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USA-Japan relations: Joint conduct test of anti-ballistic missile reveals deep military ties

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] L [/yt_dropcap]iterally the NATO led by USA dictates its terms to entire world, including former super power Russia. End of cold war gave rise to emergence of unipolar power balance under US power.

The super power United States and its major Asian ally Japan have been working together since 2006 to develop a variant of the Standard Missile-3, a ship-launched missile that operates as part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System and eventually have conducted on February 07 the first interception of a ballistic missile target using a jointly built system, amid heightened tensions over North Korea’s missile program.

Projecting North Korean nukes as being dangerous threat, South Korea is also working with the United States to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to prevent against any missiles from the North. And the USA is worried that North Korea may be developing a long-range missile that could carry a nuclear warhead to reach as far as the US West Coast.

The test took place Friday night off the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The test occurred as Pentagon Chief Jim Mattis was in East Asia on his first overseas trip to South Korea and Japan as defense secretary.

The test came while new US Defense Secretary James Mattis was on his first overseas trip to South Korea and Japan. Ballistic missile defense was at the top of the agenda after North Korea’s prolific testing of short- and intermediate-range missiles last year. A focus of Mattis’ trip was the THAAD — Terminal High Altitude Area Defense — anti-missile system, which the US plans to deploy in South Korea this year.

THAAD system

The THAAD system has drawn sharp criticism from China, which sees it as part of a broader US strategy to extend its military alliance network from Japan all the way down to the South China Sea. But during his trip to South Korea, Mattis said North Korea’s “provocative behavior” was the only reason THAAD would be deployed. “There is no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea,” he said, “there is no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea”.

The Aegis system is designed to intercept ballistic missile around the middle of their flight, when the missile is at its highest point above the Earth. The system is based on the powerful AN/SPY-1 radar, which can track 100 missiles simultaneously.

About the Aegis system missile test, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said all such systems raised trust issues among the major military powers. “Countries should not only consider their own security interests but also respect other countries’ security concerns” when it comes to missile defense, Lu said. “We should follow the principles of preserving global strategic stability and doing no harm to other countries’ security.”

In a way, the USA and Japan have passed a crucial test for missile defense, shooting down a medium-range ballistic missile with a new interceptor launched from a guided-missile destroyer. The US Missile Defense Agency announced that the USS John Paul Jones detected, tracked and took out the target ballistic missile using its onboard Aegis Missile Defense System and a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor. The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said the Friday’s test off Kauai in Hawaii saw the Standard Missile-3 “Block IIA” successfully hit its target in space.

The US Navy has 22 guided-missile cruisers and 62 guided-missile destroyers equipped with the Aegis system. Japan has six Aegis destroyers with plans for more. South Korea also operates Aegis-equipped destroyers. The Aegis system is designed to intercept ballistic missile around the middle of their flight, when the missile is at its highest point above the Earth. The system is based on the powerful AN/SPY-1 radar, which can track 100 missiles simultaneously.

Ballistic missile defense was at the top of the agenda after North Korea’s prolific testing of short- and intermediate-range missiles last year. Mitsubishi and Raytheon make parts of the missiles, which are assembled in the United States, and which are designed to defeat medium- and intermediate-range missiles. America has so far spent about $2.2 billion on the system and Japan about $1 billion. “We are both deeply concerned about North Korea’s capabilities, and we are constantly working to improve our defense capabilities,” MDA spokesman Chris Johnson said. “It makes sense for the US and Japan to share some of that burden.”

The USS John Paul Jones launched a ballistic missile interceptor on February 3, 2017, off Hawaii. “Today’s test demonstrates a critical milestone in the cooperative development of the SM-3 Block IIA missile,” the director of the Missile Defense Agency, Vice Adm. Jim Syring, said in a statement. “The missile, developed jointly by a Japanese and US government and industry team, is vitally important to both our nations and will ultimately improve our ability to defend against increasing ballistic missile threats around the world.” He said Friday that any nuclear attack by North Korea would trigger an “effective and overwhelming” response, as he sought to reassure Asian allies rattled by President Donald Trump’s isolationist rhetoric. “Today’s test demonstrates a critical milestone in the cooperative development of the SM-3 Block IIA missile,” the director of the Missile Defense Agency, Vice Adm. Jim Syring, said in a statement. “The missile, developed jointly by a Japanese and US government and industry team, is vitally important to both our nations and will ultimately improve our ability to defend against increasing ballistic missile threats around the world.”

