(*The conversation was held at Dr. Yamaguchi’s office at the Japanese House of Representatives on July 11th, 2014.)
Yamaguchi: Today I would like to talk about Japan’s role in the future in the world.
We have now difficult moments with our neighbors, Chinese and Koreans.
But as a historian, Arnold Toynbee, I hear he predicted that the center of gravity in the world could be shifting from the West to the East, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. If he is correct, it could be happening now.
Professor Brooks: I think that’s already proven to be true. Look at the European situation over the several years. EU is sort of falling apart. The question is that what kind of structure would emerge. Regional structure will emerge. There’s rise of China, the recovery of the Japanese economy, and certainly the vitality of Southeast Asia.
Yamaguchi: Structure is an important point. Three were three global orders which were established after the war for the peace and prosperity. The first was the United Nations to prohibit the use of force.
The exception was when you use force for self-defense. And the U.N. Charter created the new type of self-defense, “the right of collective self-defense.” It was created by the U.N. Charter. The Japanese Government has decided to change the interpretation. The interpretation used to be that we have the right, but we couldn’t use it. It was not natural to me.
Professor Brooks: There are a lot of aspects of Japan’s Asia diplomacy, Japan’s Asia presence as well as Japan’s global presence that were limited by the self-imposed restrictions. As you pointed out, it was not the United Nations that told Japan what to do. To me, Article 9 (of the Constitution) hasn’t changed. It’s basically sacred, in terms of the first clause particularly.
But Japan has many times reinterpreted it. This latest reinterpretation is not the first and probably won’t be the last. And I think that’s understandable, since the world situation has changed. Asia has no order, basically every country for itself.
Yamaguchi: The United Nations system is now rather shaky. The original purpose was to prohibit the use of force to create peace. But it has not been 100% successful.
The second order was the free trade system. Because there was protectionism before the war, and there was a war. To prevent war, free trade system was set as a goal. People created GATT system and WTO. But the problem is now that there are more than 190 countries, making a decision unanimously has become rather difficult. This system is now shifting to FTAs or TPP.
Professor Brooks: what’s overlooked in the current TPP negotiations is that it’s not just trade and goods. There’s whole area over 20 areas of services and other new system. What the WTO Doha Round could not accomplish cannot be accomplished by the WTO. And that’s not the end. I don’t think China is qualified to come to the TPP, but maybe in ten years. They don’t want to be isolated from that system. They will come in and we will have a basically global system that will grow.
But without Japan TPP is meaningless.
Yamaguchi: The third was currency. Keynes from Great Britain talked about world currency. But the United States rather advocated using dollar as the key currency, and it was adopted. But now, the dollar key-currency system, according to some people, it has not been functioning well. So we have to do something about it.
These three orders, the United Nations system, free trade system, dollar key-currency system, all are undergoing challenges now. Something has to be done. Structural change is necessary.
Professor Brooks: In Asia there are no regional mechanisms, set up for security. There are certain informal systems for currency problems, swapping etc., and Japan has taken leadership.
There are lots of FTAs and EPAs, and it’s been called a noodle bowl.
Yamaguchi: That’s where Japan’s role in the future comes into a picture. Because there is TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), and there is Japan-China-Korea tripartite free trade agreement negotiation, which I initiated.
Another one which I initiated was bordering countries of Sea of Japan, Japan, Russia, Korea, China, Mongolia, and as an honorary member the United States. I invited scholars from these six nations. We talked about energy cooperation, establishing a bank to cover North East Asia. Because Russia is not a member of the Asia Development Bank, they cannot get finance from this ADB. So if we establish a bank to cover this North East Asia, it would be a good news for Russians.
TPP, Japan-China-Korea tripartite FTA, and the North East Asia economic cooperation, these things need to be integrated in the future, and Japan could play an important role in this.
If we can integrate it with RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) of South East Asia, we can have an image of Asia Pacific sort of community, even though it may not be like European Union. But something like a community among the Asia Pacific countries.
