On November 25, Fidel Castro, the long-serving revolutionary leader of Cuba, passed away at the age of 90. After assuming power in 1959, Castro’s efforts to transform the Republic of Cuba into a communist country faced fierce opposition, economic blockades, and a myriad of assassination attempts from the United States. Throughout the Cold War, Castro inserted himself into global affairs – including the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and his close bonds with the Soviet Union and China – to a degree that outstripped the relatively small size of his island nation.
While his death was a moment of celebration for many Cuban-Americans, Cuban exiles, and U.S. politicians, several rising powers in Asia and Latin America took time to praise Castro’s leadership in fighting for the rights of developing countries. Fidel’s younger brother, Raúl, will remain as president – a position he has held since 2006 – until 2018 when he pledged to step down. In this Policy Alert, we survey the reactions from China, Brazil, India, Russia, Japan, and South Korea to the passing of Fidel Castro and the future of Cuba.
In offering his condolences to Cuba, President Xi Jinping called Castro a “great figure of our times” who made “immortal historic contributions to the world socialist development” and was a “close comrade and sincere friend” to China. Premier Li Keqiang praised Castro’s contributions to the bilateral relationship between China and Cuba and that Beijing was “willing to work with Cuba to inherit and carry on the traditional friendship.”
The vast majority of China’s media and expert commentary mourned Fidel Castro’s passing and noted the strong Sino-Cuban ties under his rule.
- To China Daily, Castro’s death was a “reminder the Cold War is already over,” and now it is time for world leaders to focus on joint cooperation between developed and developing countries based on “peace and development instead of confrontation.” The paper, which also ran a detailed biography of Fidel and his ties with China, concluded “the world cannot afford to relive the Cold War.”
- Xinhua’s Chen Shilei called his death a “great loss to the Cuban and Latin American people as well as to the world socialist development.” Castro protected Cuba’s “national sovereignty and dignity against the long-time U.S. isolation and embargo,” and his “glorious image and great achievements” will be “remembered forever.”
- Hailing Castro as an “old friend to the Chinese people,” Global Times said Cuba “never wanted to make enemies and sour U.S.-Cuba relations to a large extent were caused by” the United States.
- Han Han, general secretary of the Center of Cuban Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, saw “time and history” having “vindicated and awarded Fidel Castro’s hard fight to uphold Cuba’s sovereign integrity and independence.” China and Cuba have a “comradely relationship” with China teaching the island how to open up to the world and achieve reform while staying true to its socialist roots.
- Global Times did not think Fidel’s death would have “political ramifications globally” since power has already transferred to Raúl Castro, but his passing “stirs ideology clash in China.” On Chinese social media, some Chinese youth have attacked Castro as being too close to the Soviet Union instead of China during the Cold War. The paper argued, however, these views were misguided as Castro was a “good friend” to China.
With the Abe-Putin summit scheduled in December, Japan should focus on solving not only the dispute over the Northern Territories but also the indigenous rights problem regarding the Ainu people, the native inhabitants of these disputed islands.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in December is a bold step to solve the decades-long dispute over the Northern Territories. The dispute over an island chain northeast of Hokkaido dates back to Soviet occupation of the islands at the end of WWII. Due to the dispute, the two countries have not signed a peace treaty to end the war.
As Japan refocuses on the disputed islands, it should also revisit their history, particularly the colonial past of their indigenous inhabitants, the Ainu. The Japanese government has not fully recognized Ainu indigenous rights while still using them for the territorial dispute negotiations. The country should solve not only the Northern Territories Problem but also the Ainu Problem.
The Ainu are the original inhabitants of Hokkaido (previously called Ezo), Sakhalin, Kuril mainland Japan, and the Northern Territories, where by the thirteenth century they had developed their own distinct culture, language, and livelihood. (more…)Continue Reading →
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…)Continue Reading →
The issue of nationalism in Asia has gained attention in recent years as two new nationalist leaders—Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi—came into office with aspirations to play a greater role in shaping the regional economic and security order. How does nationalism affect the foreign policies of the world’s third-largest economy and its largest democracy?
This question was addressed by Richard Samuels, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Deepa M. Ollapally, Associate Director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies and Associate Research Professor of International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University (GWU), at a Rising Powers Initiative conference on “Worldviews of Aspiring Powers: A Resurgence of Nationalism?” held on November 18 at GWU. The conference reconvened authors to update their findings in the book Worldviews of Aspiring Powers: Domestic Foreign Policy Debates in China, India, Iran, Japan, and Russia (Oxford University Press, 2012).Continue Reading →
During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five-day trip to Japan last week, the two governments declared “the opening of a new age” in bilateral relations, signing a “Special Strategic and Global Partnership” aimed at strengthening their strategic and economic ties. The agreement delivered some promises, including Japan’s $35 billion investment in India over the next five years, but not others, including civil nuclear energy cooperation and “two-plus-two” security ministerial talks. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from India, Japan, and China on the India-Japan partnership.
