Smith on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Visit to the United States

Monday, April 27, 2015

During his visit to the United States, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. CFR Senior Fellow for Japanese Studies Sheila A. Smith will discuss the implications for the U.S.-Japan relations.

ROBERT MCMAHON:  Welcome, everyone, here to this CFR on the record media call on the visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Washington and other points in the United States.

I'm Robert McMahon, editor of, and I will be presider on this call.  And we are fortunate to have as our guide Sheila Smith, who is CFR's senior fellow for Japanese studies and author of the timely new book, "Intimate Rivals:  Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China."

And I will be talking with Sheila for about 15 minutes, and then we will open up the call for questions.  I know there's a lot of you on the line and we want to get as many of your questions as possible.

And we can basically play off of the breaking news cycle right off the bat.  There was just an announcement a short while ago of the first major revision of U.S.-Japan defense guidelines in almost two decades that opens the door for greater military cooperation between the two countries.

At the — at the announcement were the chief defense and diplomatic officials for both countries in New York.

Sheila, can you talk to us a little bit about the significance of these new guidelines and what they — what they spell out.

SMITH:  Sure, Bob, be happy to. 

And thank you all for joining us.  It's an exciting week for the Japan watchers here in the United States.   And so, there's a lot to talk about.

So the 2-plus-2 meeting that was held in New York, just an hour or so ago, had Foreign Minister Kishada and Defense Minister Nakatani from the Japanese side and Secretary Kerry and Secretary Carter from the American side. 

These are the revision of the new — the guidelines for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation.  These are the kind of guidelines that sort of explain the military division of labor in the alliance.  They outline both the strategic goals of military cooperation and they talk about roles, missions and capabilities.

And, as Bob said  in his initial remarks, the last time this was revised was in the mid to late 1990s, just at the end of the Cold War, when already you could see that northeast Asia was beginning to be somewhat, you know, unpredictable.  North Korea had decided to pursue a nuclear option.  In 1996, of course, you had a Taiwan Straits crisis.

And so, today, this new revision is the product of a conversation of over 18 months between the two governments.  It's really seeking to update, to make sure that the alliance is prepared to deal with the evolving security challenges in the region.  It's also kind of tackling some of the crisis management needs of the alliance, which are — have evolved in the last decade or more, particularly given — in the wake of the island dispute and the deployment of Chinese Coast Guard vessels in the waters around the Senkaku Islands. 

So this a — this is an effort by both defense communities to sort of say what — you know, what does the alliance need to address, what new capabilities do we need to think up going forward.  And it, again, addresses the basic core obligations of the United States to assist in Japan's defense, and it also addresses concerns about bases and facilities in Japan, which is the Japanese contribution to the bilateral — the bilateral treaty.

So I think that the one thing that I would highlight clearly is that there is — has been a focus on developing an alliance ability to deal with incidents, miscalculation perhaps, below the level of military force.  And this is the first time the alliance has really addressed this question  And, of course, this stems from the tensions across the East China Sea. 

These are — the Chinese and Japanese Coast Guards have been in direct contact around the Senkaku Islands.  Dealing with escalation, with incidents that may be involve a fisherman or an activist, some kind of challenge from the "grey hulls" as they call them is beyond that.  They're really trying to look at what the — what the basic pattern of escalation could be, if something happened in an unintended way.

And this is an important piece of the deterrent of the alliance, but it's also an important piece — it's an important window into the way that Japan itself thinks about the relationship between its coast guard and its navy and how they work together.

I think there's also — this is a moment in the region beyond the bilateral cooperation on defense of Japan.  It's also a moment when both countries are rather concerned about Chinese behavior in the South China Sea.  They're trying to think of ways in which the alliance can help stabilize the maritime domain in the Asia Pacific and work with other partners in the region.  And they're also looking at some of the new domains, cyber and space. 

So this is a product of a fairly fulsome conversation between the two governments.  And I think both sides have been very impressed with how quickly and easily the conversation has moved forward.  In other words, the goals have been very clear for both sides, and there's been very little resistance or differences between the two countries over how to move the military cooperation and the alliance forward.

MCMAHON:  And so, this is happening in the context of Prime Minister Abe's efforts to try to push forward, shall we say a reinterpretation of Japan's constitution, which has been, since the end of the Second World War, a limiting of what the Japanese self-defense forces (ph) were able to do.

