Dialogue for Future Leadership

The Tokyo Foundation co-organizes the Tokyo-Reischauer Group, or the Japan-US future leaders policy dialogues, with the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. Our objective is to build trustworthy relationships between young professionals that will maintain and strengthen the Japan-US alliance.

Few people would disagree that Japan's alliance with the United States has been the foundation of its security and economic prosperity over the half-century since World War II. For the United States as well, the close-knit relationship with Japan has come to fulfill an important strategic role with regard to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The relationship between the two countries must be fundamentally maintained and strengthened, even as it is fine-tuned in step with the changing times.

Diplomacy is not a realm exclusive to governments. Unless there are trustworthy relationships rooted in exchanges between researchers, nongovernmental organizations, and people of various ages among the citizenry, a bilateral relationship that looks favorable on the surface may in fact prove nothing more than a house of cards. To be sure, the forums for dialogue between Japan and the United States, including dormant ones, are quite numerous. But in order to bring about original and valuable dialogue within these forums, well-organized frameworks and participants of high caliber are needed.

Cognizant of this problem, the Tokyo Foundation, together with the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C., initiated the Japan-US future leaders policy dialogues in November 2007. Using Skype software to link Washington, Tokyo, New York, and so on, the project is an attempt to allow future leaders in politics, administration, and academia, mainly in their thirties and early forties, to discuss various issues facing both Japan and the United States. In principle, these discussions take place on a monthly basis. We have named this assembly the Tokyo-Reischauer Group.

the-group-in-tokyo-is-composed.jpg

The group in Tokyo is composed primarily of officials from the Japanese Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs, associate university professors, staff from the US embassy in Tokyo, and researchers from think tanks. Shinichi Kitaoka, a senior research fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, serves as advisor to the Tokyo half of the group; Kent Calder, director of the Reischauer Center, advises the Washington half. Periodic discussion of pragmatic issues lets participants get an accurate picture of their fundamental character. In addition to offering prescriptions for solving these problems, members carry out regular observation of changes in the Japanese group's perspective on America and the American group's perspective on Japan. Above all, this is useful in building trust among individuals, helping to create firm and long-lasting relationships that are more than a mere network of acquaintances. Of course, given the age of the majority of group members, these discussions are not expected to directly influence Japan-US relations right away; however, I am confident that if this style of forum catches on, it will prove extremely beneficial for Japan-US bilateral relations in the longer term.

Each session, 5 to 15 out of the more than 40 registered members gather at the Tokyo Foundation in Akasaka, Tokyo, and the Reischauer Center in Washington, D.C. Night and day are reversed in Washington and Tokyo owing to the difference in time zones, so discussions take place either early in the morning before working hours or late at night after the participants' jobs have finished. At times members are rubbing the sleep from their eyes as they engage in serious debate over the course of one hour. The use of webcams to complement discussions conducted via Skype lends further appeal by allowing participants to talk face to face from 11,000 kilometers across the globe.

The Skype system allows users in multiple locations to converse simultaneously, without sophisticated facilities, facilitating access even from members' offices and homes if they cannot physically be at either the Tokyo Foundation or the Reischauer Center. Furthermore, participants have devised various measures to ensure the discussions proceed smoothly, such as the creation of a weblog where members can exchange opinions on a given topic before the actual discussions take place.

The topics of greatest concern in recent debates have been the effects caused by China's transformation into a world power on Japan-US relations and the role of the alliance in this context. Since these issues arouse bitter memories of the Clinton administration's "Japan passing" in favor of strengthening relations with China in the latter half of the 1990s, debate has been very serious indeed for the Japan side, particularly in connection with the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea.

Finally, let me report one pleasant recent development. Last session (July 3, 2008), several students in their twenties from schools including Sophia University and the University of Tokyo began participating in these policy dialogues as observers. These young students, majoring in international relations and similar fields, are the next generation of the sort of people who are today in the Tokyo-Reischauer Group. During the last session the team took notes enthusiastically while listening to the older members' arguments.

We feel that the Tokyo Foundation makes an important contribution to the key goal of strengthening Japan-US relations by organizing these discussions and promoting the education of talented human resources in this venue, where young officials and researchers can exchange remarks freely. We welcome your attention as the Foundation prepares to focus more energy on these dialogue activities.

Yukie Yoshikawa, a senior research fellow at the Reischauer Center, is the facilitator and the chairperson of the discussion. Below she talks about her passion for the dialogue and introduces the recent focus of group discussion.

(The article presented here represents the individual opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Tokyo Foundation.)


Limited Mutual Understanding

Having lived in the United States for more than five years, the most striking fact I have faced is how little the US and Japan understand each other, even though so many people have studied so much about each other's countries and so many books have been written on this area.
Why is this the case? We are from different cultures, and the language barrier is a daunting challenge. However, I have a feeling that it is also partly because the essential factors behind understanding each other's points of view are in most cases not written down. Since they are in the subconscious of Japanese and Americans, asking each other questions to see what we are missing is probably the only way we can reach mutual understanding.
For example, in late 2007 an American expert on Japan who carefully watches Japanese media asked why she had not seen an opinion poll on the issue of North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens for several months. The reason for this is self-evident if you are in Japan: the problems in the nation's pension system were at the time much more pressing than the abductees issue, and opinion polls often reflect the topics in which the public are most interested. These things are not written down anywhere, though; the expert had to speak to a Japanese person to find an answer to her question.
It is actually hard to answer such questions unless you are trained to do so, as you often don't realize which parts of your knowledge are self-evident to you, but not to others. Therefore we need a network where we can freely ask such questions and discuss them-from across the Pacific, or wherever we happen to be-so that we can train ourselves and learn from others.