Foes turned allies in Cold War

Entire global politics changed its character since the end of World War two and during the Cold war. Though USA bombed Japan just before the close of WW II, they forged cooperation and alkaline targeting the Soviet System and Communism.

The biggest antagonists in the Pacific War – USA and Japan – have since forged a prosperous postwar system and a vigorous alliance. USA made possible Japan’s remarkable seven-decade-long contribution to global capitalist order, and a roadmap for how the alliance can perpetuate an imperialist rules-based system well into the 21st century. The latest evolution of the alliance is encapsulated in their new defense guidelines. The guidelines will mark a milestone along the path of converting a relationship between a victor and the vanquished into a mature security partnership between the world’s two richest democracies, capable of acting swiftly and in concert to address a full array of contingencies, from humanitarian disaster to war.

Prime Minister Abe has reified that identity and accelerated the quest of Japan’s search for an independent longstanding identity. While simultaneously putting Japan on an equal footing with other major powers, Japan is eager to retain inherent defensive posture.

Many Japanese reasonably assume their contributions to international security deserve as much respect as those of other powers. Many Japanese sense a fear that Japan could find itself marginalized on the world stage.

As the security environment in Northeast Asia is deteriorating, not least because of the uncertainty created by China’s rapid rise and growing assertiveness, Tokyo doubles down on the alliance with the United States.

Japan–US relations that began in the late 18th and early 19th century, with the diplomatic but force-backed missions, maintained relatively cordial relations after that, and Japanese immigration to the United States was prominent until the 20th century, in the period before World War II, when disputes over control of Asia led to war. The use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by United State ended the war and led to a military occupation of Japan by the United States; but due to the American rebuilding process and willingness to share technology with postwar Japan, the countries’ relationship prospered again, and an exchange of technology and culture produced a strong alliance. The countries’ trade relationship has particularly prospered since then, with Japanese automobiles and consumer electronics being especially popular.

Although Japan surrendered to the United States on September 2, 1945, peace between the former foes did not become official until April 28, 1952, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty signed the previous September took effect. This original alliance agreement was necessarily provisional, recognizing that Japan had been disarmed and was therefore incapable of exercising effective right of self-defense. Eight years later, the 1960 U.S.-Japan treaty took into account a more equal partnership providing Japanese bases for American defense.

The allies pledge to uphold the United Nations Charter, to settle international disputes peacefully, and to refrain from “the use of force against the territorial integrity of political independence of any state.” Both vow to strengthen “free institutions” and promote “stability and well-being.” The alliance framework has held up all these decades, but periodic guidelines have been drafted to help define the roles and missions of the two allies. In 1969, President Richard Nixon announced a new doctrine in Guam that placed called on allies to shoulder greater responsibility for their own defense.

Defending against a Soviet force invasion and tracking ballistic missile submarines brought them together. By the early 1990s, after the abrupt fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the US-Japan alliance was set adrift. China’s rise remained a work in progress. But Iraq’s invasion of neighboring Kuwait and North Korea’s nuclear program in the hands of an untested second-generation Kim family leader, Kim Jong-il, were stark reminders that international and regional security required constant vigilance and adaptation.

Adversaries in World War II, fierce economic competitors in the 1980s and early 1990s, Americans and Japanese nonetheless share a deep mutual understanding, if not respect, today. Americans generally support keeping the U.S. relationship with Japan about where it is, both economically and strategically. China looms large in the minds of both Americans and Japanese in their consideration of the US-Japan relationship.

Military ties

The United States and Japan are the key economies in an unprecedented effort — known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership — to broaden and deepen trade and investment among Pacific countries that account for more than one-third of the world’s GDP. How the American and Japanese people see these issues may go a long way toward framing the ongoing relationship of these onetime foes and now longtime allies.

