Sasakawa USA Blog

This blog features a look at news, events, commentary and media related to Sasakawa USA and the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Chairman’s Message: The State of the U.S.-Japan Alliance

This month’s Chairman’s Message is an edited version of remarks given by Adm. Dennis Blair at the conclusion of the Sixth Annual Sasakawa USA Security Forum, held on April 24, 2019 in Washington, D.C.


Photo by Joy Asico.

The U.S.-Japan alliance has enjoyed a good year since the previous annual Sasakawa USA Security Forum in May 2018. There have been a few setbacks, but the alliance is getting its act together. More hard work lies ahead, however.

Let me review the important alliance developments over the past year.

Alliance Developments

First, policy alignment: 

As Ambassador Sugiyama said in his opening remarks, the U.S. National Defense Strategy (NDS) and the Japanese National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) are remarkably aligned, especially in their assessment of the Indo-Pacific security environment. This policy convergence is in remarkable contrast to several years ago when Japanese officials would complain privately of a perception gap. They thought that the United States did not share Japan’s understanding of the true nature of the Chinese challenge. As Asia Pacific Institute founder Dr. Funabashi said (earlier today), there is certainly no daylight now between Americans and Japanese on the greatest security challenge we both face.

This congruence of views is no accident. American officials consulted with their Japanese counterparts before completing work on the National Defense Strategy; Japanese officials consulted with American counterparts before completing work on the National Defense Program Guidelines. This tight coordination among American and Japanese security policy experts is an important foundation for combined action.

Second, defense budgets:

Both countries have increased their defense budgets at relatively high rates.

The American defense appropriation budget for 2019, the fiscal year that began last October 1, increased by 3%, and was actually passed before the start of the year for the first time in a decade. The Japanese defense budget for the fiscal year beginning on April 1 was a 2.1% increase over last year’s budget, a healthy increase by Japanese standards. (I should point out that the impressive increases in the American and Japanese defense budgets still trail Chinese military spending increases. China announced an increase in the PLA budget of 6.5% for 2019, the second straight year in which budget growth has exceeded GDP growth.)

Third, cyberspace policies:

DNI Coats for the first time called China out in September of last year: “From its continued hacking of our defense secrets to its focus on collecting vast repositories of personal and personality-identifying information to better enable espionage activities, China exploits our transparency and open society…”

In last week’s U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee (2+2) meeting here in Washington, the ministers announced that a major cyberattack on Japan could, “in certain circumstances, constitute an armed attack for the purposes of Article V of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.” This announcement brings the NATO cyberspace extended deterrence model to the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Fourth, complementary economic policies:

The United States took on the mercantilist and predatory Chinese economic practices directly, this year. Negotiations continue over Chinese intellectual property theft, Chinese discriminatory treatment of international business in its domestic market, and its subsidies of state-owned enterprises.

Japan, meanwhile, has adopted policies to offer an alternative to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Japan offers what it calls “high quality infrastructure projects,” and the United States has also started to take the Japanese approach with the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) act. I hope that America and Japan can work more with other like-minded partners to offer alternatives that provide space for countries in the Indo-Pacific region to chart their own economic development path.

Fifth, reduction of regional tensions:

It has been a year of friendly but wary summit meetings, with “frank and open” exchanges in private, bland communiques, and somewhat forced smiling photo opportunities in public.

The first trilateral summit meeting among China, Japan, and South Korea took place in Tokyo after a two-and one-half-year hiatus.

President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un have held two summit meetings since our last annual Security Forum. The atmosphere has been frothy and friendly, but there have been no substantive agreements on either side’s main goal—North Korean denuclearization and economic development. President Trump dramatically foreshortened the second summit because of the lack of progress.

President Moon of South Korea has met with Chairman Kim Jong Un three times in the past year with few concrete results.

Prime Minister Abe met with President Moon of South Korea in September on the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting and visited Beijing in November.

