Responding to the Crisis in Japan: A Defining Moment for the Asia Pacific

March 23, 2011 Leave a comment

U.S. Navy, MH-53 helicopters land aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) on March 12 in the Sea of Japan

By Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser and Director of the Southeast Asia Program, CSIS



The heartbreaking tragedy that has befallen Japan will not keep that resilient and strong nation down for long. However, the three-headed monster of a massive earthquake, life-sucking tsunami, and nuclear uncertainty has hit our stoic allies hard. Japan recovered in record-breaking time from earlier disasters, including the costly earthquake at Kobe in 1995 that racked up costs of more than $110 billion. Unfortunately, Japan today is not the same Japan as then.

Although it remains the world’s third-largest economy, top investor, and one of the top three trading partners of most other Asia-Pacific countries, Japan has relatively weak political leadership, unprecedented levels of debt, and a yen that has rocketed to levels not seen since World War II. The World Bank estimates that the cost of recovery for these disasters will exceed $235 billion and estimates now stand at over 25,00 lives perished.  The country faces an enormous challenge and the United States and other nations have signaled their commitment to support a friend in need.

There is no good time for a disaster to strike, but Japan has been hit at a particularly crucial moment in the development of new power dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region.  New security and trade architectures are being developed—notably the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, ASEAN Plus Three (ASEAN plus China, Japan, and Korea) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Japan’s role as the foundational U.S. treaty ally in Northeast Asia has underpinned regional security for many decades.

The question is how losing the “Japan wheel” on the cart of Asian dynamism—even if temporarily—will affect the direction of regionalism and the power dynamics between key countries such as China and the United States.

The recent focus on architecture means that countries are working together to establish new rules that will allow rising powers like China and India to join the neighborhood in a peaceful manner that emphasizes balanced growth, transparency, and commitment to multilateralism.

To succeed in that mission, there must be a highly focused nexus of like-minded countries providing leadership and investing in capacity building for developing and smaller nations.  Japan has been a leader in this effort along with the United States, Australia, and others.

Assume that Japan will need to focus its resources once earmarked for foreign direct investment and development assistance to rebuilding at home. Other countries will need to step up to the plate in a very substantial way to fill the gap—and that means those countries will have to be thinking strategically and implementing efficiently.

This is a message that the U.S. Congress, for one, must heed with urgency and commitment—stepping away from cutting foreign aid in Asia, moving ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to the top of the agenda, and teaming with the private sector and other nations to invest massively to speed Japan’s complete recovery.

Supporting recovery in Japan and New Zealand (whose dual earthquakes in Christchurch will cost that country an estimated 6 percent of its gross domestic product) should now move to the top of the agenda for the ASEAN Summit and the EAS in Jakarta as well as the APEC meeting in Honolulu.

China also faces a defining moment. It can join and help to lead the recovery process in Japan, embracing a regional leadership role and demonstrating its understanding of the importance of a strong and balanced community of nations in Asia.  On the other hand, it could proceed with its aggressive stance on regional disputes with a newly weakened Japan and press its clear advantage.  The former course would reassure China’s neighbors and chart a course for strong regional cooperation in Asia for decades to come.  The latter could result in increasing China-U.S. tensions as well as strengthening the antibodies that China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea and Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands has awakened among its neighbors.

Nature has unleashed unimaginable terror on our friends in Japan and at the same time tabled the most profound question for the actors who will shape the future of Asia.

Responding strategically and decisively to the crisis in Japan is one of the most important opportunities of the early twenty-first century for the United States, China, and other Asia-Pacific countries. The stakes are historically high.


Photo by Flickr user italo_polused under a Creative Commons license.


Indonesia Steps onto the World Stage

January 29, 2011 Leave a comment

By Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser & Director of the Southeast Asia Program, CSIS

Yesterday in the snowy Swiss enclave of Davos, Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) threw down the rhetorical gauntlet and announced Indonesia’s plans be a global player.  Addressing a well-heeled World Economic Forum audience, he asserted Indonesia’s intent to influence global trends:  “Asia is of course more than China, Japan and India,” he said.

Mr. Yudhoyono has a good case to make.  Indonesia is the world’s fourth largest country and third largest democracy.  By most criteria, Indonesia has a stronger claim on BRIC membership than Russia.  It is a member of the G-20 and a massive presence in other global fora such as the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).  Indonesia is the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East Asia Summit (EAS) this year, and will chair the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 2013.

Indonesian influence could be an overwhelmingly positive input as the world defines new frameworks and architecture.  The World Bank is restructuring the relative representation of countries taking into account the new role of countries like Indonesia, Brazil, China and India; the United Nations is moving in the same direction.  The EAS and the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus represent ASEAN-based nascent regional security architecture. These changes are investments in enhancing global stability, peace and prosperity.

