Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Why Japan is U.S.’s Strongest Ally Today

With flickering lights, one out two elevators operating and a limited sound system, the Korbel School hosted 80 stout participants for a discussion of Japanese-American relations the day after the bomb cyclone. Fortunately, Maglione Hall was up to the challenge.

Prof. Toshihiro Nakayama
Japan may be America’s strongest ally in the Trump era. Professor Toshihiro Nakayama of Keio University described the factors that distinguish Japan from most of Europe and its leaders in its embrace of President Trump and the alliance with the U.S. Professor Nakayama (called Toshi by colleagues and friends) attributed much of the recent steadfast affection for the alliance and President Trump to the rise of an expansive China and the lack of an alternative to America’s deterrent power.

New Consul-General in Denver, Midori Takeuchi, described Japanese relations with the region and specifically with Korea. She highlighted the government’s commitment to women’s positions in the economy and government, including the foreign ministry.

The audience stayed until 7:00 pm asking questions for twenty minutes. It was clear that people, including a number of students, were interested in the relationship with Japan, had concerns about the strength of the alliance, and the strategies to address the rise of China and its ambition in the Pacific.

The event was sponsored by the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, the Office of Global Engagement and the Denver Japanese Consulate-General. I moderated the event, and based on my recent trip to Japan, a host of recent blog posts have been published.

Denver Has a Sister City With Pure Mountain Springs Water

Denver’s sister city, Takayama, is in the foothills of the Japanese Rockies. It is a 300-year-old samurai-founded city famous for its sake breweries, with a national reputation similar to Coors. It has high mountain spring water, cool weather (it snowed during my recent visit) and the highest quality rice. Next year will be the 60th anniversary of the sister city relationship with Denver. Numerous celebrations are planned in each city. It will be a giant year for tourism as Japan will also be hosting the summer Olympics. Much of Tokyo is now in construction projects with signage, tee shirts and Olympics marketing everywhere.

Takayama is known as “Little Kyoto,” with a historic city center built hundreds of years ago. It has numerous shrines and temples, and one of the county’s most renowned festivals with floats built by leading artisans in the seventeenth century with extraordinary wood work, gold leaf and Japanese mystical imagery.

The city has a host of artisans, with lacquerware the most sought after. One can eat a traditional Japanese meal in the many restaurants, one, the Susaki, has a 200-year pedigree. The ingredients are locally sourced and served beautifully in multi-course meals. Its Ryokans are of high quality, many with hot water spas.

Takayama has a long-serving mayor, Michihiro Kunishima, who, like Mayors Hancock and Hickenlooper, is known to be dedicated to hospitability and encouraging tourism. In a three-hour multi-course meal, he and a team of city officials hosted dinner at Susaki with flights of local sake.

The city attracts many day hikers, backpackers and skiers with its abundant mountains, trails and nearby ski resorts. The rivers run toward both the east and west, with numerous hot springs that attract Japanese, Americans and worldwide visitors.

If you plan a trip to Japan, don’t miss visiting the historic countryside and stay in Takayama. My skilled guide, Nami Tsushima, recommended a high quality Ryokan called Kachoan and a high quality sake brewery, Funasaka.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Discussing the Youth Vote With Top Japanese Parliamentarian

Floyd Ciruli and Shintaro Ito
Representative Shintaro Ito is one of Japan’s most influential leaders on foreign affairs. He attended Harvard and is a close observer of U.S. politics. In a recent conversation, the topic turned to the longevity of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s premiership and the changing techniques of communicating to the electorate.

Ito pointed out that it was an advantage to have a long-serving prime minister during a period of considerable disruption and danger. Japan has had a succession recently of briefly serving premiers.

Concerning support for Abe, a recent article observed that the Abe government was stronger with younger than older voters, a surprise for most observers. The conventional wisdom is that the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) is most supported by older and less urban voters.

Ito was aware of the support of voters in their 30s and under. He felt it was related to the government’s support for programs to help parents and younger voters, such as with more nursery space, free preschool, and subsidies for high schools and college tuition.

