29 August 2009

Q&A with Michael Auslin

(From RealClearWorld)

Michael Auslin is the Director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, he has been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, a Marshall Memorial Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, and a Fulbright and Japan Foundation Scholar. He’s the author of Negotiating with Imperialism: The Unequal Treaties and the Culture of Japanese Diplomacy (Harvard University Press, 2006) and Japan Society: Celebrating a Century, 1907-2007 (Japan Society Gallery, 2007). Mr. Auslin spoke to RealClearWorld just prior to Sunday’s election in Japan.

RCW: Will Japan's election on Sunday be a transformative one or merely a temporary repudiation of the LDP?

Auslin: If the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) wins, it's transformative -- it's a clear turnover of power in Japan and a clear repudiation of the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party). It would be two elections in a row that we see the opposition gain power and seats. We can say that Japan has entered a new era in politics. But what will the DPJ do policy-wise is the big question. If they don't solve the economic crisis and get booted out of office in the next election, then it might not be as transformative. They might have a candidate Obama problem: How are they going to fulfill all the promises and prove that they can actually rule? They have offered a lot of grandiose plans but very few specifics.

RCW: It certainly looks as if the DPJ is headed for an historic win, but can the polls be trusted?

Auslin: I'd be shocked if the polls were wrong, but you never know. The question now is how big a victory: outright majority, or will the DPJ need to form a coalition, which will make things more complicated? As far as I can tell, the high end of Japanese polls are usually wrong, as here, but I'm not an expert on their polling approaches. This will be a good test.

RCW: How did the LDP, which dominated post-war Japanese politics, get where they are today?

Auslin: This is a unique confluence and somewhat of a long-term trend that the LDP is losing support. Japan's economic crisis really has been going on for 15 years and finally we have reached a tipping point. Their credibility and competence have been chipped away. You really have to look at (former PM Junichiro) Koizumi's ability to personalize Japanese politics as an aberration. He didn't represent the new LDP, or the new era - it's really just one man's uniqueness. You got to a point where finally there was the coalescence of a legitimate opposition party that could pull together all the pieces.

The most important issue is economic recovery because in Japan, the bubble burst in 1989-1990. Even in Koizumi's time, recovery was limited. Wages didn't go up from 2000-2007. Whatever lifetime employment system that existed before was knocked off track and dismantled. The citizens were hammered by the exports plummeting 15%. Those trends formed a perfect storm. There's long-term discontent with the LDP and they haven't been able to bring about the reforms to solve those problems.

RCW: Is Japan headed toward another "Lost Decade"?

Auslin: That's a very complex question. What we do know is that their strategy with an overwhelming emphasis on exports and non-private capital investment -- that has collapsed. They haven't pursued a policy that makes sense. The non-diversification has shown up. They did not get rid of red tape to promote entrepreneurship. It seems clear now what they really need to do is overhaul their economic philosophy. They need to resolve the macro defects instead of fixing micro problems. They have had success in banking deregulation and cleaning up bad balance sheets and now their banking system is on much firmer ground. But their manufacturing sector didn't build up a domestic market. They have not cleaned up all the regulatory problems and no one seems to have a clear economic plan. The DPJ, in its manifesto, says it wants to help the working people and reduce the income gap, but it has no clear plan on how to pay for it and cut waste. So I'm not sure if that's an economic ideology or just shifting around resources and not changing the fundamentals.

RCW: Why is there such apathy in the U.S. toward Japan or Japanese politics?

Auslin: To be honest, it's perversely a sign of strength in terms of a country's relationship with the U.S. Japan in this respect is like Britain, we know they're not an aggressive troublemaker or a potential challenger for us, so we don't care. This is not like in the '80s and early '90s (when Japan was perceived to be a threat). But the fact that we don't pay much attention to the second largest economy in the world and Asia's oldest and most stable democracy is not particularly wise, either. There's all this talk about a G-2 with China ... Japan's economy is bigger than China's in many ways. Americans seem to focus on countries only when we need to. But our policy makers really should understand Japan, know its strengths and weaknesses, and what role it can play and how we can work together.

RCW: Is Japan still U.S.'s most reliable ally in Asia?

