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Panelists Discuss Future of Asian Security Landscape


• Several specialists discussed the future of the security in the Asia-Pacific region under the new U.S. administration at a public symposium hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on February 23 in Chicago.

• During the symposium entitled “The New Asian Security Landscape,” two separate panels discussed “U.S. Policy towards Asia” and “Security Challenges in Northeast Asia,” followed by a keynote speech about the Role of the U.S.-Japan Alliance.

• The panelists in the first panel included Brad Glosserman, Executive Director of the Pacific Forum CSIS; Toshimichi Nagaiwa, Lieutenant General (Ret.) of the Japan Air Self Defense Force; Andrew Oros, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of International Studies at Washington College; and Sheila Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations. The participants of the second panel were Patrick Cronin, Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program, Center for a New American Security; Osamu Onoda, Lieutenant General (Ret.) of the Japan Air Self Defense Force; and Andrew Shearer, Senior Adviser on Asia Pacific Security, Center for Strategic and International Studies. The two panels were moderated by Richard McGregor, former Washington Bureau Chief of the Financial Times and Sheena Chestnut Greitens, Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri, respectively.

U.S. Policy towards Asia

• It was pointed out that the people in Japan were relieved after seeing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s quick summit talks with President Donald Trump were a success. However, the new administration hasn’t shown a clear China policy yet, and that is making them feel uncertain.

• Another point is Trump’s previous attacks on Japan regarding trade and whether or not his stance will change.
• During the upcoming talks starting next month, Vice President Mike Pence and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso are expected to discuss energy, infrastructure, and investment in public works such as high-speed rail as well as trade issues. These will be the primary focus in the U.S.-Japan economic partnership.

• As for the security matters, the question is whether or not Japan is ready to play a larger role in dealing with China’s expansion in the South China Sea region, while the U.S. is demanding that Japan contribute more.
• The panel agreed that Japan is now prepared to do more, considering its efforts to push away many taboos in security matters over the last 10 years and the recent move toward participating in collective self-defense activities. However, while the Abe government is ready, there is still a strong pushback from the general public. Along with the new administration in the U.S. comes a new expectation toward Japan, making it a realistic possibility that Japan will spend more in defense. This will perhaps deepen Japan’s security partnership with countries like the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia, and that’s the area where Japan could do more in terms of helping the U.S.

• As a retired officer, Nagaiwa explained the threat Japan is currently facing and pointed out that the number of scrambles in response to moves by China and Russia has increased. China’s move is in violation of international law, he said, and the U.S.-Japanese alliance is critical for stabilization, prosperity, and freedom in the region. In this respect, Nagaiwa believes that the backup for the Abe administration by Trump is a positive sign of the strong agreement between the two countries that they will work together.
• Currently there are numerous Chinese vessels in the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands, and Japan is within the range of many Chinese missiles. That makes the U.S.-Japan alliance and its deterrence power more important, Nagaiwa said.

• Regarding Japan’s military capabilities, Nagaiwa said that the country needs to have both defensive and offensive capabilities, but it needs the U.S. commitment in exercising its offensive power when it comes under attack by a third country.

• The panel pointed out that Japan’s strategic focus has been primarily on preemptive capabilities, an idea that gained momentum in 2006-2007. After the change of the course in 2009, the interest in preemptive capabilities has “resurrected with force.” While Japan has been complaining about the lack of their ability to strike back against North Korea, now with the new U.S. administration in place, there is no debating whether or not the U.S. is sufficiently committed to the defense of its allies in Northeast Asia. The real problem today is the fear that North Korea is no longer deterred. Japanese offensive capabilities would change the calculus in Pyongyang and Beijing, a panelist said.

• It was also pointed out that the U.S. policymakers are feeling that the denuclearization of North Korea is not negotiable, and the next step would be deterrence, leading to a question how to deter North Korea and get China to step up. Before the Trump administration forms a clear Asia policy (which is expected to take six to nine months), one of the problems is the lack of deep understanding of Asia among the high-level officials of the administration.

• As for the economic relationship, the panel agreed that Trump’s security and economic policies are not in the U.S. interest. While, for example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”) is a good strategy against the rise of China, the U.S. has pulled away from it. It is a useful strategy for the U.S. and Japan working together against China rather than individually, a strategy using trade with national security.

