Below is the second half of a lengthy interview with Michael Green, one of Washington’s best-known specialists on Japan and US-Japan relations. The first half took up recent changes in Japan’s security policy. This second section discusses the domestic political implications of the defense policy changes, as well as history issues, and Japan’s troubled relationship with Korea.
Dr. Green is senior vice president for Asia, and Japan Chair, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and an associate professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He served on the staff of the National Security Council (NSC) from 2001 through 2005.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Let’s talk about the politics of the debate and decision about collective self-defense. How much has Abe been hurt? And do you think New Komeito simply caved to preserve its alliance with the LDP, or did the party effectively act as a check-and-balance on the LDP “revisionists?”
GREEN: Komei definitely functioned as a check. Was it helpful? With respect to the relaxation of the three arms export principles, Komei insisted on specific language in the Cabinet decision mandating reporting requirements, and transparency measures. I think this was really good public policy, and good national security policy, in a democracy.
But I don’t think Komei brought any affirmative policies; the party just hoisted question marks and doubts. They never challenged Abe’s agenda. Komei forced Abe and the LDP to keep narrowing and refining the new approach. Komei finally felt that it had a policy that was workable.
I think it would have been good for Komeito to come up with ideas of its own, instead of just trying to slow down the LDP.
But a lot of this will be tested in the Diet next year, and Komeito will play an important role. The Komeito leader, Yamaguchi, is a very talented, excellent lawyer.
The challenge is to make this decision on collective self-defense easier to understand for the average Japanese, and to put in place legitimate checks and balances; not arbitrary stoppages.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Did Abe demonstrate his political skills, or show his shortcomings as a politician?
GREEN: Abe did not explain the policy change very well. I suspect he will be able to reboot, and give concrete examples that are a little bit more relevant to the general public. I think he needs some simple catch-phrases. He put too much emphasis on case-studies. Abe needs to be a bit more like Koizumi: less policy wonk, and more explanation to the public.
DISPATCH JAPAN: For example?
GREEN: Koizumi would have said: “We need to be there for our allies, if we expect them to be there for us.” Abe needs simple phrases that explain the essence of the policy. He should avoid lengthy explanations of the rules, and talk more about the purpose of the new policy.
Abe, and his advisors, just assumed that this new policy was such an obvious necessity, and long overdue, that they did not pay enough attention to explaining it to the public.
They need to get to the philosophical, or over-arching, reasons for the new policy.
Abe relied too much on bureaucrats to explain the new policy.
He really needed a savvy politician to be the spokesman.
Let’s see what happens now that there is a new Cabinet and new LDP leadership lineup.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Let’s shift to Korea. Japan exercising the right of collective self-defense would presumably allow for better trilateral cooperation between the US, Japan, and Korea. But I don’t see Abe in any hurry to improve ties with Seoul.
GREEN: Let’s presume that Japan’s strategy is to integrate more, and cooperate more with allied and like-minded states to dissuade China from throwing its weight around. In that case, the single most important ally for Japan – after the US – is not Australia, or India, or Vietnam.
It is Korea.
But there is a “Korea-fatigue” in Japan. At the extremes, it is anti-Korean and racist.
But even among very moderate politicians, the message is the same: they are exhausted with Korea.
The frustration is long-standing, but it escalated with Lee Myung-bak’s visit to the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima island in 2012, and his demand that the Emperor apologize for Japan’s colonization of Korea.
This happened when the Democratic Party of Japan was in office. DPJ leaders were really angry with Seoul.
The “Korea fatigue” in Japan spans from the political left to the political right.
That is a real problem, and I don’t think it is getting better in Japan.
In Korea, I think the situation is somewhat improving. The new chief of Korea’s intelligence service – the NIS – is a former ambassador to Japan. He will have the ear of [Pesident] Park Geun-hye. He will moderate the anti-Japanese rhetoric out of Seoul. Up to now, the Korean Foreign Ministry has been unwilling to do this.
Some analysts think the Foreign Ministry has made things worse. With respect to Japan reviewing aspects of the Kono Statement, the Korean foreign ministry felt it had to be harsh. Officials were embarrassed. The revelations out of Japan made clear that the Korean foreign ministry had collaborated in the drafting of the Kono Statement.
But I suspect the anti-Japanese sentiments have come from Park herself.
DISPATCH JAPAN: What about Seoul’s relationship with Beijing?
GREEN: The Chinese are becoming too arrogant. Beneath the surface of the Park-Xi friendly relationship, the Chinese have been taking Seoul for granted. Xi Jinping has been talking a lot about a new Asian security arrangement, by Asians, for Asians, with no alliances.
This is the most dramatic attack on US alliances in the region since Gorbachev’s speech in 1985.
The Chinese have pressed Seoul very hard, but Park has not gone along.
DISPATCH JAPAN: The Kono Statement about “comfort women” remains very contentious. Why won’t Abe embrace the statement, and move on?
GREEN: Abe, and his conservative peers, bitterly resent both the Kono Statement and the Murayama Statement. They think they were cut out of the deliberations, and were dismissed, derisively, by Kono. They have been seeking revenge ever since.
Personally, I think they have been inflexible on the issue of state culpability.
But keep in context that the Kono Statement emerged at the time of the UN charging Bosnian Serbs with using rape as an instrument of war. Rape with the deliberate intent of demoralizing the enemy; in some cases, outright genocide
Abe and others felt that the Kono Statement wrongly linked Japan to this broader issue of war crimes. They are angry that their fathers and grandfathers – and the Japanese government – are being blamed for setting up brothels that, from their perspective, other wartime combatants had also maintained, but are not being held to a similar accountability.
