Japan's Reckoning With a Rising China

Thursday, April 2, 2015
Toshiyuki Aizawa/Courtesy Reuters

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Fred Hiatt

Editorial Page Editor, Washington Post

CFR Senior Fellow Sheila A. Smith joins the Washington Post's Fred Hiatt to introduce her new book, Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China. Smith describes the changing perceptions of China in Japan. She goes on to discuss the influence of Japanese domestic politics on relations between Beijing and Tokyo, referencing the resurgence of Japan's right-wing in recent years and Japanese public opinion. Smith additionally explores the role of the U.S.-Japan alliance in driving Japanese security policy toward China.

The CFR Fellows' Book Launch series highlights new books by CFR fellows. It includes a discussion with the author, cocktail reception, and book signing.

HIATT: So, thank you all for coming to the Council for this book talk with Sheila Smith, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of "Intimate Rivals."

We meet on a day when there's a lot of excitement about Iran, but fortunately half of the people on this stage have an attention span longer than a day.


And have been thinking about what is probably the more important consequential issues facing the world, which is the rise of China, the rise of Japan, and what that's going to mean for all of us.

I first really came to appreciate Sheila a little bit right around the time the opposition was coming to power in Japan for the first time. And as far as I could tell, Sheila was the only person who knew who they were. And it was telling because she had gotten to know them over the years and really listened to what they had to say, not because they might come to power someday, or not only because they might come to power someday, but because she was interested in what they had to say, and what they told us about how Japan might or might not be changing.

And since then, I've come to know her, as you all do, as one of the most perceptive analysts of modern Japan, both empathetic and very critically perceptive. So, this book, which I can highly recommend—she's done something really unusual, I think. All of us have thought a lot about, or read a lot about, and heard a lot about rising China. And very often, we hear about it in the context of, "What are we going to do about it? How are we going to respond? How should we respond?"

Sheila has come at it from a different perspective, which is, "How is rising China changing Japan internally? And how are those changes inside Japan going to affect how Japan in turn responds to China?"

So, I found it fascinating. And maybe you could start by just telling us how you came to that topic, which is unusual way of thinking about this.

SMITH: Thank you, Fred, and thank you for doing this. I'm very grateful for you to take this on and be here with me.

You know, the book is really a product of many years of looking at the relationship between Japan and China. And I began in the mid-2000s, and you could already feel that there was something fundamentally changing about the way in which Japanese were perceived in China.

They'd had a close relationship with China in many ways. They were deeply economically interdependent until the 1990s or so. The Japanese policy elites felt that the Japan-China relationship was one of the country's largest priorities, second only, perhaps, to their relationship with us.

But by the mid-2000s, you could feel that questioning beginning, the skepticism about whether or not the relationship was sustainable as it was currently organized, right. And, of course, there was a lot of attention paid to Prime Minister Koizumi, who insisted on going to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. He is the gentleman on the front of this book.

But I didn't write it because Koizumi was going to the shrine. I wrote it because you could feel in the conversation in Tokyo about the shrine, that in part it was, "We're going despite Chinese criticism." And that was the first time I'd ever heard that framing, not only of the Japan-China relationship, but also of this question of war memory in Japan, and of the kind of political behavior at home in Japan.

So you could hear already that there was this currents of discomfort with China, but it wasn't really framed in terms of a rising China, but an awareness that something fundamentally was changing in Japan in terms of their perceptions of not only their own interests, but how they wanted to have that relationship with China evolve.

HIATT: And you pick four, sort of case studies of the relationship. Quickly tell us what the four are.

SMITH: So I—these case studies are case studies in contention. OK. I start out by saying that there's lot of ways in which the Japanese and Chinese collaborate and economic relations being one of them.

But there's also these periodic moments of deep contention. And so, I wanted to look at the episodes of contention. So, I start with a chapter on the Imperial veterans. Yasukuni, obviously. I then have a chapter on the maritime boundary. We often conflate it with the Senkaku Island dispute, but in fact it's a different issue. It's the question of how the Japanese and Chinese negotiate or navigate their maritime boundary. And it's a—it's largely influenced by the U.N. law of the Sea Convention, right.

The third case study has to do with food security, and it really was—the focal point was poison dumplings that arrived in Japan in 2007, and the inability of the two governments to really address the problem and find a solution to the problem together.

And then the last one is about straight old island defense. Not just Senkaku defense, but the whole question of Japanese defense. The Chinese expansion, its military expansion, really runs, literally, right into Japan. And so, there is new ways in which the Japanese were thinking about whether or not their defenses were adequate. So the last case study deals with defense and security issues.

HIATT: And how well does Japan manage to respond to these?