With all this high-level consulting and hand-shaking, you would expect regional flashpoints to have been relatively quiet, and so they were. North Korea continued to refrain from missile and nuclear tests, although it apparently continues to press forward on its nuclear weapons program. The United States and the ROK refrained from conducting major named military exercises, while maintaining combat readiness through smaller continuous training. I am concerned, however, that Japan-South Korea relations continue to deteriorate. Dr. Funabashi told us that it is hard to see relations improving in the near term.

In the South China Sea, things were quiet until the last few months when China initiated fishing boat swarm tactics around the Philippine-occupied island of Thitu. The United States maintained a steady level of military ship sailings and aircraft flights through the South China Sea, flying and sailing close to Chinese occupied islands, and Japanese, Australian, and European navies also operated in what they consider international waters in the South China Sea.

Future Concerns

So the news of the past twelve months has been more good than bad for the alliance. What are the concerns? Where do we need to concentrate in future?

First, the regional threat requires a higher sense of urgency:  

Communiques and budgets and hardware are important, but the heart of deterrence is combined warfighting capability. It is that demonstrated capacity and intent to protect our interests that ensures that enemies and competitors do not attempt to use military force against us.

Japan has established an operational headquarters for a Senkaku Islands incursion, and the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force has established a single operational command over its individual armies. However, the Japan Self-Defense Force has not yet established a standing joint operational headquarters that would handle a crisis or conflict in Taiwan or North Korea. The United States, for its part, has not established a corresponding operational headquarters in Japan for these contingencies.

The establishment of these two operational staffs in Japan, with their headquarters preferably co-located, would provide better counterpart staffs on the military side of the alliance. It would promote the development of operational concepts, clarify equipment requirements for these contingencies, and facilitate a combined exercise program for readiness and continual improvement.

The recent U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee fact sheet cited recent initiatives to “deepen operational cooperation”: “the steady implementation of mutual asset protection; bilateral presence and joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance operations; increased scope of logistical support under the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement; and ongoing exchange of liaison officers.”

While a Combined Forces Command on the Korean model is not appropriate, there needs to be much closer and more integrated operational organization and training for the range of very specific threats that both countries face.

Second, the alliance needs to move quickly in the new, important and difficult areas of space, cyberspace and electromagnetic warfare:

According to the 2+2 joint press statement “The Ministers highlighted space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum as priority areas to better prepare the Alliance for cross-domain operations.” This aspiration is welcome. However, the fact sheet that accompanied the statement listed only one specific current area of cooperation: space situational awareness.

Japan has no NSA-equivalent, so cyber cooperation will be difficult. Japan’s information security system is still not adequate to the challenge of protecting highly classified information.  The United States, for its part has not concentrated enough bilateral attention on electronic warfare, an area in which classification need not be as great a problem, in which Japan has high potential for military capabilities, and in which long-range Chinese sensors and weapons are very vulnerable.

The greatest difficulty to overcome will be in establishing the authority for Japan to operate in these new domains. Current Japanese law prohibits cyber operations outside Japanese networks; it was extremely difficult for the government to gain Diet approval for Japanese ships to defend nearby U.S. ships in case of enemy attack. Obtaining Diet approval for cooperation on dealing with cyber and space attacks will be even more complicated and difficult.

The 2+2 statement is correct that these new warfare areas will be important in the future, and the United States and Japan need to move rapidly to build combined capability. Assignment of responsibilities, exercises, acquisition priorities and the ability to exchange sensitive information are the keys.

Third, the United States and Japan lack a South China Sea strategy:

Japan and the United States have sailed ships and flown aircraft through international waters and have provided limited military and coast guard assistance to other claimant states. However, we have not yet developed a coherent strategy. We have made it clear what we do not want but have not made it clear what we will support. By taking no position on any of the territorial issues, we leave the region vulnerable to Chinese cabbage-slicing tactics.

