Friday, January 11, 2008

Japan Is the Quiet Little Boy in Mrs. Clinton’s Class

Now that Hillary Clinton is back as the frontrunner, I thought that it would be worth my while to reread her Foreign Affairs article.

Hillary Clinton’s contribution in the Foreign Affairs series of “If elected I would” essays by the presidential candidates* caused considerable distress within the Japanese establishment because it said that “[o]ur relationship with China will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century”, while mentioning Japan only in passing. Part of the dismay is rooted in the widely held belief among these people that, generally speaking, the alliance has gone smoother when Republicans have been in charge**. More specifically, the Clinton administration put on a full-court charm offensive on China, while Japan-U.S. relations languished under an uncommon level of animosity over trade issues.

So is this guilt by association? No. Not when Mrs. Clinton’s top foreign policy advisors, Madeline K. Albright and Richard Holbrooke, as well as much of the rest of her team also figured prominently in the Clinton administration. No. Not when she lists her eight years in the White House on her résumé under Experience. But…

First of all, in foreign affairs, top billing is often a mixed blessing, or worse. For China’s name first comes up in the list of “unprecedented array of challenges in the twenty-first century, threats from states, nonstate actors, and nature itself”. It would be hard to derive even a twisted sense of satisfaction from being mentioned in the same breath as “two wars, a long-term campaign against global terrorist networks, and growing tension with Iran as it seeks to acquire nuclear weapons[;] … a resurgent Russia whose future orientation is uncertain[;]… a rapidly growing China that must be integrated into the international system (my italics)[;]… an unpredictable and dangerous situation in the Middle East that threatens Israel and could potentially bring down the global economy by disrupting oil supplies[;]… and the looming long-term threats of climate change and a new wave of global health epidemics.” And you know what happened the last time we really challenged the United States***.

Mrs. Clinton goes on to explain her position on these challenges one-by-one, and it is in this context that “the most important bilateral relationship” must be understood. Indeed, Japan is first mentioned here as part of the solution, as she writes, “The United States should undertake a joint program with China and Japan to develop new clean-energy sources, promote greater energy efficiency, and combat climate change.”

“Strengthening Alliances” - in an obvious contrast to her protrayal of the Bush administration’s unilateralism - is a cornerstone of her strategy in meeting such challenges. Here, there is somewhat more reason for concern. The other corner of the old Trilateral, Europe, is given top billing where “Strengthening Alliances” is concerned, while in Asia, Japan is lumped together with India and Australia, as she says that “[w]e must find additional ways for Australia, India, Japan, and the United States to cooperate on issues of mutual concern, including combating terrorism, cooperating on global climate control, protecting global energy supplies, and deepening global economic development.” She claims, “When America and Europe work together, global objectives are within our means”, uplifting thoughts indeed. And the star of Asia is India, which “has a special significance both as an emerging power and as the world's most populous democracy. As co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, I recognize the tremendous opportunity presented by India's rise and the need to give the country an augmented voice in regional and international institutions, such as the UN.”

But we must be careful not to read too much into this seeming imbalance. Europe comes up in the context of the need “to reassure our allies.” Specifically, she says, “We must reestablish our traditional relationship of confidence and trust with Europe.” And India remains an “opportunity”, albeit “tremendous”. So you can look at it this way: From Senator Clinton’s point of view, its relationship with Japan is a mature, stable relationship (contrast India) that requires no healing (contrast Europe). To put it another way, we’re that quiet boy who used to be in your class, the kid who always did his homework and otherwise never made any trouble for the teachers.

Now is that such a bad thing to be? Especially since the Japanese public is not looking for more?

* Bill Richardson shares the Jan/Feb edition with Michael D. Huckabee, while Chris Dodd and Joe Biden dropped out before they got the chance. Fed Thompson will surely have his day if he stays in, but you wonder if FA will ever let Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich have their say.

** Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican; Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Democrat. Case closed. Kidding.

*** See footnote **


Gen Kanai said...

Excellent post. I'd appreciate your thoughts on Obama & Japan.

"quiet boy who used to be in your class, the kid who always did his homework and otherwise never made any trouble for the teachers."

What a stereotypically Japanese position to be in.

Jun Okumura said...

Why thank you, Gen. And we are a stereotype. Look how our leaders always fall in line, I mean everyone from Shinzō Abe to Yasuo Fukuda.

I'll try to go through Barack Obama and the other major candidates. Stay tuned.

kuriharu said...

Of course Hillary is going to see China as more important that Japan. If Japan wanted to be higher on the priority list, they're going to have to donate to her campaign illegally like China has. Then they'll get her ear.

It's odd she lists her 8 years when her husband was president as experience. If Laura Bush sat in on a few meetings, would she then be qualified? In fact, maybe Laura should run in 2016 after Romney finishes his terms!

Sorry about the Romney plug, but seriously, how would her husband being president make her qualified? I think even the Japanese would find her voice as shrill and annoying as the American public in general does!

Jun Okumura said...

kuriharu, I too find it strange that the Clintons have chosen to highlight a period of her life which is most memorable for the universal healthcare fiasco and the Monica Lewinsky affair. It may help bring out the votes in the primaries but you bet the Republican side is going to hammer away at it when the playoffs begin. For that matter, Bill Clinton’s claim about Ms. Clinton’s 35 years of public service makes her whole public life game all over again. For example, her Democratic opponents, their surrogates actually, are too kind in not pointing out that corporate law is far from the first thing the public thinks of when they hear “public service”.

Is that fair? Of course not. But then, what is? Or rather, what is fair and foul? Well, all is fair in love and war. And the NBA did not punish Shaquille O’Neil for being big, strong, and quick, but did not outlaw Hack-a-Shaq tactics either. And doesn’t the political game lie somewhere between war and sports? Speaking of which, the Celtics dodged a bullet in New Jersey, didn’t they? They’re going through a slump of sorts, they are.

But I digress. I don’t think that the political contributions that you refer to had any meaningful effect on the Clinton White House with regard to its China policy. My guess is that Mr. Clinton basically saw China as a commercial opportunity, in the same way that he saw Japan when he was a governor. And yes, Mrs. Clinton is not one of the most inspiring public speakers on the planet. But then, Margaret Thatcher (unfairly in my view) regularly came across as the Snow Queen without the glamour, and she was quite successful.

As for Mr. Romney, I’m sure that he could, and would, be an excellent CEO for the Red Cross, RJ Reynolds, Sierra Club, Exxon, or what have you. Now a president has somewhat different qualifications, not necessarily for the better. But again, that’s the way it is.