And so, these guidelines will allow Japanese forces to do more, but they will also come in the context of Prime Minister Abe trying to increase the ability of force projection?  Or — could you talk a little bit more about some of the scenarios we could be...


SMITH:  Sure.  Yeah, you're absolutely right, Bob.  Prime Minister Abe has had a fairly comprehensive and pro-active effort at updating Japan's own security policy planning, decision-making.


He, you know, established an NSC.  He passed a new secrecy law.  He's upped the defense budget.  He has a new national strategy.  But one of the core pieces of the Abe cabinet's reform has been the announcement last summer of the reinterpretation of the right of collective self-defense.

Now, what that means is the Japanese government in the past has debated in parliament just how to interpret the constitution, Article IX specifically, and the prescription on the use of force by Japan, how to — how to interpret that to allow for certain — certain military missions by Japan but to prevent other missions by Japan.

And so, when the Japanese refer to the right of collective self-defense, they're really talking about the Japanese military's ability to work alongside other national militaries, including ours.

And so, up until last summer, the — the consensus in Japan was that the self-defense force shouldn't operate alongside us, that that would violate the spirit of the constitution.  And Mr. Abe's government has changed that.

In the Diet today, in the next couple of months, in fact, we will see what that means in terms of what missions will be addressed, which ones will be acceptable for the self-defense force to participate in.  And this time around, this debate is not just about cooperation in the U.S.-Japan alliance.  It also includes the possibility of Japan's military working with other partners in the Asia Pacific, with ASEAN for humanitarian disaster relief, for example, with India in the maritime domain, with Australia also in the maritime domain.

So it signals not only a strengthening of the alliance.  It also suggests that Japan is really ready to play a broader regional role.

MCMAHON:  And, as you said, this is happening at a time when both in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, there are incidents, growing incidents, involving China.  And there's a lot of concern about, you know, China's — China sort of trying to project its throw weight further into these two seas. 

Do you — how do you see China reacting to this?

SMITH:  Well, I suspect that the way in which the 2-plus-2 meetings, the joint communique — joint statement, rather, has been announced, that the Chinese won't be surprised by this. 

I do think so, that the Chinese will be very sensitive to Japan playing a broader role outside of its immediate maritime region.  So, for example, earlier this year, one of — a U.S. Pacific admiral, Admiral Thomas, suggested that perhaps the United States and Japan could cooperate on patrols in the South China Sea.  And, of course, that would — that drew immediately a response from Beijing.

I think it may be premature to think of that extension or expansion of Japanese maritime power, but we shouldn't forget that Japan has played a significant role in the Gulf of Aden, in the anti-piracy coalition there.  It has forces forward deployed in Djibouti for that mission.  It operates alongside the Chinese in fact in that mission.


So, anti-piracy is one way the Japanese have sought to protect and sort of contribute to the collective efforts to stabilize the maritime domain as far away as the Gulf of Aden.


In the South China Sea, of course, you've got Japan's own sea lanes.  You've got the sea lanes for the bulk of trade for the Asia, East Asia region go through or around or in proximity to the South China Sea.

So it's not just about the disputed islands, the air strips that are being constructed.  In the back of everybody's minds in Asia, including in the backs of the minds of strategic planners in Tokyo is just how cooperative is Beijing going to be on maintaining open access, freedom of navigation, right, across these seas and through the Straits of Malacca.  There's a deep economic dependency on that maritime openness.  And so, I think Japan has a significant interest in making sure that it contributes to sustaining that.

MCMAHON:  Now, it's — there have been a number of recent occasions where both Prime Minister Abe and President Xi Jinping of China have met or spoken directly.  It seems like there is an effort to try to continue to keep direct communications going. 

Do you see that as something meaningful?  Or it hasn't really done much in terms of easing tensions?

SMITH:  No, I think it's really important.  So when Xi, President Xi and Prime Minister Abe sat down last November, at the APEC meeting, of course that was the first time that President Xi had met with the Japanese leader since coming into leadership in China.  It was also the first time since the Japanese purchase of the island in 2012 that a Chinese leader and a Japanese leader had been in the same room together.


So it was — it was a huge breakthrough. 

That being said, the two countries agreed to do — to begin again — begin anew conversations on confidence building on the East China Sea.

