Japan Updates for the Last Two Months of 2016 (3/3)

In the economic (and social) field, so called the Casino Law, or the Promotion Act of Integrated Resort, passed the Diet on December 15. What a stupid decision! Economic success of Japan since the Meiji Restoration owed a lot to an increase in population and productivity, an expansion of the market to overseas, and overall diligence of the Japanese people. At a time when these elements are being lost, the majority of Japanese politicians are choosing the way to facilitate the deterioration of the morale, and thus the loss of diligence by making the Casino Law.

First of all, casino is immoral. Even today, pachinko business are legally absorbing money from ordinary people and creating persons of gambling addicted. Far from strengthening regulation on it, this country seems to be facilitating the production of lazy people. To my disappointment, the Diet debate was lukewarm at best. While the proponents, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have been bribed by way of political contribution, the opponents have failed to carry strong arguments. They should have made a simple argument: casino or gambling is bad for the society and should be banned. Instead, the skeptics have criticized that the number of gambling addicts would increase. The proponents have easily responded that the casino addicts would receive more hospitable care by using tax revenue from new casino business. Some have even argued that we should lift a ban on casino in order to treat gambling addicts carefully. Maybe they think we should legalize and nationalize the narcotic business in order to enhance the drug addicts?

The Casino Law is economically meaningless, too. The sales of casino industry amount to be approximately three trillion JPY or twenty five billion dollars in Macao, one of the most successful areas in casino business. Let us suppose casino business make a success in Japan. The sales would be one trillion JPY or eight billion dollars, and the profit would be a hundred billion JPY or eight hundred thirty million dollars. That means we will create an enterprise ranking at the 150th place in sales. Well, you may argue that it is better than nothing. If I were the government, I would rather reform the regulatory system and/or creating new areas of business by investing in education and child care, which will more effectively help Japanese economy and employment. I am also concerned with the economic side effect of the spread of casino business, or the facilitation of the deterioration of business morale. Recall the recent and successive scandals related to Japanese prestigious companies such as Toshiba Corporation (fraudulent accounting) and Mitsubishi Motor Corporation (fuel mileage falsification). The collapse of morale and corporate governance lies at the core of business crisis of these companies. Lifting the ban on casino is likely to deteriorate the overall morale in Japanese society and facilitate the weakening of morale in Japanese companies in the long run.

Aside from fundamental judgment on the Casino Law, it will be politically interesting if Abe and the LDP have decided to do what they want even by skipping careful procedures and enough debates in the Diet. The LDP passed the Casino Bill in the House of Representatives after only six hours debate. The Komeito was forced to allow its members whether to support or oppose the bill, and Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of the party voted against it.

In the election, the LDP cannot win without the cooperation from the Soka-Gakkai, religious body which supports the Komeito. For their part, however, the Komeito and the Soka-Gakkai cannot cease to support the LDP because they want to stay in power as a part of the government and the ruling coalition. Abe understands it very well. Furthermore, the opposition parties are all unpopular and the media and internet space are well controlled by House of Prime Minister and the LDP. There is a good chance of Abe’s trying to manage the Diet more autocratically, especially after the general election. The next question is what Abe wants to do. It should not be necessarily the passage of specific laws. My guess is any challenges that help the dissolution of the post-war regime of Japan, even if he will continue to stress “Economy First.”

Japan Updates for the Last Two Months of 2016 (2/3) 

Another big event in the foreign policy field was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor together with President Barak Obama on December 27. I know it is politically incorrect to criticize it. But I don’t think I should follow others blindly to praise no war pledge made by Abe.

They say that one U.S. media reported the speech of the two leaders were both poetic and impressive. However, I found a clear difference between the two. On the one hand, Obama touched the negative aspects of the U.S. history by remembering the internment of Japanese Americans during the war. The world saw at least some sense of self-reflection on its history there. On the other hand, Abe only glorified the soldiers of the two countries and emphasized that the American soldiers pay respects on the brave Japanese soldiers. I am not insisting that Abe should have apologized. But I regret that the speech would have given really positive message to the American people and the world if he had mentioned even a word on the responsibility of then political and military leaders. Although I don’t like manipulative argument by Chinese, I do not think that the power of reconciliation is fully displayed without the insight into the past.