The 2016 Permanent Court of Appeals decision on the South China Sea did not rule on sovereignty issues, but it provided the legal framework for a comprehensive settlement. With the help of international experts, the claimant states besides China, which would not participate in the process, need to agree on a map adjudicating the conflicting claims. As did the 2016 decision, the map should take account of China’s legitimate claims even if China does not participate in the negotiations. The United States, Japan, and other countries can then recognize that map. With a policy established, the United States and other forces would have a basis for determining how to support treaty obligations and interests with military deployments and military force, if necessary.

In conclusion, the U.S.-Japan alliance is making great progress, but our competitors, technology and world events continue to move fast. The alliance must accelerate the pace if we are to maintain the kind of world in which we want our children to live and prosper.

Sixth Annual Sasakawa USA Security Forum focused on new security challenges for the U.S.-Japan alliance

(Joy Asico/Asico Photo)

The Sixth Annual Sasakawa USA Security Forum focused on challenges facing the alliance in the Indo-Pacific region and how the United States and Japan can work together to meet these challenges. The day-long conference, held April 24, 2019 at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., attracted attendees from the U.S. government, news media, think tanks, academia, foreign embassies, and business.

With an overall theme of “The U.S.-Japan Alliance: New Security Challenges,” the forum featured opening remarks by Shinsuke J. Sugiyama, Japan’s Ambassador to the United States, a keynote address by General Ryoichi Oriki, former Chairman of the Japanese Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a conversation between Admiral Dennis Blair (ret.), Chairman of Sasakawa USA, and Dr. Yoichi Funabashi, Chairman of the Asia Pacific Initiative. The event also featured five panel discussions on topics ranging from the United States’ and Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategies, to Japan’s changing security strategy, and the role of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in a changing society. With a diverse group of 20 expert panelists, and many audience questions, this year’s forum generated an active discussion on timely topics in the alliance.

Ambassador James Zumwalt (ret.), CEO of Sasakawa USA, opened the forum by introducing Ambassador Sugiyama. The Ambassador spoke about the strategic alignment of Japanese and American thinking about the Indo-Pacific region as reflected in the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee joint statement from Friday, April 19. He also stated that Japan must do more to defend itself in close cooperation with its ally, the United States.

After a video greeting from William Hagerty, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Admiral Blair introduced the conference keynote speaker General Oriki. He discussed how the U.S.-Japan Security alliance was adapting to the changing security environment in East Asia by deepening cooperation. In response to the rise in Chinese military pressure, Japan has begun to reinforce the Self-Defense Forces capabilities on Okinawa. General Oriki reiterated Ambassador Sugiyama’s point that Japan would take the lead for its own defense, but would fulfill this mission in close cooperation with the United States.

(Joy Asico /Asico Photo)

The two morning panels focused on Indo-Pacific regional developments. Dr. Michael Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), moderated the first panel discussion, “The Indo-Pacific Strategy: Is it More than Countering China?” Dr. Evan Feigenbaum, Vice President for Studies at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Masanori Nishi, former Japanese Vice Minister of Defense; and Yuki Tatsumi, Director of the Japan Program at the Stimson Center, offered their views on changes to the Indo-Pacific region. While China was not the only factor, its rise presented challenges for the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Panelists discussed if the United States and Japan were “winning the influence game.” Beyond serving as a security provider, countries in the region were looking for American leadership to promote economic prosperity. Chinese behavior has left the door open for continued U.S. engagement, but nations in the region are concerned about the diminishing presence of the United States. In contrast to the United States, Japan has stepped up its regional outreach and countries in ASEAN and South Asia have warmly welcomed Japan’s engagement, including its capacity-building measures. Panelists agreed that Japan and the United States should continue to reach out to other like-minded countries such as Australia and India to promote their shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The panel also shared their views on the role of the Korean Peninsula and South Korea’s role in the region.