And so, you had two pieces of the puzzle, one was to have a whole-of-government conversation, which simply means it's not just about the militaries, but also about survey research, handled by the Ministry of Education in Japan, by coast guards, again, a different bureaucracy, by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, so basically bringing all of the bureaucracies together that are responsible for maritime behavior, and having them talk to each other, get to know each other and be able to contact each other if there's an incident or something of concern.

That is very, very important, especially the coast guard to coast guard dialogue, which was the most recent iteration of that.


So Xi's meeting with Abe in November was critical to restarting that effort.  But it also signalled that China also understood that risk reduction was in its interests, which I think is an important thing not only for the Japanese, but for the United States as well.

When President Obama met with Xi at that same meeting, they, too, talked about naval confidence building and two addendums or annexes were released by the Chinese and American governments.

So this is all kind of an additive piece of how do we get to an understanding with China about maritime behavior?

SMITH:  How do we recognize the military-to-military piece of the puzzle, of course, but also the broader resource exploration and fisheries treaties?  How do we bring this all together?  And that's a very important part of the Japan-China relationship.

MCMAHON:  Now, back in Washington, Abe will be what's reported as the first Japanese leader to address a joint session of Congress.  This is Wednesday.  I believe he's going to speak in English, and there's a great deal of anticipation about what he's going to say about Japan's actions during World War II.

Sheila, could you tell us what we should be looking for in this speech?  I guess, first, regarding Japan's past?

SMITH:  Sure.  I think — I think there's two pieces of this to be aware of.  The first, of course, is that this is the first Japanese prime minister who will speak to a joint session of the American Congress.  In the 1950s and again in 1961, Japan's prime ministers have spoken to individual houses of our Congress, but not a collective audience like this.  So this is a big moment, I think, for signaling the importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship.

I suspect you'll hear the prime minister — yes, I think he is going to speak in English.  I understand that he spent...

MCMAHON:  He went to school at USC, right?

SMITH:  He went to school at USC.  I have heard him speak in English.  He speaks in English quite nicely.  And I don't think there will be any doubt that he would address our Congress in any other language other than English.

I think, you know, there's several pieces of the puzzle here.  One is the agenda, our own contemporary agenda in the alliance, which is the guidelines that we just discussed, but also TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Our Congress is debating that as we speak.  I suspect that you'll hear the prime minister make a strong case for why TPP is not only good for Japan and the United States, but very good for the region as well.  So I'd look out for that.  He may try to sell TPP to those congressmen and -women who remain a little bit on the fence. 


But I think he's also going to talk — I think he probably will address the history of our relationship.  You know, the U.S.-Japan partnership today is so close and so comprehensive that we forget that this is 70 years since the end of the war; that we were adversaries at war in a very intense conflict across the Pacific.  And I think he will — he will acknowledge that there are legacies still in our relationship that we need to continue to tend and that reconciliation has been such a strong piece of the partnership between the United States and Japan.

There will be many people in the region listening to Mr. Abe's speech.  There's been some advocacy by Japan's neighbors, most obviously here in Washington by the South Korean government and by South Korean-Americans, that he address some of the war legacy issues raised in that relationship, in particular the — the women — the apology for the brutality to women in military brothels. 

I don't know how much he will address those demands from South Korea in the speech, but I think all ears will be peeled — will be — I don't know if ears get peeled, I'm not sure — ears will be attentive, let's just put it that way, for how he deals with this larger question of Japan's views on its past.

So I — I suspect there will be a lot of people listening.  He will speak to an American audience first and foremost, but I think he's fully aware that there is a global audience looking to him to identify how Japan's past not only informs today, contemporary Japan, but is also going to inform the way that Mr. Abe pursues his agenda both strategic and economic in the region.

MCMAHON:  Well, Sheila, thank you.  You've really laid out the strategic scope of this visit.  And I want to be able to turn the call now open to those on the line.

So, Operator, if you could tell us if we have a question on the line, we'd like to open it up now.

OPERATOR:   Yes, sir.  At this time, we will open the floor for questions.  If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touchtone phone now.  Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received.  If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the question queue, just press star two.  Again, to ask a question, please press star one.

George Condon (ph) with National Journal is our first question.

QUESTION:  Great.  Thank you much for doing this.

I wanted to see if you could elaborate on what you said about the prime minister's speech.  I mean, on TPP, how enthusiastic is he about that?  Because he certainly has agriculture interests in his country that are not thrilled about it.