Today the NATO and anti-Socialist allies United States and Japan have firm and very active political, economic and military relationships. The USA considers Japan to be one of its closest allies and partners. Japan is one of the most pro-American nations in the world, with 85% of Japanese people viewing the USA and 87% viewing Americans favorably in 2011, 73% of Japanese people viewing Americans favorably and 69% of Japanese people viewing the U.S. favorably in 2013, going down somewhat to 66% in 2014. And most Americans generally perceive Japan positively, with 81% viewing Japan favorably in 2013, the most favorable perception of Japan in the world, after Indonesia.

As of 2014 the United States had 50,000 troops in Japan, the headquarters of the US 7th Fleet and more than 10,000 Marines. In May 2014 it was revealed the United States was deploying two unarmed Global Hawk long-distance surveillance drones to Japan with the expectation they would engage in surveillance missions over China and North Korea. Japan’s limited intelligence gathering capability and personnel are focused on China and North Korea, as the nation primarily relies on the American National Security Agency

Okinawa is the site of major American military bases that have caused problems, as Japanese and Okinawans have protested their presence for decades. In secret negotiations that began in 1969 Washington sought unrestricted use of its bases for possible conventional combat operations in Korea, Taiwan, and South Vietnam, as well as the emergency re-entry and transit rights of nuclear weapons. However anti-nuclear sentiment was strong in Japan and the government wanted the U.S. to remove all nuclear weapons from Okinawa. In the end, the United States and Japan agreed to maintain bases that would allow the continuation of American deterrent capabilities in East Asia. In 1972 the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, reverted to Japanese control and the provisions of the 1960 security treaty were extended to cover them. The United States retained the right to station forces on these islands.

Military relations improved after the mid-1970s. In 1960 the Security Consultative Committee, with representatives from both countries, was set up under the 1960 security treaty to discuss and coordinate security matters concerning both nations. In 1976 a subcommittee of that body prepared the Guidelines for Japan-United States Defense Cooperation that were approved by the full committee in 1978 and later approved by the National Defense Council and cabinet. The guidelines authorized unprecedented activities in joint defense planning, response to an armed attack on Japan, and cooperation on situations in Asia and the Pacific region that could affect Japan’s security.

A dispute that had boiled since 1996 regarding a base with 18,000 U.S. Marines had temporarily been resolved in late 2013. Agreement had been reached to move the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a less-densely populated area of Okinawa.

Observations

The friendship between Washington and Tokyo has come a long way in 72 years, but US move towards a rising China could throw a wrench in the works. As both countries face the rising strategic and economic challenge posed by China, the United States is explicitly rebalancing its international posture toward Asia. Tokyo is debating a more active role in collective regional security un US leadership but trump asks Japan to bear all expenses.

Japan and the United States have deeply rooted economic and strategic bonds. But, since both nations are functioning “democracies”, those ties also depend on the attitudes of the Japanese and American people. Seven decades after a horrific war, and despite serious trade frictions in the past and a new challenge posed by China, Americans and Japanese share a mutual trust and respect that is the glue of the relationship.

Japan has fractious relations with US ally South Korea over unresolved issues involving their mutual history, and with US adversary China over both history and territorial disputes.

Japan claims islands now under the control of China. Japan is not happy that USA does not involve itself actively in its dispute with China over islands. And the USA is worried that North Korea may be developing a long-range missile that could carry a nuclear warhead to reach as far as the US West Coast.

The USA and Japan still need to convince their publics and the region that they share a common and far-sighted vision for an inclusive, peaceful, rules-based region. In other words, all defense preparations and bilateral coordination mechanisms are means to larger political ends. If historic Chinese strategic thinking is any guide, then Beijing ultimately seeks less to fight war than to win the peace. Americans must be equally determined and prepared to advance their interests and values for a similar end.

Of course a common strategy and common interests are necessary but USA wants to deice the course of bilateral relations with any nation, including Japan, making the bond weak, difficult for preserving an effective alliance.USA is still suspicious about the values it shares with Japan. Japan is not fully convinced about intentions of an ever assertive USA for a genuine bilateral relationship.