SMITH: Well, the interesting thing is—what I do is I look at the issue, the policy issue, and then I look at the way in which there are dilemma is confronted by the Japanese government, and then the interest and advocacies inside Japan. Who's interested in this issue, right? It's not just public opinion polling, but who's advocating a certain position on policy?

So what I'm trying to get at is, the balance of interests in Japan and are they really changing? And the answer in the book is yes. And you can see this across all four case studies.

But in some ways, it doesn't line up to a consensus inside Japan that, "We ought to confront China, or we ought to have a strategy of hedging against China." It's a lot more diverse in terms of the reaction. So in some cases, in the food safety, for example, that case study, you get a real push for regulatory reform inside Japan. Yes, there is a bilateral agreement with China, the but real solution being asked for of the Japanese government is regulatory reform.

In the island defense, obviously, it's a more strategic choice, but it's a questioning underlying Japanese defense preparedness. And there you get a question about the alliance. So, as you go across the different case studies, you can see these various interest groups being shaped by this transforming China. But the way in which they influence policy is actually quite varied...

HIATT: But—I'm sorry. Even that diversity—I mean, those of us who were there way back in the 20th century, it was sort of Kay Donran (ph) says we should have good relations with China. And if we have economic interdependence, everything will be OK. And one of the things you seem to find is Kay Donran (ph) is not the only arbiter any more.

SMITH: Right. And I think that was the way we understood the Japan-China relationship. And most of the scholarship that looked at the Japan-China relationship up until the 1990s, the business community, Kay Donran (ph), Kay Vidoyupai (ph), and other economic interests really drove the argument in Japan for a close relationship, a better relationship with Beijing. But not anymore.

And I think you find that the business community in Japan still wants to have, or at least certain sectors of the business communities still advocates for a close political relationship with China, but not everybody.

And one of the things that's happened has not to do with Chinese behavior, but really has to do with a slightly awakening of a more marginal right wing activism in Japan. And that activism has, in some cases, targeted Japanese business leaders who have been advocating for a close relationship with Beijing.

HIATT: And, I mean, one of the—to me, really interesting things is this idea of economic interdependence is taken—continues to be seen by some people as the best route to make sure we get along, but other people begin to see it as a threat or a weakness, right?

SMITH: Right. So, interdependence is, by nature, a vulnerability, right. It's the whole conversation we have about globalization writ large, right. The more economically interdependent you are, the more vulnerable you are, if the country with whom you're interdependent starts to change their policies.

So, you don't have to assume hostile intent on the part of China, right. You just simply have to look at the way in which interests are clashing in—across the spectrum of Chinese and Japanese groups.

But I do think the interdependence it's important, and I think I didn't really realize this until I sat down to write. In chapter two, I give a kind of overview of the background of the Japan-China relationship. And when I started to think about it, it was really obvious to me that for most Chinese—I'm sorry, Japanese policy makers, economic interdependence wasn't just an outcome, it wasn't just what happened. It was actually a strategy of reconciliation.

So the strategy was abandoned, largely, in the 1990s. But there was still a political argument for cooperation, but there was a demand, more, for reciprocity. There wasn't going to be his Japanese willy-nilly kind of notion that cooperation and economic integration with China would solve the political problems. The skepticism was already beginning to show by the 1990s.

HIATT: And particularly now, if China starts pulling Japanese debt, that's the end of the vulnerability.

SMITH: And here we—you know, we think of our debt being owned by the Chinese, right? But Japan's debt isn't, yet. Right? It will be. I can't imagine that it's going to be very long before that's going to become a reality. And then you'll have a whole different set of leverage—economic leverage on Japan that hasn't been visible yet.

HIATT: You—when you talked about going to—Koizumi going to the shrine, and you said, you know, despite Japan, or China, or whatever China thinks, that sounds a little bit like, "OK, we have the confidence to do what we want."

But one of the interesting things is that some of these things also seem to give rise to a loss of confidence, or an insecurity, about Japan's place in the world.

SMITH: Right.

HIATT: Is that...

SMITH: I think that's right.

HIATT: Is it fair?

SMITH: Yes, it's fair, and I think the backdrop, of course, is the lost decade of the 1990s, the economic, kind of, stumbling that Japan confronted, that Mr. Abe today is trying to reverse.

But you do get a sense that in the aggregate, you get this sort of superficial sense that when China jumped to number two in the global—as a global economy, Japan was eclipsed. You know, going down the rank of largest economies was really not a pleasant feeling, I think for a lot of Japanese. And it took on this symbolism, I think, that maybe doesn't necessarily explain the relationship, but it's certainly there.

