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Personal Reflections on a Visit

A room of the Yasukuni Shrine museum featuring photographs of the enshrined (Tokyo, August 2010)

This past Sunday, August 15th, was the 65th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to end World War II, in which tens of millions perished, from Europe and North Africa through Russia to Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, and the United States. In a departure from my usual blogging style, I want to share some more personal reflections on one of the historical legacies that continues to haunt Northeast Asia.

On a trip to the region earlier this month, I met with scholars from Japan, China, and Korea, in part to explore the ways the United States and those three countries can overcome the region’s painful history. And I also visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine for the first time.

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Japan, U.S. Policy »


Ginowan City, with Futenma Air Base in the Center*

In negotiations between democracies, the atmosphere and public perceptions of the negotiations can matter even more than their paper outcome. In negotiations with Japan over relocating Futenma, the U.S. Marine Corps air station in the middle of Ginowan City, it’s time for the United States to recognize that. Maintaining an effective relationship with the Japanese public requires a policy change on Futenma relocation.

The U.S. bases much of its presence in Japan on Okinawa, an island strategically located near the Taiwan Strait. The tactical arguments for why the U.S. marines need to be in Okinawa province are compelling, even if the public relations effort at explaining it has been inept.

Marines operate as a combined air-land-sea force and these different elements would have to be brought to bear together, and quickly, in the event of a crisis–such as an attack on Taiwan from the Chinese mainland. The new V-22 Osprey transport aircraft the Marines plan to deploy there can take off and land vertically, but apparently requires a new long runway “just in case” due to reliability issues.

But the reason the U.S.-Japan relationship works is, more than anything else, strategic rather than tactical. Japan–and, for that matter, Taiwan (as I noted here)–are able to develop closer ties with mainland China because they understand the United States is committed to ensuring their security. The reason the United States is able to protect its allies and economic interests in the region is because commitments have been made in treaties and are consistently repeated at the highest levels. That is a strategic, not a tactical, matter.

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Japan, U.S. Policy »

I was interviewed twice today on President Obama’s visit to Japan.

The first was for Colombia National Radio’s morning “Coffee and News” show. We spoke about the Okinawa base relocation issue, creating a more equal U.S.-Japan relationship, and Prime Minister Hatoyama’s idea for an East Asian Community. See more here.

The second was for Correio Braziliense, one of Brazil’s main politics-oriented newspapers. I’ll post a link when I have one.

Japan, Press, U.S. Policy »

Media: Colombia National Radio – “Coffee and News” Morning Show (Live).

Subjects: President Obama’s trip to Japan, focusing on the Okinawa base relocation issue, creating a more equal U.S.-Japan relationship, and Prime Minister Hatoyama’s idea for an East Asian Community.

Length: 11:21.

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Japan, U.S. Policy »

Today’s excellent Foreign Policy article by Dan Sneider and Richard Katz attempts to make sense of Japanese PM Hatoyama’s concept of an “East Asian Community.” This is an article well worth reading. The main argument: just because Japan is looking more towards Asia does not mean that Japan is distancing itself from the United States. Indeed, the U.S. has encouraged Japan to take on a more assertive regional profile in the past. The region is changing, and it is to be expected that the U.S.-Japan alliance will need to change as well.

But Sneider is overly dismissive of some important trends that do materially affect U.S. interests.

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