By Shihoko Goto, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Shihoko Goto is the Northeast Asia associate for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Asia Program. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
After seven prime ministers in almost as many years, Japan looks like it may have a leader with more staying power. That alone should be enough motivation for President Obama to be fully invested in his meeting on February 22 with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. However, with the growing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region – from the East China Sea territorial disputes to the North Korea conundrum – it will be in the United States’ best interests to nurture strong personal ties and build a partnership capable of meeting emerging challenges.
As the United States looks to rebalance its military capabilities towards Asia while grappling with ongoing uncertainties about its longer-term defense budget, Japan has increased its defense budget for the first time in 11 years. Granted, the 0.8 percent increase to $52 billion, with a 1.9 percent rise in the Coast Guard budget, is more symbolic than significant. Yet, the nominal increase signals recognition that Japan must step up efforts to build up its defense capabilities in light of the growing threats from neighboring countries. That, in turn, would dovetail with the U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific region as it looks to solidify existing alliances not just with Japan, but also with South Korea, Australia and Southeast Asia.
By Mark Valencia, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mark Valencia is a Hawaii-based maritime analyst and political commentator and author of ‘The Proliferation Security Initiative: Making waves in Asia.’ The views expressed are his own.
Enough already! Nasty rhetoric is one thing. But confrontation between warships, including the locking on of fire control radar, is downright dangerous. The implications of an outbreak of military hostilities between China and Japan are too horrific to contemplate, and clearly this level of tension and instability is unacceptable – not only for the parties directly concerned, but for their neighbors and extra-regional partners.
What is needed are some guidelines or an agreed declaration of expected behavior in disputed areas that could avert such confrontations. More specifically, China and Japan need to forge at least a rudimentary “incidents at sea agreement” – and fast!
So what is an incidents at sea agreement (INCSEA) and why would it work? In the late 1960s, there were several incidents between the U.S. and Soviet navies, including planes of the two nations passing particularly close to one another or ships and aircraft making threatening movements – very similar to what has been happening in the East China Sea between China and Japan.
By Heather Williams, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Heather Williams is a research fellow in international security at Chatham House in London. The views expressed are her own.
Whether the latest North Korean nuclear test destabilizes Northeast Asia in the short-term depends on how it is handled within the U.N. Security Council. The major players in the region have made stability a priority, and are likely to continue to do so. And certainly, if stability is defined as the absence of conflict or risk of immediate conflict, all signs suggest the region will indeed remain stable. After all, China’s continued economic growth is dependent on regional stability, South Korea and Japan are terrified of war with nuclear-armed North Korea, and the United States is anxious about becoming embroiled in another regime change.
But regional players will likely still have to take some sort of action against a belligerent and increasingly aggressive North Korea if there is to be a meaningful chance of maintaining stability in the long term. The hard part, though, is balancing short-term and long-term gains.
By Kelley Currie, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Kelley Currie is a senior fellow with the Project 2049 Institute in Washington. The views expressed are her own.
As President Obama’s second term gets underway, there are significant changes ahead in his national security team, including among those managing Asia policy. The imminent departure of the strategic-minded Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for Asia and the Pacific, is occurring at a time of growing tension between China and America’s historic allies in the region. Meanwhile, there remain questions about the sustainability of the Obama administration’s much-vaunted “rebalancing” or “pivot” toward Asia.
Amid these swirling issues, there’s a growing focus among China thinkers on the issue of strategic distrust between the United States and China – a fundamental driver that shapes both U.S. policy toward Asia and the region’s perceptions of its own security challenges.
By Andrew Billo, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Andrew Billo is an assistant director with the Asia Society in New York. The views expressed are his own.
Last week, the Philippines sought to increase pressure on China over its claims in the South China Sea by filing a legal claim against the country under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Seas. While unprecedented, the Philippines knows that it cannot afford derailing the economic relationship with its third largest trading partner, China, and a verdict – to be issued several years down the line – will ultimately be unenforceable.
Why, then, would the Philippines take this action now, given the irritation it might cause China, risks to economic relations, and the likely minimal impact it will have on altering China’s behavior?
One overarching reason is that in Asia, international relations, at least in the political sphere, are dictated largely by domestic affairs. The legacy of colonialism, and its associated web of international alliances, means that East Asian countries often distrust their neighbors and global powers as well. Distrust has created insular and highly nationalistic policies, a convenient tool for governments wishing to pin domestic governance and economic challenges on the legacy of foreign oppression.
By Brian Klein, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Brian P. Klein is an economic consultant and former U.S. diplomat who was based in China. The views expressed are his own
In much of the world, the long curve of history continues dragging nations to the brink of conflict. Take Northeast Asia, where recent tensions between China and Japan risk erupting into conflict. The Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, home to rocky outcroppings and nearby resource rich waters, have become the latest potential flashpoint.
What started as a manageable confrontation in the East China Sea between Chinese fishing vessels and Japanese Coast Guard cutters has now escalated well beyond a dispute over natural resources. Chinese fighter jets have shadowed Japanese planes in the skies above. Japan has threatened to fire warning shots. A hawkish Chinese general has warned that would be their only shot, while Beijing announced plans to formally survey the islands. The U.S. has weighed in against any unilateral action that challenges Japan's administration of the area.
Editor's Note: Scott A. Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared. The views expressed are his own.