I think on the economic side, though, there is a sense that if—not only is the relationship between the two governments more troubled, and not only do they have more difficulty in solving problems, but that the causality is really a Chinese power. And there's a fear—I think you can talk to a lot of Japanese colleagues and friends, some of whom are in the room with us today. But it's not today's China so much, but it's the potential of tomorrow's China that worry many in Japan.

HIATT: And how does—this isn't in your book, but I'll ask you anyway. How does their thinking about tomorrow's America fit in to that?

SMITH: Well, absolutely clear that for the first time the alliance now is being tested in ways I think from Tokyo, in ways that it hasn't been tested before. And it's not necessarily tested in the way that we think about our military posture, right. It's not that there is—you know, that we have less forces in the country, or that we're not going to defend Japan if there's a dispute in the Senkakus, but there's this questioning, an open questioning, even more than I've heard in the past in Japan. That now that the situation is different, not that there could be a use of force incident, it's not in the Korean peninsula, it's not Taiwan Straits.

There isn't yet an understanding between the Japanese and American governments about how the alliance is going to manage it. So right now the two governments are about to announce the U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation guidelines, and they've spent a considerable amount of time in that conversation dealing with what the Japanese call the gray zone contingency, which is really something short of the two militaries going to war, but something that could potentially inadvertently escalate into a crisis.

So since 2012, 2010, then 2012, those two crises, the two governments are attempting to think about these problems in new ways than they've had to think in the past.

HIATT: You say—and we should go to questions from the audience. But you say toward the end—I'll try not to give the book away for people, but that this—these challenges with China and sort of thinking about the future for a lot of Japanese has challenged the, sort of, basic three tenets of their postwar identity, which is kind of a startling thing. What are the three, and...

SMITH: I'm being tested on my...

HIATT: Well, (inaudible)

SMITH: No, it's OK. No, I mean...

HIATT: I read it more recently that you have.


SMITH: I put it away. No, I think that there's two things about which the—when I talk about the Japanese postwar identity, I really talk about the basic premises Japanese of foreign policy. And there's two areas that are obvious, right?

The first one is the security realm, right? Japan has committed itself to self-restraint, military self-restraint. It has not produced offensive capability. It continues to articulate a doctrine, a military doctrine of exclusive self-defense. Even today, when Mr. Abe is having a conversation about reinterpreting the constitution, it's for the purpose of the defense of Japan, right? They are not willy-nilly running down the road to militarism.

So, this is a country that, for the past 60 years, has seen its military not as an instrument of influence in the same way that we do and other countries do. And so, that's one question. I mean, is this expansion of Chinese military capability really going to change the way that Japan has to think about its own doctrine and its own military, and, in—by extension, its relationship with us?

And the second, I think—the third one you're going to have to remind me of. But the second one is really the postwar—I talk largely about the postwar order, because Japan has committed itself to a liberal trading order.

It has committed itself to a certain set of norms and rules, and has been instrumental in building the institutions of dispute resolution, whether it's UNCLOS or in the economic realms, and that China is really fundamentally challenging those norms and rules. And then for Japan it creates all kinds of problems, because that is the order around which the Japanese state has organized its economic and strategic power.

So, it's a huge set of questions. It's not just about the bilateral tit for tat between Beijing and Tokyo. It's really a question about, what is the sustaining order, global and regional. And if China is going to challenge that, then that leaves Japan in a very fundamental point of questioning its postwar practices.

HIATT: Yeah. I guess it's a trick question, because I think the third one was the alliance with the U.S., which we are...

SMITH: Oh, I see, which I embedded in the first one, so, good.

HIATT: So, let's see. I'm supposed to say, please wait for the microphone and keep your questions brief. State your name and affiliation, and one question per person so other people can have a shot. Sir.

QUESTION: I'm Mark Kennedy, George Washington University. Long before you saw the changes, Samuel Huntington, in "The Clash of Civilizations", in analyzing the region, said that Japan was in essence a bandwagon hopper, and that they were on the board of whoever was the biggest power. And he says you can't count on Japan always being on the American bandwagon, that if China rises fast enough, far enough, that they'll jump on China's bandwagon.

Do you have a comment on bandwagon supposition a decade before you ever wrote this?

SMITH: Sometimes Sam Huntington is wrong?


Only sometimes. No, I mean...

HIATT: The meeting is on the record...

SMITH: Oh, it is. I'm sorry...


Rarely is Sam Huntington wrong. No, I apologize, Professor Huntington. I—you know, the Clash of Civilizations was one of those threshold books. It really got us to think differently. As a Japan scholar, I remember he put Japan in a civilization all by itself. And I always thought that was kind of curious.

