On November 8, the Hamilton Lugar School hosted “The US-Japan Partnership in the 21st Century,” the inaugural national conference that brought together renowned experts on Japan’s politics and society to discuss its present and future from a variety of perspectives. Not only academics but also the Consul-General of Japan in Chicago presented during the conference, highlighting the Hamilton Lugar School as a crucial center for East Asian studies. The event was particularly relevant due to the historically strong relationship between Indiana and Japan in the areas of education, culture, and the economy.
In the policy keynote address, Andrea Richter, Vice President for International Engagement for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, discussed the extensive ties between Japan and the Hoosier State. 315 Japanese companies call Indiana home, and in total they employ 70,000 Hoosiers. Top companies such as Honda, Subaru, and Toyota have factories in the state, and Indiana corporations including Eli Lilly, Cook Medical, and Cummins all have presences in Japan, as well. Japan is one of Indiana’s top trading partners, and Indiana now exports about 2 billion dollars’ worth of goods to that nation every year.
Indiana’s relationship to Japan extends beyond economic ties, though, Ms. Richter explained. During Governor Holcomb’s 2017 diplomatic visit there, for instance, he signed a memorandum of friendship and cooperation with the government meant to enhance educational, cultural, and private-sector exchanges. Indiana has a sister state, Tochigi Prefecture, which is home to universities, manufacturing sites, forestland, and even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Indiana is also home to the Japan-America Society of Indiana, which seeks to serve as a bridge of friendship between Indiana and Japan, and it hosts events, lectures, festivals, and performances.
Despite these deep ties, Indiana and Japan still face challenges in their relationship, Ms. Richter said. Workforce development in Indiana remains an issue, as Japanese companies are hungry for educated and talented employees to recruit in the state. And Indiana seeks to diversify the kinds of foreign companies that operate in the state; automotive companies have large presences, but recruiting companies that work in the life sciences and other sectors is an important goal.
After the policy keynote, Dr. Wendy Leutert, GLP-Ming Z. Mei Chair of Chinese Economics and Trade at the Hamilton Lugar School, led a robust panel discussion on foreign policy challenges in the US-Japan relationship. Dr. Mireya Solis, of the Brookings Institution, argued that in the past three years, while the US has turned inward regarding trade and abdicated its leadership position by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Japan has adopted a leadership role in the arena of multilateral trade. Japan not only rescued the TPP but also brokered a trade agreement with the EU.
Dr. Michael Auslin, of the Hoover Institution and Stanford University, argued that geopolitics—how geography influences politics—is no longer a dormant area of study because of the growing influence of China. In a play for more influence, China now has a globally capable military and is building and militarizing islands in the South China Sea. And its One Belt One Road Initiative, at the level of infrastructure, is creating physical links that influence trade and political relations in the Eurasia area. Its military expansion, infrastructure spending, and exporting of technology that can be used by techno-authoritarian states are contributing to a new understanding of geopolitics.
Dr. Naoko Aoki, of the RAND Corporation, discussed the threat that Japan is living under because of the military capabilities of North Korea. North Korea probably has 30 nuclear warheads as of the end of 2017, she said, and it most likely added 5-7 more in 2018. It has or is developing a wide variety of missiles that threaten not only Japan but also the United States. And, finally, it abducted 17 Japanese citizens between 1977 and 1983, which significantly frayed the relationship between those two countries. She concluded by arguing that Japan could face a significant problem if the United States and North Korea reach a security agreement that protects American interests but does not address threats to Japan.
The final speaker of the panel was Dr. Adam Liff, Assistant Professor of East Asian International Relations at the Hamilton Lugar School and organizer of the conference, who reminded the audience that security does not define the relationships between the US, Japan, and China, and that they are strong trading partners. However, he reiterated the security concerns in the region, particularly due to China’s dramatically expanding military budget and the danger of a nuclear North Korea. He concluded with a discussion of the contested waters in the East and South China seas that China is increasingly asserting domain over.
A preeminent scholar of Japan, Dr. Richard Samuels of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave the thought-provoking academic keynote address. In US-Japan Relations: The Roads Ahead, Dr. Samuels argued that there are four schools of thought in Japan regarding how best to respond to a rising China and a US whose influence is waning. The first school holds that rivalry with China is inevitable, and Japan must prepare for a time when US capabilities and commitments wane. This preparation would involve committing to a larger military, which would be expensive and require moving beyond the 1% of GDP limitation on military spending.
The second school, which includes members of the business community, believes in favoring Beijing over the US in anticipation of a post-Washington economic consensus. While it would be politically destabilizing to reorient the nation toward China, this school doesn’t want to miss the tremendous economic opportunities presented by China’s dramatic growth. The third school, in contrast to the second option, believes that Japan should strengthen its robust alliance to the US. They believe the country should welcome new modes of burden sharing—including more military spending—as a possible gateway to greater autonomy. And, finally, the fourth school believes in pursuing better relations with Beijing without hindering the relationship to the US, while also reaching out to more nations in the Indo-Pacific region, including Australia and India.
Everything, Dr. Samuels argued, is up for grabs regarding how Japan relates to Korea, China, and the US, and there are advocates for many different outcomes.
Dr. Emily Metzgar, Associate Professor in the Media School and affiliated faculty with the Hamilton Lugar School, led the second dynamic panel of the day, which focused on domestic challenges in US-Japan relations. With a series of fascinating public opinion polls taken in the US, Craig Kafura of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs showed that, despite President Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, support for America’s active engagement in foreign affairs has actually increased in recent years among American citizens. Alliances are tremendously important to the public, Mr. Kafura showed, and Americans have very favorable views of Japan. US citizens in general even want to strengthen the alliance with Japan, and they view it as a fair trading partner.
Dr. Sherry Martin, of the US Department of State, who presented as a private citizen and not a representative of the government, shared her extensive findings on Japanese opinions through public polls. She pointed out that Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has high support among the public despite the Japanese public’s high level of cynicism toward politicians, and she explained how public opinion influences the constraints of politicians.
Dr. Rie Watanabe, of Aoyama Gakuin University and Harvard University, discussed the responses to climate change that Japan and the US have demonstrated, paying attention to the extent to which the two countries either have led on the issue or have attempted to undermine the issue’s scientific consensus. During the question-and-answer session at the end of the panel, panelists discussed reasons for why there is such an incongruity between elite opinion and public opinion. Panelists reasoned that elites sometimes assume the loudest voices in the room are representative of the public as a whole, and they mistakenly assume that media coverage is an accurate portrayal of public opinion.
During the day’s closing remarks, the Hon. Kenichi Okada, the Consul-General of Japan in Chicago who was making his first trip to Indiana after starting the job only three weeks ago, was optimistic about the future of the relations between Japan and the US, especially in the Midwest. He emphasized Japan’s ties to the Midwest economically and culturally, while acknowledging critical issues, including a nuclear North Korea and an increasingly aggressive China. The talk served as a reminder that representatives in government in both Japan and the US believe in the crucial importance of their alliance and wish to reach out to the public to highlight the mutually beneficial nature of that relationship.
The day’s conference was organized by the Hamilton Lugar School’s 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI), which seeks to invigorate and expand research, teaching, and programming on policy challenges faced by Japan in an era of rapid domestic and international transformation. Beyond hosting this national conference, 21JPSI also hosts a speaker series, provides travel grants and research fellowships to support faculty and student fieldwork, and supports undergraduate and graduate courses on contemporary Japan. Those interested in learning more about 21JPSI’s events can sign up for their mailing list.