as I mention in the last post. Also, it was the first time for President Obama to meet Prime Minister Vladimir Stalin Putin. Russian media response was cautious to Obama’s remark of reset (“Obama visit gets lukewarm welcome from Russian media”; Reuters; July 7, 2009).

Let me review some commentaries prior to the summit. The Economist argues that Obama must be tough to help empowerment of Russian citizens as ruling élites stoke anti-Americanism while enjoying opportunity to contact with the West. Also, the writer says that Obama must defend Georgia and Ukraine from Russian expansionism. Meanwhile, both the United States and Russia have common interests in cutting strategic nuclear weapons (“Welcome to Moscow”; Economist; July 2, 2009). On the other hand, hawks insist that new START must not sacrifice expansion of freedom in Russian neighbors (“Obama and Putin's Russia”; Wall Street Journal; July 6, 2009). Regarding missile defense and NATO expansion, Michael McFaul, Special Assistant to the President, said that the United States was going to define its national interests, not bargaining something (“Russia Presents Test for Obama”; Washington Post; July 5, 2009).

Quite interestingly, a journalist commented about anti-Americanism in the Kremlin, “For the last eight years they have been able to hide that fact by pretending it is really George W Bush that they did not like. Now they have to face an American president who is genuinely popular around the world. He terrifies them, and they still haven't figured out what they are going to do" (“Obama seeks thaw in US-Russia ties”; BBC News; 4 July 2009). Andrey Zolotov, Chief Editor of Russia Profile, pointed out that US-Russian economic ties are weak as raw material dependent Russian economy does not attract the United States. Therefore, the Russo-American relationship is predominated by geopolitics and national pride. Also, he said that the Obama effect would not work so dramatically to improve bilateral relations, because current downturn resulted from Clinton era diplomacy (“Russian Expert: Pressing 'Reset' May Not Suffice” NPR; July 5, 2009).

The most important issue of this summit was national security, particularly strategic arms reduction. In addition to the renewal of START, the war in Afghanistan and nuclear proliferation to Iran and North Korea were discussed. In the following video of Russia Today on July 7, Russian political analyst Victor Linnik comments that the timing of this summit is very good to improve bilateral relations.

While the reset has started in the strategic arms negotiation, gaps on missile defense remains unresolved. See another video of Russia Today below.

In the Spotlight of Russia Today on July 8, commentators expressed concerns with US missile defense system to be deployed in Poland and Czech against non-existent Iranian nuclear missile. In my view, what they said is not fair, because Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asserts his nuclear ambition, even though Iran has not developed the bomb yet. On the other hand, both Edward Lozansky, President of the American University in Moscow, and Andrey Zolotov, Chief Editor of Russia Profile, were impressed with Barack Obama’s speech at the New Economic School to emphasize mutual prosperity instead of zero-sum power game. See the video below.

BBC also reports this speech with moderate hope of resetting Russo-American relations (“Obama urges shift in Russia ties”; BBC News; 7 July 2009).

On the other hand, Joshua Keating, Web Editor of Foreign Policy, criticizes the cooperation deal with Russia on Afghanistan because the United States can choose other reliable partners like Kirgizstan and Uzbekistan (“Did Obama accomplish anything in Moscow?”; FP Passport; July 7, 2009).

The first meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Putin is a landmark of US-Russian diplomacy. It was something like a ceremonial salute for Obama to the most influential politician of Russia, and Putin recalled warm personal ties with George W. Bush despite clash of national interests between the United States and Russia (“Putin praises Bush hospitality during Obama visit”; Reuters; July 7, 2009).

Human rights and democracy issues were no less important than national security, because open letters were released to the public as I mentioned in the last post. Liberals criticize such actions, because they believe steadfast demand on human rights will damage the US-Russian partnership on the War on Terror (“The Latest Neocon Attack on Obama”; Huffington Post; July 2, 2009). President Obama was cautious to avoid criticizing Russia directly, as he requested Russian admission to pass US troops in its territory to attack terrorists in Afghanistan (“Obama, in Russia, praises democracy, blasts graft”; Reuters; July 7, 2009). Though modestly, Barack Obama invited opposition opinion leaders like Novaya Gazeta Newspaper and civil society representatives to advocate American involvement (“President Obama Reaches Out to Russian Opposition”; VOA News; 8 July 2009). At the meeting with Obama, Boris Nemtsov, head of pro-Western Solidarity party said, "Now Putin and Medvedev will realize that there is more than just them in the political arena. We demand free political competition." Among Russian civil societies, Yuri Dzhibladze, President of the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, and Andrei Kortunov, head of the New Eurasia Foundation, expressed their high expectation for Obama (“Obama talks spur rights call by Russian activists”; Reuters; July 8, 2009).