In reality, it is impossible to expect Abe to think in that way. A man who advocates the dissolution of the post-war regime of Japan does not believe that the World War II was really wrong. In fact, Abe has been refusing to call it a war of invasion. While Prime Minister Abe might have gone with President Obama’s making his legacy at Pearl Harbor, President Obama also seemed to go with Abe’s hypocritical performance.

Japan Updates for the Last Two Months of 2016 (1/3)

Happy New Year 2017.

Many things occurred while I suspended the blog since November 11 2016. Let me briefly look back the major movements related to Japan.

On foreign policy, the biggest event was the Japan-Russo summit on December 15 and 16. The result was what I had expected in this blog. The festival is over, after all. The best Japan can do from now on is to slow down as much as possible the implementation of the twelve documents signed between the two governments. There should be no problem as the documents are not positioned as the international agreements that bind the parties concerned.

According to the poll, it has become clear that more and more Japanese people accepts flexible approach rather than sticking to “the immediate return of all of the four islands.” But it seems that the minimum results they can compromise would be “the return of the two islands,” to which the Russians will never agree. As a consequence, the realistic strategies for the future Japanese government would be trying to settle with “the return of less than the two islands,” or accepting the abandonment of the four islands in exchange for the compensation from Russia. However, I cannot conceive of any collateral Moscow can offer, big enough for Tokyo to make a domestically unpopular decision. Neither Japan suffers from the present Japan-Russo relationship or the lack of a peace treaty. My recommendation for the Northern Territories settlement: Leave it alone.

The U.S. Presidential Campaign and the Loss of American Soft Power

Mr. Donald Trump is elected the forty fifth President of the United States. Aside from the exchange of mutual slanders, the Trump claimed a change from the Obama-Clinton era during the campaign, while Hillary Clinton seemed to substantially legitimize a status quo. American people finally chose a change again, but this time a change to nowhere.

For the people living outside of the United States, the presidential campaign has been seen as one of the most effective tools to spread the American soft power. This time it worked out in the opposite direction.

Personal slanders by both camps were simply ugly. But we now know that such a boasting segregationist or a condescending crime-suspicious character can become the President of the United States. We were surprised and disappointed to find that both the Republicans and the Democrats failed to pick alternatives to such unpopular candidates. We now understand that even the United States suffers from the depletion of the human capital in political leadership.

Through the lens of this presidential race, the divide in the U.S. society has become so clear to the eyes of people all over the world. Even if the United States maintains significant amount of national power, ranging from superb military power, economic might, innovative technology, to still growing population, socially fragmented country is regarded as weak. And too large social divide would eventually deprive the vitality of that state.

The contents of a change also matter. When the past presidential candidates claimed a change, they usually presented something like visions or ideals, even if some of them were fake or undeliverable.

Bill Clinton, facing twin deficits of the budget and the current account after the victory in the Cold War, promised in 1992 to vitalize the U.S. economy by spinning around “It’s the economy, stupid.” He actually changed the traditionally pro-union economic policy of the Democrats to the more pro-business one.

George W. Bush didn’t clearly illustrate the change at his inauguration. But he seemed to make the social security policy of the Republicans more inclusive by “Compassionate Conservatism.” And of course, he led the country to fight terrorism after 9/11.

Then eight years ago, Barak Obama made us believe he would “change” American foreign policy from unilateralism to more multilateral and consultative one. He also called for a “world without nuclear weapons.” Although never regarded as a model abroad, he initiated the “ObamaCare” in the States.

And now, it’s Trump’s turn. Under the slogan “America First,” he does claim a change. But it could be protectionism, it could be abdication of alliance responsibility, and it could be a closure of the American society. For those who voted for Trump, they could be the next values America will hold. But at least for me, they are not appealing at all because of their negative nature. Furthermore, “America First” would weaken the United States. Protectionism will deprive robustness from the U.S. economy. Fewer American responsibilities in the alliance management mean the weaker U.S. leadership and the deterioration of the security environment as a result. Trump’s change is more likely to harm both the image and the interests of the United States.

Some speculate that the way he presented a change was populistic and destructive for the election campaign tactics, and President Trump will become much more realistic. If that’s true, I should be relieved. But at the same time, I will be deeply disappointed at the fraud nature of this election, and American democracy. Therefore, the loss of the U.S. soft power anyway.