Japan seeks the legal right of collective-self defense, at least under specified conditions, as well as more expansive alliance integration—for instance, the right of the Maritime Self Defense Force to conduct joint patrols out to the South China Sea. In the United States, it means not just using the bilateral coordination mechanism to play point defense on territorial disputes, but using it as a basis to catalyze wider and deeper strategic discussion.

Since the world is controlled by neocolonialist, imperialist and ultra capitalist regimes, Israelis confident that Trump would not let them down. Palestinians should not be under illusion that he would force the Israeli criminal state of arrogant Jewish leaders to agree for a final settlement to let Palestine state come into being and PLO has not pursue the UN route strictly.

The way Trump, like his predecessors have done before him, has made the state criminal Netanyahu look like a US hero when he was allowed to join him for sumptuous Jewish food made in Washington, besides for photographs and speech. . Jewish fanatic state now ruled by the fascist Israeli PM Netanyahu who like Trump also seeks a war, with terror goods supplied from USA and EU, wants badly to settle the matters “right”. Unless USA adopts a normal foreign policy Israel also would not change to become a normal nation.

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What prevents Japan from ratifying the recently assented Nuclear Ban Treaty?

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With the ratification of Honduras, a Central American country, on 24 October 2020, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted in 2017 by the UN General Assembly, crosses the ’50 ratifications’ mark required for its entry-into-force, and is set to become effective on 22 January 2021. But, interestingly, how come Japan, the world’s only nuclear-attacked country, not among the 50 ratified states?

History remembers Japan as the only country in the world falling victim to a nuclear attack that happened 75 years ago, when the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were attacked using air-dropped atom bombs by the United States with the aim of forcing a surrender from the then Empire of Japan in World War-II.

The U.S. factor in Japan’s security policy

Post-war era saw Japan evolving as a strong U.S. ally, including getting security protection under U.S. nuclear umbrella, a hard fact that prevents the Asian economic powerhouse to ratify the Nuclear Ban Treaty, often abbreviated as TPNW, recently assented for entering into force in January, next year.

Despite calls from anti-nuclear activists and Hiroshima-Nagasaki survivors, both living within the country and around the world, Japan’s ruling establishment faces a big conundrum, but limited in decisional autonomy with regard to a matter involving the United States.

A politician representing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said that even though his party share the idea behind the treaty, it would be too unrealistic to move in the direction of ratification, hinting at Japan’s difficulty to handle how US would perceive such a move that can translate into an open disregard for US-led security arrangements in the region.

Moreover, the perceived threat from across the Sea of Japan, arising from a dictator-ruled, nuclear-armed Pyongyang and a recently more assertive Beijing looms over the island state, something that naturally brings Japan closer to the US.

Moreover, for decades, the security alliance with Japan has been a significant factor in US foreign and defence policies in East Asia, and the wider Asia-Pacific region.

Japan’s post-war security arrangements with the United States

Signed in 1951, the early ‘US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty’ was a ten-year, renewable pact that envisaged how Japan would allow U.S. forces to remain on Japanese soil after the country regained its sovereignty, in light of a new pacifist constitution.

This pact combined with the ‘Yoshida Doctrine’, a postwar policy attributed to Shigeru Yoshida, former Prime Minister of Japan, which stipulated Japan’s reliance on the US for its security needs so the government could focus on economic re-building.

The 1951 agreement was revised in 1960, granting US the right to establish military bases on Japanese islands in exchange for a renewed commitment to defend Japan in the event of an attack. These bases gave the US its first permanent military foothold in Asia.

In 1967, PM Eisaku Sato unveiled the ‘Three Non-Nuclear Principles’ (no possession, no production, and no introduction)to cool down tensions surrounding nuclear arms on US bases in Japanese soil. Since then, Japan has relied on the US nuclear umbrella for deterrence capabilities.

Today, according to a US-based think tank Council on Foreign Relations, there are more than 80 US military facilities in Japan, including key ones in Okinawa and Yokosuka. More U.S. service members are permanently stationed in Japan than in any other foreign country.