Professor Brooks: Actually I think there is a synergy there because APEC has a coordinating mechanism. Right now it’s kind of a voluntary thing with goals that are not necessarily shared by all. But if you put them in your formula, it probably will start unifying.
Yamaguchi: There is an agreement of FTAAP. In ten years or so, it’s an amalgamation of TPP, FTAs, North East Asian cooperation, RCEP.
Professor Brooks: I think to get there there are hurdles that are not economic, and the U.S. is very concerned about freedom of commercial navigation. If China indeed sets up access denial system that prevents that freedom, the U.S. is very concerned as is Japan.
Yamaguchi: If we look back about ten years, there was Afghan war, there was a war in Iraq. I was worried about the negative possibility when the United States was beginning a war in Afghanistan and Iraq, because there is a historic example that the Soviet Union collapsed because they invaded Afghanistan.
Professor Brooks: You know that the repercussions of those two wars hit America, hit the American spirit. People are wary of war. We are not interventionists.
Most importantly, we’ve got to build up our domestic economy first before we can have a strong external relationship with the rest of the world. I think that’s what Obama Administration is focusing on.
Yamaguchi: Even if there was a reason why the United States went there, I was worried. It has to be a cautious strategy. Probably it was not 100% strategically wise.
Professor Brooks: We were swept up by the post 9.11 syndrome. I think that’s now dissipated. Instead of attacking the enemy, which was the al-Qaeda, we attacked another country, thinking that would solve the problem, but it did not.
Yamaguchi: So what’s happening is rebalancing coming to the Asia Pacific.
Professor Brooks: I have a point on that. We are not actually rebalancing, we are here, and we’ve always been here. I think it’s more of a rebalancing within the area. We put some marines in Australia, and we are beefing up our relations with the Philippines, but we’ve always been here. Our presence has never been questioned. It’s a question of fine tuning rather than a complete shift.
That being said, the rest of the world isn’t going to leave us alone. Mr. Kerry was in Beijing China a few days ago, but he’s been everywhere. So focusing on Asia is a major problem for U.S. diplomacy because of the incredible distractions and problems all over the world.
Yamaguchi: If we look at it a little differently, there is “manifest destiny” in the United States history, going toward west, west, west, and west to the Pacific.
Professor Brooks: Most of our trend is here.
Yamaguchi: Shifting more toward the Asia Pacific to stimulate trade there in the Asia Pacific region and increasing employment within the United States and then reestablishing the economy. But the problem for the United States is that Japan, China, Korea are now having the difficult times over the territory fighting over the rocks. We have to do something about it. I think something can be done. But Mr. Abe seems to be having difficult times.
Professor Brooks: The U.S. wants to have triangular relations: Japan, China, and the U.S. ; Japan, ROK, and the U.S.. That’s part of our rebalancing diplomacy to have cooperation within the region among those powers, and cooperation on global issues, like climate change, or even TPP.
Actually gap is growing between Japan and the United States. As you saw by Secretary Kerry’s speeches and strategic dialogue in Beijing, we are pursuing a frank and sometimes strong discussion laying out problems as well as laying out commonality of issues. But with Japan, no dialog. That gap is growing. Instead, Japan is focusing only on the maritime issue, of course we are too, but we are not preparing for war. We are preparing some kind of code of conduct or rules that can be set with China in the region so that disputes, not necessarily territorial, can be settled.
Yamaguchi: Probably, dialogues between Japan and the U.S. could be different from dialogues between the U.S. and China. Chinese like it because they call it “G2.”
Professor Brooks: We don’t like it.
Yamaguchi: For the peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region, I always think about our relations across the Pacific, the United States and Japan. 70 years ago, there was a war across the Pacific. Even two atomic bombs on Japan. But now, nobody talks about a war between the two countries, nobody ever imagines a war between the two countries, because our society, politics, economy, culture all intertwined. We like Hollywood movies. The same thing could happen in our relations with other countries.