The second morning panel, moderated by Matthew Goodman, Senior Vice President and Senior Advisor for Asian Economics at CSIS, discussed the competition for economic influence in the Indo-Pacific Region. Panelists included Ambassador David Shear (ret.); Dr. Mireya Solis, Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies at the Brookings Institution; Tsuneo Watanabe, Sasakawa Peace Foundation Fellow; and Tobias Harris, Sasakawa USA Fellow for Economy, Trade and Business. They spoke about the rapidly shifting economic landscape in the Indo-Pacific Region. While Japan has stepped up its game by rescuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after the U.S. withdrawal, the United States lacks a credible and nimble economic strategy in the region. The United States and Japan can best advance their interests by coordinating their economic statecraft. Both countries, panelists said, are interested in promoting global rules on issues like disciplines on government subsidies, forced technology transfers, favorable treatment of state-owned enterprises, and rules on the digital economy. Doing so would require the United States and Japan to resolve their bilateral trade issues first.

The panel also discussed the extent of influence China is gaining in the region through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the role of the United States and Japan in China’s BRI. One speaker pointed out that U.S. and Japanese financing for infrastructure would give recipient countries more bargaining power as they negotiated financing deals with China.

(Joy Asico /Asico Photo)

Admiral Blair and Dr. Funabashi then engaged in a conversation about the security environment in Asia. Despite the recent improvements in Japan-China relations, Dr. Funabashi thought it would be difficult to resolve territorial disputes in the East China Sea. The two experts agreed that, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pursued an energetic outreach program with Japan’s Asian neighbors, Japan-ROK relations are strained to an extent decidedly different from previous difficulties. The two thought leaders also discussed the impact of domestic politics on the U.S.-Japan alliance, including the future of U.S. leadership in the liberal world order and the need to mitigate the political impact of job losses resulting from globalization.

In the afternoon, Dr. Sayuri Romei, Sasakawa USA Fellow for Security and Foreign Affairs, moderated a panel called “Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG): Pacing the Threat?” Panelists included Dr. Eric Heginbotham, Principal Research Scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dr. Kathleen Hicks, Senior Vice President at CSIS; Lieutenant General Koichi Isobe, Resident Fellow at Harvard Asia Center and retired Japan Ground Self-Defense Force; and Nina Wagner, Defense Department Chief of Staff for the Assistant Secretary for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities. The speakers discussed the NDPG’s highlights and alignment with the United States’ National Defense Strategy, key priorities for implementation, and aspects open to question. Japan’s NDPG focused on high-end threats, defense of outer islands, and resilience.

Panelists also lauded the guidelines’ focus on improved cost-competitiveness and air and maritime capabilities. The guidelines also stress a seamless response and a whole-of-government approach including in the new domains of space and cyberspace. The Department of Defense panelist welcomed the NPDG, which she said positions Japan to be a regional leader and strong partner of the United States. Speakers also called for U.S.-Japan joint operational planning and discussed the need to accelerate progress toward “jointness.”

Copies of The New National Defense Program Guidelines: Aligning U.S. and Japanese Defense Strategies for the Third Post-Cold War Era, a new Sasakawa USA book on Japan’s NDPG and the implications for the alliance is available here.

(Joy Asico /Asico Photo)

In “Japanese Society and Security: The Role of the Self-Defense Forces,” James Schoff, Senior Fellow in the Asia Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,  moderated a discussion among Professor Takako Hikotani, Columbia University; Lieutenant General Masayuki Hironaka, retired Japan Air Self-Defense Force; and Professor Andrew Oros, Washington College. This panel focused on social issues relating to the JSDF and the Japanese public perceptions toward the JSDF. One issue discussed was Japan’s declining population and its impact on the SDF’s recruitment efforts. One speaker underscored the need for Japanese public discourse on the role and raison d’être of the SDF. The panel introduced polling data indicating growing acceptance of the JSDF among the Japanese public and its missions of defense of Japan and disaster response. The panel also discussed the changing civil-military relations in Japan from “containment” to “engagement,” emphasizing that civilian control over the military is firmly embedded in the SDF.