The aforementioned close security ties of Japan with the United States act as a barrier for the island state to ratify the Nuclear Ban Treaty.

What does the TPNW entail?

The treaty is going to be the first legally-binding international pact to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons, with the ultimate goal of total elimination.

As it was agreed upon, in 2017, when at least 50 countries ratify the treaty, it will qualify for entering into force within the next 90 days i.e. 22 January, next year.

Many international security analysts, however, questions the efficacy of the treaty as an instrument of war-prevention and disarmament as it does not involve any of the strongest, five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P-5), namely, the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and China, all of them nuclear states along with India, Pakistan, North Korea, and sometimes ambiguously, Israel too.

However, over a quarter of local assemblies across Japan have adopted a written statement demanding that the national government should sign and ratify the TPNW, a difficult choice for Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the United States has been urging countries not to ratify the Treaty, and stated that itself and all the other NATO allies will stand unified in their opposition to the potential repercussions of the TPNW. Washington has also sent letters to the countries that have ratified the treaty, requesting their withdrawal from it.

TPNW requires that all ratifying states should never under any circumstances develop, test, produce, acquire, or possess nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. It also bans any potential transfer of nuclear materials among each other.

The other treaty to keep checks on horizontal spread

Year 2020 also marked 50 years since another pact aimed at preventing the horizontal spread of nuclear weapons entered into force, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or NPT, in 1970.

While Japan has managed to ratify the NPT in 1976, six years after signing the treaty in 1970, its decisional autonomy with regard to TPNW is much more complex.

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Do not panic, we are Chinese: China’s response to the pandemic

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In Europe, in the United States and in South America, the feared second wave of Covid-19 epidemic is spreading. It is generating not only panic among the public and the institutions, but it is beginning to put health systems and economies under stress. They were starting to recover with difficulty after the impact of the first wave of the epidemic which, between the winter and spring of this year, made the pace of industrial and manufacturing production and productivity rates in the trade, tourism and catering sectors plummet globally, with figures suggesting a decidedly dark future.

In Italy, faced with the increase in infections which, however, does not mean an increase in the number of sick people, the Government has decided to delegate to the Regions’ Governors the power to implement measures to limit individual and collective freedom in the name of a “state of emergency” which has been going on since last March and seems bound to accompany us also in the coming months. For the first time since the end of the Second World War, an ominous and worrying word, “curfew”, has reappeared in official communiqués and news reports.

Over the next few days, in the Campania and Lombardy Regions, it will be forbidden to circulate in the streets from 11pm to 5am, while the purchase of alcohol and the opening hours of shopping centres, bars and restaurants will be restricted. Just to complete an increasingly tragic scenario, on October 20 last, the Italian Health Minister, Roberto Speranza, urged Italians to “stay at home as much as possible” with a voluntary lockdown that seems to be a prelude to the adoption of measures that could bring us back to the situation of last spring with incalculable social and economic damage.

Curfews, lockdowns, targeted or generalised closures are now common practice also in France, Great Britain, Ireland and Spain which, like Italy, have suffered the devastating economic impact of the first wave and could be brought to their knees by the new pandemic emergency.

At this juncture we have to ask ourselves a question: what happened and what is happening in the country where it all began? How are things going in China that in our media, obsessively focused on domestic troubles, is mentioned only superficially and in passing?

“China is Near” was the title of a 1967 movie directed by Marco Bellocchio, that evoked the unstoppable expansion of the Maoist thinking. Today we must say that “China is far away”, encapsulated in the stereotypes developed by Western culture, which prevent us from seriously analysing its political, economic and social evolution and, above all, from drawing lessons from the political and health model that has enabled China to come out of the Covid-19 emergency with its head held high.

On September 22 last, in a blunt speech – as usual -at the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump accused China of being responsible “for spreading this plague throughout the world” and – to further underline the concept -he dismissed the coronavirus as a “Chinese virus”. In the same forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping soberly urged all countries affected by the epidemic to follow his country’s example and “to abide by the indications of science without attempting to politicise the problem”.