And secondly, the last time we saw a foreign leader addressing Congress, it was to lobby against the president on something.  Is this sort of the flip side of that?  Is he going to make a — would you expect a pretty strong appeal?

SMITH:  Thank you.  Great question.

I don't think that Prime Minister Abe will repeat the performance of the previous guest.  That's not at all in his interests.  And I don't think he's inclined anyway to identify Japanese interests as being divergent from our administration's. 

On TPP, I mean, I may be — I may be overstating the case for him selling TPP to our Congress.  But he has been a very clear and outspoken proponent of TPP.  He came to Washington the first time, if you'll remember, after he was elected and that was in February 2013, his first visit here.  And at that point was when he and the president directly discussed TPP and directly committed to moving forward.  So his administration is positioned in a very forward-leaning way on the accomplishment of TPP.

That being said, though, we have our differences over market access, two areas in particular.  Japanese interests are in us reducing our tariffs on autos, specifically trucks.  And we are interested very much in a Japan that will reduce barriers to trade in agricultural products and tariff rates on rice, for example, are extraordinarily high.

So we are still going back and forth bilaterally on these market access issues.  But beyond that in terms of the standards, the ambitions of TPP in terms of creating this new next generation trade partnership, Japanese and American negotiating positions are very, very in line with each other.

So, market access is hard.  We have domestic interests on both sides.  But the prime minister himself has been very forward leaning and he has — last time he was in the United States, he told about — spoke of a bold agreement on TPP. 

But you know, the Japanese, not just the prime minister, but the Japanese are watching our debate here.  They're trying to gauge whether or not we are well positioned to move forward.  I suspect that private conversations will also deal with those questions as well.

MCMAHON:  So, Sheila, just to follow up quickly, then are you seeing any narrowing on these crucial market access issues?   You know, everybody keeps on pointing to the rice and cars issues, as you did.  Any — any narrowing in recent weeks?

SMITH:  Yeah, there is — there was a visit by Ambassador Froman to Tokyo.  I don't think we're in the — in the absolutely complete ready-to-tie-a-bow-on moment.  I think there's a bit of gauging of the political situation here in the United States and, of course, our TPA conversation is alive and well.  And I think there's hope that we are going to be able to give the president, or our Congress will be able to give the president the capacity he needs to complete the TPP negotiations.

But I think that's where the hovering is.  It's a little bit of a, you know, we're almost there, but not quite.  And we — the Japanese are looking to see whether we're politically ready to do that last part — piece of the work.

MCMAHON:  And Sheila, we didn't get into it in any detail, but the TPP is obviously an important part of the — what's known as "Abe-nomics."  Could you give a little thumbnail of what — what that this?  Just so if we reference it again, people might have a frame of reference?

SMITH:  Sure.  So TPP is I think for the Abe cabinet one of the critical levers, I think, of moving forward with what people refer to as the "third arrow," which is a broader array of structural reforms in Japan that will really be able to transform the Japanese economy.

The first two arrows, as you know, are fiscal stimulus which Abe has done twice now; and also monetary, the quantitative easing being conducted by the Bank of Japan.  So the monetary instrument is another side — is the second arrow and one of the critical pieces of economics. 

But the TPP itself is really the instrument I think by which the Japanese government wants to introduce greater competitiveness at home.  It wants some of the reforms that it is moving forward in anticipation of TPP — some of the agricultural reforms.  It's trying — TPP will accelerate the success of some of those reforms.

So it's a lever as much as it is an outcome for Mr. Abe and the success of Abe-nomics.

MCMAHON:  Great.  Thank you.

Operator, is there another question on the line, please?

OPERATOR:  Yes, again, to ask a question, please press star one. 

Brett Fortman (ph) with Inside U.S. Trade is our next question.

QUESTION:  Hello.  Thank you very much for taking the call.

I would like to ask, kind of follow up on the TPP discussion.  There are competing theories about how a final deal could be reached with some claiming that the U.S. and Japan should first strike a bilateral deal, and that would in turn spur other countries to, you know, conclude the negotiations. 

But there's also this idea that's been floating around that, you know, a bilateral deal with the U.S. and Japan won't be enough until all the other countries are also prepared to announce a deal, given the costs — the high political costs that, you know, a U.S.-Japanese bilateral deal could have. 