But I do think, you know, we could step back with a long, long lens of 10, 20, 30 years from now. And then the answer is going to be contingent on U.S. behavior. It's really going to be contingent on where we are. Because right now the strategic bargain that keeps Japan safe, and that underpins the premises that we were just talking about, is the alliance with the U.S.

And if the order, global or regional, shifts to the extent that the U.S. is either no longer willing or able to ally with Japan and provide that partnership and that security guarantee against that rising China, then I suspect Japan will have to revisit some of those choices.

But I don't think we're going to see that tomorrow or 10 years from now. Maybe not even 20 years from now. But I think our choices are—there's contingency in there, intervening variables, if you'd like. But I think—I believe in human agency a little bit more than that large thesis would suggest.

KENNEDY: And how much do you think that what we're seeing in Japan now, in trying to reframe the constitution and rebuild defense—it's framed as part of collective self-defense. How much are—in the back of their minds thinking, "Well, this would also be useful if . . . "

SMITH: How much is hedging? Yeah. I don't see it right now, and I think you'd have to—I mean, I'm—the next book is already under way as we speak, but I'm trying to look at some of those questions in more specific terms. How would we recognize it if we see it? You know, short of a big leap that you'd suggest there.

I don't think Japan is quite ready yet to jump into the offensive capability, although there is some discussion, quiet, about strike capability, at a very moderate level. But I think there's been a wholesale movement towards the alliance, not away from the alliance. And I think that's what the right of collective self-defense is all about.

But you'll notice this time—and this is not the first time this debate has come up. It's not just about the Japanese military working alongside the United States, but it's also working alongside other militaries in the region as well, including Australia, with whom the Japanese have developed a fairly growing and increasingly sophisticated security relationship.

So I think there may be diversification, not a one side or the other, but a kind of network or webbing that the Japanese will pursue. But it's still in this very limited frame of, if Japan's own security is threatened, then that step—those options will be exercised.

HIATT: Other questions.

QUESTION: You—in that context, and with Prime Minister Abe coming here, a lot of U.S. attention seems to be on the Korea-Japan relationship, which doesn't look good. What do you—how does that fit into this, do you think?

SMITH: Well, luckily, this is a book about Japan-China. It's a—it would be a very different and more difficult book to write, I think, the Japan-Korea relationship. And I'm hoping it's not going to be a book that needs to be written. It's the short answer, right? In other words, I'm hoping that—there have been some initial steps since last year, since the nuclear summit in Hague, and the facilitation of a meeting between President Park and Prime Minister Abe.

It opened the way, at least, for the bilateral discussion of war legacy issues to begin. I think you've seen some signaling. Sometimes the rhetoric doesn't sound very positive, but in terms of the actual meetings of the diplomats and some dinner conversation between Madam Park and Prime Minister Abe you've seen some movement.

But the real question is going to be how soon this diplomatic estrangement can be overcome. I think it's dangerous for a number of reasons, not just before for us and our alliances it's not convenient. But it's also opening the way, I think, to political antipathy in both countries that needs, in some ways, to be addressed.

HIATT: Among ordinary people.

SMITH: Among ordinary people. And it's the same trajectory—you can see in the Japan-China relationship, as you look at all the polling data, and for Japan-China I draw on some of the polling data. It's just this trajectory upwards. 93 percent of people don't like the other side, I mean, it's really striking.

So you allow that to fester for too long, and particularly between Japan and South Korea that have so much at stake together, not only in their economic relationship but in their strategic relationship. You allow that antipathy to fester and then you get in the way—that will then get in the way of problem solving at the diplomatic level.

So I worry more. I think Japan-China may be less difficult in that way. I think the sentiments in Japan and South Korea, I think, could be very nasty for a while. But I hope that we're not going to write that book.

HIATT: Although in Japan and China, too, you—one of the interesting things is that you have cases where the diplomats come to a solution, but it doesn't end up being implemented.

KENNEDY: In general, do you think the changes that are being pushed—that are happening in Japan in part because of China—are making Japan more supple, more able to respond? Or less, or...

SMITH: That's a hard one to quantify. I think right now, there has been a kind of revisiting of the basics in terms of Japan's policy response. So I write about this in the book. There's a new maritime law, right? There's a kind of attempt to consolidate decision making in the Prime Minister's office. There's an effort to make the policy-making process and implementation process much, much more focused on things like risk management and other things.

So, I think around the margins there's been some institutional changes that have been very positive. I think overall, however, I don't see yet that there's real traction between Japan and China, in terms of really addressing the fundamental challenges, which is risk reduction in the short term, in the East China Sea, and then, over the longer term, a real commitment.

I wrote a blog yesterday for the press on this. But the language I used then is that the Chinese and Japanese leadership have to really not only overcome their own lack of comfort with the diplomacy, the bilateral diplomacy, but I think they have to decide that they want to invest in institutions in the region that will build cooperation, that won't be about competition.