More to follow. But the update will be late due to my personal reasons.

The Japan-Russo Northern Territories Negotiation: V. Where Will the Talk End Up?

At the end of this series, let us think about the landing point of the negotiation on Northern Territories between Abe and Putin.

First of all, it is not realistic at all to expect Putin to hand over the four islands back to Japan. Whatever economic assistance the Japanese government offers, or whatever phased scheme it creates, the recovery of the four islands is a daydream. I already explained the reasons in the Part III.

What about “the two plus something”? Because the Soviet Union once agreed to return Shikotan and Habomais in Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956, not a few Japanese believe or want to believe that Japan’s territorial right on the two islands is guaranteed. They go on to advocate that Moscow should add more concessions on the return of the two small islands if Japan compromises to give up the recovery of all the four islands. More specifically, some demand the return of three islands, adding either Etorofu or Kunashiri to Shikotan and Habomais. Others insist on equally dividing the acreage of the four islands, or Japan taking Shikotan, Habomais, Kunashiri and a quarter of Etorofu. But these are also wishful thinking. Kunashiri and Etorofu are simply too important for Moscow to abandon. Putin has repeatedly expressed his will to finally resolve the territorial issue along with the Soviet-Japan Joint Declaration of 1956, meaning Kunashiri and Etorofu should be excluded from the negotiation.

Is the recovery of the two islands of Shikotan and Habomais guaranteed minimum? I guess that is the best Japan can realistically hope for, but still never guaranteed. The Russians would not regard the sovereignty of Shikotan and Habomais as Japan’s vested interests. Putin is more likely to attempt making a deal at “the two minus something.” For example, Russia would agree to return only Habomais where few people inhabit. Or it may want to prolong the actual transfer of Shikotan and Habomais, while shelving off the issue of attribution of Kunashiri and Etorofu by establishing a consultation mechanism between Japan and Russia. It goes without saying that Moscow would demand large-scale economic cooperation from Japan as a consideration for “the two minus something.”

One interesting idea is “condominium” or the joint sovereignty that Nikkei newspaper reported on October 17. Although relatively rare, we find some instances of condominium elsewhere. For example, Pheasant Island has been a condominium of France and Spain since 1659. To name a few in the history, Cyprus from 688 to 965 by the Byzantine Emperors and the Arab Caliphs, Sudan from 1899 to 1956 by the U.K. and Egypt, and New Hebrides from 1906 to 1980 by France and Britain before attaining independence as the Republic of Vanuatu.

Compare with the direct transfer of the sovereignty, the notion of condominium will be acceptable for Russia. But it is too soon to expect that condominium works for the Northern Territories. Russia or the Soviet Union has effectively governed the four islands for more than seven decades, while Japanese residents have been deported since the Soviet invasion in 1945. The Russian military has its facilities in Kunashiri and Etorofu. Kremlin would find little incentive to agree to the condominium.

What’s more, over sixteen thousand Russians who live in the three islands will not likely to accept the condominium with Japan. Recall the case of Gibraltar where the British and the Spanish governments reached a basic agreement to introduce a condominium in 2002. The 98 percent of the residents of Gibraltar rejected it by referendum, and the agreement between the two governments became a piece of paper. As a “democratic” president of Russia, Putin will not be able to force the islanders to accept the unilateral decision made by the government, either. From the same reason, possibility of admitting the right of residence to Russian islanders, while returning the sovereignty to Japan, will be also slim.

The best scenario for Russia is to receive economic cooperation from Japan without making substantial concessions in the territorial dispute. Valentina Matviyenko, the head of Russia’s upper chamber of parliament and one of the aides of Putin, stated on November 1 that she welcomes Russo-Japanese joint economic activities in the South Kuril Islands within the Russian legal framework. Of course, Abe will lose face if that is the only outcome of the summit meeting with Putin.

Agreeing to the conclusion of a peace treaty within a definite period of time and a considerable economic cooperation, together with cosmetic reference to the possibility of returning some of the Northern Territories, will be one of the worst scenarios for Prime Minister Abe. This landing point will be permissible when Japan and Russia fail to reach a substantial agreement on the territorial issue, and still need to announce an “outcome.” As I questioned earlier, however, the conclusion of a peace treaty itself is only a nominal fruit for Japan.


