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RPI Visiting Scholar Bhubhindar Singh: Japan’s Global Image Blemished by History

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a State Dinner during Abe's April  2015 visit to the United States (Source: Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a State Dinner during Abe’s April 2015 visit to the United States (Source: Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the United States at the end of April was a resounding success overall. One of the main highlights of the five-day visit was the signing of the new US-Japan Guidelines for Defense Cooperation. The defense guidelines, as David Shear, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, insisted are not a revision of the 1997 version but signaled a new phase in US-Japan defense cooperation. The new guidelines introduced a whole-of-government coordination on bilateral issues to ensure a more effective alliance coordination mechanism; authorized Japan to engage in missions to defend the United States and other friendly countries even when Japan is not under attack (known as collective self-defense); expanded bilateral defense cooperation from a regional to global level; and finally, included new areas of defense cooperation relevant to the current strategic environment, such as, cyber and space.

The introduction of the new defense guidelines is a positive development in three ways; reinforced the already strong defense relationship between the United States and Japan; strengthened the deterrence effect against the key strategic challenges facing both states; and elevated Japanese security policy expansion to the global level. This is a positive development and there is no reason to doubt Japan’s intentions. (more…)

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Policy Brief: Cautious Optimism from Asia’s Energy Security Debates

energyMeeting the energy demands of a growing economy is one of the primary challenges in the 21st century. This endeavor has led many states in Asia to consider whether to satisfy their energy needs through competitive “resource nationalism” or to instead rely on market-based approaches and better energy efficiency. These debates have profound implications for U.S. foreign policy in the region and took center stage at a roundtable on Energy Security Worldviews hosted by the Sigur Center for Asian Studies. Three experts who participated in a major Sigur Center research project presented their findings that there are relatively optimist prospects for energy security in Asia, thus posing a challenge to prevailing assumptions and fears.

This research project studied how three foreign policy “schools of thought” contended for influence in the domestic energy security debates of several countries in Asia. The nationalist school argues that energy vulnerability demands greater national autonomy, mercantilist policies, and aggressive military strategies to realize these goals. Globalists, on the other hand, emphasize liberal market approaches and international regimes as solutions for the region’s energy demands. A third group, realists, focuses on geo-strategic international cost-benefit calculations.

In Japan, South Korea, and to a degree in China, coalitions of pragmatic realists and liberal globalists have thus far steered domestic energy debates away from the nationalist camp. This Policy Brief explores energy debates in Asia, the factors underlying them, and the future outlook for energy security and U.S. foreign policy in the region. (more…)

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Policy Alert: Nepal Earthquakes Spark Responses from Rising Powers

nepalA massive earthquake in Nepal on April 25 has claimed thousands of lives and left many survivors camped in the streets for fear of aftershocks. International humanitarian aid has poured into the country as the victim toll continues to rise. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from India, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea on the humanitarian disaster in Nepal.

INDIA

The Indian government responded to the earthquake by sending 300 disaster-response personnel and a mobile hospital. Newspapers in India praised the country’s swift response, while noting the lack of regional cooperation. (more…)

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Policy Alert: Rising Powers React to U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Normalization

uscubaflagsAfter decades of Cold War hostility and economic embargoes, President Barack Obama held a historic meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro on April 11, marking an important step toward diplomatic normalization between the two nations. At a news conference, President Obama emphasized that “it was time to try something new…to engage more directly with the Cuban government and the Cuban people. And as a consequence, I think we are now in a position to move on a path towards the future.” In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil on the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic normalization.

CHINA

Chinese media reflected positively on the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations.  (more…)

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Policy Brief: Putin Goes Nationalist

putinNationalism has recently become more salient in Russian foreign policy debates, especially after the annexation of Crimea last year. How does this resurgence of nationalism affect Russia’s foreign policy and its relationship with the United States and Europe? Should we expect to see a more assertive Russia in the coming years?

There are three broad schools of thought in Russian foreign policy discourse: 1) liberal westernizers; 2) great power balancers; and 3) Russian nationalists. President Vladimir Putin came into power as a great power balancer who at times tacked toward the liberal westernizer camp and at times toward the Russian nationalist camp. But with his decision to annex Crimea one year ago and later in the spring and summer of 2014 to directly support an insurgency in Eastern Ukraine, Putin has firmly placed himself in the camp of Russian nationalists, in fact, quite a chauvinistic strain of Russian nationalism at that.

The question one year later remains why Vladimir Putin took this dramatic and dangerous step. It appears he did so to more firmly consolidate domestic political support for his leadership. Over the course of more than twelve years of his two terms of de jure leadership as President and one term of de facto leadership as Prime Minister, Mr. Putin’s high popularity ratings were principally buttressed by robust economic growth and a sense of growing prosperity among the Russian people.

However, when he returned to the Presidency in May 2012, Russia’s economic performance began to plummet. In 2013, growth stagnated to a meager 1.3%, and on the eve of the military occupation of Crimea at the end of February, growth was close to zero, the ruble was losing value, and capital flight was at an all-time high rate. (more…)

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RPI Author Rajesh Rajagopalan: “Iran Nuclear Agreement: Unclear and Extremely Vague

irannucleardealRajesh Rajagopalan, Professor at the Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, recently offered his critical view on the Iran nuclear deal reached last Thursday between US Security Council plus Germany and Tehran, in a piece published by Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He argues that the lack of details in the deal makes the conclusion of a final agreement, expected by the end of June, difficult, and that “the Iranians are correct about Obama and Kerry trying to spin what has been agreed to.”

