ASEAN….

is not going to be happy about this:

In a meeting Monday on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Hatoyama told Hu he will seek cooperation from China, South Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in forming the envisaged regional community, with Japan and China making up its “core part,” the official said.

First Australia, and now Japan wanting to undermine ASEAN leadership….

To be fair I think the point that ASEAN advocates make in regards to ASEAN for all its weaknesses is still the forum doing the best job at regional integration (or at least providing the most neutral site for discussion about regional integration) – and other pretenders to regional leadership need to show that they can get on with other members before trying to take this mantle- but if at any point SK, China and Japan can even feint a good working relationship then it is going to be hard to make the argument that this bloc with both its economic, technological and human power should not be the core of an East Asian Community. This is the key problem with ASEAN’s informal and consensual approach – yes it might be the best we can hope  for currently since a rules-based regime is not going to happen anytime soon, but equally, it is easy to displace.

I am encouraged that Japan and China are looking at the climate issue – Japan has an important duty to influence China in this regard as I think most of the Western powers in their reaction to Copenhagen probably did not help their cause in terms of trying to have ongoing influence over China on this issue. Japan being a technological leader in climate change mitigation technology, and with China reaching out to Japan in this way as seen later in the article, is likely a very good sign.

Anyhow, this goodwill could all be undone very quickly as we know – especially with the success that Tachiagare Nippon is going to have with the exciting, rising and enthusiastic tide of nationalist sentiment they are going to capitalize on….

Socialising East Asia

I attended a conference/meeting on APEC’s strategic architecture today (under Chatham House Rule so affiliations will not be revealed) which certainly revealed the complexity of all the various instruments in place or being proposed to forward economic, and broader forms of integration in the East Asia/Asia-Pacific region. The TransPacific Partnership negotiations which have been recently announced (which I personally think is a solid and practical proposal for those involved) was a serious topic of conversation. Overall the conference did not lead to a change in my views on the utility of APEC other than as a forum to check in with the US from time to time, and most certainly raised more questions than answers. Actually one presenter admitted that APEC’s, at least the Heads of Governments meetings,  major utility may well be that it is the only forum that the US president takes seriously. Apparently he has only missed it twice!

Nevertheless to be fair,  it was a very challenging 5 hours with a wide variety of views and opinions coming from the presenters.

The one thing that stood out for me, like a thorn, however, was the  general attitude of many in attendance towards the changes in Japanese government.

It seemed a number of the elite involved felt somewhat exasperated that A. Domestic politics and policy making was having an impact on Japan’s approach to Asia, and well, foreign policy, and B. That Japan had foreign policy interests of its own and was not strategically brain dead.

This was at the same time that many were demanding that the interests, specifically of ASEAN countries,  be put forward and centre in any regional configuration. There seemed to be some exasperation that Japan would actually put forward a concept of East Asia Integration that would privilege China, Japan and Korea as leaders in the area rather than just ASEAN and/or the US. There was a general sense that Japan’s growing interest in East Asia was, from a strategic leadership point of view (rather than say remaining as a benevolent cog in the wheel) was somewhat unwelcome.

One person talked about how ASEAN were primarily responsible for “socializing” Chinese bureaucrats when they became a “normal”  country with the ascension to the WTO. The thing that struck me is that Japan may have to go on a bit of socializing mission themselves – that whatever happens in the post-LDP world, Japan is a legitimate foreign policy player with rational self-interests to pursue in the area, no matter how unwelcome to the APEC/ASEAN elite, and that its interests are not quaint outgrowths of individual political machinations or quirky political beliefs. Perhaps only the Korean presenter understood this.

One person pretty much claimed Hatoyama was only putting forward a Japan view on Asia merely to be different from the LDP. Apparently that is how you can interpret “everything” the DPJ does. Except when that evil Ozawa gets involved.