By Scott A. Snyder, CFR
Following an early ambassadorial visit and a courtesy call on President-elect Park Geun-hye from China’s special envoy Vice Minister Zhang Zhijun, Park has decided to reciprocate by sending her first special envoys to Beijing during the transition. The exchange illustrates a mutual recognition that Sino-South Korean relations had deteriorated under Lee Myung-Bak and Hu Jintao and that Park and Xi have a chance to start out on the right foot this time.
This early exchange shows that both sides are acutely aware that political problems in the China-South Korea relationship do not serve either country, especially given a bilateral trade relationship that reached $220 billion in 2011. South Korea and China are natural economic partners, but North Korea continues to rear its head as a challenging sticking point between the two sides.
Xi had already reached out to Kim Jong-un in late November through a visit to Pyongyang by sending as an envoy Li Jianguo, the secretary general of the standing committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress. During Li’s meeting with Kim Jong Un (Kim’s second with Chinese visitors), he delivered a letter from Xi that pledged continuity of high-level exchanges and emphasized the importance of “strategic communication” between the two sides. However, it is not clear what sort of communication occurred regarding North Korea’s satellite launch plans, the announcement of which the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson greeted with concern only two days later. With South Korea now on the U.N. Security Council, the question of how to respond to North Korea’s defiance of Security Council resolutions could continue to be a major source of difference in Sino-South Korean relations.
By Hassan Abbas, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Hassan Abbas is an academic and a senior advisor at the Asia Society. The views expressed are his own.
Pakistan is only months away from a first: a democratically elected government is slated to hand over power to another democratically elected government. Too bad few in Pakistan are in a celebratory mood.
The lack of excitement is due, in part, to a worsening economic situation and rampant corruption. Today, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf over fraud related to power plant deals. The previous day, Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, a former elected parliamentarian and an important religious figure who just returned from Canada, led tens of thousands of people in a protest against political corruption in the capital of Islamabad.
Taking control of the reins of government after a long military rule is never easy. Often people expect quick results and don’t fully realize the damage done to both the polity and society by dictators. They dream of jobs, justice and security, but it takes decades to build foundations of systems that deliver such goals in a progressive fashion. That said, if the transition can happen without any extra constitutional step, elections expected between April to June this year could be an important move toward a more successful Pakistan.
Watch GPS special 'Memo to the President' on CNN this Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET
By Minxin Pei, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Minxin Pei is the Tom and Margot Pritzker '72 professor of government and director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College. The views expressed are his own.
Your first administration got off to a shaky start on China, mainly because you assumed that by showing sufficient respect you could gain Beijing’s cooperation. But your overtures, shall we say, yielded disappointing results. The mid-stream adjustment of your China policy has been a great success, in no small part thanks to Beijing’s disastrous policy to assert its territorial claims in a way that alarmed and alienated its neighbors. You have put China decidedly on the defensive in strategic terms.
It may be tempting to press for more geopolitical advantage in your second term. But things are changing in East Asia, and your China policy, a critical anchor of your grand foreign policy strategy, must be fine-tuned as a result.
By Ravi Agrawal, CNN
Editor’s note: Each day this week, GPS Senior Producer Ravi Agrawal will look at what’s in store for the world in 2013. He begins today with Asia. The views expressed are his own. You can follow him on Twitter @RaviAgrawalCNN.
It turns out the Mayans were wrong about the end of the world. Planet earth survived 2012 and is now about to embark on yet another revolution around the sun. But let’s cut the Mayans some slack: they were, after all, projecting thousands of years into the future.
My task is easier. What will the next twelve months look like? What changes are in store for the world of politics and economics?
Asia, with more than half the world’s population, has already begun to usher in 2013. So let’s begin there.
By Stephen Yates, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Stephen J. Yates is former Deputy Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs (2001-2005) and currently CEO of DC International Advisory. The views expressed are his own.
North Korea’s seemingly successful long-range missile test presents a significant challenge to the U.S. and its allies.
This is North Korea’s most successful provocation since demonstrating the ability to detonate a nuclear device in 2006. North Korea has now demonstrated a significant leap in its long-range missile capability, and it would be a mistake to assume further leaps forward are beyond its reach in the not too distant future. New and very young leader Kim Jong Un has succeeded where his father did not – a major propaganda victory for him.
By Charles Armstrong, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Charles Armstrong is the director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University. The views expressed are his own.
North Korea has done it again. For the second time in less than nine months, Pyongyang has fired a long-range missile, this time apparently succeeding in sending a satellite into orbit. What North Korea calls a “peaceful rocket launch,” much of the rest of the world has condemned as a military provocation and a brazen act of defiance against international sanctions. Yet despite tough talk from the United States, Japan, South Korea and other countries, there is little the international community can do to punish North Korea or prevent further such acts. While North Korea’s technological capacity progresses, the policy of sanctions has demonstrably failed. It’s time to take a new approach to North Korea.
It’s important to keep in mind that North Korea has done this primarily for domestic reasons, not to send a “signal” to the world (although there is an element of signaling as well). The timing of the launch is significant. First, it comes just before the first anniversary of former leader Kim Jong Il’s death, and North Korean state media has declared that commemorating the elder Kim’s passing was one reason for the launch. Second, North Korea had declared that 2012 would be the year when the country became a “Powerful and Prosperous Nation,” and a satellite launch was to be a key demonstration of North Korea’s technological progress and power.