And for that to happen, they'll have to see that in their own self-interests, both sides will have to see that in their own self-interests. And I don't see that yet.

HIATT: Well, the—I'm sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you very much for sharing a very interesting and insightful analysis. Given what you said about...

HIATT: Sir, tell us who you are.

QUESTION: Oh, I'm sorry. James Turner, Daniel Alexander Payne Community Development Corporation.

Given what you said about the jolt to Japan when China took over as number two, and the Japanese economy, the demographics, what's happening with their neighbors. What do Japanese hang their hats on to—for, you know, to say that the future will be rosy?

SMITH: Oh, dear. When I was up in New York, Richard Haass asked me the same question, but he asked it in a slightly different way.

He goes, "So, who's—is Japan going to come out OK? What do you think?" Hmmm. Sixty-two percent positive. No. You know, I'm the senior fellow for Japan studies, was my answer to that. So you have to be optimistic in some ways.

But I—to be serious about the answer, I think Japan has a lot of economic competitiveness still left in it. I don't think it's all a question about size, which economy is bigger or smaller. But I do think it's about the way in which Japan diversifies its sources of not only diplomatic but economic and political support. So you see not only Prime Minister Abe, but Prime Minister Noda before him, really try to energize that diplomacy, and I think that's very wise.

I think Japan is going to have to stand fairly firm on sustaining existing institutions of global management, be they the Bretton Woods economic institutions or other institutions, the United Nations, for example.

I think it's interesting we're talking in Washington a lot these days about the AIIB decision, right? I think in many ways, as China seeks to build new institutions and to occupy more fully existing institutions such as the IMF, right, I think Japan's role in safeguarding some of the way in which influences are exerted is going to be very important.

So I think—I am less worried about our European and Asian allies engaging China, for example, in the AIIB. Asia will have needs and China will have resources to fulfill and satisfy those needs. I don't see that as a win-loss situation, but I think you have to have active partners in the process, and I hope Japan gets to play that role as well as us, frankly, at some point. So I don't see the—it has to be one...

QUESTION: So you think they should join the bank?

SMITH: I think they should. I—whether they do it now as a founding member or not, I think we need more transparency. I think we need more information, and I think Japan has a right to stand back until they get the information they need.

But Australia is going to be a powerful partner in that process. So I don't worry about Australian participation, like I don't worry a large part about the Europeans. But somebody has to begin to engage in the conversation with China about building institutions, and about Chinese participation in our existing institutions. They can't be zero-sum. And the minute we start making it one or the other, or zero-sum, then I think we will revert back to this, it's China or Japan, kind of thinking. And I think that would be a mistake.

HIATT: Yes, I think you were next.

QUESTION: Alex Gray with Congressman Randy Forbes. So, how do you assess at this point what the Japanese political elite feel about our ability, the U.S. ability, to remain militarily, especially, but also economically and diplomatically engaged in the region? Are they—with the rebalance, I mean, do they feel more confident, or how do you assess that so far?

SMITH: So, I think overall the—the country in Asia that was most excited about the notion of a rebalanced Asia was Japan. Of course they want us more engaged. Of course they want us more firmly present, both in our military and in our economic presence in the region.

But I don't think this is about the rebalance only. I think it's really about the way in which America proceeds. So I think TPP is a huge indicator of whether we're willing to lead in the region. And I think—I am not an expert in Congressional relations and TPA, but if I had an advocacy to share with you to take back up to the Hill, it would be, please. Don't throw it away. I mean, don't throw away our ability to engage and to lead on economic—especially on economic.

I think our military leadership is widely respected, and allies want more rather than less, as you know, right? So I think we're going to have to think very carefully about sequestration, what it means. Is it still going to be a problem of us not exercising good judgment in the way we manage our military resources? And I know that Congressman Forbes pays attention to these issues.

So, I think there is a lot of interest in making sure that there's continuity and sustainability in our choices. So I don't think you find that people are very worried about the political battles back and forth, but that they want to see us think long-term, not short-term.

You will hear, however, some ambivalence, I think, about our behavior with Syria, about some rattling, about—I mean, think everybody is rattled about Crimea, frankly. I don't think it's just in Asia. I think the question of the postwar order, and what it means, and how we're going to navigate this postwar order is very much on the minds of our allies.

QUESTION: Syria, meaning red lines and...

SMITH: Red lines and, you know, American credibility. But, you know, I don't say this with any disrespect to our allies, so please don't take it that way. But I think if your security and your strategy is dependent on the United States, and Japan's is, right? Your country is dependent on our ability to defend, to work together to defend it, right? We are not in that position in the United States, so it's hard to imagine if it was—that role was reversed, then everything is nerve-wracking in our decision-making.