From Abe’s perspective, the French army ran brothels into the 1960s, and the Soviets had them into the 1980s. The same thing occurred in China during the civil war.
Abe believes that it is not fair to compare actions in the 1930s and 1940s to rape as a weapon of war in Bosnia.
The French had brothels at Dien Bien Phu, for example. There were many Indochinese, African, and French women scooped up and put in what we now call “comfort women” stations.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Does Abe really want to promote Japanese patriotism this way: "Everybody did it?"
GREEN: I agree. It is a flawed perspective. Some of the comfort women are still alive. It is not just a matter of history in the abstract. It is a matter of human rights, and protection of women – here, and now.
But Abe and his peers are really stuck on the historical aspect, and what they see as unfair pointing out of Japan.
And I do not see this changing easily.
I could be wrong, but I think the Korean government will have a very hard time getting from Abe an outright statement of state culpability. Diplomats in Seoul and Tokyo are trying hard, but I just don’t see it happening.
DISPATCH JAPAN: So how to break this log-jam? There are creative people on both sides.
GREEN: Yes. If Prime Minister Abe and the LDP really want to move past this issue, there are some big, bold things Japan could do, without going to the core issue of state culpability. This could include compensation measures to recognize and acknowledge the suffering of the women who still survive and are still with us, but who are dying off.
This, in my view, should be an important part of the thinking in Japan.
DISPATCH JAPAN: But you seem to have some hesitation.
GREEN: Not hesitation, but some concerns. In South Korea, the “comfort women” issue, and actual care for the surviving women, has become very political, largely under the rubric of people who are radically anti-US, and anti Park Geun-hye, and anti-Japanese. It is very likely they have received support from North Korea.
They want tension to increase. That’s not to say they do not have genuine concern about the surviving comfort women. But they have a broader agenda.
This causes the Japanese government to be very cautious.
For the Korean and Japanese governments, the key is to find a way for Japan to show genuine remorse, and support for the surviving comfort women, without getting entangled in the political agenda of the radical NGOs that have taken up the issue.
I think the Korean government wants to work with Japan on this, but officials in Seoul believe they don’t have a partner in Tokyo.
I think there is room for creative diplomacy, and creative politics that would not have to go to the core issue: state culpability, which is the issue that Abe and the conservatives in the LDP will continue to say “no” to.
The Korean foreign ministry has blasted the Abe cabinet’s view of the drafting of the Kono Satement. That is now out of the way.
The question is: where to go? What comes next?
I think the best-case scenario is that the new NIS director in Seoul will help paint a more accurate picture of politics in Tokyo. Too much of the reporting in Seoul is that Japan is somehow now militarized, and relentlessly right-wing, which of course is not an accurate picture.
The national security establishment in Seoul is worried about the reliability of the alliance with the US, but is also concerned that China is taking Seoul for granted.
If the Japanese are creative enough to make some gestures, and if the diplomats can make some visible progress, I could envision Prime Minister Abe and President Park sitting down to talk with each other at the November APEC summit, or perhaps later this year.
That, in turn, would create the political space for the respective foreign ministries to make some progress. With the politics so abrasive at this time, the diplomats can’t move forward.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Do you foresee any genuine resolution of history issues, anytime soon?
GREEN: A resolution? Given the attitude toward Korea in Japan right now, it would be very difficult for any Japanese prime minister to “solve” or “resolve” these issues. It will require a long-term effort.
I believe the burden is primarily on Japan. The Japanese are pretty smart and proactive in international politics and diplomacy.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Is the Liberal Democratic Party up to that task?
GREEN: The LDP, and conservatives in general in Japan, have a responsibility to condemn anti-Korean movements and statements in Japan. LDP leaders need to speak out more against those sentiments.
And the Korean government needs to do the same thing. Anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea has gone too far.
I would like to see the Blue House in Seoul speak out against this.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Realistically, how will Abe be able to avoid “state culpability,” when that is the core of the Kono Statement?
GREEN: Let me clarify. When I say “state culpability,” I mean it in legal terms: government willingness to pay official damages. I think Abe will stick to the Kono Statement, but official government payment of damages will be very problematic.
And keep in mind that a lot of corporations in Japan are worried that if Japan compromises, they will be hit with countless lawsuits… ex-POWs, for example, or perhaps even the entire Chinese nation. Where would it end?
It is not just Prime Minister Abe who holds these views.
DISPATCH JAPAN: There is a lot of talk of a possible meeting at the APEC summit between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping. I doubt it. What do you think?
GREEN: Senior Chinese officials with whom I have spoken recently say that Xi Jinping will not relent on his two preconditions [Japan acknowledging a territorial dispute, and Abe committing to not visit the contentious Yasukuni Shrine; Ed.] Most importantly to Xi, he wants Abe to visibly relent on the Senkakus.
Abe is not going to do that. And in my view, nor should he.
Abe is not going to go to the celestial empire and apologize for a dispute over the Senkakus Islands.
He won’t do it.
And we don’t want him to do it; in my view.
But the Chinese have put forward these preconditions.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Do you think the Obama Administration is handling this well?
GREEN: No. I think the administration should be much more robust, publically and privately, saying to Beijing that its current approach to diplomacy is not how responsible big powers behave.
Abe is ready for dialogue.
These two countries are very important to each other, and to the US.
Japan and China should not be freezing dialogue with Japan at a time like this.
Abe has proposed dialogue, any time, any place.
But the Chinese are demanding concessions, which is precisely the type of behavior on China’s part that we are trying to dissuade.