Although strategic arms reduction attracted media and public attention, democracy in Russia is as important as security issues. Unlike previous tours to Europe and the Middle East, President Barack Obama was not apologetic to American foreign policy in the past. Still, Obama appears timidly cautious to address American ideals. I do not know whether President Obama read articles by Nile Gardiner, former advisor to Lady Thatcher. People in quest of freedom anticipate strong leadership of America, from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Iran, and around the world. I agree with Gardiner, and President Obama should be more assertive to help America’s allies and friends in the above counties.

For further reference, see this link.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Open Letters for President Obama to CHANGE His Russia Policy

Leading foreign policy experts and Senators sent their open letters to urge President Barack Obama to stand tough against Russia. On July 1, the Foreign Policy Initiative, a newly launched think tank led by Robert Kagan and William Kristol, urged President Obama to mention human rights and democracy in Russia in the forthcoming US-Russian Summit in Moscow ("Open Letter to President Obama on Democracy and Human Rights in Russia"; Foreign Policy Initiative; July 1, 2009).

About 40 signatories demanded that Obama be true to his conviction to freedom in the world famous Prague and Cairo speeches. Policy experts who signed this letter are concerned with retreat of political and economic freedom in Russia since Vladimir Putin became the President. At the end of the letter, signatories stressed that President Obama not reset the US-Russian relationship at the expense of Russian citizens and Russia’s neighbors.

The following day, influential senators, including John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, pressured the President not to withdraw the anti-missile defense plan in the negotiation with Russia to renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). They argued that interests of the United States and allies must not be sacrificed (“Letter to President Obama from Senators Inhofe, Lieberman, Kyl, Nelson, McCain, Begich, Sessions, Johanns, Wicker, and Hatch”; July 2, 2009).

Both open letters are publicized in such a critical time. Quite recently, President Obama is criticized for his inaction to blame autocrats in Iran and Honduras. Signatories of both letters urge Barack Obama to act as the President of the United States.

Both letters sound somewhat similar to what is stated in the well known message for President-then Bill Clinton on Iraq. The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) criticized Clinton’s inaction against Saddam Hussein. Now, Russia has reemerged as a new threat to symbolize the failure of Clinton era diplomacy.

Both letters have insignificant implications beyond the Russian issue, but to the whole US foreign policy. What is tested is not just President Obama’s competence in foreign policy, but his devotion to American ideals.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Don’t Miss the Forthcoming US-Russian Strategic Arms Reduction Talk

Just before G8 Summit in L’Aquila in Italy from July 8 to 10, the United States and Russia will negotiate on strategic arms reduction from July 6 to 8 in Moscow (“Obama, Medvedev to talk nukes in July”; Press TV; 17 May 2009). Prior to the meeting between President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev, US and Russian officials discuss disarmament. See the video below by Russia Today.

Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of US Joint Chief of Staff, and General Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, met in Moscow on June 26 to make preparations for the bilateral summit. Professor Mikhail Troitsky of Moscow State University of International Relations comments that both the United States and Russia want a landmark for mutual disarmament.

“Security talks can relaunch Russia-US relations”; June 26, 2009

“US is not intending to threaten Russia in any way – US top military official”; June 27, 2009

Anti-missile defense will be a key agenda in the negotiation. Yury Rogulev, director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation at Moscow State University, foresee that the talk will be tough.

“The AMD and START issues cannot be separated”; June 26, 2009

The United States and Russia agree that START Ⅰ must be renewed before it expires thus December. However, both sides disagree over US anti-missile defense system to be deployed in Poland and Czech. Will Obama withdraw the plan made by his predecessor George W. Bush, or not (“Will Obama shoot down Bush’s missile dreams during Moscow visit?”; Russia Today; July 1, 2009) ?

Meanwhile, conservatives in the United States are concerned that the Obama administration is too hasty to start the nuclear negotiation with Russia, as the team has not reviewed its own nuclear and defense policy sufficiently (“U.S. and Russia Push Arms-Control Talks Forward”; Wall Street Journal; June 2, 2009).

Don’t miss the Obama-Medvedev Summit in Moscow. Other issues, including Iran, North Korea, and the War on Terror are also discussed between the Big 2.