• The “flip side” of the trade question is the foreign investment, a panelist said. Though unknown to many people, Japanese buy a lot of U.S. debts, and the U.S. criticism of Japan’s trade and the initiatives being discussed by the U.S. administration are “worrisome” to the Japanese businesses that have a large amount of investment in the U.S. Japan doesn’t get enough credit for the size of their investment in the U.S., and the initiatives the Trump administration is discussing could “upend some of the positive perspectives” of the U.S. economic cooperation with Japan, warned a panelist.

• While China should be considered as a great stabilizing factor in the international economy, it is a great concern that the South China Sea region is increasingly unstable. Japan’s increase in defense spending would be a plus for the U.S., and the credibility and commitment of the U.S. in the region could be a key in negotiation with China.

• In terms of economic negotiation, reciprocity is the watchword for the U.S. when negotiating with China and Japan, a panelist said. The philosophical ideal of transactional deals is to move away from bilateral engagement, a negative legacy of the cold war period, and move toward broader architecture of multilateral negotiations.

Security challenges in Northeast Asia

• Although we saw quick movements by the Trump administration in the area of Asia, including visits to the area by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, it’s expected for the new administration to take 12 months to form a clearly defined Asia policy.
• U.S. Northeast Asian security policy must cover a wide range of issues such as pushing China for active participation in deterrence of North Korea, the increasing Chinese expansion into the “gray zone,” cyber space issues, and trade. In this context, the U.S. needs to have an in-depth understanding of the dynamism of the Asia-Pacific region, including establishing stronger relationships with countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia, as well as strengthening its alliance with Japan, South Korea and Australia.
• While a quick coordination in movements between allied nations is required, the new U.S. domestic policies could put the U.S. allies under some stress and uncertainty.
• North Korea wants not only nuclear weapons but also economic development. The missile testing and the assassination of Kim Jong-nam could be viewed as Kim Jong-un’s message indicating North Korea’s desire to reopen negotiation with the U.S. In this context, strict economic sanctions against North Korea, as well as against Chinese companies that continue business with North Korea, should be effective as a deterrence measure, a panelist said.

• Onoda, retired Lieutenant General of the Japan Air Self Defense Force and senior fellow at Harvard University, said that the security environment in Northeast Asia has worsened in the past 50 years because of the fact that the Korean War has not ended.
• North Korea’s launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on February 14 was highly shocking to him as a military man, Onoda said. North Korea launched 24 missiles within Japan’s range in 2016, in addition to two nuclear tests.
• China now has missile range of more than 1,000 kilometers this year, which includes the U.S. Andersen base in Guam. Other issues include China’s continued natural gas field development in East China Sea, on the median line between China and Japan, and the expansion of China’s airspace intrusion further east.
• Other challenges are the China-Russia joint sea exercise in 2016 and Russia’s deployment of surface to ship missiles (SSM) in northern islands off Hokkaido.


• The Abe administration has been rethinking Japan’s security structure since 2013, issuing the revised U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines for the third time in history and laying the groundwork for the use of the collective self-defense capabilities. Onoda said, from the military perspective, Japan should be prepared to do anything other than what is prohibited by law.
• According to Onoda, the Japanese Self Defense Force can do a lot of things without waiting for the Constitution to be revised: first, to move quickly and effectively in coast guard activities while avoiding military confrontation; second, to be equipped with defense capabilities against cruise missiles as well as ballistic missiles; third, to form new military strategies toward China and Russia; and lastly to strengthen partnership with South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines, which is critical to dealing with the threat of China and Russia.

• Onoda also talked about Japan’s role in handling security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region.
• After studying the possibility of establishing an alliance in Asia similar to the NATO, Onoda said he has come to the conclusion that it’s not likely to be realized.
• The countries in the Asia-Pacific region are generally small in size and don’t have strong military capabilities. Japan has been involved in aiding the nations in this region in the nonmilitary areas, while the U.S. is supplying military assistance.
• While the Japanese government provides help with coastal patrol boats to the Philippines and Vietnam, it’s very careful in considering any military aids to those countries so as to not provoke China.
• Japan’s security role in the region should continue to be building strong partnership based on trust with other nations in the region through providing assistance in the areas of the economy and communication, Onoda said.