Figures clearly demonstrate that the Chinese model is important and worthy of attention. In China, where it all began in December 2019, out of a population of about 1.4 billion inhabitants, the Covid-19 epidemic has so far caused 4,739 deaths out of 90,604 sick people. In the United States, over the same period, out of a population that is about one fifth of China’s, 7,382,194 cases of infection were recorded that led to the death of 209,382 people (data provided by the English medical journal, The Lancet, October 8, 2020).

Great Britain, with a population twenty times smaller than the Chinese population, had to deal with five times more infections than China and ten times more deaths.

These are the figures of October 20 last, referring to the whole of China: 19 cases of illness, all imported from abroad. 24 asymptomatic infections and 403 cases testing positive kept under observation. All, except one, imported from abroad(!). Figures which, as you can see, are globally lower than those recorded since the beginning of the emergency in one single Italian region!

Faced with these figures, it seems difficult to shirk a simple, dual question: how could China fight the epidemic and keep it under control? Hence why do we not follow its example by drawing on its experience?

China was accused of responding late to the first outbreak of the epidemic in December 2019 and notifying late the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new outbreak. Both accusations are completely false.

After the outbreak of the new virus in late December, Chinese scientists isolated and identified the genome sequence of Covid-19 on January 10, 2020 and a few days later, after alerting the WHO, the authorities started to take countermeasures.

China was ready for the emergency: since the SARS epidemic – a virus similar to Covid-19 – had caused just over 700 deaths in 2002, but very serious damage to the economy due to the stop of flights, tourism and exports, the government had given orders to prepare accurate contingency plans to be activated promptly in case of new epidemics. Those plans, which were not prepared and put in a drawer but updated and carefully tested, were activated immediately after the first alarm.

With its 12 million inhabitants, Wuhan – the epicentre of the first infections – was immediately imposed a total lockdown, while in the rest of the huge country the population was urged (without curfews or states of emergency) to follow the most elementary and effective prevention and self-protection measures: social distancing, use of masks and frequent hand washing. It has been said in the West that China has reacted so effectively because it is ruled by an authoritarian regime. Indeed, Confucius has counted much more than Mao for the Chinese. The Confucian social philosophy that not even 71 years of Communist rule have managed to wipe out, with its basic rules of respect for the natural hierarchical order, makes the Chinese a naturally well-behaved, orderly and obedient people. Suffice it to recall that since the beginning of the new pandemic emergency the protests in Hong Kong have decreased until disappearing, while in Europe we are witnessing massive demonstrations with diehard “no-mask” people.

It is, however, the quick response of the Chinese political and health authorities that is at the basis of the undeniable success in fighting the epidemic, at first, and later containing it.

As stated above, Wuhan was immediately isolated and subjected to total lockdown for 76 days, while targeted closures were imposed in the Hubei Province. Throughout the country, 14,000 health checkpoints were set up at the main public transport hubs and, within two weeks since the “official” outbreak of the pandemic, in the city of Wuhan alone 9 million inhabitants were tested.

As one of the main producers and exporters of health equipment, China was not caught unprepared in terms of hospital supplies and individual protection devices: in short, no mask crisis.

While in the United States and Europe, despite the lockdown, people did not seem to be inclined to wear masks (President Trump wore a mask in public only last September), the Chinese immediately followed the authorities’ guidelines with a great sense of discipline. All the municipal security cameras were “converted” to control citizens’ use of masks, while drones equipped with loudspeakers were flown over all areas of the huge country to check the inhabitants’ compliance with the rules. The Xinhua State agency released the footage taken by a drone in Inner Mongolia, showing an astonished Mongolian lady rebuked by the drone saying” Hey Auntie, you cannot go around without a mask. Put it on right away and when you go back home remember to wash your hands”. Probably media embroidered the episode a bit, but certainly in China they did not witness the summertime movida that took place in Rome, Naples or Milan, which is at the basis of the many troubles with which we are currently confronted.

