On Friday, February 18th, the 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI*) hosted its second national conference on U.S.-Japan relations. (the 2019 conference’s agenda is archived here). The virtual event attracted more than 300 live attendees from around the world across four sessions, including an introductory keynote by Japan’s consul general in Chicago and three expert panels discussing 21st century foreign and domestic policy challenges facing the United States and Japan today.
The conference began with welcome remarks and an introduction of the conference’s keynote speaker by 21JPSI director Adam P. Liff. Next, the Honorable Hiroshi Tajima, Consul-General of Japan in Chicago, delivered opening remarks , with a particular focus on the shared regional and global challenges the U.S. and Japan face as they champion a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” and the longstanding and close ties between Japan and U.S. Midwest—and with the state of Indiana in particular.
The Consul-General’s remarks were immediately followed by the first expert panel (“The US-Japan Alliance and Contemporary Foreign Policy Challenges”; video recording here). The panel began with remarks by Dr. Jeffrey Hornung (RAND Corporation), who argued that, while the security issues of concern in the Indo-Pacific region have remained largely constant in recent years, the nature and scale of the threats Japan faces have increased, lending support for security initiatives that strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities. He noted that the US-Japan alliance is at its strongest point in years, with both countries increasingly aligned on issues of regional security and the measures that need to be taken to address them. He encouraged the audience to watch closely new strategic documents to be released by both the U.S. and Japan later this year. Next, Ms. Shihoko Goto (Wilson Center) highlighted Japan’s emergence as a leader of multilateral trade, especially as it concerns its role championing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) after U.S. withdrawal in 2017. She also explained how the COVID-19 pandemic has altered perceptions of resilience and sustainable growth in the region. Dr. Tanvi Madan’s (Brooking Institution) opening remarks centered on how members of the Quad—Japan, India, Australia, and the U.S.—are viewing and responding to a perceived array of challenges presented by China. In her remarks, she mentioned that Quad member states agree on the need for “a rules-based order that’s free, open, inclusive, secure, and prosperous.” However, she also noted that differing priorities among the four nations affect the extent to which they can cooperate on some issues. Lastly, 21JPSI Director Dr. Adam P. Liff (Indiana University) highlighted worsening tensions across the Taiwan Strait as an increasingly front-burner foreign policy concern for both the U.S. and Japan. He emphasized that both nations have robust, long-standing—albeit unofficial—relationships with Taiwan, and explained how any escalation of cross-strait frictions would have severe implications not only for the U.S. and Japan, but also for regional and global stability and economics. After concluding their individual remarks, the panelists engaged in a brief exchange with moderator Dr. Wendy Leutert (Indiana University), which was followed by an open Q&A with the global audience.
After a brief break, the conference continued with a second expert panel focused on “Allies’ Perspectives on the U.S.-Japan Relationship & Northeast Asia Today” (video recording here). Speaking first was Dr. Charles Edel (Center for Strategic and International Studies), who highlighted the increasing closeness of the Australia-Japan relationship. Dr. Edel highlighted three reasons why this relationship is crucial for Australia: First, Japan is the most important strategic partner for Australia besides the United States; second, Japan and Australia have undergone a strategic convergence; and third, this convergence is driven by China’s increasingly aggressive use of military, economic, and diplomatic power and influence to asset its interests. Next, Dr. Alexandra Sakaki (German Institute for International and Security Affairs) discussed the German-Japan bilateral relationship and the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance for Germany. Dr. Sakaki noted the parallels between Germany and Japan, highlighting their unique status as the hosts of the largest U.S. troop contingents and homes to sizable economies in their respective regions. She emphasized three points: 1) bilateral ties between Germany and Japan have been cooperative but lacked substance and depth until recently; 2) Germany’s motivation for increasing diplomatic engagement with Japan is part of its broader Indo-Pacific strategy; and 3) German and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific is important for the U.S. and—by extension—the U.S.-Japan alliance. Next, Dr. Celine Pajon (French Institute of International Relations) examined the current state of French-Japanese relations, noting that in recent years the relationship has been marked by dynamic and dramatic changes. Japan, she noted, is France’s second largest trading partner in Asia and the nation’s leading Asian investor. Dr. Pajon also highlighted increasing security cooperation between the two nations, including a “2+2” ministerial defense dialogue and increasing alignment between their respective Indo-Pacific strategies. Strategic convergence and deepening concerns about China, she noted, continue to bring the two countries closer together. France is also deepening its presence in the Indo-Pacific and cooperation with like-minded maritime powers, such as the United States and Japan. Rounding out the second panel, Dr. Alessio Patalano (King’s College London) offered his assessment of the U.S.-Japan alliance from the perspective of the United Kingdom. Dr. Patalano highlighted three points: namely, 1) the U.K.’s worldview and perceptions of geopolitics are changing, leading it to pursue a pivot to the Indo-Pacific; 2) the increasing agency of “Middle Powers” such as Japan and the United Kingdom is enabled by the power and resources of the United States and their increasing convergence of interests in the Indo-Pacific; and 3) common prosperity is a driving factor behind Japan’s and the United Kingdom’s Indo-Pacific strategies. As Dr. Patalano pointed out, it was not a coincidence that the U.K.’s application to join the CPTPP occurred while Japan was CPTPP chair. In short, we are seeing an increasing convergence of interests and maturing relationship between the two close U.S. allies and island nations. After concluding their remarks, the panelists engaged in a brief exchange with panel moderator Dr. Liff, followed by an open Q&A with the global audience.
