Japan-US-Korea Trilateral Conference
April 23, 2009 at JIIA, Tokyo
Co-hosted by: The Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA)
National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP)
The Asan Institute for Policy Studies (AIPS)
International Policy Studies Institute of Korea (IpsiKor)
U.S. Foreign Policy
1. President Obama’s foreign policy plans have emphasized engagement rather than isolation; multilateralism not unilateralism; pragmatism not ideology, showing American values through positive examples of action; and taking responsibility for past mistakes of the U.S. Obama’s policies appear to focus on listening to other countries rather than arrogantly declaring policy.
2. The fact that Secretary of State Clinton made her first official visit to Japan, Korea, China and Indonesia reflects the U.S. recognition that Asia is potentially the most dynamic and important region for U.S. interests. Obama also showed that U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea, who share military alliance ties and democratic values with the U.S, have a special place distinct from other countries.
3. The key word in U.S policy towards Asia in general and towards Japan in particular is “continuity.” There has not been much policy change towards Asia as compared to changes that are occurring in U.S. policy towards Latin America and other regions. However, the United States faces some serious issues both at home and abroad that could dilute this sense of continuity.
4. Obama’s bold diplomatic moves (i.e. with Cuba, Russia and Iran) have subjected him to criticism and backlash by the conservatives in the United States. Over the coming months, Obama will need to show that concrete achievements have been made in order to counter this criticism. Otherwise, the backlash could develop greater momentum and might fuel claims that he is merely seeking popularity rather than results.
Asian Regional Cooperation
5. Global problems are far too large and complex for any one individual country to handle, therefore, it is often necessary to pursue global and regional cooperation. However, some argued that East Asian countries should have their own institution to talk about regional problems without having to invite the United States as a formal member. They believed the concept of an East Asian community should be an East Asian concept. Others asserted that the U.S. should be included and posed the question of how the United States should fit into regional structures.
6. The Obama administration has a very different and more positive approach to issues of multilateralism in East Asia. The comfort level of the Obama administration with various groupings in East Asia is very high. Participants voiced tremendous support for U.S. participation in EAS and in EAS-like groupings in the region. It appears that the United States is faced with two options; the first is participating in EAS if invited, the second is supporting the expansion of APEC to cover security issues.
7. Asian countries should also agree on what concrete issues they want to tackle together rather than just focusing on what countries will participate in a regional forum. In addition, it is necessary to develop confidence-building measures between China, Japan, and Korea even before further discussions on East Asian regionalism take place.
8. Regarding East Asian regionalism generally, some acknowledged that while the United States was preoccupied with the Middle East and Iraq, China has been gaining recognition as a champion for East Asian regionalism.
Trilateral Diplomacy—Alliance Relations
9. The Obama administration is cautious about approaching the issue of extended military deterrence in Asia due to concerns about creating tension, misunderstanding or miscalculations between the U.S., Japan, and China. However, the U.S. remains strongly committed to the U.S.-Japan alliance and is aware that Japan’s defense people are becoming more worried about the credibility of the U.S. extended deterrence commitment.
10. The Japanese support trilateral dialogue between the United States, China and Japan because it assures Japan that it will not be left out in a possible evolving U.S. and China “G-2 structure.” Yet, with regards to the U.S.-Japan-China trilateral dialogue, there always seems to be a third party who gets nervous. The bigger issue in this case is not the attitudes of the three countries involved in the dialogue but the South Korean position. South Korea also does not want to be left out of the dialogue. It was suggested that both a trilateral and quadrilateral dialogue could be started. Other trilaterals (such as U.S.-Japan-Korea and U.S.-China-Korea, in addition to the existing China-Japan-South Korea trilateral) were also suggested. The “trilaterals” do not all necessarily have to be at the summit level.
11. Participants discussed how Japan-U.S. and ROK-U.S. alliance relations would change if the North Korean threat were to weaken substantially or even disappear. The conventional wisdom in South Korea appears to be that if the North Korean threat were to disappear, a Japan-Sino rivalry would probably re-emerge in Asia. A unified Korea would welcome the American presence in the region as an honest broker. Japan, however, would most likely welcome a U.S. presence for different reasons such as acting as a forward base for defending Japan.
US-China and Cross-strait Relations
12. In her China visit, Secretary of State Clinton stressed the central theme of U.S.-China relations, namely a strategic dialogue between two huge countries which could solve important problems only through cooperation. Although human rights is an important agenda issue for the Americans, no American president would allow issues of nonproliferation, terrorism, and climate change to be held hostage by human rights issues.
13. The idea of a “G-2” structure, coined by Fred Bergsten, appears to recognize the fundamental differences between the U.S. and China and the necessity of working with China to tackle international problems. However, some participants voiced concern that a G-2 structure could potentially exclude important partners and allies. China and the U.S. should work together but not at the expense of other friends and allies.
14. Regarding China-Taiwan cross-strait relations, it was concluded that the situation seemed better than it had for many years, if not ever in terms of tension reduction. China and Taiwan have finessed the whole question of sovereignty since the election of Ma Yingjeou. They have also finessed the formula of “one China with different interpretations” the so-called “92 Consensus.” The formula, although ambiguous, seems to satisfy both sides. China, Taiwan and the United States will likely maintain the status quo for a very long time to come. The U.S. is happy about the stability across the Strait and could likely live with any outcome regarding Taiwan – be it independence, unification or another option--as long as the situation was settled peacefully and with the willingness, desire and acceptance of peoples on both sides of the Strait.
15. Some participants believed that as Taiwan becomes increasingly dependent economically and politically on mainland China, it is likely to lose various options for maintaining close relations with the U.S.
North Korean Issues
16. Recently, North Korea improved the capacity of its short- and long-range missiles. This technological improvement holds significant meaning in military terms. Aside from the nuclear issue, North Korea’s missile capability is another serious mutual concern for South Korea, the United States, and Japan. Some agreed with the notion that North Korea is now engaged in “hostage politics.” This is a new element in North Korea’s approach, which had disturbing implications for the United States and South Korea. Unlike Iran and Cuba, North Korea has rejected Obama’s diplomatic overtures. North Korea appears determined to strengthen its bargaining position by using extreme brinkmanship tactics.
17. North Korea’s current brinkmanship tactics appeared to be an external manifestation of its internal domestic political situation, namely anxiety and uncertainty about the succession process, sparked by Kim Jong-il’s health problems. North Korea told American visitors that North Korea is now a nuclear weapons state and that it should be recognized as such. It told them that even with the normalization of relations with the U.S., that this would not change its nuclear status.
18. The U.S. should send messages to North Korea signaling that it is interested in bilateral talks. However, it should also be made clear to North Koreans that the bilateral talks should not come at the expense of the Six-Party Talks, which people hoped would resume soon.
19. Some asserted that the Six-Party Talks were not the solution to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but a means to maintain the status quo and therefore only a maintenance device. Yet, some mechanism is needed since Northeast Asia, in particular the security environment surrounding the Korean peninsula, is now at a critical juncture.