Auslin: There are limitations on what Japan can or can't do, with its political and legal restraints from Article 9 (of Japan's constitution). They were quick to join our anti-terror activities. Through the personal initiative of Koizumi and (Shinzo) Abe, there was a 6-year period when Japan was very involved in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Indian Ocean. They are still a reliable ally, it's where our forward bases of troops in East Asia are stationed. Without the bases in Japan we would not have a much of a posture in that side of the Pacific. Japan is also working with us on missile defense. And this is to the benefit of Japan's, too, because if you look around, that neighborhood is getting more dangerous all the time.

RCW: How threatened do the Japanese feel about China and North Korea?

Auslin: Just like us, Japan has a very complex and delicate relationship with China. There's the trading relationship, as China is central to the supply chain in providing consumer goods. Japanese companies are heavily invested in the Chinese mainland, employing over 10 million Chinese in joint ventures. And China is crucial to the Japanese export strategy. That said, China is the only real political and security challenge to Japan in the region, and they have direct conflicts on some of Japan's own security issues. And now China is very active in ASEAN and there Japan is somewhat marginalized by China. North Korea is not an existential threat to Japan - China is the only one. They have nuclear subs, rockets and missile forces. There is a lot of trepidation and concern in Japan about what China is going to do and what signal it's sending. It's frustrating for Japan because militarily Japan doesn't have too many options out there. There are limits on what they can do.

RCW: How is Japan dealing with its alarming population problem?

: Japan is facing a major demographic slowdown. With this trend, by 2050, they'll lose a fifth of their population. On the low end, they may have about 90-95 million - that's an enormous chunk - and only about 105 million on the high end. But there's been no national debate over this issue due to the cultural and social sensitivity. They want to keep seniors active longer. With respect to immigration, they're bringing in skilled specialists, for example large numbers of nurses for hospitals and assisted living facilities from the Philippines. They bring in people they need for functional reasons, but not people who will stay and become part of the societies. But (the population crisis) is a long-term trend. Fertility and marriage rates started falling in the '70s, so the negative replacement rate has been in the making for a generation. It's finally come home to roost. The fact that they don't seem to have a social or political panic and no rational debate, that's very worrisome. The only good news is that Japan got rich before it got old, so they have much more leeway than Russia or China, they got old before they got rich. How the Japanese deal with this is going to be a lesson for the developed world, but right now there isn't much optimism.

RCW: Tokyo is one of the finalists for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Do the Japanese want to host the Games?

Auslin: Everyone wants to throw in their hat and wants to be seen as a great country on the international stage. For Japan, I think that's not any different, particularly seeing how China did it in Beijing just last year. But the Olympics are such an economic drain and boondoggle. I think the Japanese would love to get it, but they've already had three Olympics, so it probably isn't something they care or talk about very much.

RCW: What drew you to Japanese politics and people?

: I originally came to it very academically. I was working on some Sino-Soviet issues, and I took a look at Japan and started reading Japanese history and just found it fascinating and unlike any other history, and also what an extraordinary culture it is. It's had incredible problems, limitations and some horrific violence, yet also an exquisite concept of kinship and artistry, you can see that from the palaces to the cities. It's an amazing story - it's so involved internationally but it holds itself off, partly because of the physical isolation. Asia has changed so much in the last 200 years and Japan is the vanguard of that. I had a chance to teach in the Japanese countryside and saw how kind people were and I really took an interest. I spent a year in a cultural exchange program and then lived there for several years after graduate school.

17 August 2009

Congress Can't 'Fix' the BCS

(From BCS Guru)

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) made a lot of noise earlier this year about reforming the BCS. He even wrote an op-ed in Sports Illustrated. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) went as far as introducing a bill to ban the use of "national championship" by the BCS. Even President Barack Obama (D-World) has promised (or threatened) to "throw his weight around a little bit."

But don't hold your breath. The BCS isn't going anywhere and it's not going to change much.

And that's a good thing in this sense: You do not want the United States government messing with college football.

For those of you who skipped your high school civic classes or didn't care much for polisci in college, here's a quick primer: The U.S. is a federal republic, its government is represented by people from all 50 states, each with its own disparate interest. These representatives don't work for you or me or the United States as a whole, per se. They work for their state, their district and their constituents.

But most of all, they work for themselves to make sure that they get re-elected.

That's why there's all the grandstanding about the BCS when the timing is convenient. When there's nothing going on, it's a cheap way to get some media attention. And since the BCS is about as popular as the Third Reich, it's easy to kick around the BCS and score brownie points.