What also struck me is how little anyone had tried to understand the broader context of the change of government – as if, Japan was going to go back to being in some benign shell, as soon as this weirdo Hatoyama chap was out of the way…..I think they may be a little bit surprised! Of course, given the US response to the new Japanese government over Futenma, I guess this kind of overreaction, to what should be viewed as a reasonably logical consequence of the development of Japanese politics, should not be surprising. I guess some of the wounds the DPJ has inflicted upon itself has regrettably not lessened the sense that Japanese politics/politicians need not be taken seriously.

Hmmmm…..

The Japanese media seems to be so willfully blind sometimes that it hurts (me, and probably many others – the media seems to enjoy this ignorance).

Earlier this year there was much controversy raised by the LDP and the conservative media about Ozawa strong arming that most sacred political institution of all, the Emperor, into breaking the rules established regarding visits to the emperor. One month was considered a bare minimum by the imperial household’s bureaucratic arm. Xi Jinping, China’s vice president and likely heir to the mandate of heaven was allowed to circumvent these rules due to the “treacherous” manipulations of the “Shadow Shogun” Ozawa Ichiro with no regard for anyone in the nation, not even the Emperor of Japan! Has he no shame?

This got some play in the Western Press also (who rules Japan? The Shogun, or the Emperor – psssst, the answer has always been not the Emperor! ) as the meeting was imbued with more significance due to Japan being perceived to be moving closer to China and away from the US in their foreign policy disposition (by daring to question the US on the Futenma issue). This was exacerbated by a visit to the mainland by Ozawa which almost resembled the ancient emissary expeditions that Japan sent to the Chinese emperor in the 500-800 AD period. Oh no! It is all over – because we all know Japan has traditionally been a very loyal tributary subject of the Chinese empire.

Anyway, today Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano has come out and stated that since 2003 6 incidents  have broken protocol. Hmmm, how many narratives does this undermine? If anything, it should feed into what should be a building narrative about just how corrupt the ancien regime was in hiding from the public even more damning information during its time in power – things that the DPJ are slowly letting out (lately including the issue regarding the secret pact with the US on the transportation of  nuclear weapons, more information regarding requests made by Nakasone snr for the US to withhold information on the Lockheed scandal….).

Another proposal

Claude Barfield and Philip I. Levy, AEI have written a very interesting article on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

They correctly identify that each attempt to articulate a new framework for East Asian regional architecture is really an articulation of a given nation’s ideal architecture where their influence would be maximised (ie China- ASEAN plus three, Japan – ASEAN plus six, US – APEC, Australia/NZ & India – ASEAN plus 6 and so forth).

However, the problem for the US has been that APEC is dead, and is not likely to be resurrected. My feeling is that most countries aside from the US continue to engage with APEC mainly to humour the US, such is the importance of the relationship for any country.

While some critics believe that anything short of a WTO agreement or at the very least, large regional APEC/EU like agreements, undermines free trade in the long-run through distortions, it seems that the risk the US was running a risk in not getting in on a lot of the noodle bowl action, so to speak.

The TPP represents a much more pragmatic move and could be, as the authors argue, a valuable addition to US trade policy. The countries involved, or potentially involved (Singapore, NZ, Australia, Chile, Peru, Vietnam, and Japan) are with the exception of Japan and the US already very strongly involved in the creation of FTAs in the region and have a lot of experience in hammering out agreements over contentious issues but not so contentious at to render agreement impossible.

For the most part they are challenging enough countries to put in place FTAs with, but not so offensive to local interests that they would at this point in time present any reasonable or unreasonable threat to US and/or that matter Japan. By narrowing down the vision at first, and learning from the experience (and compromising with these countries as so far is required) this could very well be a training run for those countries like the US and Japan whose domestic politics create problems with fully committing to any kind of regional trade agenda.

And even if the TPP proved to be difficult enough in itself, it would provide a valuable axis in which to connect the US to East Asian regionalism, without necessary requiring a full US commitment. If even this was insurmountable, then this would be telling in of itself.