Iran and the major powers (EU3+3) have reached a very preliminary and extremely vague agreement on principles for an agreement, released in the form of an exceedingly brief joint statement of less than 500 words. Whether this ’agreement about an agreement’ would lead to an actual deal is anybody’s guess, but it’s not going to be easy. Both sides have agreed it will be done by June 30, but no one should be surprised if this self-imposed is missed.

One reason for the difficulty in reaching an actual deal is that in their desire to conclude this political framework, a lot has been left fuzzy which will need to be clarified in the actual deal. The advantage of leaving things unclear is that both sides can claim victory (and they are), but the problem is that they are already disagreeing in their interpretation of what has been agreed. Within hours of the joint statement being released, the Iranians criticised the Obama administration for ’spinning’ the deal in a factsheet the White House released. For their part, the Iranians also released their own ’factsheet’, with their interpretation of the agreement.

The joint statement released by Iran and the EU3+3 provides few details. The White House factsheet is three times longer and provides specifics, but it’s a US interpretation of what was agreed, parts of which Teheran has already dismissed. For example, the White House factsheet specifies durations for the deal: number of centrifuges will be limited for 10 years, uranium enrichment will be limited for 15, no new enrichment facilities for 15 years and so on. But the official joint statement mentions no time limits for the agreement, using phrases such as ’specified duration’ and ’mutually agreed period of time’.  (more…)

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Policy Alert: Iran Nuclear Deal Sparks Reactions from Rising Powers

irandealLast Thursday, the 18-month-long negotiations between the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5 + 1) and Iran finally reached a framework agreement designed to curtail the Iranian nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions against the country. President Barack Obama called the deal a “historic understanding” between Washington and Tehran, urging Congress, U.S. allies in the Middle East, and the Iranian regime to work toward a final agreement by a June 30 deadline. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Russia, India, South Korea, Japan, and Brazil on the Iran nuclear deal. (more…)

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Policy Alert: Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Sparks Debates in Asia and Beyond

AIIBDecisions by America’s European allies-the U.K., Germany, France, and Italy-to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a new China-led multilateral development institution for Asia, generated debates about Beijing’s potential challenge to existing global financial institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and about Washington’s response to this challenge. Despite its initial opposition to the Chinese initiative, the Obama administration recently reversed its position, proposing to co-finance projects with the AIIB by utilizing existing multilateral institutions. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Japan, and South Korea, as well as the United States and European countries on the AIIB.

CHINA

Responding to U.S. concerns regarding the bank’s standards of governance, some Chinese media brushed over these concerns, instead urging the United States to ‘get on the boat.’ (more…)

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RPI Author David Shambaugh: The Coming Chinese Crackup

Shambaugh WSJ columnRPI author David Shambaugh discusses the future – and a potential demise – of the communist rule in China in the wake of the National People’s Congress’ annual session last week. This op-ed originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

The endgame of communist rule in China has begun, and Xi Jinping’s ruthless measures are only bringing the country closer to a breaking point.

On Thursday, the National People’s Congress convened in Beijing in what has become a familiar annual ritual. Some 3,000 “elected” delegates from all over the country—ranging from colorfully clad ethnic minorities to urbane billionaires—will meet for a week to discuss the state of the nation and to engage in the pretense of political participation.

Some see this impressive gathering as a sign of the strength of the Chinese political system—but it masks serious weaknesses. Chinese politics has always had a theatrical veneer, with staged events like the congress intended to project the power and stability of the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP. Officials and citizens alike know that they are supposed to conform to these rituals, participating cheerfully and parroting back official slogans. This behavior is known in Chinese as biaotai, “declaring where one stands,” but it is little more than an act of symbolic compliance.

Despite appearances, China’s political system is badly broken, and nobody knows it better than the Communist Party itself. China’s strongman leader, Xi Jinping, is hoping that a crackdown on dissent and corruption will shore up the party’s rule. He is determined to avoid becoming the Mikhail Gorbachev of China, presiding over the party’s collapse. But instead of being the antithesis of Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Xi may well wind up having the same effect. His despotism is severely stressing China’s system and society—and bringing it closer to a breaking point. (more…)

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Policy Alert: U.S. Fight against Islamic State Spurs Reactions from Rising Powers

policyalert_ISIS_Obama

Last month, President Barack Obama held a world anti-terrorism summit in Washington, D.C., calling on more than 60 nations to join the fight against “violent extremism.” During the summit, he reiterated his position not to call war against Islamic State (IS) as a religious one and emphasized the need to address the social origins of terrorism, such as twisted interpretations of Islam, local economic grievances, and IS propaganda. This followed a series of terrorist attacks in Paris, Sydney, Copenhagen, and Ottawa, and the White House’s request to Congress for a new war authorizationagainst the terrorist group. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Russia, India, South Korea, and Japan on the recent development on the fight against IS.

CHINA

Chinese editorials expressed dissatisfaction in the way the United States has dealt with terrorism. (more…)

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