Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tokyo Briefings, Day 2

I am losing track of the days given the time travel that comes with living on the other side of the international dateline and getting little sleep (must remember the melatonin next time).  But since I have one post on the briefings, this must be day two.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The day led off with a breakfast meeting I had with a Japanese scholar who works on her country's civil-military relations.  Thanks to Jennifer Lind (I owe you many beers!), I am now working with this scholar on the project that will bring me back to Japan next fall.  Our interests are nicely complimentary as she wants more comparative perspective on her stuff, and it will be mighty helpful to work with someone who really knows Japan.  I am confident that next fall's research will be successful now that I have such a terrific ally here.

The group then got together and met with the folks in the Office of Policy Planning and Coordination on Territorial Sovereignty.
  • While our first day had some people soft peddle the Chinese threat a bit, this office has its explicit focus on three territorial disputes (hey Sara Mitchell, Doug Gibler and all the territorial dispute people, this office is your paradise!): the Senkaku islands which the Chinese are contesting Japan's ownership, Takeshima which is "occupied" by South Korea; and the Northern Territories which is the only populated contested territory and has been held by Soviet Union/Russia since the end of World War II.  
  • I could not help but think of the Office of Irredentism (Hungary had a bureaucracy dedicated to the Hungarian Minorities Abroad that seemed more like a nationalist stance than actually improving plight of kin abroad--see For Kin or Country).  I was surprised that this office exists as a distinct unit (and, not surprisingly, it is relatively new, I think) rather than simply a desk within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Instead, the Minster in Charge of Territorial Integrity is exactly that a Minister who chairs "communications about territorial integrity."  
  • We received a great deal of information a short period of time.  I was familiar beforehand with the disputes with China and Russia but not South Korea.  Settling the comfort women issue recently does not end the challenges facing the relationship between two countries that should be allied more tightly against the two serious threats here (China, NK.  Russia is a threat but not quite as problematic down the road).
    • Among the info was public opinion polls by Pew about concerns territorial disputes with China with Japanese among the most concerned along with Filipinos, Vietnamese.
  • To conclude, the high level of this office and its efforts to present Japan's take on the various disputes was, um, most interesting as it raises the visibility of these issues, making it harder to do ordinary business with the neighbors.  The representatives emphasized that international law favors Japan, but that the neighbors are not so willing to take these disputes to the International Court of Justice.  My conclusion: this stuff is going to remain central to these relationships but this government is more focused on them than previous ones with these relatively new offices (I think this current government created this office and others, but I could be wrong).

We had lunch with the Director of Global Communications who works within the Prime Minister's Office.  This was more informal so I will not get into what we discussed.  The food again was amazing.  One of the handy things about having a few meals with the Japanese officials is I am learning how to eat some stuff that is not so obvious--soba noodles were yesterday's case study.

We had dueling briefings by an official from the Arctic Policy people and one of our group--Rob Huebert.
  • As a committed Arctic Skeptic (I don't think there is much Canada can do up there without a deep reliance on the US and that spending heaps up there is mostly a waste of money--except programs that help the residents of the far north), I was looking to get an outsider's perspective as Japan is an observer but not a member of the Arctic Council. 
  • I noted a basic contradiction in everyone's discussion: we want to reduce climate change so that the ice does not go away but we really want to support ships navigating ice free Arctic passages.
Our next meeting was with a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies who I met recently in Ottawa.  She was very engaging, so my colleagues in the group asked her many random questions about Japan society.
  • I asked about the legislation that changes what Japan can do with its Self-Defence Forces as she was a participant in the various commissions that studied the possibilities.  I need to talk to her some more about the proposals that were not enacted and what might happen next.  My big question, as I mentioned yesterday, is whether any of the new authorities will actually be used by this or any other Prime Minister.  My guess is that the rules of engagement for peace keeping operations will change slightly but will be chock full of caveats that limit their impact.
  • I did ask about the stories about Japan eliminating the social sciences from universities.  That was a random trial balloon that got shot down, so I was relieved.  The reality is that Japan will fund the social sciences less as it is hard to measure the outcomes (join the club), but, no, the social sciences here are not going away.  Phew.
Our day concluded with an excellent dinner hosted by an official within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Again, informal, so I am not going to get into what we chatted about.  The conversation was wide-ranging and informative.

In sum, we continue to be objects of an information operation, that we are getting different shades of emphasis about the various issues with China being most central to most conversations.  Well, that and the US.  My colleagues who are not fans of Obama like to raise the threat of the US pulling out of the region.  I am not worried since the pivot was all about prioritizing this part of the world.  The Japanese reforms to their use of force are aimed at making it easier to make arguments to the Congress and whoever about Japan doing more burden-sharing.  I am still mostly puzzled why Canadians (our group) are seen as useful in this larger effort, except Japanese apparently have great respect for this fellow G-7 member.  Perhaps it is because of the Canadian reputation of being polite (which I probably undermine every day).


Rob Huebert said...

Of course it can be argued that from a policy perspective there is no contradiction as Steve suggests between dealing with climate change and preparing for shipping. Even if there was a complete agreement among all nations to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas production the ice would continue to melt. This meas that governments can attempt to deal with climate change AND deal with increased shipping. This is not a contradiction but just the policy requirements.

Steve Saideman said...

Sure, I may have overplayed it, but there are tensions not in the theory but in the politics between the climate change stuff and the shipping. For instance, some folks deny climate change is happening but still discuss the increased shipping.

Rob Huebert said...

But we always need to be careful where we allow the theory to overshadow the reality...