You do notice, though, that none of these politicians, from Obama on down, offered anything remotely resembling a "solution" to the BCS problem, right?

That's because they don't have one. And they don't know college football well enough to even come up with one.

You do also notice that the people who complain the loudest about the BCS tend to be representing the latest aggrieved party in the BCS saga. Yes, Hatch is all hot because Utah got screwed last year. Barton is pissed because similarly Texas got shut out of the BCS title game (but he went to A&M, so go figure).

In 2007, the loudest critic of the BCS was University of Gerogia president Michael Adams. He was sore because the Bulldogs didn't get their shot at the crystal ball. Guess what? This last offseason you didn't hear a peep from Dr. Adams, presumably because UGA still got its fat BCS check even though its team, ranked No. 1 in the preseason, more or less went in the tank.

So here's a prediction: You won't hear too much from Sen. Hatch next spring - unless BYU becomes the next BCS victim.

When it comes to the BCS, the best you can hope for is that it'll do the right thing not because of government regulation, but because of the market forces. We still live in a nation with an economy that's fueled by capitalistic endeavors (for now, anyway). And make no mistake, college football and the BCS are big business. So at the end, money talks.

Money talked in the 1990s, as Bowl Coalition morphed into Bowl Alliance and then the BCS. It's not a perfect system, but it's at least marginally better than the old bowl regime. The best two championship games of the BCS Era (2002 and 2005) wouldn't have happened without the BCS. There will come a time - maybe in the next 5-10 years - that there will be so much money on the table for the BCS to adopt some sort of a Plus-One or pseudo-playoff system. You can count on that.

What you can't count on is government efficiency, that's why you want it to stay the hell away from college football. The U.S. government is pretty stretched. It's now running the car industry and many of the big banks. Soon, it'll own healthcare, then energy, and before you know it, you and me, too.

Besides, at a time where there is a real fear of inflation, with runaway budget deficits, continuing high unemployment and negative growth in GDP, not to mention nuclear threats from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, why is anybody in government even talking about college football?

That's why we want our congressmen and senators to butt out. To mind their own business. To take care of business. In the case of the BCS, we don't need their help to "fix" it.

10 August 2009

Q&A with Frank Ching

(From RealClearWorld)

Frank Ching is a journalist and commentator who was Wall Street Journal's first China Bureau chief when China reopened to the West in 1979. He now writes a weekly column for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), China Post (Taiwan) and Globe and Mail (Canada). He's the author of three books - Ancestors: 900 Years in the Life of a Chinese Family (1988 and just re-released this month), China: The Truth About Its Human Rights Record (2008) and The Li Dynasty: Hong Kong Aristocrats (1999). He spoke to RealClearWorld about China, its relationship with the U.S. and its place in the world, by telephone from his home in Hong Kong.

RCW: Are China and the U.S. getting a bit closer?

Ching: There's no question they're forging a closer relationship, especially economically. When Hillary (Clinton) was in Thailand she spoke about how the U.S. has not been very active in the affairs of Asia, missing two out of every three (ASEAN) meetings. I think she understands that now it's in America's best interest in forging a closer relationship with China, particularly with the growing importance of China both economically and politically.

RCW: Is climate change a big deal for China?

Ching: It's a big deal for the world, and China recognizes it's a big deal as well. I think Chinese officials are more receptive now to talk about climate change than they were maybe even 10 years ago. China would argue that the West - the U.S. and western Europe - has been emitting greenhouse gases for a couple hundred years and that China on a per capita basis is only emitting about a quarter of the U.S.'s output. But I think China does have a genuine interest in trying to develop its industries to be more energy efficient. I don't think China is going to be a problem for America on this front. I expect climate change will be a major topic of discussion between China and the U.S., and it's their hope to have an agreement in Copenhagen (at the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2009).

RCW: Does China want the climate change talk to distract from other issues, such as human rights?

Ching: When China was first approached on climate change, they were taken aback and they were a little suspicious. But I think they came around when Hillary went to China a few months ago and stated that she was not going to talk about human rights. (The) human rights (situation) will improve when the Chinese people decide to do something about it, and not as a result of outside pressure - the U.S. now accepts this and it also knows it's not in a position to put much pressure on China about it.

RCW: Is China also forging a better relationship with Japan?