But, he felt the most important aspect of the LDP’s success was using the internet to communicate to younger voters. A major effort has been mounted to use websites, videos, infographics, blogs and Twitter to engage voters in their 20s and 30s. Abe, in particular, is active in using social media to describe his vision and programs.

One of the major challenges has been reassuring the public that the economy is growing, tourism is up, jobs are available for graduates, and major problems, such as the aging population, are being addressed.

Prime Minister Abe is about to become the longest serving prime minister, and Ito points out that the future of the party must rest on support among new generations of voters. So true.

Talking Polling with Top Tokyo Political Commentator

Floyd Ciruli and Hiroyuki Akita
In a recent trip to Japan, sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of the most interesting conversations was with Hiroyuki Akita, a regular columnist on foreign affairs and international security for a leading newspaper, Nikkei Shimbun.

We compared presidential and prime minister popularity. He had two recent polls that asked if the public supported the Abe administration. Abe received 53 percent in the Yomiuri newspaper poll and 43 percent in the Asahi newspaper. Both were improvements over the November 2018 rating. (The latest Kyodo News survey had support for the Abe government at 43 percent. The average of the three polls is 46 percent.)

Donald Trump’s latest polling average from RealClearPolitics is 43 percent, also an improvement over late 2018 and early 2019. The U.S. question asked approve or disapprove of president’s job performance.

In today’s political environment, it is not surprising for leaders in democracies to have less than 50 percent support. Theresa May in Great Britain, Emmanuel Macron in France and Angela Merkel in Germany are all below 40 percent in support for their governments.

Two big questions facing Abe’s government concern revising Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which outlaws the use of war to settle international disputes, and a possible consumption tax increase from 8 to 10 percent. Neither proposal has majority support.

Polling is important to the Japanese government and its parties as there are upper house (Councillors) elections this summer.

Japan has a strong newspaper establishment that does considerable polling. Akita, who received a master’s degree from Boston University, is a close observer of national politics and uses both local and international polls in his analyses.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Japanese Foreign Minister Kono’s Georgetown Speech a Hit

Taro Kono
Taro Kono, Japan’s foreign minister and a Georgetown University graduate (SFS’86), outlined Japan’s commitment to a global presence to promote democratic values in a policy address at his alma mater on September 28, 2018. The drafting of the speech, which was well-received, was assisted by top officials in the Foreign Ministry. Kono, who speaks fluent English, described his years at Georgetown as formative of his interest in government service and foreign policy. He answered student questions after the presentation.

In his address, he outlined Japan’s major goals and strategies in an era of disruption with a rising China and America’s shifting foreign policy. He described his country’s interest in maintaining the rule of law and norms as it affects navigation, trade, human rights and security in the Western Pacific. He agreed with the need for burden-sharing with the U.S. and said Japan’s goal is to do so. But, he also emphasized that globally, nations with democratic values must remain united. Japan’s interests have become more global and include relationships with Russia, Europe and the Middle East

It is clear that Japan is becoming a global influence to both support democratic values, but also counter authoritarian regimes if they seek to coerce or flaunt the rules.

Japanese foreign minister urges international support of Democratic values
Foreign minister of Japan Taro Kono (SFS’86) returns to Georgetown to deliver Lloyd George Centennial lecture

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Abe Offers Stability in Era of Disruption

In a week of foreign policy discussions with leading Japanese scholars, media commentators, Foreign Ministry officers and members of the Diet, the consensus view was that Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, as he approaches being the longest serving post-WWII prime minister, is a significant and timely asset for Japan and the Far East in a moment of considerable turmoil.

In an effort to maintain continuity, Abe has centered his foreign policy around keeping a close and friendly relationship with Donald Trump, something that has eluded European leaders Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. He traveled to Trump Towers during the transition and was the first to play golf at Mar-a-Lago. Rumor has it that Trump and Abe spoke during the recent Hanoi summit with Kim Jong-un. Trump primarily relates to leaders at a personal level and claims to be close to Kim Jong-un, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Abe may be the only non-authoritarian leader in the club.