So which one of these scenarios do you see as most likely to actually proceed?  Do you see the — a bilateral deal being announced first or at the end when everyone's ready to reach an agreement?

SMITH:  I think this is probably not the answer you were hoping for, but I think it's a bit of a third option, which is that I think we are very close to a bilateral deal, understanding what we need to do, frankly.  I don't think there's a lot of surprises in terms of what needs to be done.  I think where we are right now is really sort of evaluating each other to see whether or not there's political will.  And again, those political costs in the bilateral are as significant as they are in the multilateral.

I think you don't get a TPP, a 12-member TPP without the United States and Japan going first in some ways.  So I think that leadership role of the United States and Japan is really pretty significant.  That being said, I think the United States has to be prepared to move forward, and to do that I think the president needs TPA. 

So all of this is conjoined.  It's not an either-or.  I think it's more of a contingent set of puzzle pieces here.  I don't think you're going to get the broader energy behind it until the United States and Japan are ready to move.

MCMAHON:  Thanks for that question.

Operator, do we have another question, please?

OPERATOR:  Again, ladies and gentlemen, to ask a question, please press star one.

Our next question comes from Rachel Oswald (ph) with CQ Roll Call.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for having this discussion.

Could we talk a little bit about the Korea issue?  Specifically, the lobbying that you mentioned that has been going on with the South Korean government and South Korean Americans.

I haven't seen any U.S. lawmakers, not to my knowledge, issuing calls or statements calling for Japan to apologize, again, for treatment of the comfort women or to reaffirm past apologies for wartime atrocities.

Do you think that this lobbying campaign, specifically focusing on the World War II issue, has been successful?

SMITH:  So I think there's — there's two (inaudible).

I think the quick answer is yes.  It's successful, because we're talking about it now.

So depending on how you see the lobbying campaign, what the ultimate aims of it are, to a large part, this has been designed to raise the consciousness here in the United States of this issue and the Korean demands on Japan to really clarify the status of its apology to the women who were brutally treated, right?

And Japan had a statement, the Kono statement, and they had a fund called the Asian Women's Fund for funds made available to women.  And it wasn't just South Korean women, of course; it was women across Southeast Asia and also Dutch women, who were in the Dutch — what was called the Dutch East Indies at the time, contemporary Indonesia.

So there's — there's more women than just the South Korean women, and many of those — those individual women chose to accept livelihood support and — and atonement from the Japanese that was provided through the Asian Women's Fund.  Many South Korean women, however, did not.

So the residuals of that moment of apology and the funds of the Asian Women's Fund, the outstanding issue today is a Japan-South Korea conversation on what to do now about the women in South Korea that continue to — to be alive.

Many of these women, remember, are — of the wartime generation are passing away, and so the conditions, excuse me, for this conversation have some urgency to them, right, in terms of the — the — the Japanese response during the lifetimes of these women.

I often hear that, you know, Japan has never apologized, Japan has never apologized.  There have been multiple efforts by Japan and Japanese political leaders to apologize and to seek to heal that wound.

Many in South Korea think it's insufficient, so there isn't closure yet on what would be sufficient for Japan.

But I do think in terms of the lobbying, as you put it, I think the South Korean government has very effectively raised this issue here in the United States.  I think there's also been a broad role for the Korean American community.

And there are multiple communities across the United States who have also seen this issue as — as an issue that they care deeply about, and they have — they have spoken to their Congressmen or -women on this issue.  So you find individual constituencies and representatives of those constituencies have a particular stance on this issue, because it's — it's largely reflecting an American community, a Korean American community.

So these politics are complex.  They're not just the diplomacy between Japan and South Korea.  These politics are deeply embedded in both the domestic politics of Japan and South Korea, making it very hard, I think, for diplomats to come to the table to try to talk through what might provide an adequate respectful response to the women whose lives are, you know, rapidly coming to a close.

I don't know yet how much the — we are going to see.  I've heard lots of rumors about the — the ways in which some of activist groups are going to be, you know, participating in the Abe visit, but I myself am going to wait until Wednesday to see how that manifests itself.

MCMAHON:  You know, Sheila, just to follow up on that, you know, our — you might've seen earlier today, our colleague, Scott Snyder, had a blog post he co-authored with Brad Glosserman of CSIS about aspects of this issue, their point basically this is, you know, really opportune time for — for Abe to — to move towards a warming of relations with South Korea.

