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Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies

Expertise

Japanese domestic politics and foreign policy; Northeast Asia regional security; international relations of the Asia Pacific

Programs

Northeast Asian Nationalisms and Alliance Management , Japan’s New Strategic Challenge , Japan’s Political Transition and the U.S.-Japan Alliance , Roundtable Series on Japan

Bio

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.

Featured Publications

Article

Asia’s Great Powers and Regional Stability: A New Trilateral Dynamic Between the United States, China, and Japan

Author: Sheila A. Smith
American Foreign Policy Interests

“For some time,  the  idea  of  a  formal  trilateral discussion between the United States, Japan, and China has been considered but not acted on. Today, however, as the interactions among these three major powers carry such significant implications for the future of the Asia Pacific, the need for such a trilateral seems stronger than ever,” writes Sheila A. Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies.

See more in China; Japan; Regional Security

All Publications

Article

U.S.-Japan-Relations: 2016 Opens with a Bang

Authors: Sheila A. Smith and Charles McClean
Comparative Connections

Sheila A. Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies, analyzes how the United States and Japan together dealt with North Korean fourth nuclear test, China’s increasing military activities in the South China Sea, the long-standing base relocation issue in Okinawa, and the “Trump Shock,” caused by Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s campaign language toward Japan on trade and on security cooperation.

See more in China; Japan; Regional Security

Article

Asia’s Great Powers and Regional Stability: A New Trilateral Dynamic Between the United States, China, and Japan

Author: Sheila A. Smith
American Foreign Policy Interests

“For some time,  the  idea  of  a  formal  trilateral discussion between the United States, Japan, and China has been considered but not acted on. Today, however, as the interactions among these three major powers carry such significant implications for the future of the Asia Pacific, the need for such a trilateral seems stronger than ever,” writes Sheila A. Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies.

See more in China; Japan; Regional Security

Article

U.S.-Japan-Relations: Official Cooperation, Domestic Challenges

Authors: Sheila A. Smith and Charles McClean
Comparative Connections

Chinese land reclamation in the South China Sea as well as local opposition to Tokyo’s plans for building a new airfield to replace the U.S. Marines’ Futenma facility are the two main challenges for Washington and Tokyo in the new year, writes Sheila A. Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies.

See more in United States; Japan; Defense Strategy; Regional Security

Article

Japan’s Maritime Disputes: Implications for the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Authors: Sheila A. Smith and Charles McClean
Center for Naval Analyses

Sheila A. Smith and Research Associate Charles T. McClean argue that U.S. interests are affected by all three of Japan's territorial disputes with its neighbors. While the United States cannot resolve these disputes, it can and should do all that it can to promote peaceful dispute resolution and a lessening of military tensions.

See more in Japan; Sovereignty

Recent Activity from Asia Unbound

Events

Northeast Asian Nationalisms and Alliance Management

Staff: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
Director: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
September 1, 2014—Present

Japan is increasingly seen as being in the grip of nationalist politics. Regional diplomacy is rife with criticism of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and his nationalist agenda. Leaders in Beijing and Seoul both call on Washington to rein in a Japan that is provocative and revisionist. Geopolitical change presents a dangerous background in which political leaders in Northeast Asia are stoking popular sensitivities. These complex dynamics have profound implications for the United States, and U.S. concerns about nationalism in Japan are already beginning to shape alliance management. The expression of U.S. "disappointment" in the wake of Prime Minister Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine in December revealed serious differences between Tokyo and Washington over Abe's willingness to exacerbate tensions in the region. This project, which will run from September 2014 to March 2017, will look carefully at Japan's nationalist politics to examine their impact on the U.S.-Japan alliance, and will engage leading experts from the United States and Japan in a conversation about how to manage these reactive nationalisms in Northeast Asia. Research findings will be made available on the Asia Unbound blog on CFR.org, and through other writings. The project will culminate in a final report that will analyze the impact of nationalist politics on U.S.-Japan alliance cooperation as well as provide prescriptions for U.S. policymakers on how to navigate tensions between Japan and its neighbors in Northeast Asia.

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S.-Japan Foundation.