Professor Brooks: Of course. Among my students at SAIS the Jones Hopkins, there are many Chinese students from the mainland, they are majoring in Japan studies. They like Japan.
Yamaguchi: I am glad to hear that.
Professor Brooks; I ask them, ‘Don’t you get anti-Japanese education?’ Their answer is, ‘we get patriotic in education, but we are not particularly anti-Japan.’ So I think at the grassroots level, not at the political level, there is a great possibility of having multilayer dialogues and at grassroots level which would build good cultural and educational relations. There are many Chinese coming to Japan as tourists or students.
It’s just a matter of political dimensions. There are three structural issues Japan faces with China. One is obviously the territorial issue. The second is history. And the third is nationalism. Right at this moment, all three are intertwined. We’ve got to extract them one by one.
Deng Xiaoping shelved the territorial issue. Xi Jinping is a collective leader. He doesn’t have the power of Deng Xiaoping. So it has to be slowly latched back. If the rest of the relation is good, then ultimately the territorial issue will quiet down.
Yamaguchi: I think there is a desire on both sides, the Japanese side and the Chinese side, to do something with this. We cannot fight a war over the rocks. We shouldn’t. Nobody wants it.
Professor Brooks: In fact if you go back to 2008, things were pretty good for a while. There was a joint development agreement for gas in the East China Sea. So it looked like things were going along OK.
Yamaguchi: Although I would rather not delve into details of specifics of how we can solve it, I feel we can solve it.
Professor Brooks: Yes. If you focus on the healthy part of the relations, the economy, the cultural, the educational, the global commonality, the North Korean issue, then you can find a lot of things to talk about. That will make the rest of the relationship manageable.
Yamaguchi: The post-war global systems, the United Nations, free trade system, and dollar key-currency system — all initiated through the U.S. leadership. But they are now undergoing some challenges, and we have to do something about it. I am sure Japan has some potential to play a greater role.
Professor Brooks: Japan is actually becoming a little more active internationally, and their diplomacy is getting more proactive. A lot have started with DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan),
My thesis is that many of the policies of the Abe Administration grew out of the policies of DPJ.
I wrote a paper on U.S. –Japan relations under DPJ, and gave A+. Except for the base issue, which is always a problem, the rest of the relationship was quite good.
Yamaguchi: I remember there were mainly four areas to be taken care of. One was base issues. Another was TPP. Third was beef. Fourth was the Hague Treaty.
These things were almost solved, beef and the Hague Treaty especially.
(About TPP) It’s a pity that we couldn’t make a decision much earlier. We could have done it.
Professor Brooks: I think there was a good reason, an earthquake. If you take a look at the policy process, it was going along and then the earthquake came, and it got completely sidetracked. So you had about a year or a year and a half gap.
Yamaguchi: It’s rather a favorable way of looking at it.
Professor Brooks: It’s true. Everybody focused here (Japan, Fukushima), and it was a major national crisis. Overcoming that national crisis was the top priority. You couldn’t expect farmers to be flexible to TPP when they were afraid of the crisis.
Yamaguchi: Professor Brooks, thank you very much. We covered many things. I always enjoy discussing things with you.
Professor Brooks: I will be back in Washington in September. If you are in Washington, please feel free.
Yamaguchi: You are now with University of Waseda?
Professor Brooks: I’m now at Waseda as a visiting scholar. I was teaching some lectures including one by Nakabayashi sensei.
Now I’m doing a full time research to finish my book, which will compare the policy processes of DPJ administration to the policy processes of the LDP particularly under Abe. My conclusion is that DPJ moved gradually and strongly toward a very effective process by the time the Noda Administration was in power. If you look at the LDP, not that much difference.
Effectiveness was a trial and error at first with Hatoyama Administration, but by the time Noda Administration was in, it was pretty smooth going.
TPP was just about a timing. It just ran out of time.
Consensus building in democracy takes time.
American problem is that the word consensus in the U.S. Congress has become a dirty word.
Yamaguchi: Good luck on your book. Thank you very much.
Professor Brooks: Thank you.