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Council on Foreign Relations Spotlight on Japan
Fall 2013

Japan Program Events

Prioritizing Japan's Postelection Agenda

On September 20, Kenichiro Sasae, Japan's ambassador to the United States, discussed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's diplomatic and economic agenda following the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) sweeping victory in the July Upper House election. Sasae said Japan's economic recovery will continue to be Abe's top priority, including participation in initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In addition, Japan will seek to continue strengthening relations with its neighbors and the United States.


China, ASEAN, and the U.S. Rebalance to Asia

On October 15, Simon Tay, chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs and associate professor, National University of Singapore, discussed U.S.-China-Southeast Asia relations at a meeting of the U.S.-Asia Update Roundtable Series. While Tay did not think that President Barack Obama's decision to cancel his trip to Southeast Asia due to the government shutdown would hurt U.S. standing in the region, he did encourage the Obama administration to strengthen its planned "rebalance" to Asia to help offset the influence of China.


Analyzing Abenomics and Japan's Economy

On September 24, Robert Feldman, managing director, chief economist for Japan, and codirector of Japan research at Morgan Stanley Japan Ltd., discussed the prospect for Abenomics and Japan's economic recovery. Feldman praised many of the policies adopted by Prime Minister Abe and Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda as encouraging, while emphasizing that a lot of work remains on issues such as employment, energy, immigration, and tax reform.


Sino-Japanese Relations

On September 18, National Defense Academy president Ryosei Kokubun and Lieutenant General Noboru Yamaguchi (Ret.), Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, spoke on Sino-Japanese relations. Kokubun discussed how China's internal power struggles affect its diplomacy with Japan, while Yamaguchi focused on the military dimensions of recent tensions between Japan and China.

Japan's Trajectory and Abe's Agenda

On October 24, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies Sheila A. Smith spoke at a CFR general meeting alongside Koichi Hamada, professor emeritus, Yale University, and Bruce Stokes, director, Pew Global Attitudes Project (presider). Hamada praised the successes of Abenomics thus far, especially regarding monetary policy, and outlined the effects that raising the consumption tax might have on Japan's economic recovery. Smith spoke on the rise of "reactive nationalisms" across Northeast Asia and how this affects Japan's efforts to improve relations with China and South Korea.

Japan's Political Transition and the U.S.-Japan Alliance Project

As part of this project generously funded by the U.S.-Japan Foundation and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, the Japan program convened a closed workshop with Japanese experts in Tokyo on July 24. The meeting focused on two questions: How does the return of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito as a ruling coalition affect the policymaking process; and how will Prime Minister Abe's cabinet manage Japan's regional relations and the U.S.-Japan alliance? There was general consensus that Abe's focus has been on restoring confidence in Japan's economy. With no election scheduled for the next three years, participants acknowledged that Abe has the opportunity to bring stability to the prime minister's office, while cautioning that his popularity and sustainability depends on the continued success of his economic policies. Nevertheless, with several important security items on the agenda for the fall, experts are eager to see how the Abe cabinet addresses Japan's foreign policy challenges.


China's Maritime Disputes

The Japan studies program is pleased to announce the launch of CFR's new interactive report, "China's Maritime Disputes," an examination of the rising tensions in the East and South China Seas. This is the first in a new series of InfoGuides, which aim to raise understanding of a complex foreign policy issue through online teaching and storytelling tools, maps, timelines, slideshows, infographics, and videos. A video overview of the disputes features analysis by leading experts such as C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies Elizabeth C. Economy, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia Joshua Kurlantzick, and CFR President Richard N. Haass, as well as prominent experts from the region such as Simon Tay, chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs and associate professor, National University of Singapore, and Shen Dengli, professor of international relations, Fudan University. The guide is available at

Recent Writings on Japan By Sheila Smith

Sheila A. Smith is CFR's senior fellow for Japan studies and director of the Japan studies program.