The Indian government and newspapers emphasized the importance of India-Japan relations. (more…)Continue Reading →
Deepa Ollapally, Research Professor of International Affairs and the Associate Director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, offered her thoughts on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Japan during a recent interview with the Voice of America. While pointing out the potential fruits of economic cooperation and the importance of the shared democratic values between the two countries, she emphasized the diplomatic rapprochement includes a China factor; it is a response to China’s rise and assertiveness, and both countries do not like to see Chinese dominance in the region. The interview article is available here.
Continue Reading →
Announcing his Cabinet decision to enable Japan to exercise its collective self-defense rights, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the public that the new security policy will serve as deterrence and ensure peace. This explanation, however, overlooks the fact that a robust military posture could also trigger a security dilemma and invite conflict. Abe must explain to his people and neighbors how he will address the potential negative aspects of the new policy.
On July 1, the Abe administration announced a historic revision to Japan’s pacifist postwar security policy. It provided a new constitutional interpretation that will enable the country to exercise its collective self-defense rights, meaning that the Japanese force can now defend friends and allies under attack for the first time in history. Prime Minister Abe explained the new policy as one of deterrence, which will prevent aggression and ensure peace in today’s rapidly changing international security environment. Some Japanese newspapers supported Abe’s views.
“Deterrence maintains peace.” The logic is by no means a new one. It underlines balance-of-power politics throughout history, as well as the U.S. military “rebalancing” toward Asia, or more specifically, toward a rising China. The logic also applies to Japan’s new defense policy. “The most important thing is that this [collective self-defense] makes it possible for us to work more closely with countries in the region to maintain the balance of power and deterrence vis-à-vis China,” explains Narushige Michishita, director of the Security and International Studies Program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
The logic tells only half the story, however. The other half of the story is this: deterrence can also invite conflict. One’s purely defensive military posture can appear offensive and trigger the adversary’s assertive reaction, which in turn sets off a negative spiral of security competition that can ultimately lead to war (remember World War I). Military efforts alone cannot solve this so-called “security dilemma.” Diplomatic efforts are necessary to avoid such unnecessary conflict. (more…)Continue Reading →
Dr. Mike Mochizuki, Identity and Power in Asia project co-director and associate dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, and Brooking’s Michael O’Hanlon recently co-wrote an op-ed in The National Interest on healing Asia’s “wounds of history.” The authors discuss nationalist tendencies by China as well as U.S. allies and suggest actions the United States and countries in Asia can take to seek reconciliation on these tensions. Mochizuki and O’Hanlon stress that the “stability of Northeast Asia in coming years could hang in the balance”:
As President Obama prepares for his trip to Asia in two weeks, tensions are remarkably high in a part of the world that was supposed to be smart enough to focus on getting rich even as the Middle East remained bogged down in conflict. Although much of the problem originates in China, American allies sometimes play a role too—including the government of Shinzo Abe in Japan. His visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo are one big reason. Mr. Obama, like other American officials, will probably ask him to desist from future visits when the two heads of government meet in Tokyo. But in fact, Obama should concentrate on a more realistic agenda—asking Abe to redefine and transform the shrine, rather than stop visiting it.
The wounds of history are profound in East Asia. Simple repetition of the official Japanese apology first articulated by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in August 1995 will not suffice to promote historical reconciliation. And as Abe demonstrated by his visit to Yasukuni in December 2013, Japanese political leaders like their counterparts in other countries naturally feel compelled to honor their country’s war dead. The Yasukuni Shrine memorializes millions of rank-and-file Japanese soldiers who died for their country, not just the fourteen Japanese leaders who were convicted of “Class A” war crimes or who died while on trial for such crimes. (more…)Continue Reading →
In a blog post for the Rising Power Initiative, RPI Graduate Research Assistant Daisuke Minami offers a view on Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the controversial war-linked Yasukuni Shrine. Painting the visit as a political mistake, Minami argues that the mistake presents important lessons for China, South Korea, and Japan to build mutual understanding and restraint on historical issues in order to seek reconciliation and common interests.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s unexpected visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead and fourteen “Class A” war criminals, has stirred a great deal of controversy surrounding his views of history while exacerbating already intensified tensions in Northeast Asia. Despite these consequences, this diplomatic debacle still teaches us important lessons on why we need mutual understanding and restraint on historical issues to pursue historical reconciliation, a future-minded posture, and common interests in the region.
