Sheila A. Smith, an expert on Japanese politics and foreign policy, is senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). She is the author of Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China (Columbia University Press, 2015) and Japan's New Politics and the U.S.-Japan Alliance (Council on Foreign Relations, June 2014). Her current research focuses on how geostrategic change in Asia is shaping Japan's strategic choices. In the fall of 2014, Smith began a new project on Northeast Asian Nationalisms and Alliance Management.
Smith is a regular contributor to the CFR blog Asia Unbound, and frequent contributor to major media outlets in the United States and Asia. She joined CFR from the East-West Center in 2007, where she directed a multinational research team in a cross-national study of the domestic politics of the U.S. military presence in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. She was a visiting scholar at Keio University in 2007-08, where she researched Japan’s foreign policy towards China, supported by the Abe Fellowship. Smith has been a visiting researcher at two leading Japanese foreign and security policy think tanks, the Japan Institute of International Affairs and the Research Institute for Peace and Security, and at the University of Tokyo and the University of the Ryukyus.
Smith is vice chair of the U.S. advisors to the U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Exchange (CULCON), a bi-national advisory panel of government officials and private sector members. She teaches as an adjunct professor at the Asian Studies Department of Georgetown University and serves on the board of its Journal of Asian Affairs. She earned her MA and PhD degrees from the department of political science at Columbia University.
Japan's Response to a Rising China
Since World War II, Japan has embraced pacifism, depending on close ties with the United States to guarantee its security. But as a more powerful and assertive China begins to challenge Japanese interests, Tokyo today faces a fundamentally different security environment, causing it to reconsider its postwar strategy. Armed conflict between these two neighbors has suddenly become a real possibility and could test the U.S. commitment to defend Japan. In 2013, I examined Washington's options in dealing with the Chinese-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in a Contingency Planning Memorandum entitled A Sino-Japanese Clash in the East China Sea. My new book, Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, examines the growing influence of Chinese decisions over Japan's domestic policy. Going forward, the main question I will address is whether Japan will change its strategic orientation as China further develops its military capability and continues to challenge its neighbors. Will Tokyo look to the U.S.-Japan alliance to cope with this growing strategic challenge, or will it reorient its strategy to act independently of U.S. security priorities? Will it balance with other Asian powers or bandwagon with Beijing?
Japan's Political Transition, Nationalist Politics, and the U.S.-Japan Alliance
Japanese politics have been in transition since electoral reforms in the early 1990s prompted a broad political realignment. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan rose to challenge Japan's traditionally dominant conservative party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and unseated it briefly in 1993 and again in 2009. Today, the LDP is back in power, and voters are tired of successive governments that have failed to address the nation's challenges. This new political reality has immediate implications for the United States. The staying power of Japanese governments is far less predictable, and relations with its leaders far more difficult to sustain. Moreover, the Japanese public is increasingly sensitive to Washington's policy choices in Northeast Asia as China and South Korea continue to challenge their postwar settlements with Japan and the interpretation of the history of twentieth century Asia. In Japan's Political Transition and the U.S.-Japan Alliance, I argue that it is time for U.S. policymakers to abandon old alliance habits based on assumptions of single-party dominance and embrace a strategy for alliance management that addresses the concerns of a more anxious public. Over the next several years, my new project on Nationalist Politics and the U.S.-Japan Alliance, which includes the Roundtable Series on Japan, will explore how the United States can help reduce the tensions between Japan and its neighbors caused by the resurgence of nationalism in Northeast Asia.
These projects are made possible through support from the Smith-Richardson Foundation and the U.S.-Japan Foundation.
Japan's new politics challenge some basic assumptions about U.S.-Japan alliance management. CFR Senior Fellow Sheila A. Smith explores this new era of alternating parties in power and reveals the growing importance of Japan's domestic politics in shaping alliance cooperation.
See more in Japan; Diplomacy and Statecraft; International Organizations and Alliances
Sheila A. Smith explores the policy issues testing the Japanese government as it tries to navigate its relationship with an advancing China.
See more in Japan; China; Politics and Strategy
Sheila A. Smith argues that tensions between Japan and China over disputed islands in the East China Sea could seriously harm U.S. interests. She discusses steps the United States could take to de-escalate the crisis.