However, to be effective globally, Indonesia must strengthen its institutions at home and provide real leadership in its immediate neighborhood – in ASEAN.  Neither of these challenges has been fully met. Read more…

11th Party Congress in Vietnam: A Vote for Continuity

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

By Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser & Director of the Southeast Asia Program, CSIS

Last week, the Communist Party of Vietnam announced its new leadership line up as it wrapped up the 11th National Party Congress.  The outcome underlined a fundamental commitment to continuity in its national security, economic reform and foreign policy.  Understandably, some highly credible Southeast Asia analysts were caught up in the more conservative rhetoric that traditionally surrounds the five-year cycle of intra-Party politicking in Vietnam.  Notably, CFR’s Josh Kurlantzick detected a more hard-line regime, “not exactly a step forward” on his blog.  The truth is the Party knows it must stick with economic reform, a strong investment in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and closer ties with the United States.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was tapped for another term.

General Secretary, nominally the top job in the Party, went to 67-year old former National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong.  A Hanoi-born stalwart of the Party, Trong indicated that he expects to continue the recent tradition of the General Secretary not having a direct or strong hand in decisions of the Government.  Importantly, 62-year old Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was recommended for a second term and fellow 62-year old southerner Truong Tan Sang was tapped as the candidate to be President.  Standing Deputy Prime Minister and former finance minister 65-year old Nguyen Sinh Hung will be chairman of the National Assembly.  These leaders must be approved by the National Assembly when it convenes in late April or early May, and they will put forward a new cabinet that will be vetted and approved by the National Assembly in the third quarter of 2011. Read more…

Japanese Foreign Minister Speaks at CSIS

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

On January 6 Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara addressed the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC.  The speech, entitled “Opening a New Horizon in the Asia Pacific,” emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance in maintaining regional peace and security and the roles the two countries can play in shaping a new order for the region.

Maehara introduced several themes including the need to develop “institutional foundations” in the region based on rules and norms; U.S. and Japanese leadership in multilateral institutions such as the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum; the Trans-Pacific Partnership as an important first step towards the realization of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP); and initiatives under three pillars of U.S.-Japan cooperation—security, economy, and cultural exchange—currently animating dialogue between Tokyo and Washington.

Some video highlights of the speech, after the jump: Read more…

A Memo for President Hu Jintao

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

By Charles W. Freeman III, who holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

To: President Hu Jintao
From: Charles Freeman, the Freeman Chair in China Studies
Date: January 18, 2010
Re: What Do the Americans Want?


As you begin your U.S. state visit, you will encounter increasing ambivalence among mainstream U.S. policy circles about the U.S. relationship with China. This is worth examination: U.S. policy toward China has been remarkably consistent over the past 40 years. While originally conceived in a Cold War context, the fundamental thrust of that policy is to engage China and build equities for Beijing in a U.S.-led international order in such a way as to (1) reduce Beijing’s interests in disrupting or challenging that order; and (2) encourage Beijing to contribute positively to the maintenance and strengthening of that order. The essence of this longstanding policy was articulated in 2005 by then Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick: that Washington seeks a China that is a “responsible stakeholder” in the international political and economic architecture. The basic tenet of this policy, of course, is the unquestioned assumption of U.S. primacy in international affairs. Read more…

Secretary Campbell and Ambassador Zhang Talk U.S.-China Relations

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Last Friday, as the U.S. and Chinese governments rushed to finalize preparations for the state visit of President Hu Jintao that begins today, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and the Chinese Ambassador to Washington, Zhang Yesui, took some time to sit down with CSIS Freeman Chair in China Studies Charles Freeman to discuss U.S.-China relations, and what both sides are doing to promote educational and cultural exchanges. The conversation was broadcast by Phoenix Television in Hong Kong just a few hours ago.

New START Is Not About China

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

China’s Nuclear Weapons Diversification and Modernization is not a legitimate reason to Delay Ratifying New START.

By Jeffrey Bean, Research Assistant in the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS

In recent months, discussion has intensified in the U.S. Senate over the New START Treaty, with bipartisan experts concluding that the treaty is crucial for U.S. foreign and security policy. The Obama administration has committed significant political capital to demonstrate the genuine benefits for U.S.-Russia relations and broader American security and non-proliferation goals.

Opponents to ratification have only recently mentioned the world’s third largest nuclear weapons state, China, and its relevance to the U.S.-Russia bilateral agreement—as Peter Brookes of Heritage Foundation did at the National Review Online last week. Similar to last month’s U.S. congressional elections, fear of China’s rise has been used to make domestic political hay. On the one hand, there are real transparency concerns about China’s nuclear weapons and its development of asymmetric capabilities in cyber & space warfare, anti-access weapons, and area-denial assets. These trends should be monitored and countered, and greater transparency from the PLA about its intentions and plans for its nuclear force is imperative to answer concerns of U.S. and other Asian governments. However, China’s nuclear force by no means constitutes a legitimate reason for the Senate to scupper the New START treaty. Here’s why: Read more…