And so one of the basic tenets of the alliance is that we have to reassure, and our behavior is watched microscopically for any indication that we might be wavering or not sustainable. And so I think people are paying attention and will continue to pay attention, very closely.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. Vijay Padmanabhan, Vanderbilt Law School.

My question is, is there any influence that China has in the development of a genuine two-party system in Japan? Is that a factor...


QUESTION: In the ability of the Democrats to be viewed as a credible alternative to the LDP?

SMITH: Interesting. You're asking about—you know, the Chinese Communist Party leadership's investment in a two-party system in Japan? Did I understand that right? No, no. Maybe you need to say it again so I can...

QUESTION: No, more in the sense that oftentimes people say the Democrats are not credible leaders, they're not credible alternatives to the LDP.

SMITH: How does Japan—oh the Japanese...

QUESTION: Japanese people do.

SMITH: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: And so, I'm wondering the extent to which the idea of a scary China developing right off the shore hurts the development of a genuine two-party system in Japan.

SMITH: Well, there's two things about a genuine two-party system, right. One is structural, right. So their electoral system has to change all the way—there's a little political science, even—into single-member districts where their ability to structure a real, genuine two-party system, right? They still have proportional seats. So you still have these minor parties. So there's the structural, electoral reform answer.

I think—you know, I watch, and the book writes—I wrote a lot about that moment, both of the crises with China, the 2010 drunk Chinese fishing captain, and the 2012 purchase of the islands. The DPJ was in power at both times, right, and the criticism from the LDP in opposition was intense, right?

It was striking to me that—I went there summer after summer after summer, and after the 2010 incident, I went a lot to do research and to talk to people. It was striking to me that the rest of the world was focused on bad Chinese behavior, rare earth embargoes, the Fujita arrests of the Japanese businessmen. But in Tokyo, the conversation in the Diet was all focused around DPJ/LDP.

So there's a certain still—I don't want to say parochialism, because we're all parochial in democracies, right? We look at ourselves before we look out at the rest of the world. But there is still a kind of impulse to see this as domestic politics rather than a strategic choice by Japan. So I think there's a certain expectation that Mr. Abe—the LDP is back. They now have electoral stability. I mean, he's—he'll be around unless his own party decides that he shouldn't stay, for some time. And that gives him some traction.

But I'm not sure that China factors largely into the calculus about the overall desire for which kind of party system. I think the desire that I sense at the moment is not about structural politics but about stability and good governance.

HIATT: But let me push you a little on what I think is a really interesting question, because when the DPJ first came to power, wasn't a pretty big part of their trying to establish themselves as something different, friendship with China and repositioning with China and Ozawa with his two jumbo jets full of politicians going to Beijing, as I recall. And how did that work out? And did that in the end affect how people now view the viability of an opposition party?

SMITH: Well, I remember at the very beginning, we all read the article in the IHT that Hatoyama wrote about being equidistant between the United States and China. So that reference spooked a lot of people here in Washington. I remember getting phone calls from all kinds of people on Wall Street and everywhere else, about, "What are they talking about? Is the alliance over?"

But I think we kind of overestimated a little bit. Ozawa had been building relationships with the Communist Party for decades, right, while he was in the LDP, before he left the LDP. So, I didn't—I think in some ways it was a little exaggerated, that this was some—fundamentally a different philosophy on the part of the DPJ.

But they very quickly ran into the same policy problems that the LDP had been trying to manage forever, right? They ran into the fact that the Chinese refused to implement the joint energy development plan, right, that had been negotiated just the year before with Kudan Hu (ph), right?

They ran into the problem of the East China Sea generally, with the Chinese behavior, and they couldn't get them to stop, and Okada Katsuya the foreign minister, had a shouting match with Yang Jiechi, right, over issues having to do with nuclear weapons. And so, they very quickly learned that even if they'd wanted a close relationship with China, but actually managing China policy was extraordinarily difficult.

The other little footnote, of course, of the DPJ is the DPJ was quite split on China internally. You know, you had people like Mihara Akinada Shima (ph), who have a little bit more of a realist perspective on international politics versus people who had been, you know, former members of the Japan Socialist Party who were really, really comfortable with Beijing.

But I think one of the things we underappreciate, not just the politics of right-left in Japan, is that the Japanese today don't have close political relations with the elite in China. And that's true of Kudoyaso (ph), who has long term had good relationships with the Chinese Communist Party leaders. It's as true of them as it is of Ozawi Kiro (ph), and then Hoso Nogosi (ph), and others. What you have been witnessing since 2010 and 2012, is an inability to establish channels of communication at the elite level that had never actually happened before.