Ambassador Zumwalt chaired the final panel with David Helvey, Defense Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Keiichi Ichikawa, Minister for Political Affairs for the Embassy of Japan in the United States, where they discussed the recent U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting among the Japanese and U.S. Foreign and Defense Ministers.

The two government speakers commented that these ministerial discussions represented a strong alignment of the two countries’ perceptions about regional security threats. They agreed on the imperative to work closely with like-minded partners in the region, to expand alliance efforts to new domains such as space and cyberspace, and to sustain efforts to realign U.S. forces in Japan, particularly on Okinawa.

The forum concluded with comments from Admiral Blair. He reviewed key conclusions from the conference, noting General Oriki’s comment that Japan was determined to defend itself, while working closely with its U.S. ally. Blair also noted a strong convergence of views on the security situation in the region saying that this alignment reflected strong alliance coordination and communication. He praised both allies for increasing their military budgets, but said more was needed. Although the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance is moving forward, Blair stated that it needed to advance even faster in response to a deteriorating security environment. He recommended that the United States and Japan consider a combined operational command structure to strengthen deterrence.

For more information on the event, including video coverage of each panel and bios of each speaker, read “Sixth Annual Sasakawa USA Security Forum.”


Photography by Joy Asico /Asico Photo.


Chairman’s Message: After Hanoi, Back to Basics

For its first two years, North Korea has been the Trump administration’s highest profile diplomacy effort in Asia. The President and his advisors believed that in dealing with North Korea they had better ideas, greater skills and more favorable conditions than their predecessors. Some even dreamed that Donald Trump could be the second American president after Theodore Roosevelt to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for a peace treaty in Northeast Asia. Most of us with experience in U.S.-North Korea relations over the years were at best skeptical and at worst cynical, but we hoped that we might be wrong and that that this time would be different.

As it turns out, the third generation of the Kim dynasty is simply an updated version of the first two. It relies on completely disproportional expenditures on military force, conventional and military, both to deter its enemies and to justify the hardships its people endure; it meters out modest economic improvements to its long-suffering and thoroughly brainwashed population, while maintaining the most repressive police state on the planet; it attempts to trade unimportant and reversible limitations on its nuclear programs for real economic assistance, while keeping secret the most important parts of its nuclear complex.

North Korea is currently threatening to break off its talks with the United States and resume testing, and, for its part, the United States has stated it is in no hurry to schedule a third summit meeting and would react strongly to resumed North Korean nuclear or missile testing. So where should the United States go from here?

It is time to get back to basics, both in our policy towards North Korea and in our overall Asian policies.

First, policy towards North Korea. The United States should sustain its objective of a fully denuclearized North Korea. This approach is neither unrealistic nor an admission of failure.  There have been many U.S. national security objectives that take time and are difficult to achieve. Lesser objectives such as suspension of testing and a limited nuclear arsenal meet many North Korean security objectives but add to the security of the United States and its allies in the region. With denuclearization as the objective, the United States and the rest of the world have the justification for continued tight sanctions on North Korea. That country, and any country that has aggressive and dangerous regional ambitions, cannot be allowed the economic resources to build up its military forces, conventional and nuclear. The United States must stop treating Kim Jong Un as a clever statesman but deal with him as the brutal dictator he is.

The United States should redouble its own efforts and those of our ally South Korea and other countries to spread information within North Korea about the social and economic penalties that the Kim regime is imposing on its people. A popular revolt against the Kim regime is neither likely nor likely to be effective. The objective of an information campaign is to convince the elites in North Korea—the Army, police and propaganda leadership—that they themselves, their families and their country would do better without Kim. In many other countries, in Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America, disillusioned elites have isolated and removed brutal dictators.