There has been a speculation that Abe is trying to dissolve the Diet by appealing a historical achievement in the territorial negotiation with Russia. The more Abe thirsts for an exploit in the December summit, the larger is the room for Putin to maneuver the deal. We all know that Abe’s personal gain in the context of general election is never identical to an interest of Japan.

The Japan-Russo Northern Territories Negotiation: IV. The Significance of the Deal Is Overestimated

Fourth, I wonder what the balance sheet of this negotiation would look like. I don’t quite understand why Abe is pursuing this deal so eagerly. I know that almost every Japanese Prime Minister has been driven by personal ambition to solve the Northern Territory dispute. But Abe seems to be clearly overdriven.

What Russia would receive is clear if the deal is done between Abe and Putin. Kremlin will gain large economic assistance to help its weak economy, and it will score diplomatic points in the face of difficult relationship with the West. It’s ideal for Putin if he can settle the deal without substantially compromising on the territorial issue.

On the other hand, the payoff of the deal is not very clear for Abe and Japan. If Abe can recover the four islands in the coming deal with Putin, that will be fine enough. But such a successful deal will be very unlikely as I will discuss later. Return of the two islands of the Shikotan and the Habomais, occupying only seven percent of the total acreage of the four islands, will not match big economic assistance, exceeding ten billion dollars as recently reported.

When Hatoyama and Shigemitsu negotiated with Moscow in 1950s, they had clear missions. The recovery of the islands was only a part of them. Japan must resume diplomatic relation with the Soviet Union who had vetoed Japan’s entry into the United Nations. It also needed to get the Japanese soldiers in Siberia back home, and resume fishing in the northern Pacific. Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956, although lukewarm (or a failure as a result) in terms of the solution of the Northern Territories dispute, achieved at least these three goals successfully. If Japan can achieve big national interest in the fields other than the territorial issue, I believe the coming deal would be worthy of trying hard. Let us check from this stand point of view.

Will Japan gain big economic merits from investment in Russia? Frankly speaking, Russia is not a very attractive market. The size of Russian Gross Domestic Product is smaller than that of South Korea. Its economy is heavily dependent on the crude oil price, meaning it will continue to lose momentum at least in the near future. The population declined for about two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Russia will continue to suffer the demographic problem unless it increases immigration drastically.

Isn’t it good for Japan to diversify the supply source of crude oil and natural gas by investing in the Russian energy industry? Theoretically, yes. But the past behavior of the Russian government suggests that Kremlin may maneuver our energy dependence on them as a political tool for another bargaining.

Is the deal regarded as a strategic bargain for Japan? Abe claims that his new approach has “a global viewpoint” in the negotiation with Russia, implying the Japanese government wants to take advantage of the improved relationship with Moscow to check the provocation by China and/or North Korea. Russia should be also benefited by the better relationship with Japan in managing its relationship with China. The benefit of strategic bargain for Japan, however, will be subtle. For Russians, the economic gain from the rapprochement with Japan will never exceed the economic and strategic merit from the Sino-Russian entente. Economically, the share of Russian trade with China was 11.3%, whereas the share of Japan was only 3.9%. Strategically, both China and Russia need each other as long as they have tense relationship with the United States. Tokyo will never be able to separate Moscow from Beijing.

What about a peace treaty with Russia? Prime Minister Abe says the situation where Japan and Russia have not concluded a peace treaty for 67 years since the end of World War II is abnormal. Sounds it surely is. To be cool-headed, however, lack of a peace treaty with Russia causes no substantial inconvenience. Japan already has a diplomatic relationship with the Soviet Union and Russia since 1956. It’s more than a quarter century since the cold war ended, and we don’t have to worry that Russia will invade Japan. Even without a peace treaty, the Japanese government, if it wishes, can offer economic assistance to Russia as much as it wants.

These considerations cannot help making me have a bad premonition about the coming deal between Abe and Putin.

The Japan-Russo Northern Territories Negotiation: III. Abe Cannot Buy the Territory from “Democratic” Russia

Third, I have to argue that Japan’s basic strategy to substantially buy the territory in exchange for the massive economic assistance is doomed to fail.