HIATT: And do you think that's because the Chinese look at Japan as a fading power, that they...

SMITH: Perhaps. I mean, I didn't do interviews you know, with the Chinese, you know, Communist Party, but that's a great question to ask. When I was in Tract 2, 1.5 discussions with the Chinese about Japan, there is—it was very clear to me that they didn't have a deep analytical capacity to read the Japanese behavior, the kind of stuff that's in here, you know. The Japanese politics and Japanese political elite's thinking about that—they couldn't read it at all. And that's before we get to Mr. Abe. So it's not just an Abe—about Mr. Abe and his politics. It comes earlier than that.

HIATT: So do we have a Chinese translator lined up?

SMITH: You know, it's interesting. The Chinese Academy of Sciences came to visit me, and they have a new—or they have a new—they have an international strategy group, and they've just decided to create a major power study center, studies of major powers, right? And he came to talk to me about my book and me coming to talk to them, because they need to think about Japan more as a major power, which I think was really striking, given that that's not the way they talk in public.

But it was interesting that he expressed an interest in translating the book, more than my Japanese colleagues are interested in the content of my book, so I that was very interesting. I don't have a contract yet, though. I'm still waiting for that 1.3 billion Chinese offer, but not yet.


QUESTION: Barry Wood, RTHK in Hong Kong. Why do the Japanese have such a hard time apologizing for the war and convincing the Chinese, the Koreans that they mean it, when that's worked so well in the case of Germany, where they really—remorse has gotten them a long way in Europe. It seems to an outsider like myself who doesn't go to the region that often that Japan would benefit powerfully from some kind of atonement for World War II.

SMITH: We could have a very long night now, with this question. But it's a very important question, and it's a question I get asked a lot these days, because, A, I've been in Japan with a number of CFR members and others, and they are puzzled.

The short answer is Japan has apologized a lot. So, are those apologies sufficient? Are those statements of remorse sincere? Are they persuasive? So there's two parts to the question.

So the apologies have existed. So I talk a little bit in the book about the Chinese—the Japanese Emperor went to Beijing in 1992. He went, and that was very nervously viewed by many Japanese and many Chinese elites, right? It was a very successful trip. He spoke about remorse and the suffering of the Chinese people, and his remorse over that.

So, the agent of apology—I think one of the most effective agents of apology has, in fact, been the Imperial Household, right? It doesn't get wrapped into politics of apology in the same way that you witnessed the Murayama statement and then the Koisumi (ph) statement, and what we're going to see in August is the Abe statement.

So that's one piece of the puzzle. So there have been apologies. Have they been sufficient, is the second part of your question, and I don't mean this to be flip about it, but I think if you are looking for forgiveness and reconciliation, it really does depend on not only the apology, but the receptiveness to the apology.

And so in diplomatic terms, the peace—the postwar peace treaties, right, the United States, we negotiated our postwar settlement with Japan alongside many other countries in the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952, right? Korea did it in 1965, in the negotiations Park Geun-hye's mother—I'm sorry, father, not her mother. That would have been a little advanced.

Her father negotiated with Japan in their peace treaty, in which they dealt with issues of compensation including not necessarily the comfort women, or the sex slaves, right, as the Koreans call them. But they did deal with the overall postwar settlement in that negotiations. And China did it as well in 1978, with the Japanese.

I'm not sure that the diplomatic treaties are really what we're addressing today when we're looking at the continued relevance of the conversation over the past. There's two things that strike me and, again, I'm not a China domestic politics specialist, so I can see Korean politics a little bit more than I can see Chinese domestic politics.

But it's become embedded in South Korea, in the democratization process as well, so you have advocacy groups and voices that you didn't have in 1965 in Korean politics today, saying that their rights and their grievances were not attended to by the South Korean government in the mid-1960s.

That has then gone to the Constitutional Court. You now have the court agree—the court decisions that are saying to the South Korean government, "You must take care of this with the Japanese on our behalf." Right? So the domestic politics are more complex in the South Korean case, at least that I can see.

And in Japan, you've got a generation now coming to the fore—we're in our fourth generation after the end of the war now. And I find much more young people saying to me that, "But we have apologized. We have done it. Why do we have to keep doing it?" And it's not because they're revisionists. I don't think that that's right, although there are revisionists in Japan. I wouldn't say there aren't. It's because of—"We have to keep apologizing, but why? Why isn't it over?"

So I think on both sides, at least for the South Korea and Japan piece that I can see. You know, you've got generational change, a big factor. You've got the aspirations, now, of a new generation, and they don't necessarily speak to the war in the same way as their elders did, right? And you've got deep domestic politics, and we can see that in Japan clearly over the Kono statement policy review.