Abe’s visit to Yasukuni was a political failure both domestically and internationally even though he later provided an explanation for the act—honoring the war dead and praying for world peace—and sought understanding from world leaders and his constituents.
Internationally, the visit generated a chorus of condemnation not only from China and South Korea—leaving Sino-Japan and Korea-Japan relations at the lowest point in recent history—but also from Japan’s most important ally, the United States, who expressed its “disappointment” on the issue. The timing of the visit could have not been worse, as Japan had been struggling to mend relations with its neighbors while attempting to gain their support for its new active security policy. Moreover, the visit is a windfall for Chinese leaders who like to use the alleged resurgence of Japan’s militarism as a justification for their military assertiveness over the disputed islands in the East China Sea. It also validates Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has been using a similar “history card” against Japan to distract from her own domestic problems and maintain her popularity.
It is also questionable if the visit earned Abe any political points domestically. A recent poll showed that nearly 70 percent of respondents say the prime minister should consider the diplomatic implications of his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, expressing concerns about the provocative move. To say the least, the public is divided on the matter, as 47.1 percent said it “was not good” to visit the shrine, compared with 43.2 percent who disagreed. While some may argue that the visit consolidated Abe’s right-wing base, placing a risky bet on this controversial issue does not seem to be a wise political decision. More importantly, the public’s major expectation for Abe is not his historical revisionism restoring Japan’s nationalism but rather, his Abenomics rejuvenating the country’s economy. He should not misread the political landscape.
Despite these consequences, Abe’s political misstep presents important lessons for players in Northeast Asia. For Japan, the lesson is an inconvenient truth: history issues are a losing battle. That is, Japanese leaders cannot win arguments or gain international support by revisiting the country’s dark past and evoking historical revisionism. Honoring those who sacrificed their lives for their country is indeed a moral duty for the state leaders. This act, at least in principle, is a domestic issue and should not be subject to international scrutiny. Yet, this does not change the fact that Japan’s past aggression inflicted unbearable suffering on its neighbors, and that a visit to Yasukuni Shrine can evoke such sensitive memories. Japanese leaders must recognize such historical sensitivities if they truly want to improve relations with neighboring countries and gain international support for Japan’s new active security role in the region.
Blaming Abe, however, does not mean that there is no lesson for China and South Korea in dealing with Japan. Chinese and Korean leaders accusing Japanese counterparts of historical revisionism and militarism only exacerbates the bilateral relationships, creating anti-China and anti-Korea sentiments and encouraging a nationalist surge in Japan. As a first step, China and South Korea need to recognize the records of Japan’s postwar pacifism that contributed to regional order and prosperity through its military minimalism, economic development, and development aid. They should also refrain from politicizing and exploiting Japan’s controversial past for their own political gains in order to reassure the Japanese that their apology will be well-received and accepted. This should not be a mission impossible, given the fact that the Yasukuni Shrine only became a political issue several years after the enshrinement of the war criminals became public in 1979, and that three prime ministers visited the shrine a total of 21 times without protests during those years.
The tragedy of all this is that history issues bar China, South Korea, and Japan from seeking their numerous mutual interests, from cultural exchange to trade to regional security. Security is perhaps the most pressing matter, as uncertainty looms over the Korean Peninsula after the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle and tensions keep rising over the disputed islands in the East China Sea. Pursuing these common interests requires historical reconciliation and a future-minded posture, and that is only possible if all parties establish mutual understanding on the sensitivities surrounding history issues and exercise mutual restraint on evoking those issues. There is no winner in fighting over the past. Let us focus on the future and move forward.
The author is a Graduate Research Assistant for the Rising Powers Initiative. He is also a Ph.D. student in the Political Science Department, The George Washington University.Continue Reading →
Gregg Brazinsky, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, recently wrote a post for CNN’s Global Public Sphere where he argued that the United States should criticize Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe more firmly for his visit to the controversial war-linked Yasukuni Shrine that has exacerbated diplomatic tensions in East Asia and undermined U.S. interests in the region:
Japan can sometimes be wrong, a basic fact that Washington sometimes seems to have a problem understanding. American officials have long seen Japan as a staunch U.S. ally, one that former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone once suggested could become an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Pacific. But while this may be true, since securing power in December 2012, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has done far more to undermine American strategic interests in Asia than to support them.
Regrettably, the Obama administration’s response to this unfortunate shift in Tokyo’s foreign policy has been weak and confused. It’s time for the U.S. to get serious about reining in Japan. (more…)Continue Reading →