Obviously, there's these difficult issues that you just spelled out and the complexity of — of dealing with the wartime issues, but the point of — of this post basically being that, let's not lose the opportunity to take advantage of these two strong democracies, you know, finally reckoning with their past and — and making joint cause and — and also, you know, becoming more tightly bound with the United States.

What do you think about the — the prospects for Japan-South Korea reconciliation in the midst of this historic war anniversary year?

SMITH:  Well, I think, you know, we've watched the process.  You know, President Obama himself became involved in trying to facilitate a meeting between President Park and Prime Minister Abe last spring at the nuclear summit at the Hague.  So I think there is a role for the U.S. government to facilitate and encourage a way forward for the Japanese and South Korean governments.

At the end of the day, it requires political leadership on the side of both Prime Minister Abe and President Park.  They both have very strong constituencies that do not want to see this issue resolved.

And I don't know — I mean, navigating domestic politics, as you know, in any country where you have deep sensitivities like this is never easy.  But I don't know that we — the United States can't mediate in that way.

But leadership is required, and I suspect that whether Mr. Abe — whether this is the opportune moment or not — I'm not convinced, but I do think that you have seen Mr. Abe's statements on this issue of late, let's say over the last nine months or so.  He has made specific reference to this issue as an issue of deep concern to him.

That being said — excuse me, I'm getting over a cold here — I'm not quite sure that I understand fully how the two governments can achieve closure.  In other words, apology, compensation, what is it exactly that the two governments would find doable?

And I think there is a — the more I watch the issue evolve, I understand a little bit that one side things it's apologizing, the other one doesn't think — doesn't think it's adequate.  That sounds a little inane, but to tell you the truth, there needs to be some very pragmatic steps taken to allow this issue to — to come to a close.

And I think both — both leaders here require a significant amount of political will to — to get to that point.  It's not going to happen unless they engage directly, and it's not going to happy without a deep sense of the importance — Brad and Scott talked about the strategic importance — of repairing this relationship.

I worry that the longer the estrangement goes, the more devastating the domestic politics are going to get and the more difficult it's going to be.  It's already very, very difficult, but I think both inside and outside of government, there's many ways in which we should be pushing and encouraging and advocating for both sides to come to the table with a fairly honest conversation about what needs to be done.

MCMAHON:  Are there any lessons — you know, just hearing you speak and thinking back on the other — other countries that have been grappling still with their World War II history, any lessons from how, say, Germany has handled its — its relationships in this period that — that Japan could draw on?  Obviously, very different contexts but — and different geographical situations.  But anything from the Germany side that you've — that you've seen that might be of use for these sides to — for the Japanese in particular to look at?

SMITH:  There is a lot of comparison with the Japan-German case and, you know — that — that — that — the wholesale German effort to look inward to decide — to try and figure out what the causes of — of — of — of the atrocities were, what the Nazi — you know, the — the rise of Naziism, what — what were the dynamics, how to make sure that those dynamics don't reemerge.  That German conversation, I think gives lots of indication.

But — but remember that, excuse me, it was a divided Germany for much of the post-war period.  And so again, the kind of treaties and efforts to try to deal with many, many communities around Germany that felt that they had claims against Germany took some time.

I think for the — for the Northeast Asia, there is two — two — two pieces of the puzzle.

One is that the relationship with South Korea and the relationship with China, separately and together, has gone in and out of moments where the history issue has assumed primacy in the — in the diplomacy.

There've been long stands of time, especially in the South Korean relationship, where Japan, excuse me, and South Korea have managed to navigate their relationship, in fact, to build a very strong partnership, both strategic and economic, where the history issue was certainly there and different pieces of it came to the four different moments.  But they were able to manage some of these difficulties in the interest of the larger relationship.  Similarly with China.

What I worry about today is that there isn't this sort of sense of, the — the larger relationship is more important for us, and we should get — we should find a way to — to sit down and actually talk about these very difficult issues.

I suspect that the domestic politics are very, very trying for both sides.  But that doesn't mean that the two sides shouldn't meet, and I think — I worry that there's a lot of conditions put on a summit meeting, for example, that there's a lot of hesitancy and a political fear that the other side may do something that will hurt their position domestically on both sides.

So the politics of managing this have become a little bit intimidating, I think, to both sides, and I think that's — that's a — that's a loss for us.