The conference’s final panel focused on “Domestic Policy Challenges and U.S.-Japan Relations” (video recording here). Speaking first, Dr. Ko Maeda (University of North Texas) discussed Japan’s domestic election situation and the importance of leadership stability for Prime Minister Kishida’s efforts to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance as the two countries confront the various international challenges examined by earlier speakers. Of particular importance, Dr. Maeda noted, is whether the ruling coalition can retain its majority in the upcoming summer 2022 Upper House election. Doing so would help consolidate Prime Minister Kishida’s support within the National Diet for some time, as the next constitutionally-mandated election would not be until 2025. A strong coalition performance this summer would also make it far more likely that Japan could avoid the “revolving door” of prime ministers that has presented challenges for U.S.-Japan relations in the recent past. It would also likely ensure stability in Japan’s top leadership at least until the September 2024 LDP leadership election. Following Dr. Maeda, Ms. Kazuyo Kato (JCIE/USA) highlighted the importance of U.S.-Japan cooperation in tackling both domestic and international fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. She highlighted ways in which the two countries are coordinating efforts to combat acute issues, including vaccine shortages in poorer nations. Ms. Kato suggested that Japan should do more to project more visible leadership alongside the U.S., encourage political leaders on both sides to promote knowledge exchanges, and expand manufacturing capacity for vaccines and other tools. Next, Dr. Ulrike Schaede (University of California San Diego) highlighted many of the obsolete conceptualizations of Japanese business and the importance of U.S.-Japan business relations for the two countries. She revealed how the bilateral trade relationship is much more important than some of the widely-used and most conventional metrics suggest, that there is far more Japanese business activity in the U.S. than most Americans appreciate, and that there are robust technological exchanges. The high level of Japanese investment in the U.S. actively shapes the relationship between the two countries. Lastly, Dr. Hilary Hollbrow (Indiana University) discussed gender policies in Japan, arguing that the frequent references to Japan as ranking 120th out of 156 countries on the Global Gender Gap index can often be misleading and present a skewed picture of a more complicated reality as it concerns gender rights and inequality in Japan. Dr. Holbrow noted in particular that one area that Japan excels is policies to support caregivers, such as far more generous paid parental leave policies than those available in the United States. After concluding their remarks, the panelists engaged in a brief exchange with Prof. Holbrow, who performed double-duty as the panel’s moderator. The panel ended with an open Q&A with the conference’s global audience, followed by closing remarks by Dr. Liff. from
The “Japan Politics & Society” speaker series will continue in the spring semester. To learn about future public events, please sign up for our event announcement mailing list and follow us on Twitter.
*The 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI) was launched at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies in 2018. Under the leadership of Founding Director and HLS faculty member Adam Liff, 21JPSI aims to invigorate and expand research, teaching, and programming on contemporary Japanese politics, society, and international (esp. U.S.-Japan) relations, and to educate, raise awareness, and debate policy responses to the various political, social, and foreign policy challenges that Japan faces in this extremely dynamic era of 21st-century change. Supported by a generous $900,000 grant from the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, in its first five years 21JPSI has enabled a new tenure-track faculty line contemporary Japanese politics and society; launched four new courses on contemporary Japan and a multidisciplinary speaker series on Japanese Politics and Society; hosted national conferences and webinars on U.S.-Japan relations; and funded graduate fellowships and faculty travel grants to support research in Japan. For more information, please see https://jpsi.indiana.edu/ or write to email@example.com