The alliance is critical to Japan’s security and foreign policy goals. Abe spends considerable energy making sure Japan’s interests are represented in the North Korean negotiations, continuing to promote the benefit of a TPP-type, multilateral agreement, and arguing against tariffs and more payments related to hosting American troops.

Just as important as playing defense with the Trump administration is the Japanese effort at organizing the Pacific Rim to counter China’s expansion, while maintaining as positive a relationship with Xi Jinping and China as possible. Trump’s apparent discomfort with key elements of the 70-year old alliance has made clear to Japanese leadership that their own multilateral initiatives are needed and Abe’s longevity in office is a strategic advantage.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo
Abe Mar-a-Lago, Florida, April 17, 2018 | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Major Differences: Europe and Far East

Mike Pence was all but booed by European allies at the 2019 Munich Security Conference at the mention of Donald Trump, while the news from South Korea and Japan was that Trump deserved the Nobel Peace prize for his North Korean negotiations.

The difference in leadership views of Trump mirrors differences in European and Asian publics. Respect and approval of Trump and the U.S. could hardly be lower in Europe, even by today’s tough standards, but public opinion in South Korea and Japan is substantially more favorable.

The latest Pew Research poll of October 2018 shows Japan and South Korea are much more favorably disposed toward the U.S. than Germany and France. And, although the publics of the four nations have low levels of trust for President Trump, they have collapsed in Germany and France.

Trump’s behavior toward European and Asian allies explains some of the differences as do the responses from top leaders. In Europe, Trump, with his usual undiplomatic behavior, has criticized the EU and praised Brexit, promoted withdrawal from NATO and his hostile approach toward immigration. After more than a year and several meetings of Trump’s boorish behavior, President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel have dropped the usual language of diplomacy used with allies and criticized Trump and U.S. policy with harsh language and increasing volume. Whereas in Japan and South Korea, facing many of the same controversies with Trump, such as tariffs and trade deficits, commitment to stationing forces and the cost, and multilateral agreements, such as TPP, leaders have maintained a friendly demeanor.

Of course, the nearness of the threats in terms of time and space and the lack of an alternative deterrent to America’s are important factors shaping elite and public opinion.

The Art of No Deal

The Hanoi summit spectacularly failed. Most foreign policy analysts believe it was clear weeks before the planned summit that North Korea was not going to offer more than a shutdown of Yongbyon nuclear facility and demand significant sanctions relief. Although President Trump tried to lower expectations a few days before the event, his approach to diplomacy, particularly with Kim Jong-un, implies that he can by pure force of personality and economic incentives deliver a deal. And, there’s no doubt he thought he would get a photogenic signing ceremony as an event was scheduled and had to be cancelled. Of course, Kim, writer of romantic letters, also had reason to believe a smitten Trump would bend in his direction.

In addition to both leaders’ belief in their personal chemistry was the assumption that since only Trump and Kim can make the decisions, why waste time with preliminary negotiations? But, that assumption was also overstated. Kim has to deal with elite opinion from his party and military. Trump also has constituents, such as defense hawks in Congress and the party. And, of course, allies Japan and South Korea have a vital stake in the outcome. Although, Trump’s major constraint may be that he has been so critical of previous efforts at negotiations with North Korea under Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama and the Iran nuclear agreement that anything that looks only partial would be judged a failure.

Although Trump clearly deserves credit for ending North Korea’s testing and the general tone of the relationship, there are clear limits to his top down, “I can do this alone with charisma and economic promises.” Frankly, there was a widespread sense of relief the summit did not produce a flawed agreement that the U.S. was going to have difficulties describing, as Trump did after the Singapore summit: “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un shake hands at Hanoi summit, Feb. 27,
2019 | The White via The Australian Institute of International Affairs

Hickenlooper Gets Good Start – KOA Radio

In a KOA drive-time radio interview on Thursday, John Hickenlooper’s Colorado announcement day, April Zesbaugh and Marty Lenz hosted an analysis of Hickenlooper’s first week as a presidential candidate. Some points:

  • Hickenlooper’s video announcement got top coverage earlier in the week. It was picked up by all the major national and some international (BBC) news outlets, which was impressive since he’s the 14th candidate to announce. It demonstrates that all the advanced work with the media is making him the most viable of a big list of longshots. Of course, the Monday national announcement made Thursday’s Colorado rally a local story.
John Hickenlooper speaks during rally to kick off his
presidential campaign in Civic Center Park, March 7, 2019
| Andy Colwell/Special to The Colorado Sun

  • The campaign claimed it raised $1 million in its first two days of operation, another sign of a good organizational effort. Hickenlooper joined Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, and the ever prolific fundraiser, Bernie Sanders, on the top of the quick turnaround list. But, it takes massive amounts of money to compete effectively in the early states while building a national profile.
  • Hickenlooper has a good start, but joins a group of candidates at one percent or below in name recognition with Democrats. And, although he joins other successful Democratic governors with low early name identification that went on to be the nominees and some became president – Carter (1976), Dukakis (1988) and Clinton (1992) – it’s still a serious handicap. Can Hickenlooper go from less than 1 percent to 5 percent by June so as to be taken seriously in the first debate?
  • Hickenlooper’s so-called “moderation” is not so much about Democratic issues as he has sufficiently liberal positions on all the litmus test issues, such as health care, climate change and guns. Hickenlooper mostly offers a different tone, more reconciliation and pragmatic problem-solving. It may be too Pollyannaish for today’s environment, but there is hunger for less polarization and endless warfare.
  • The Democratic Party is divided between those who want an issue activist, pure in their positions and a winner against Trump. Hence, there is room for a Hickenlooper or a Joe Biden or Beto O’Rourke, but they must appear capable of handling the barrage of demeaning and disparaging attacks from Trump and put Trump on the defensive sufficiently to convince Democrats they are a fighter and a winner – a challenge for Hickenlooper and his mild demeanor.
  • One strange fact about Hickenlooper’s start is that, after several months of effort, it’s not clear he would win Colorado Democrats today – in fact, he probably wouldn’t. Also his support among the leadership of the state party is thin, to put it mildly. In fact, Michael Bennet, the senior senator, is still campaigning.

This interview was conducted at 11:20 pm in Takayama, Japan, Denver’s sister city, for live broadcast at 7:20 am on KOA drive-time. The wonders of the internet and cellphones.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Foreign Policy News Pivots to Asia

After a week in Japan with local political and policy experts, it’s clear foreign policy news and challenges have shifted to Asia. A small sample of news stories (print papers are still very powerful in Japan) highlighted a few of the hottest issues.

  • “China’s exports plunge – trade worries grow”
  • “Xi still in charge, ardent nationalist and foreign policy hawk”
  • “US pushes Pyongyang to explain rebirth of rocket site”
  • “Trump demands full cost of troops stationed in Asia plus 50%

Join DU and the Crossley Center Thursday, March 14 to examine the U.S. and Japanese relations and politics in the Far East. Featured presenters are Japanese top political analyst, Toshihiro Nakayama, professor of American Politics and Foreign Policy at Keio University; Ambassador Christopher Hill; and Denver Consul-General of Japan, Midori Takeuchi.

Japan-U.S. Foreign Policy Implications

Please join the Office of Global Engagement and the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research for a discussion on the future of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Professor Toshihiro Nakayama will present a keynote speech pertaining to his expertise on Japan-U.S. relations, followed by comments from Consul-General Midori Takeuchi, Ambassador Christopher Hill, and Professor Floyd Ciruli, as moderator, and a question and answer session.

Find Consul-General Takeuchi's bio here
Find Ambassador Hill's bio here
Find Professor Nakayama's bio here
Find Professor Ciruli's bio here

Thursday, March 14, 2019

5:00 pm Reception- hors d’oeuvres and beverages
5:30 pm Introduction followed by Keynote speech by Prof. Nakayama
6:10 pm Panel comments
6:30 pm Q&A

Maglione Hall
Anna and John J. Sie International Relations Complex
2201 S Gaylord Street
Denver, CO 80208

Note: Parking passes will be sent out prior to the event