Another place we could talk about reconciliation, though, Bob — and I think this will come up a little bit during this visit — is what happens to the United States and Japan?

Again, we forget that there are some — some deep claims against the United States and Japan for the ending of the war and the dropping of the — the nuclear bombs.

There's — this year, again, as everybody is looking at the 70-year anniversary, there was a discussion in March about the fire bombing of Tokyo.  I think the 70-year anniversary is, A, bringing up — people are getting older, right?  They're coming to the — those who lived through the war, coming to the ends of their lives, and they are wanting to talk about these issues in ways that maybe they haven't in the past.

So I think there's some — there's some pathways here for the United States, also, to think about what its role may be in promoting, fostering and participating in the reconciliation conversations, multiple, that need to happen across — in the Asia-Pacific.

MCMAHON:  Thanks, Sheila.

Operator, I'd like to see if there's another question on the line, please.

OPERATOR:  Again, ladies and gentlemen, to ask a question, please press star one.

Our next question comes from Kevin Gallagher with Equinox Partners.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thanks for taking my call.

Staying on the topic of the relationship between Japan and South Korea, I was curious as to how the treaty between those two countries back in 1965, you know, how that plays into this relationship.  And I was especially curious about South Korea's government stance towards that treaty.

SMITH:  Thank you.  It's a great question.

At the time, you know, diplomatic treaties of — post-war treaties, right?  They deal with a variety — excuse me — of issues of compensation, of, you know, crafting the basis of the new relationship.  Much of — you may remember that in the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the decision was made that this would not be a punitive piece.  It would not resemble, for example, the Treaty of Versailles that was so punitive on Germany and in — in Europe, that when we ended World War II, there wasn't going to be a demand for compensation and reparations.  And that was a little bit of international learning of the two world — of the two world wars between the First World War and Europe.

So, South Korea, of course, was not a participant in the San Francisco Peace Treaty that returned sovereignty to Japan.  Neither was China.  And so, the bilateral negotiations with the ROK and Japan had to deal with not only the war, but also had to deal with South Korean claims against the colonial experience.

Japan colonized South Korea in 1910.  And, of course, the '65 treaty didn't sort of recount all of the experiences of South Koreans, but in the back of the minds of the negotiators on both sides was the fact that Japan had had an imperial relationship with South Korea.  And it needed to be addressed in a way that perhaps didn't deal with reparations directly.  But it certainly had to be addressed in facilitating or allowing the Japanese to support much of the Korean ambition for its economy, for example, for education, for citizen exchanges.  So it was a broad program that accompanied that treaty, designed to not only have reconciliation the peoples of the two countries, but also to design a very different partnership, economic and political.

I think it also helped that South Korea and Japan were allies of the United States.  And the potential for a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, of course shaped the way that Seoul saw its interests and shaped the way that Seoul had organized its politics.  It was a moment of authoritarian government in South Korea.

And so many of the voices that we see now active in South Korea regarding the wartime legacies and the relationship with Japan were not voices that were at the table and reflected in the bilateral negotiations at the time.  And so, democratization in South Korea has also been an important piece of the puzzle of the conversation between Japan and South Korea.

Today, I don't — I mean, in the private conversations I've had with both Japanese and South Korean government officials, I don't sense that either side is interested in reopening that treaty.  In other words, they recognize that that's the basis of their post-war peace.  But, again, tending to these other groups, especially the women who were brutalized during World War II, that's at a particularly — excuse me — that was a voice that was absent in 1965 — was not even considered perhaps legitimate, even.  I don't know.

And so, we have a modern sensibility today about what we talk about in terms of human trafficking, about systems of coercion and sexual slavery that we didn't have a language for in 1965.  And I think that also — we also have to factor that in as we think about how Japan and South Korea can move forward.

MCMAHON:  Thanks for that question.  You know, I wanted to also mention the Abe trip outside of Washington.  It actually started outside of Washington, I believe, in Boston.  And it's going to go from Washington to other stops, including multiple stops in California.

Sheila, what's — what's the message — the overall message then in this trip?  Is it Japan is back, or Japan is still here as a — as a kind of a — a global force that — that important parts of the U.S. should be aware of?

SMITH:  Well, I think it's — you know, six days on the ground here, which is — you know, it's — that's a pretty tough planning, scheduling challenge for any...