Japan’s New Strategic Challenge

Staff: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
Director: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
September 1, 2013—Present

Japan's security choices have far-reaching consequences for the United States. U.S. strategy in Asia depends heavily on Washington's alliance with Tokyo. Yet, frequent leadership changes in Tokyo have raised concerns in Washington about Japan's ability to be a strategic partner. Today, Japan faces a fundamentally different security environment. China's rise is beginning to challenge Japan's ability to pursue its national interests. Armed conflict between these two Asian neighbors has suddenly become a real possibility as a territorial dispute in the East China Sea has elevated tensions. Beijing has challenged Japan's administrative control over these islands, testing the ability of Japan's military to defend its territory. An aggressive and militarily powerful China could also test the U.S. commitment to defend Japan. Could this be the turning point for Japan? Will Japan finally assume a more proactive military posture in the U.S.-Japanese alliance? Or, will nationalism prompt Japan to act independently of U.S. strategic priorities? Dr. Smith will conduct research on the indicators of Japanese strategic transition, which will be the basis of a book on Japan's New Strategic Challenge.

This project is made possible by a grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation.

Japan’s Political Transition and the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Director: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
January 11, 2011—Present

The challenges that confront the U.S.-Japan relationship today are many, and the opportunities to devise new ways of cooperating ample. Yet we still know too little about how to adapt our alliance to the changing demands within Japan for greater accountability and transparency in governance. The March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake has confounded the governance pressures on Japan's new government, and expanded our bilateral alliance agenda. The confusion and disconnect between the two governments during the early months of Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) rule suggest the need for a much better understanding of the domestic pressures on Japan's new government for change in alliance policy. The Japan studies program is excited to announce a new study to analyze domestic political change in Japan and its effect on the U.S.-Japan alliance.

This project is made possible by grants from the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership and the U.S.-Japan Foundation.

Roundtable Series on Japan

Director: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
July 1, 2011—Present

The Roundtable Series on Japan is an ongoing series that provides a forum for leading U.S. and Japanese experts to analyze Japan's domestic and foreign policy. Of particular interest is the analysis of U.S.-Japan policy cooperation in a fluid Asia-Pacific region.

This series is made possible in part by the generosity of the following corporate and foundation sponsors: US-Japan Foundation, Mitsui & Co. (U.S.A.), Inc., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America, Mitsubishi International Corporation, Sony Corporation of America, Toyota Motor North America, and the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

CFR Events

Meeting

U.S.-Japan Symposium: The Economics of Asia

Speakers Takatoshi Ito

Professor of International and Public Affairs and Associate Director of Research, Center on Japanese Economy and Business, Columbia Business School

, Adam Posen

President, Peterson Institute for International Economics


Presider Paul Sheard

Chief Global Economist, Head of Global Economics and Research, Standard & Poor's


Introductory Speaker Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

October 29, 2015

This meeting is not for attribution.

Meeting

Media Call: The Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal

Presider Michael A. Levi

David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Speakers Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

, Edward Alden

Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow and Director of the Renewing America Initiative, Council on Foreign Relations

October 6, 2015 10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.

October 6, 2015

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen

Meeting ⁄ Washington

Power Profile: Shinzo Abe

Speakers Keiko Iizuka

Washington Bureau Chief, Yomiuri Shimbun

, Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations 


Presider David Ignatius

Columnist and Associate Editor, Washington Post

May 13, 2015 12:00–12:30 p.m. - Lunch Reception
12:30–1:30 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen Watch

Meeting

Japanese Domestic Politics and China’s Rise

Speaker Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Moderator Lizzy McCourt Noonan

Associate Director, Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

April 23, 2015 12:00–1:00 p.m. - (ET)

This meeting is on the record.

Listen

Symposium

Asia’s New Leaders

Panelists Alyssa Ayres

Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations

, Aaron Connelly

Research Fellow, East Asia Program, Lowy Institute for International Policy

, Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Presider Michael Fullilove

Executive Director, Lowy Institute for International Policy

April 21, 2015

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen Watch

Symposium

The Future of the U.S. Alliance System

Panelists Euan Graham

Director, International Security Program, Lowy Institute for International Policy

, Joshua Kurlantzick

Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia, Council on Foreign Relations


Speaker Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

April 21, 2015

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen Watch

Meeting ⁄ Washington

CFR Fellows Book Launch Series: Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China

Speaker Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Presider Fred Hiatt

Editorial Page Editor, Washington Post

April 2, 2015 5:30–6:00 p.m. - Registration
6:00–6:45 p.m. - Meeting
6:45–7:15 p.m. - Reception and Book Signing

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen Watch

Meeting ⁄ New York

CFR Fellows Book Launch Series: Intimate Rivals--Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China

Speaker Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Presider Richard N. Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations

March 12, 2015 5:30–6:00 p.m. - Cocktail Reception
6:00–6:45 p.m. - Discussion
6:45–7:15 p.m. - Cocktail Reception and Book Signing

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen Watch

Meeting ⁄ Washington

A Look at North Korea From Its Neighbors

Speakers Bonnie S. Glaser

Senior Advisor for Asia, Freeman Chair in China Studies and Senior Associate, Pacific Forum, Center for Strategic and International Studies

, Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Presider Marcus Noland

Executive Vice President and Director of Studies, Peterson Institute for International Economics

October 21, 2014 12:00–12:30 p.m. - Lunch Reception
12:30–1:30 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

Meeting

Japan: One Year Later

Speaker Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Moderator Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

March 8, 2012 12:00–1:00 p.m. - (ET)

This meeting is on the record.