Next, policy in Asia. It is time to return to basics. The favorable American position in the world’s richest and most heavily armed region of the world has depended on forward deployed military forces, strong alliances, trust in American intentions and steadiness, and admiration for the free and dynamic nature of our society. To maintain that position in the ongoing competition with China, the latest in a line of regional challengers to its position, the United States needs to emphasize all four pillars and act in accordance with them. Robust challenges to unfair economic and business practices by both competitors and allies are fine, and in many cases overdue. Every nation understands the responsibilities of government to deliver prosperity to its people, and to support its own economy within a system benefiting all. However, putting price tags on alliances and security policies undermines the American security position in East Asia. When the United States and its allies need to act together in serious crises, it is because of shared interests and commitments, not because of the size of host-nation support payments.

There remain many issues and disputes that could flash into crises in East Asia involving either North Korea or China. Now is the time for the United States to strengthen our alliances and defense partnerships and build the regional institutional capacity to deter some from happening and handling those that will occur.

U.S.-Japan Town Hall: Trends in People-to-People Ties and Educational Initiatives

Photo by Joy Champaloux

On January 29, 2019, Sasakawa USA and the U.S. Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme Alumni Association (USJETAA) co-hosted an inaugural hybrid U.S.-Japan town hall, with in-person and virtual attendees. This event, U.S.-Japan Town Hall: Trends in People-to-People Exchanges and Educational Initiatives was held at Florida International University (FIU) in Washington D.C.  Dr. Sheila Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and James “Jim” Gannon, Executive Director of the Japan Center for International Exchange, discussed trends in people-to-people exchange between the United States in Japan. They also introduced recent educational initiatives and programs cultivating the next generation of leaders in U.S.-Japan relations.

In Washington, D.C. more than 30 participants from the JET alumni, Sasakawa USA, and FIU in D.C. communities attended in-person. An additional 20 JET alumni and FIU students participated from New York, California, Arizona, and Florida, via live-stream. The JET Alumni Association of New York also held a watch party in downtown Manhattan for their members. View the recording of the event here.

Bahia Simons-Lane, Executive Director of USJETAA; Eric Feldman, Associate Director of the Student Success and Academic Programs at FIU in Washington D.C. and Joy Champaloux, Program Officer at Sasakawa USA, provided welcome remarks.  Champaloux emphasized the importance of engaging the 30,000 American Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme alumni on key issues within U.S.-Japan relations, a goal which aligns with Sasakawa USA’s mission of strengthening U.S.-Japan relations through educations, programs, and research.

Photo by Joy Champaloux

To give context for the upcoming discussion, Gannon laid out the ten types of people-to-people exchange between societies: diplomatic, commercial and business, professional, legislative, intellectual, student, grassroots, cultural and art, tourism, and family ties. He explained that these exchanges “form a web” tying two countries together and facilitating cooperation and goodwill. These “web relations” also act as a shock absorber, enabling countries to recover and bounce back from momentary dips in relations.

Gannon delved into the history of people-to-people exchanges within U.S.-Japan relations, citing four waves of exchanges beginning with the arrival of western missionaries in Japan. The second wave came from the shared wartime and Occupation experience in the early and mid-20th century, followed by American interest in Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism in the 1960s and 70s. The fourth wave continues today, spearheaded by the JET Programme and other cultural exchange programs.

Although the impact of people-to-people exchange can be hard to gauge, Gannon referred to a 1993 Gallup poll that found only 43% of Americans had favorable feelings toward Japan, reflecting the trade disputes that strained the relationship during that time. However, human connections and exchange have given a resilience to the U.S.-Japanese relationship, as seen when the 2018 Gallup poll noted the number of Americans who felt friendly towards Japan had doubled to 87%.

Lastly, Gannon raised the significance of the large amount of American donations and aid towards Japan after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The 3/11 disaster ranks as the fifth most generous disaster giving in U.S. history, following only after the domestic disasters Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks, and relief for developing countries like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He believes that the outpouring of aid can largely be attributed to these people-to-people exchanges between Japan and the United States.