Historically, there were cases where the nations traded territories. Napoleon sold French Louisiana to the United States in 1803. Russian Alexander II sold Alaska in 1867. But these examples fundamentally differ from the Northern Territories. French Louisiana and Alaska in the 19th century were not very important both economically and strategically. Napoleon understood that the Great Britain would sooner or later take over Louisiana. They were both remote colonies and the titles to them were not really the subjects to nationalism. Two dictators did not really have to care how their people received their own decision.

The Northern Territories are strongly embedded with nationalism not only in Japan but also in Russia. The percentage of Russian people who oppose the return of four islands to Japan as of May 2016 was 78%. It was down from 90% as of 2011, but still overwhelmingly high. (Mainichi Newspaper, August 5, 2016.) And it is very difficult to trade the nationalistic sentiment by money. Just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tokyo tried to recover four islands by offering sizable economic assistance. President Boris Yeltsin responded by showing some flexibleness on the territorial issue. However, he could not overcome the objection from Russian people. Although Russia today suffers from economic hardship as a result of sharp declines in the commodity prices and sanctions by Western countries, current economic condition is far better than that of Yeltsin’s era.

The former Soviet Union and Russia have effectively governed the Southern Kuril Islands for more than seventy years. The islands also have non-negligible values for Russians. The Etorofu and the Kunashiri host military facilities. Kremlin still sees the strategic importance of those islands.

What’s more, the Northern Territories are not desert islands. Approximately seven thousand and three hundred people live in Kunasiri. About six thousand are in Etrofu, two thousand nine hundred in Shikotan. It is unrealistic to expect Putin to order or persuade the islanders to leave. Abe and Ministry of Foreign Affairs seem to hope too much for the personal leadership of President Putin. But Putin is not a Tsar. Russia is now a kind of democracy in a sense that its president is chosen by election, so are the 450 members of Duma. Remember that Putin was moved to tears when he won the (not very fair) presidential election in March 2012. It will be very difficult for Putin and other politicians to neglect the will of the islanders and the rest of the Russian people.

The Japan-Russo Northern Territories Negotiation: II. Weak Intervention by the United States

Second, the hindrance to the Japan-Russo negotiation from the United States has been weak this time, and Abe seems to be insensitive to it. Recall the Japan-Soviet negotiation in the mid-1950s under Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama. The necessity to improve the relationship with the Soviet Union as it vetoed Japan’s membership in the United Nations mainly drove the government of Japan. Then U.S. government intervened strongly against it.

Tokyo wanted to realize the return of four islands and conclude a Peace Treaty with Moscow. But the State Department was alarmed. Drawing a border between Japan and the Soviet Union in the treaty meant that Japan admitted Russian sovereignty over the rest of Kuril Islands and South Sakhalin, which the United States never admitted. At the height of Cold War, any gain for Moscow was regarded as a loss for Washington. Americans were worried about the domino effects on the issues such as the status of Taiwan and the approval of the People’s Republic of China. The State Department was also nervous if the solution of the Northern Territories may ignite an irredentism in Japan over Okinawa and Ogasawara Islands.

In the process of the negotiation, Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu thought that the GOJ should compromise with the return of two islands (Shikotan and Habomais), and had better conclude a peace treaty. In the summer of 1956, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles met Shigemitsu in London and delivered a warning known as “intimidation by Dulles.” He said that the United States will forever stay in Okinawa if the Japanese government admits the Soviet Union full sovereignty over the (rest of) Kuril Islands. On September 9, Dulles told Shigemitsu that the U.S. government considered the four islands, not the two, should be returned to Japan. It was not the advice for the sake of Japan. The State Department reached the conclusion after being convinced that Etorofu/Itrup and Kunashiri/Kunashir were too important for the Soviet Union to give up from the military points of views. In effect, it was the advice to prohibit Japan’s concession.

Prime Minister Hatoyama finally visited Moscow and signed a Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration on October 19, 1956. As a result, Japan and the Soviet Union resumed diplomatic relations. Moscow agreed to transfer Shikotan and Habomais to Japan after concluding the Peace Treaty. Nothing was mentioned about Etorofu/Itrup and Kunashiri/Kunashir. No borderline was drawn between the two countries and two islands of Shikotan and Habomais have never been returned to Japan because the treaty has not ever concluded.