On February 5, 2020 the first Fancang hospital was opened in Wuhan, a prefabricated structure dedicated to the treatment of non-severely ill people, while traditional hospitals were reserved for the treatment of severely ill people. The use of Fancang hospitals (dozens of them were built) made it possible to limit the staying at home of people with mild symptoms, but anyway sources of contagion, within their families – the opposite of what is happening in Italy where the people with mild symptoms are advised to stay at home -and prevent the quick spreading of the virus starting from families. The Fancang hospital network made 13,000 beds available and was dismantled as from May 10, 2020 when the first wave of the epidemic ended in China and was not followed by a second wave. To avert this danger, the Chinese authorities have relaxed “internal” checks and made the control measures for those coming from abroad very strict. At a time when in Spain and Italy the checks for incoming travellers are practically derisory, in China all those who enter the country, for whatever reason, are subject to tests and strictly controlled quarantine.

In essence, China has first fought and later controlled the spreading of the Covid-19 epidemic, with drastic but rational measures and above all understood and accepted by a population educated by Confucius to respect hierarchies and discipline. China can currently be an example for the rest of the world and it is there to testify that with strict, but intelligent measures even the most dangerous situations can be tackled successfully.

It is an example that should be studied and followed without the typical arrogance of the “white man”, also considering an important fact: while the economy of Italy and of its European partners is hardly growing, China’s GDP growth rate is 4.9% higher than last year.

There is much to learn from China both in terms of managing a health emergency and in terms of protecting the economic system.

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Suga Faces A Tough Road Ahead Without Enough Political Juice

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image source: japan.kantei.go.jp

Authors: Alexandre Uehara and Moises de Souza

The quantity and dimensionality of problems inherited by a sober and discrete Yoshihide Suga as the first new Japanese Prime Minister in almost a decade will demand that “Uncle Reiwa,” as the statesman is known, employ the skills that he has so amply demonstrated in the past: the ability to negotiate and find elegant solutions to complex questions. Suga’s competence as a negotiator was recognized as an important factor behind the success of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which entered into force on December 30, 2018. This agreement—considered doomed to failure after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the TPP in January 2017—succeeded largely thanks to the vital leadership and tenacity of Japan, with Suga playing a key role behind the scenes. Suga also took the lead during the EU and Japan’s Economic Partnership Agreement signed in 2019, considered by many as another example of outstanding negotiating performance. With such a resumé, these skills and experience proved critical in Suga’s victory in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership race, enabling him to garner support from a wide array of sources, ranging from LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai to various factions within the Komeito, a partner in the coalition government.

The question now is whether his past performance can be replicated as Suga targets the current challenges that so recently have fallen into his lap. He is taking the helm at a delicate moment for Japan, with uncertainties that will force him to show, domestically and abroad, what kind of leadership Japan will enjoy after a larger-than-life figure like Abe Shinzo steps down. And these challenges are coming from all quarters: the economy, public health, and regional security, just to name a few. Each of them has the potential to shape the future of the nation and the reputation of its prime minister, and certainly Yoshihide Suga is no exception. On top of that, legacy problems remain. On the one hand, the implicit promise of continuity with Shinzo Abe’s policies played a crucial role in winning the LDP the elections: on the other, this very factor is an element of concern, since opinion polls were already detecting signs of decline in the popularity of Abe’s cabinet. If Suga has any political ambition left, he cannot afford to make any mistakes in the short- and medium-term.

On the domestic front, there are two important and interrelated problems: The COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. These coterminous phenomena essentially represent a contradiction between uncertainty and reality. While few in Japan are clear about whether the current pandemic will turn into an ongoing ebb-and-flow in terms of virus contagion rates, the economic impact as a result of the response measures is already real. The profound effects have been translated into a new period of recession this year, an experience with which the Japanese a real ready very familiar, given their recent past. To make matters worse, the medicine intended to heal the wounds of economic recession was neutralized by the virus. Operating under the old adage that you have to spend money to make money, Tokyo expended over US$5 billion, with plans to spend US$2 billion more in 2020,to prepare the city to host the Olympic Games. Prospects showed that these investments would pay off. According to a report published in June 2020, it was projected that the Olympics would impact the Tokyo economy alone to the tune of almost US$190 billion, with a spill over effect on the overall Japanese economy of nearly US$300 billion and a potential impact of 0.2% of its GDP. Based on the same prospects, Japan signed an accord in 2013 with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), assuming total responsibility to bear all the costs alone in the (at that time improbable)event that the games would have to be postponed. Well, in what one might call the Forest Gump Effect, to wit: “life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get,” the games were indeed postponed. Investors, according to reporting by Bridgestone, reported losses of around US$3 billion so far as a result of the postponement. It also affected the IOC, which registered losses of more than US$800 million. For Japan’s economy, Goldman Sachs is calculating losses of about US$5.1 billion in terms of domestic consumption alone. Suga will have to find a solution for this imbroglio, which even Abe could not or did not have time to figure out.