Photo by Joy Champaloux

Dr. Smith turned the discussion to three initiatives within the Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON), a bi-national advisory panel to both U.S. and Japan governments that serves to strengthen cultural and educational ties between the two countries: TeamUp, a bi-national initiative aimed to increase student mobility, exchange, and learning; Nichibei Connect,  a “one-stop shop” resource database for the next generation of U.S.-Japan leaders to search career trajectories and educational opportunities; and Apolitical, or “Rural Resilience,” which encourages bilateral exchange concerning emerging areas of collaboration including energy, space, cybersecurity, etc.

Dr. Smith concluded that the Japan-United States Friendship Commission (JUSFC), United States-Japan Bridging Foundation, and CULCON all advance people-to-people exchange and uphold the educational and cultural foundations of the U.S.-Japan relationship.

The panelists also referred to their shared mentor, Tadashi Yamamoto, the founder of the Japan Center for International Exchange. Gannon stated that Yamamoto was a “missionary in the sense of people-to-people exchange.” Yamamoto encouraged exchange that was substantive, regular, and independent from government and corporate influence.

During the Q&A, panelists answered questions from JET alumni, FIU students, and the U.S.-Japan community attending in person and those tuning in virtually from across the country.

An FIU student asked the panelists what methods are used to preserve the history and authenticity of traditional Japanese cities. Dr. Smith replied that cities are simultaneously attempting to build upon the history and culture of the area and rebrand themselves to become more accessible to younger generations and foreign tourists. For example, Japanese tourism has promoted authentic Zen Buddhism and health consciousness that has become popular in western society.

Another audience question from a JET Programme alumna referenced the moments in U.S.-Japanese history that brought the countries together, including the rise of China. He asked what the incentive would be to keep the relationship moving forward in the next 30 years or so. Gannon postulated that the relationship would continue to thrive on the human connections that have been built and the need to cooperate on common global problems, including ageing populations and new technologies. Dr. Smith also argued that the relationship between the two countries may be tested on how to manage China and declining economic interdependence, but the relationship would not dissolve.

Sasakawa USA is proud to partner with USJETAA to support the continued cultivation of U.S.-Japan relations and engage the alumni of the JET Programme and those with the same enthusiasm for Japan. Thanks also to Florida International University (FIU) for their support in hosting at their D.C. location.

— Written by Meg Bittle, Sasakawa USA Education Intern

The 6th U.S.-Japan-Korea Trilateral Symposium: Promoting Peace, Stability, and Prosperity in the Asia-Pacific Region

The 6th U.S.-Japan-Korea Trilateral Symposium brought together students and current professionals in the field of U.S.-Asia relations to enhance trilateral cooperation between the U.S., Japan, and the Republic of Korea. The event aimed to both educate and to give the future generation of all three countries a voice regarding the promotion of peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. The symposium was held January 4, 2019 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The panels, “The Role of Soft Power and Media in Trilateral Relations” and “Areas of Collaboration in Addition to Regional Security” created a timely discussion between motivated student leaders and distinguished professionals, showcasing the younger generation’s enthusiasm for cooperative and active trilateral engagement.

This event was organized by International Student Conferences (ISC), Sasakawa USA, and Korea Foundation.

Panel I: The Role of Soft Power and Media in Trilateral Relations

The first panel featured two student panelists: Ayoung Kim, from the 12th Korea-America Student Conference (KASC), and Kaho Maeda, from the 71st Japan-America Student Conference (JASC). Joining them were two distinguished leaders: Ambassador Kathleen Stephens, President and CEO of the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI), and Wataru Sawamura, Washington Bureau Chief of the Asahi Shimbun. The panelists addressed the role of soft power and its ability to influence countries through ideas, technology, and culture, and to promote trilateral relations between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. The panel also discussed if the media, including social media, made it easier or more difficult to boost these ties.