North Korea in Japan's Strategic Thinking

Since the succession of Kim Jong-un, Tokyo has put greater emphasis on ensuring it is prepared militarily for a more unpredictable North Korea and strengthening support for UN Security Council sanctions on DPRK proliferation. Read the Asan Forum article »

Abe's Diplomatic Agenda

Despite some regional concerns about Abe's geopolitical ambitions, his diplomatic vision to date looks more like a return to Japan's much vaunted economic diplomacy. Read the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs article »

Feeling the Heat: Asia's Shifting Geopolitics and the U.S.-Japan Alliance

China's rise has called for a more complex assessment in both Tokyo and Washington of the circumstances under which the U.S.-Japan alliance might be tested. Read the World Politics Review article »

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

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. Read the Center for Naval Analyses article »

Japan as a Global Power

On June 18, the Japan studies program joined with Professors Henry Nau and Deepa Ollapally of George Washington University (GWU) and Richard Samuels of MIT to organize the Japan as a Global Power: Contending Views From Japan conference at GWU. The conference featured four expert speakers from Japan who discussed their country's policies on national security and defense, economics, international institutions, and transnational issues. On June 19, CFR hosted a roundtable with the four speakers from Japan: Yukio Okamoto, senior fellow, Center for International Studies, MIT; Tomoko Abe, member of parliament and president, Tomorrow Party of Japan; Kan Ito, foreign policy analyst; and Kyoji Yanagisawa, chief director, International Geopolitics Institute, Japan.

From Asia Unbound

On the Asia Unbound blog, six CFR experts analyze issues emerging in Asia today. Sheila A. Smith analyzes Japan's domestic politics and foreign policy. Subscribe to Smith's blog posts via RSS »

Okinawa and Tokyo Today

The U.S. and Japanese governments have struggled for seventeen years to find a replacement facility for the Futenma Marine Air Station. Yet it is important to recognize that national politics have changed considerably over this time, as have regional security dynamics. Read the post »

Abe Reassures After Election Victory

Leading up to the Upper House election, the specter of a prime minister emboldened by electoral victory to pursue a nationalist agenda dominated the media. However, after the election Prime Minister Abe and his party instead put forward an image of their government as restrained and deliberate. Read the post »

Okinawa, Then and Now

Opposition to the Futenma relocation plan, or more recently to the deployment of the Osprey, is expressed through periodic demonstrations, but gone are the islandwide protests of the mid-1990s. Instead a quieter, but broader, sentiment of frustration and disappointment persists in Okinawa. Read the post »

Japan's Upper House Election

For Prime Minister Abe, the Upper House election is more than a test of his conservative party's popularity; it is a mandate for him and a chance at redemption. Read the post »

Lessons from KORUS for Japan and TPP

In a guest post, Sean Connell discusses the lessons the United States and Japan can learn from the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) as Japan moves forward in participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Read the post »

Getting Out the Youth Vote in Japan

In a guest post, Research Associate Charles T. McClean examines the political aspirations of younger Japanese and the factors that motivate their voting behavior. Read the post »

What's Ahead for Abe's Energy Agenda?

In a guest post, Daniel P. Aldrich, James E. Platte, and Jennifer F. Sklarew argue that power sector reforms, renewable energy development, and uncertainty over plutonium use may dampen the LDP's ability to push an overly pro-nuclear energy policy. Read the post »


Japan Program in the News

Kyodo News: Kennedy's Nonprofit Efforts Seen As Asset (October 18, 2013)

Stars and Stripes: Japan Mulls Expanding Fighting Forces' Defensive Role to Include Allies (October 14, 2013)

Reuters: In Overture to China, Japan PM May Skip Yasukuni Visit (August 2, 2013)

Wall Street Journal: Japan, China Inch Toward Repairing Ties (July 30, 2013)

New York Times: The Limits on Nationalism in Japan (July 23, 2013)

AP: Japan's Abe May Push Nationalism After Elections (July 18, 2013)

Asahi Shimbun: LDP Joins International Community in Criticizing Hashimoto's "Comfort Women" Remark (May 15, 2013)

South China Morning Post: Wind of Change (May 10, 2013)

Los Angeles Times: Russia, Japan Renew Quest for Elusive WWII Peace Treaty (May 1, 2013)