In the international arena, Suga—like all Japanese Prime Ministers before him—will have to walk a tightrope, executing a delicate balancing act between Beijing and Washington. So far, his biggest challenge is to find his place amid the rising tensions between Japan’s two most important trading partners. On paper, the logic is simple: Tokyo has developed initiatives to strengthen its alliance with Washington concerning security, without hurting its bilateral trade with Beijing. In recent decades, the latter has become increasingly economically important to Japan. In practice, this is not an easy job for two reasons: First, the erratic temperament of Donald Trump and the tendency of his administration to play hardball even when negotiating with partners. The trade deal negotiated in 2019 stands as a case in point: Essentially, Japan walked away from the negotiating table with a commitment to give the United States access to its agricultural market in exchange for a vague promise that the Trump administration would not consider Japanese auto imports a “national security threat.” On top of that, Trump made it clear that he still wants Japan to pay for the American military bases on Japanese soil.

The second reason comes from Japan’s powerful neighbour, with an increasingly assertive China under Xi Jinping. In November 2019, after China proudly displayed its new ballistic and hypersonic cruise missile system, Taro Kono (then foreign minister and now the minister for administrative reform and regulatory reform) publicly demanded that Beijing make its military budget and strategic goals transparent, to avoid raising the level of alarm and anxiety in the region. In addition, a few weeks after taking the center seat, Suga had to deal with the presence of two Chinese ships in the disputed waters of the East China Sea—a practice that has been taking place more and more frequently since Xi became chairman of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012. It is exactly these episodes of Chinese assertiveness that motivated Yoshihide Suga to choose Vietnam and Indonesia as the destinations for his first official diplomatic trip as prime minister. As much as Abe did, Suga intends to strengthen security ties with both Southeast Asian nations. This, tempered with a degree of restraint in the use of strong anti-Chinese rhetoric, is intended as a clear signal to Beijing: the rules of the game haven’t changed, with or without the presence of Abe Shinzo.

Using the same logic, Suga did not alter the basis of Japan-Taiwan relations that developed so fruitfully on Abe’s watch. In fact, besides working for close relations with Taipei, Abe also developed a friendship with Taiwan’s current President Tsai Ing-wen. Suga’s decision to appoint Abe’s brother, Nobuo Kishi, as defense minister was a clear signal to China that, with regards to Taiwan, it will be business as usual in Tokyo despite the transfer of power. It a secret to no one in Japan (or in China, for that matter) that Kishi enjoys close ties with Taiwan, a place he has visited several times over the years, including meetings with President Tsai, as representative of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The last visit took place on the occasion of the funeral of former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui in August 2020. Such proximity makes Kishi the most trustworthy channel of communication between conservative Japanese leaders and Tsai, as well as with the Taiwanese elite itself. In response to Nobuo Kishi’s appointment, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a statement that the new minister of defense of Japan must “abide by the one-China principle and refrain from any form of official exchanges with the Taiwan region.”

Few specialists in Japan believe that Yoshihide Suga will have as long a mandate as his predecessor Abe Shinzo. Despite being technically qualified, Suga still lacks enough political juice to retain the position of prime minister beyond the general elections that must take place in one year’s time. The tide may eventually turn in favour of Suga-san, depending on how well he and his new cabinet manage the daunting challenges that they inherited from the previous administration. More than mere negotiation skills are needed, however, and there is no doubt that Suga will have to make some tough decisions that will come to define, in a large measure, his political future post-2021.

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