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Electoral politics in Japan have been upended with the defeat of the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party. CFR's Sheila Smith says the rise of the Democratic Party of Japan could test the U.S.-Japan alliance and advises U.S. policymakers to focus on economic and energy-related cooperation.
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Northeast Asian regional security talks appear increasingly doomed since North Korea's latest missile and nuclear tests. CFR's Sheila Smith argues the talks are worth reviving.
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CFR Senior Fellow Sheila A. Smith says Japan is well positioned to offer leadership on coping with the global financial crisis. But a domestic political stalemate, she says, threatens its ability to act.
See more in Japan; Financial Crises
Experts weigh in on what happened to Obama's Asia "pivot" in 2013, and give their projections of what 2014 will bring for regional policy.
See more in China; Japan; Politics and Strategy
What will Obama focus on during his upcoming Asia trip? CFR experts Evan Feigenbaum, Joshua Kurlantzick, Scott Snyder, Edward Alden, and Sheila Smith discuss the agendas for India, Indonesia, South Korea, G20, and Japan.
See more in Indonesia; Diplomacy and Statecraft; India; United States
Ahead of President Obama's Asia trip, CFR experts Sheila Smith, Joshua Kurlantzick, Elizabeth Economy, and Scott Snyder discuss what the president should focus on during his visit to Japan, Singapore, China, and South Korea.
See more in Asia and Pacific; Politics and Strategy; United States
Yoshihiko Noda, set to become Japan's prime minister, could be a reassuring presence amid economic and political turmoil, but it's not clear what energy he will have for global affairs, writes CFR's Sheila Smith.
See more in Japan; Elections
Japan's most powerful earthquake and the accompanying tsunami will sorely test its weak government and have a devastating impact on its struggling economy, says CFR's Sheila Smith.
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Japan's new national defense policy makes only modest changes to its overall capabilities but signals new concerns about threats from China, says CFR's Sheila Smith.
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Yesterday's high-level meeting involving Japan, South Korea, and the United States demonstrated that tolerance for Chinese support for North Korea has reached its limit, says CFR's Sheila Smith.
See more in South Korea; Japan; Regional Security
Prime Minister Naoto Kan's reelection as head of Japan's ruling Democratic Party means some long-needed continuity in Japanese government, but the party needs to demonstrate its effectiveness, says CFR's Sheila Smith.
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The surprise collapse of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government raises questions about the DPJ party's ability to lead the country, its U.S. ties, and its security policy, writes CFR's Sheila Smith.
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In a series of Northeast Asian summits, China gave no signal it was prepared to ramp up pressure on North Korea, to the detriment of regional security efforts, writes CFR's Sheila Smith.
See more in China; Diplomacy and Statecraft; Japan; Oceans
The United States, South Korea, and Japan have displayed solidarity in response to ramped-up tensions with North Korea, but China needs to be more active in crisis diplomacy, says CFR's Sheila Smith.
See more in China; North Korea; Politics and Strategy
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has a fresh electoral mandate to implement structural reforms but many of his intended changes will require the transformation of Japanese society, says CFR's Sheila Smith.
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Sheila Smith argues that while recent tensions between Japan and South Korea over territorial issues are deeply worrisome for the U.S. government and for regional stability, the reality is that a stronger bilateral relationship can only come about if it is the Japanese and Korean people that lead the effort on reconciliation.
See more in Japan; South Korea; Oceans
CFR Senior Fellow Sheila Smith says the Six Party Talks have built cooperation among Northeast Asian countries, which need to work together, particulary on North Korea, but also on growing tension between the United States and China over planned U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
See more in Diplomacy and Statecraft; Asia and Pacific; Regional Security
CFR's Northeast Asia expert Sheila A. Smith says it is imperative for the United States to make it clear that it will not accept a nuclear North Korea. The UN's nonproliferation regime is also facing a moment of truth, she says.
See more in North Korea; Proliferation; United States
CFR's Sheila Smith says Pyongyang's latest attempt at a rocket launch shows the regime is clearly bent on acquiring a nuclear delivery capability. She says Washington must reassure North Korea that diplomacy is the only way forward.
See more in Proliferation; North Korea
Sheila A. Smith, a CFR adjunct senior fellow who lives in Tokyo, says Yasuo Fukuda, the new Japanese prime minister, is likely to be a moderate force in Japanese politics.
See more in Japan; Culture and Foreign Policy; Elections