The relationship between the United States and Russia has been deteriorated for the last decade, especially after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.The Obama administration is not very happy with Abe’s initiative to make a big deal with Putin. But the U.S. administration today is not so serious as to intimidate Japan. The Cold War is over, and current threat from Russia is no more vital.

For his part, Abe does not seem to care much about Washington’s uneasiness. The nature of so called “New Cold War” is bilateral, not global. Japan does not really see material loss if it neglects American anxiety.

Personal character of Abe also facilitates a deviation from the United States. He emphasizes the importance of Japan-U.S. alliance in the context of dealing the threat from China and North Korea. But Abe is fundamentally a nationalist. He visited the Yasukuni Shrine on December 26, 2013, causing to lose face of Vice President Joe Biden. As for the matters related to Russia, Abe has been surprisingly stubborn. When the U.S. president was trying to launch a military strike on Syria in order to punish its use of chemical weapons in the late summer of 2013, he avoided committing himself to support Obama, tacitly siding with Putin. Abe’s persistence in the resolution of the Northern Territories issues was basically intact even when Russia annexed Crimea. Although the United States and the EU posed sanctions on Russia and urged Japan to follow, the Japanese government responded only nominally.

The Japan-Russo Northern Territories Negotiation: I. Virtue of A Long-term Administration

Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Japan and have a summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the December 15th. The focus of the meeting will be the Northern Territories issues (the South Kuril Islands disputes) over the four islands of Etorofu(Itrup), Kunashiri(Kunashir), Shikotan, and Habomai Islands. They have been occupied by the Soviet Union and Russia, since August/September 1945. Japan has been demanding the return of four islands, with a basic stance to conclude a peace treaty with Russia after resolving the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands.

Abe advocates “a new approach.” Putin repeats to mention “hikiwake,” or a draw (in the Judo match) in Japanese. Japanese government refuses to clarify the meaning of a new approach. According to the website of Foreign Ministry, however, we can find its key concepts. One of them is future-oriented, or no adherence to the past ideas in my reading.

Abe recently stated in the Diet session that the GOJ would maintain its traditional basic stance, to conclude a peace treaty with Russia after resolving the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands. Therefore, the GOJ must be trying to make a deal with Russia by being flexible about the interpretation of “resolving the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands.” Besides, the GOJ is said to be proposing a large-scale economic assistance in eight fields, supposedly tens of billion dollars if agreed, ranging from the development of Russian natural resources to the improvement of medical and postal systems.

I suspect that the most prominent fruit of the December summit, as the GOJ is likely to emphasize, will be the conclusion of a Japan-Russo peace treaty. Abe may want to dissolve the Diet by appealing the “historical” peace treaty rather than the resolution of the territorial issues.

At this moment, the negotiation is ongoing, and it is impossible for me to know the detail of it. But let me show my present impressions facing media reports on the Northern Territories negotiation.

First, a long-term administration opens up the possibility of diplomacy for Japan. It’s good even though I don’t basically like Abe’s foreign policy. Abe’s premiership will be four years long in next December. Generally speaking, he will be a senior to the next American president in terms of political career as a top leader. More specifically, he met Putin for fourteen times up to the present. Because Abe’s political base is strong, Russian president can trust his words. Otherwise, any promise about sensitive territorial issue is too risky to take seriously. The same can be said about Putin. In this sense, Abe is seizing a rare opportunity.

China Is Crossing A Red Line over the Senkaku Islands: VI. Options for the United States

We should understand that the application of the Security Treaty over the Senkaku Islands does not automatically and unconditionally guarantees the dispatch of the U.S. forces or the war between the United States and China. In order to improve the predictability, I would like to represent some examples of the action possibly taken by the U.S. government when the Article 5 of the Security Treaty is applied to a contingency over the Senkaku Islands.

# Issue statements that the United States support Japan and accuse China.

# Veto Beijing’s proposal to adopt the U.N. Security Council resolutions in favor of China. (Instead, the U.S. efforts to adopt resolutions criticizing China will meet its veto.)

# Propose to mediate between Japan and China.

# Increase military presence of the U.S. Forces Japan, including additional dispatch of aircraft carriers and/or strategic bombers.