SMITH:  ... prime minister to leave his country that long.  And to spend this much time in the United States says a lot about how important the relationship is to Japan.

The prime minister arrived first in Boston.  He was met by our secretary of State, John Kerry, and — and entertained there by him, and, of course, by ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.

He visited the Kennedy Presidential Library at the invitation of our ambassador.  And they — you can see in the tweets already that that was a — that was a highlight of his trip to Boston.

He met also, I believe, with students at Harvard.  And he will arrive in Washington, D.C. this evening.  For those of you in D.C., be prepared.  The roads will be very, very busy.

But he'll be here.  He'll meet with the president.  There's a welcoming ceremony tomorrow, the South Lawn at the White House.  He'll meet with the president tomorrow morning.

There will be a lunch for him hosted by Vice President Biden and Secretary and Mrs. Kerry at the State Department.  And he will make several visits to some sites inside Washington in the afternoon.  And then he has — the State dinner will be held in the evening.

On Wednesday, of course, he goes up to the Hill, as we mentioned.  And he will also be giving a speech at a meeting organized by the Sasakawa Foundation.  And then there will be a dinner at the Smithsonian for the Japan community here in Washington.

He goes on from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco to Silicon Valley.  He'll go from there — which is — he's deeply interested in innovation and in the way in which Japanese and American partnerships in innovation technologies will be able to be an engine of growth for both of our countries.   But clearly, this is on the top of his Abenomics agenda here.  It's stimulating innovation in Japan and regulatory reform that will allow a much more innovative community inside Japan — a venture capital, right, to reward those who take risks, to deregulate the access to capital for people who are innovators, right?

So, that's the Silicon Valley piece of the puzzle.  And then he's going to go South from there to Los Angeles.  He was at the University of Southern California when he was a younger man.  Spent at least a year there, maybe two.  And so, he's, in some ways, going home.  But he's also going to visit — I believe he's going to visit the Japanese-American Museum there, which chronicles the history of Japanese-American immigration, as well as the internment of Japanese Americans during the war.

So there's a beautiful museum in Southern — in Los Angeles.  If you haven't been, I strongly urge you to go.  But he'll be visiting that museum, as well.

So it's a pretty varied trip.  It has economic dimensions, educational dimensions, historical dimensions, and the bilateral relationship.  And, of course, the big agenda that he has here in Washington, D.C. with the president and our Congress.

MCMAHON:  It feels like one of the biggest foreign leader trips  since — since Prime Minister Modi of India came back in the fall.  And I guess that partly also speaks to this U.S. strategic rebalancing toward Asia and this — this engagement.  So what you just spelled out seems to indicate, you know, the opportunity for — for, if not rebooting, then just reinforcing ties.

SMITH:  That's right.  And, you know, again, you mentioned earlier that this is the 70th anniversary, right, at the end of World War II.  Coming on the heels of Mr. Abe in June will be a visit by President Park of South Korea.  And then later in the fall, we — we expect that Xi Jinping will again come to the United States.

So there will be a pretty full year of visits.  I think it's significant that Prime Minister Abe from Japan is beginning that conversation — or rebooting of the rebalance, if you like.  But I think it's pretty clear that our agenda in the Asia-Pacific is significant.  Our partnerships are indispensable for us in terms of managing this geostrategic moment.  But also, we have some work to do ourselves in facilitating and allowing and encouraging those partnerships to — to come closer on some of the legacy issues of 70 years ago.

I suspect, too, that the culmination of this will be a pretty serious conversation with the president of China about China's own role and the way in which it is maybe challenging, maybe questioning the post-war settlement in Asia.  That, too, will be a part of our conversation when Xi Jinping comes here.

MCMAHON:  Well, I think that is a fitting note to end this call on.

This has been a Council On Foreign Relations on-the-record media call on the visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.  And we have been speaking with Sheila Smith, who's CFR senior fellow for Japanese studies, and author of the new book, "Intimate Rivals:  Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China."

Thanks, everyone, for taking part in this media call.  And a transcript will be made available not long after — after this call's concluded.

Thanks again for taking part.  And, Sheila, thanks so much for guiding us through this — this visit.

SMITH:  Thank you so much, Bob.  It was a pleasure.

MCMAHON:  OK, thanks.  This concludes the call.

OPERATOR:  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.  This concludes today's teleconference.

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