And the politics in Japan now that are coming to the fore are revisionist and are more conservative. They want to defend the honor of their grandparents that fought in the war. So, they're going in different directions in some ways in terms, and I find that very hard to—when you get back to the question of the bilateral Korea-Japan relationship. How do you—how do diplomats and political leaders find common cause in that? I think it's much more difficult today than it's been in the past.

HIATT: We have time for one more. Back. In the back row.

QUESTION: Thank you. Jay Parker, National Defense University. First, congratulations on this impressive and important book.

SMITH: Thank you.

QUESTION: So many questions to ask, but let me go back to your earlier discussion about the book you hope doesn't need to be written about Korea.

Given particularly how China has cultivated a closer relationship with Korea, to include South Korea, for over 30 years, and given some of the shared issues of fears about historic revisionism that you just alluded to, what do you see as the possibilities and the risk of Korea basically playing off their relationship with China against Japan, or even Japan doing the same with their relationship with China, both in terms of trying to restrain Japanese security revision, as well as some of the broader trade issues?

SMITH: Thank you, Jay. It's a very big question, but let me try. The cost—I think when we're sitting in Washington, the costs of what's happening in the Japan-South Korean relationship are pretty obvious, right?

Japan and South Korea have never had to organize to defend themselves against each other, right? It's a big swath of maritime space in between Japan and South Korea that they've very effectively managed in the postwar period, right? Whether it's an ADIZ or it's their coast guards, right?

And the cooperation via us for a potential crisis on the Korean Peninsula has been very close. Their intelligence agencies are very close. They just haven't gotten to the point of making it a bilateral endeavor. And we're, I think, right now attempting to repair some of the distance in the military cooperation over North Korea.

But I think the long-term question—I don't know that I buy that Madam Park is cozying up to China to the detriment of Japan, or if she's doing that out of an ambition to try to punish Japan, or—I don't see it in those terms. I see that she's got an agenda for unification of the Korean peninsula that largely depends on getting Chinese buy-in that that's not against their interests. And I don't think that's the language, diplomatic language that she would use.

But I think it's very clear, if you watch the diplomacy since she's been in power, she has a large—very strong advocacy of a positive vision of reunification for the peninsula. And the one actor that might stand in the way of that constructive program is China. Right?

So she has been very strategic in approaching Xi Jinping, in persuading, or at least attempting to persuade him, that unification of the peninsula ultimately doesn't need to be considered as antithetical to Chinese interests.

I wouldn't read that as being anti-Japan necessarily. Korea has a—South Korea has a national interest, right, in navigating the Korean Peninsula, the events on the Korean Peninsula. But I think the challenge is that Japan has dropped down in priorities.

I mean, I think you have to not only bring China along in that vision. You have to bring Japan along too, right? You can't be just wholesale looking to Beijing, because I think the Japanese also have a stake in a peaceful unification of the peninsula. And Japan's security depends on it, frankly. And so, I think there's been too little attention paid by Seoul in that piece of the strategic puzzle.

There are many people in Tokyo who think that she's done this deliberately. It's a part of a larger, kind of, antipathy towards Japan, and I am not sure that I'm persuaded by that argument. Japan looks at Beijing in a way—or at least Japanese policy makers seem to think that Beijing is much more, sort of, realist in its calculations. And whereas their relationship with the South Koreans is maybe a little bit more emotional, right?

And so, whether that's the right way to think about your international diplomacy, I'm not sure. But I think that there is a calculus in Tokyo that dealing with China will be a little bit more straightforward, if somewhat scary. You know, a rising China is intimidating, maybe, potentially. But they will be able to navigate interests with China.

SMITH: Whereas I think right now, at least, perhaps because of the complexity of domestic politics, there's a little bit less of that realism in the way in which the South Korean relationship is viewed.

HIATT: Well, you've covered a very wide...

SMITH: I thought we were talking about Japan and China there.

HIATT: Yes, including things that weren't on the test. But the book itself is really a rich and impressive work. I recommend it to all of you.

SMITH: Thank you.

HIATT: And thank you very much.

SMITH: Thank you. Thank you so much.



Top Stories on CFR

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Steven Cook, the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at CFR, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the collapse of the temporary ceasefire in Gaza and the future of the conflict between Israel and Hamas

Budget, Debt, and Deficits

After years of steadily increasing debt, federal spending has skyrocketed, taking U.S. debt to levels not seen since World War II.   

United States

Committed global action at every level of government, the economy, and society is needed to tackle such a complex, multifaceted challenge, and a growing awareness that time is running out should help to foster it at the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai. But the real test will come after, when promises must be kept.