Listen

Meeting

China 2025: Panel Two: China Goes Global

Moderator Sheila A. SmithSenior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Panelists Evan A. FeigenbaumSenior Fellow for East, Central, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, Michael A. LeviDavid M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change, Council on Foreign Relations, Adam SegalMaurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, David H. ShinnAdjunct Professor, George Washington University
October 19, 2009

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

Meeting

Symposium on the U.S.-Japan Partnership: An Agenda For Change

Chair Sheila A. SmithSenior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
December 1, 2008

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

Meeting

U.S.-Japan Symposium: The United States, Japan, and the Rise of China

Speakers Elizabeth C. Economy

C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

, Shiraishi Takashi

President, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); President, Institute of Developing Economies-JETRO


Presider Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

This meeting is not for attribution.

Press/Panels

Lecture

Public Lecture: Sheila Smith, Council on Foreign Relations

Sheila Smith discussed Intimate Rivals at an event jointly hosted by the Perth USAsia Centre and Murdoch University's School of Arts and the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs. 

Video Interview

Japan's Lower House Approves Changes To Military Powers

The lower house of Japan's parliament passed legislation Thursday giving the country's military limited powers to participate in armed conflicts. NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with Sheila A. Smith, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, about what this decision means.

Listen

Video Interview

Japan-South Korea: Finding Common Ground

A discussion on Japan-South Korea cooperation agenda on North Korea policy and other issues in the region following the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Listen

Video Interview

Talking In Kanji

Rana Mitter, author of China’s War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival, writes a review of Sheila Smith's new book, Intimate Rivals.  

Listen

Japan's China Challenge

The rise of China has put many countries around the world on notice. Some may see it as an exciting shift in the world order, and others may approach it with caution. However, no country feels China's rise more deeply than Japan. Dr. Sheila Smith, an expert on Japanese and regional politics, will discuss how Japan’s relationship with a rising China influences Japanese domestic and foreign policy. Whether it be conflicts in the East China Sea, managing a volatile North Korea or strategies of island defense, Smith will explore the policy issues testing the Japanese government as it tries to navigate this storied and often complex relationship.

Japan and China: 'Intimate Rivals'

Japanese citizens worry more and more about China but, Smith notes that while certain issues evoke a popular nationalism – such as Yasukuni shrine and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands – voters have not rewarded the better-known Japanese nationalists at the ballot box.

Blurring Borders: National, Subnational, and Regional Orders in East Asia

On June 1, 2015, Sheila Smith spoke at a full-day conference on “Blurring Borders: National, Subnational, and Regional Orders in East Asia” cosponsored by the Asia Program of Foreign Policy Research Instiute and the Kissinger Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 

Defining Defense: Japan's Military Identity Crisis

While more Japanese express an interest in reconsidering Japan's pacific constitution, public opinion still remains deeply ambivalent when it comes to changing military policy, writes Sheila A. Smith.

Article

Okinawa Bases and the U.S.-Japan Alliance

In a chapter from Examining Japan’s Lost Decades, edited by Yoichi Funabashi and Barak Kushner, Smith argues that Japan’s military adjustment to the end of the Cold War was less about the politics of Japan’s “lost decades,” and more about the complex process of dismantling the forces that had sustained the Cold War.

Article

Regional Institutions Can Be Good for World Policy

China's new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has raised questions about U.S. policy in Asia. South Korea, Australia, and several European nations have signed on to China's initiative, which seeks to raise $50 billion to $100 billion for Asian development. Although the United States remains cautious about this new China-led effort, it should welcome the participation of others.

Article

The Abe Factor

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s security policies have received different receptions domestically and abroad, particularly in China and South Korea. At the same time, Japan’s new foreign security policy is also affecting the politics of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Intimate Rivals

Sheila A. Smith explores the policy issues testing the Japanese government as it tries to navigate its relationship with an advancing China.