A Complex Agenda

However hard it may be to achieve mutual understanding, it is a vital task. The United States and Japan are the world's two largest economies, and their size makes it too dangerous for miscommunications to arise between them.
Furthermore, the importance of these nations means that they must discuss global matters, including the fight against terrorism, sea-lane security, global warming, and economic development of developing countries, as well as regional matters, like those relating to China and North Korea. Since Japan and America need to work together in multilateral frameworks as well, it is best for them to first reach a consensus among themselves before engaging other nations.
Are our two nations equipped to discuss all sorts of issues and reach constructive conclusions in strategic terms? Proper preparation is required for this, and it is best that we take what steps we can on our own.

Friendship Building Among Members

With our eye on a future in which the members of our policy dialogues become leaders in their respective countries, we aim to forge solid friendships among them by having them work together to build consensus within the group. Simple discussion in seminars is nice, but we seek to go a step further and discuss each topic until a conclusion is reached.
Politics is basically the prioritization of various agendas and options. It is hard to deny that democracy is good or that human rights are important, but this does not mean that people will always choose democracy or human rights when crucial national interests are at stake. It may be impossible to predict what will be chosen in certain cases, but groups of people can make efforts to better understand each other's respective ways of thinking. Our dialogue group discusses issues until we reach a firm conclusion. Even if members are split between different policy proposals, we must still designate one as a preferred plan.
Currently, the group is debating the necessity of the US-Japan alliance and the nations' China policy. Below are some excerpts of what we have been discussing-the conclusions may change, of course, as the discussion evolves in future sessions.

Current Discussion: The US-Japan Alliance and China Policy

1. Addressing the Necessity of the US-Japan Alliance

Since the United States and Japan formed their alliance, Japan has adhered to the Yoshida Doctrine, which is to pursue economic development while maintaining a low defense profile under US protection. This policy made sense in the early years of the alliance because Japan could not afford to spend lavishly on defense. In addition, from the 1950s through the 1990s the US economy was strong, and Japan had good reason to invest in the United States, buy US Treasury bills, hold dollars as foreign exchange reserves, and support the dollar to prevent devaluation of Japanese assets in America. It was an optimal mixture of security and economic interests for Japan.
However, Japan came to enjoy its own economic might over the years, growing capable of affording higher outlays for defense. Unlike during the Cold War, today the only real military threats facing Japan are China and North Korea. If Japan could ally or establish very friendly relations with China (and there is potential for this), then the cost of defense services provided by the United States could be reduced. Furthermore, given the self-destructive activities the United States has been undertaking, like the war in Iraq, it is making less sense economically for Japan to blindly support the US economy.
In other words, the once-compelling reasoning behind the Yoshida Doctrine is now obsolete, and Japan needs new and equally compelling reasons if it is to continue the current arrangement, considering increasing requests to send the SDF overseas, generous host nation support, and so on.

2. The Rationale of the Japan-US Alliance

2.1. The United States, Japan, and the Rest of the World

2.1.1. Non-Aggression Between the United States and Japan

It would be a total disaster for the world if the two countries were to once again go to war against each other, and the importance of the assurance that the first and second largest economies will not do so cannot be emphasized more.

2.1.2. An Anchor in an Uncertain World

International relations are even harder to understand in the post-Cold War world, since the rules of a game that in the nineteenth century was likened to chess are no longer in effect. Providing something certain in an uncertain world would greatly help everyone to foresee what will happen in the future.

2.2. Japan

2.2.1. Japan's Best Security Options for North Korea, the Taiwan Issue, and China

Besides North Korea, Japan has to remain alert to the possibility of military conflict between Taiwan and China. With the rise of China, Japan has to keep watch on Chinese military capability and intentions.
This leaves Japan with two options: to ally itself with the United States against possible threats, or to defend itself by greatly enhancing its military capability. It is obvious that an alliance, which results in the greatest military capability, continues to be the best option.

2.2.2. Avoiding American Mistrust

Following Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, American trepidation over a rising Japan continued to grow, contributing to the start of war in the Pacific. On the other hand, when Japan rose again as an economic power in the 1960s through the 1980s, American concerns were confined to economic issues. This is even more obvious when that situation is compared with today's American concern over a rising China.

2.2.3. Hedging Against the Uncertainty of the Chinese Economy

For Japan, China is at once a major risk and a major opportunity. Thus, the alliance with America serves also as a hedge against the potential effects of economic crisis in China.

2.3. The United States

2.3.1. No Alternative Allies in East Asia

Japan is the largest economy and the most stable society in East Asia. Taiwan is small and, given its situation, it cannot be the anchor of US security policy in Asia. South Korea has a smaller economy, and its anti-US sentiment cannot be disregarded. (Of course such sentiment exists in Japan as well, but it is not as harmful as in the ROK.)
Of course, the United States has the option of not having any allies in the region. However, since it believes that forward deployment capabilities are in its best interests, the United States will continue to desire regional allies. Moreover, given Asia's role in the world economy, it makes sense for the United States to have a foothold there.

3. What is China? What Should the Japanese and US China Policy Be?

For Japan, China is both a big risk and a big draw. The credibility of China is very much in question, which has prompted both Japan and the United States to adopt a hedging policy, or a mixture of containment and engagement. The vagueness of the term "hedge" gives Japan and the United States flexibility. However, the difficulty with hedging is that it still ends up looking like containment, since the more one hedges, the less one can conceal preparations against a potential threat from the target nation. Indeed, it is hard to totally differentiate between containment and engagement. For example, military-to-military engagement includes aspects of containment. Through military partnerships and joint exercises, participating nations show a willingness to work together, yet also gain crucial information about the other's military capabilities.

Kiyoshi Aihara

  • Yomiuri Shimbun