# Pose minor sanction against China such as the limitation of human exchange.

# Share the intelligence on the Chinese military with the SDF.

# Permit the SDF to use the U.S. bases in Japan.

# Pose moderate sanction against China such as the partial limitation of trade and investment.

# Pose considerable sanction against China such as the ban of dollar settlement for the Chinese banks.

# Provide logistical support to the SDF by the USFJ.

# Combat with the PLA in the East China Sea.

# Combat with the PLA in wider theater.

The United States had a similar experience at a time of the Falkland War in 1982. It was a territorial war between the two important allies of the United States, the United Kingdom and Argentina. President Ronald Reagan finally sided with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But it would be wrong to make a naïve analogy. Actually, the Senkakus contingency will be far more difficult for the U.S. government to deal with.

You can just compare the geography and the technology between the Falkland War and the Senkakus contingency. In 1982, it took three weeks for the British fleet to arrive in the battle field. Reagan instructed Secretary of State Alexander Haig to use that lead time for mediating a ceasefire. In case of the Senkakus contingency, the coast guards and militaries of both Japan and China are already there, and Tokyo and Beijing can reinforce them in a matter of days or weeks. In case of the Falkland War, the U.S. administration did not have to worry about Argentina’s attacking the United States when it decided to support the U.K. Buenos Aires lacked such capabilities and the U.S. homeland was too far apart to attack. In case of the Senkakus contingency, we all know China already has missiles and nuclear weapons covering the Japanese Archipelago, as well as the U.S. Forces Japan.

Because the choices the U.S. government will have to make at the Senkakus contingency will be very complicated, it is hard to tell what kind of choice Washington will actually make. But following five points can be pointed out.

First, how the conflict over the Senkaku Islands begins will influence the response of the United States. If Japan attacks first, or if the clash starts by accident, the U.S. may not take a strong position to support Japan. To the contrary, if China unilaterally sends its military to the islands and tries to invade them, Washington will be pressured to counteract more resolutely.

Second, the U.S. would vary options with the change of the war situation. For example, Washington may want to refrain from overt U.S. military intervention and leave the fighting to Japan, if the conflict is limited in space and time, and the situation is favorable to Japan. On the contrary, if cornered China tries to launch missiles to Japan’s homeland, Washington may need to act more forcibly to deter further Chinese aggression. If it does not act, the United States will be seen as intimidated by China to abandon one of its most important allies.

Third, the United States will have to analyze the repercussion of its behavior not only on China but also on Japan. If Tokyo is too confident of the U.S. military intervention, or if Beijing does not worry about the U.S. intervention at all, either one of them may run the risk of escalating the situation especially when put in inferior position in the battle. Washington is likely to maintain ambiguity even if it decides to assist Japan or keep neutrality.

Fourth, the United States will, as it did in the Falkland War, very strongly urge both Japan and China to stop fighting. It will almost certainly do so, whichever side Washington decides to support. In 1982, the U.S. government tried to balance between the two capitals during the whole process of the war. Initially, the U.S. government tried to mediate a ceasefire and a solution of territorial problem. Washington tried to save loser’s face even after the United States decided to officially support the United Kingdom and Argentine defeat was made clear to everyone’s eyes.

And finally, it is highly unlikely that the United States takes the hard options described near the bottom of the list. Although there is a certain risk of China and/or Japan making that stupid action, being driven by the force of nationalism, making war and risking soldiers’ lives over the tiny and resource-poor islands is simply ridiculous for every sober party.

There is no doubt that the Japan-U.S. alliance is valuable in checking Chinese provocation over the Senkaku Islands. But the effect of its deterring China is no more satisfactory. Japan and the United States should send more resolute signal to China now, otherwise we will have to pay the heavier cost in the future. For example, the United States should consider admitting the territorial right of Japan over the Senkaku Islands. This may sound like a deviation from the U.S. general policy on the territorial issues of other countries. But the United States has long admitted Japan’s territorial right on the four islands of Northern Territory against Russia. By admitting Japan’s territorial right, the United States may able to discourage China from challenging the status quo. (For its part, Japan should send more aggressive signal to China as I proposed in the previous post.)

While deterring Beijing’s use of force, buying time until China weakens as a result of declining and aging population will be one of the strategic options for Japan and the United States. Whether weak China means modest China, however, is a heavy bet.

Vews on Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy by Kiyoshi Sugawa