Prominent political analysts from three top American think tanks emphasized America's unchanging commitment to East Asia, the importance of its partnership with Japan and the urgency of building security architecture for the region at a panel discussion hosted by The Genron NPO at its Kayabacho Office in Tokyo on Oct. 19, 2015.
The Genron NPO Forum was an open discussion organized by the Tokyo think tank as part of its new project for promoting civil diplomacy. The theme for the forum was "The U.S. Presidential Election and the Future of Northeast Asia."
The panelists were: Dr. Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, who served as ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); James M. Lindsay, senior vice president and director of studies at the Council of Foreign Relations (CRF); and Frank Jannuzi, president and chief executive officer of the Mansfield Foundation.
Having flown across the Pacific for the event, they frankly discussed U.S. diplomatic policies for Northeast Asia, the geopolitical ideas behind them and prospects for the foreseeable future. Yasushi Kudo, president of The Genron NPO, acted as moderator.
America's "rebalancing" vital for peace in Asia
The panel discussion first focused on America's "rebalancing" policy amid unstable governance. Daalder confirmed that it is nothing new, or indicated no change, but it meant a "return to normal" after 10 to 15 years, the decade when the United States had to focus on the Middle East and Afghanistan for good reason. The U.S. has retained its long-standing commitment to Asia since 1945, as it is an Asia-Pacific nation, he said.
Jannuzi agreed and said, "The United States never left Asia." Pointing to China's dramatic economic rise and the growth of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations into the size of the European Community, Jannuzi meanwhile reminded everyone that the region does not yet have a multilateral security framework for managing peace, like NATO in Europe. That is why American engagement is needed and why the rebalancing policy is important, he said.
The American public is also "re-emphasizing the importance of Asia," Daalder noted, pointing out that 50 percent of the polled in his think tank's survey favored the rebalancing policy of the Obama administration. He said Americans "do care," expecting "the U.S. to promise security but that other countries are (also) sharing the burden."
Some may think the U.S. is "pro-intervention" as it has been too involved in conflicts since the end of World War II, but it is a "reluctant warrior," Jannuzi noted. The American government and public do not want military confrontation and, in fact, China and the U.S. are working together, and are resolved to settle their differences peacefully. Some people are tempted to "overdramatize some of the tensions with China, but we should not be too excited about the prospect of conflict between the U.S. and China."
Engaging China in rule-making structure
While China's rise has a positive impact on the rest of the world, particularly in terms of economies, it has occurred hand in hand with its "change of behavior" and "actions very different from 20 years ago, 30 years ago," the veteran analyst Daalder said.
Now that China is a global trader with interests expanding globally, it is "natural" that it would be tempted to develop a military capacity to defend its new global interests, Jannuzi said, referring to China's recent actions not only in the East China Sea and the South China Sea but also on its western border.
Jannuzi said that China has prospered for the past decades under the international norms and rules that govern global commons, which now have expanded to include cyber, space and maritime security, adding that he believes China will not desire to overturn all of these norms.
Lindsay said that nobody knows where China is going and the question is "how far China is willing to be cooperative," noting that Southeast Asia is greatly concerned about China.
Daalder suggested that a new security architecture should be based on the framework of the U.S., Japan and South Korea. "It is necessary to have China engage in dialogue and develop the existing three-nation framework into a new Japan-U.S.-China-South Korea architecture," he said.
The panelists all agreed that it is extremely important for Japan and the U.S. to have China engage in such an effort of making rules to build the "new security architecture" for stabilizing the region in peace.
"Positive sum," not zero sum, for all
Daalder noted that President Barack Obama recently said there is "no crack" in U.S.-South Korea relations and the U.S. is strongly in favor of strengthening economic relations with China. If any concern exists, he added, it may be that their closer relationship might have a negative impact on relations between Tokyo and Seoul. The bilateral relationship between China and South Korea, and that between Japan and South Korea should not be a "zero-sum game" but a "positive-sum game."
Lindsay agreed that stronger China-South Korea relations are beneficial to the U.S., denying the legitimacy of reports that Washington is unhappy about South Korea becoming too close to China. Rather, of greater concern to Washington, he echoed, is the possible deterioration of Japan-South Korea relations.
Dialogue and rules needed for regional governance
The American panelists indicated good reasons for their concerns in this part of Asia.
Daalder said that Europe has many security institutions, including the OECD and NATO, which have achieved peace and stability through various frameworks they created and that all nations in Northeast Asia should also build relations by making such commitments. And, for that, "It is important to have dialogues, involving China and ultimately North Korea, to resolve differences without the use of force," he said.
Many people in Beijing apparently see a "Cold War architecture" in the U.S. and its alliances in Northeast Asia, which is now creating a perception gap with the reality of the region today, noted Jannuzi. It is necessary to have deeper security dialogues with the Chinese to make them understand what our security architecture is all about and it is not to contain China," he added.
Lindsay agreed and said that characterizing the U.S. policy as seeking to contain China is fundamentally misguided. But he pointed out that dialogue is not enough. He conceded that we need a new structure for making rules such as the International Law of the Sea and building a peaceful environment from a long-term perspective.
When problems arise in Northeast Asia, government-to-government diplomacy tends to stall, Kudo of The Genron NPO commented, asking the panelists to identify the roles of civic diplomacy in such a situation.
People-to-people connection is vitally important, promptly said Jannuzi. Although freedom of information and expression is constrained in China, the government's "firewall" is cracking and Chinese people will come to enjoy a greater freedom of information over time and are gaining a better understanding of the world, he said.
Greatest threat to the region: North Korea
During the question and answer session that followed the panel discussion, people in the audience asked about the roles of Russia and Britain.
Daalder first pointed out that Russia is no doubt a superpower with a strong influence on North Korea, but in light of its actions in Crimea or Syria, Russia today, he said, "is not the Russia that we want." He is skeptical that Russia would be a stable and reliable partner in the Northeast Asian region.
Lindsay commented that Britain is downsizing its military capacity but hoping to come closer to the region for economic reasons. He said that the country cannot afford to help America in Asia because Britain has many issues in Europe it has to deal with.
Asked about the greatest challenge to achieving peace in Northeast Asia, Jannuzi bluntly pointed at North Korea. He then emphasized the importance of Japan and the U.S., as well as China, Russia and South Korea working together to cope with the issue "in a systematic and comprehensive way."
Other concerns for possible crises exist, Daalder said, such as the U.S. retreating from Asia and China turning its attention to the outside world in order to divert public criticism of reduced economic growth, social and demographic upheaval, and environmental devastation.
Lindsay agreed that North Korea is the most threatening challenge, but he also cautioned about divided views on foreign policy in Washington, in particular, about the Asia rebalancing policy and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which might result in American policy changes that could prove disastrous for Asia and the U.S., as well.
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