The Role of the U.S.-Japan Alliance

• Dennis Blair, Chief Executive Officer of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, gave the keynote speech on the history of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Blair previously led 16 national intelligence agencies as director of national intelligence after retiring from the Navy in 2002. He also served as president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research and development center that supports the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community.

• From 1997 to 2002, Blair was the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, when he became familiar with the U.S.-Japan relationship. During that period, he said, the U.S.-Japan alliance had no clearly defined purposes. The alliance was rigid and the U.S. always took the initiative and Japan remained passive. Japan generally was indifferent to international conflict or military participation in the post-cold war period.
• By the time Blair returned to the U.S. intelligence work seven years later, the alliance had been greatly improved, he said, due to the rise of China’s economic and military power and the missile development by North Korea. As the issues surrounding the Senkaku Islands became more serious in 2010, a more concrete mission of the U.S.-Japan alliance was formulated.
• In 2007, Prime Minister Abe upgraded the then Japan Defense Agency to the Ministry of Defense. In the following year, as Abe assumed the position of prime minister for the second time, he launched a mission to expand Japan’s role in the security alliance, creating the Security Council and putting the re-interpretation of the Constitution on the agenda. The guidelines of the U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation were revised; the collective self-defense activities were enabled; and defense capabilities against North Korea have been renewed and boosted.
• Communication between the U.S. and Japan is now closer and quicker, and summit talks between Abe and the U.S. president have been held more frequently. Talks between the high-level officials are also frequent, contributing to the realization of real-time coordination between the two countries.
• According to Blair, the Senkaku Islands issue is one of the unforeseen contingencies from a military perspective. However, he denied the possibility that Japan will directly be involved in any emergencies with regard to South Korea or Taiwan. Japan’s most important role is to provide the U.S. bases in Japan, support U.S. bases, and protect its own country, Blair said.
• Blair further explained Japan’s role and the future of its alliance with the U.S. in the following six points:

• Maintain bases in Okinawa. Despite the local opposition, a good plan works well and produces a good outcome. The move of the Futenma base from the busy city location to Henoko must be completed.
• Military activities are, in reality, functioning to lead the economic and diplomatic relations.
• The Self Defense Force has not engaged in any military actions. Japan boasts that it has suffered no casualties since the end of World War II, but you can’t build a serious security system if you are worried about losing your soldiers. The Self Defense Force is constantly faced with risks in serving the nation. Security doesn’t mean just increasing the defense spending.
• The U.S. will assist Japan in trying to take back the Senkaku Islands if they are taken, and that’s the mission of the U.S. forces. Japan should be serious about preparing to defend itself. A U.S.-Japan joint exercise is an example of good planning and preparation.
• A mutually agreed policy is needed with regard to the South China Sea issues.
• The re-interpretation of the Constitution has enabled Japan’s participation in peacekeeping activities and the use of the right to collective defense. Japan has made a great contribution in the last five years in international peacekeeping.

• Finally, Blair spoke specifically about what the U.S.-Japan alliance can do.
• The best way to handle China would be to strengthen the military environment, Blair said. It would be riskier for China to occupy the Senkaku Islands under a tougher military surrounding, and the window for diplomatic and economic talks will be opened with military power in balance.
• The situation surrounding South China Sea is more complex, but it’s possible for the U.S., Japan and Australia to put together their military capabilities. A joint sea exercise in the area would be effective for the purpose of keeping the freedom of navigation. Also, conducting a joint exercise will be against the Chinese interest considering the fact that the seven islands where China is building bases are 700 miles away from the Chinese military headquarters.
• It is currently uncertain that North Korea can launch a nuclear ballistic missile targeting the U.S., making it a quite different case from Japan, which is now already within the range. What Japan and the U.S. can do includes air reconnaissance and joint patrol, among other things. If a nuclear ballistic missile is launched by North Korea targeting the country where the U.S. has a military base, the U.S. will act for the U.S. military personnel and their families there. There’s also deterrence on North Korea on behalf of the allied country; the U.S. currently possesses approximately 1,500 nuclear weapons while North Korea is said to have five to 15. That is enough for North Korea to think before making a move, Blair said.


Several specialists discuss the future of the security in the Asia-Pacific at a symposium.