Ambassador Stephens opened the discussion by highlighting the recent fervor for British rock band Queen, spreading across Japan and South Korea after the release of the movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody” in theaters. This fervor is an example of pop culture’s ability, as a source of soft power, to bypass national borders and historical divisions. The younger generation is increasingly sharing values and commonality through social media, technology, and cultural exchange programs. Forms of soft power that magnify commonality between countries often allow them to face difficult challenges like historical legacy.

The fast pace in which news is consumed by the younger generation is also driving change. Kim noted that these days, “in a world of so much information, attention, is power.” She also pointed that it can be a “race to the bottom” to gain the public’s attention and screen time. South Korea’s previously held cultural anonymity changed rapidly with the international popularity and attention given to K-pop. While hard power gets things done, she argued that soft power creates “waves in international waters, shaping the landscape of the world order, and perception of it.” Soft power is important because it has this influence on world views, and ultimately, what we think leads to how we act.

Sawamura, like Stephens, emphasized that national borders have become less important to the younger generation in Japan with the increasing popularity of foreign pop culture, like K-drama and K-pop. He noted that the enduring anti-Korean and anti-Chinese public sentiment found in many Japanese people over 60 years of age can be used as an example of the “love–hate” generational gap that is evidence of the older generations lack of international experiences, cultural exchange, and diversification of information sources. As many of the older generation usually read newspapers that have a more negative and hardline perspective over other sources of media, they are more inclined to distrust foreign influence. He cautioned about the dangers of journalism if it focuses more on stereotypes and confirmation biases over real-fact based coverage. Maeda also contended that social media may encourage exchange, but its superficiality and ease of access can also create assumptions. She believed that real experiences, like travel and exchange programs, are key to breaking down cultural barriers.

Maeda then turned the discussion to the applicability of soft power to policy. She highlighted the changing landscape of soft power with the rise of multinational corporations. Soft power can become hard power through the role of consumerism and economics to create policy. Maeda asserted that soft power and hard power should not be viewed as two separate entities that rival each other, but a joined effort to influence policy.

The panelists proceeded to discuss how soft power, including pop culture and political values, comes from the people and not the government. Soft power is not meant to be a tool of control and propaganda, but a reflection of values starting from the bottom up. While the United States’ soft power in the region has been widely accepted and obvious, the Japanese and South Korean exchanges of pop culture are a new and exciting trend.

However, challenges remain from the confirmation biases found in the media, the declining number and credibility of experts, and nationalist sentiment in education systems. The panelists concluded that a hunger for intellectual depth, critical thinking, and international exchanges are necessary soft power tools to promote closer trilateral relations.

Panel II: Areas of Collaboration in Addition to Regional Security

The second panel featured two student panelists: Damare Baker, from the 12th Korea-America Student Conference (KASC), and Shunji Fueki, from the 71st Japan-America Student Conference (JASC). They were joined by Emma Chanlett-Avery, Specialist in Asian Affairs at the Congressional Research Service, and Richard Fontaine, President of the Center for a New American Security.

The panel addressed the current challenges facing collaborative efforts between the three countries. Richard Fontaine argued that while there are many reasons for collaboration—including the denuclearization of North Korea, the encroachment of China, and endorsement of democratic values—obstacles like historical legacy and distrust have hindered these efforts.

Chanlett-Avery noted that Japanese and Korean relations ebb and flow. Ironically, North Korean aggression during the Korean missile crisis was “the gift that keeps on giving” for collaborative trilateral relations. Now that North Korea is pursing diplomatic relations, the three states disagree on how to move forward and best engage with North Korea.

Fueki noted Japanese dissatisfaction with their lack of leverage, compared to South Korea and the United States, regarding North Korea. However, Fontaine asserted that substantial change in the way North Korea is handled is possible due to its unpredictable nature.

While North Korea remains a contentious issue, the panelists discussed other areas for potential collaboration that will help build trust between Japan and South Korea. These include intelligence sharing, military exchanges and joint exercises, nonproliferation, and climate change.

— Written by Meg Bittle, Sasakawa USA Education Intern