Ching: They're better than from '01-'05 when (PM Junichiro) Koizumi went to the Yasukuni Shrine every year. None of the prime ministers have done that since, though while (Taro) Aso hasn't been to the shrine, he's sent an offering - and the Chinese don't like even that. Japan has had a succession of weak leaders since Koizumi, and in their election at the end of this month, most likely LDP will be out of power. The Chinese have taken a more pragmatic approach with Japan. (Chinese PM) Wen (Jiabao) has said that China accepts Japan's apology (on the invasion and occupation of China during WWII) and unless Japan reopens the issue, China is ready to move on. I don't believe the new Japanese government will be provocative towards Beijing.

RCW: Is reunification on the horizon for China and Taiwan?

Ching: Obviously things have changed a lot since Ma Ying-jeou (became president in May 2008). Ma won't talk about reunification even if he wins a second term, but he's open to reaching a peace agreement in his second term. China would sign a peace agreement if there's something in there for an eventual peaceful return of Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party realizes Ma is very different from Chen (Shiu-bian, Ma's predecessor), and they very much want to see Ma re-elected, so they're not going to do anything to jeopardize that. China knows not to weaken Ma, in fact they realize they need to do what they can to help Ma. For instance, Taiwan was admitted to the (World Health Assembly) as an observer (in May 2009), with China's blessing. If that hadn't happened, that would've been very bad for Ma. In 1999, after Taiwan's big earthquake, China held the ridiculous position that nobody in the world could send assistance to Taiwan without China's permission. They know better than doing anything like that now.

RCW: Has China's approach to the Taiwan issue changed fundamentally?

Ching: There's definite improvement, because unlike Jiang (Zemin, former Chinese president), who was keen on getting a timetable for reunification, Hu (Jintao) is taking a different approach - he wants to make sure Taiwan does not move any further away. So instead of talking about reunification, China passed a secession law in 2005, basically assuming that there's one China, and as long as the status quo is maintained, everything can be negotiated. That helps to lower the tensions.

RCW: Is China playing its cards right with Tibet and Xinjiang?

Ching: I don't think they're handling it well. The moment any unrest takes place, they blame it on outsiders. I think there's a way that people in Xinjiang and Tibet could be happy to identify themselves with the country, but China just won't admit any mistakes in their dealings with ethnic minorities. They always blame any problems on somebody outside, that's just really stupid. When Mao was alive, there was this slogan of "Long Live the Great, Glorious and Correct Communist Party." And while they occasionally will make "corrections" to atrocities committed in the past, they rarely admit any mistakes, which in this situation just breeds lingering resentment.

RCW: Is the Chinese regime fearful of the technological revolution, particularly in view of what happened in Iran?

Ching: This is a serious problem for the regime, though the government has developed a very sophisticated way of controlling the flow of information, censoring the media and manipulating public opinion. For example, Hu's son was involved in a corruption case in Namibia, and immediately the propaganda department put out instructions not to allow anything related to the case to flow to the Internet. Never mind that Namibia merely wants to question him, he's not s suspect but might provide important information. But the Chinese government just wants to shut it down. China has cutting edge technology on this, and other regimes, such as Iran, are learning from them. It's interesting to note that during Iran's protests, the opposition, people who were in support of Khatami and Rafsanjani were shouting "death to China" whereas the pro-Ahmadinejad side is shouting "death to America."

RCW: What is the biggest challenge facing the Chinese regime?

Ching: They really are not facing an existential threat. There are thousands of protests every year, but they're not organized. The regime would be concerned if they weren't scattered all over the country. Most people think the central government is OK. They don't love it, but they tolerate it. Most of the petitioning is against the local governments, and the local governments tend to try to catch the people, arrest them and silence them at the local level. So the central government doesn't really see the threats, nothing serious anyway. They feel they're in charge.

RCW: How is Hu Jintao performing as China's president?

Ching: Hu is unflappable. He doesn't betray any emotions. It seems to me on the whole, he's doing a good job. He's handled foreign relations and the financial crisis fairly well. When he first took over, there were hopes that he would turn out to be a liberal and somebody who would liberalize China, but that's not happening - not with his record of stifling sentiment for elections and cracking down on human rights lawyers - he's not a liberal. The big difference in the CCP between the times of Deng Xiaoping and now is that Deng was a strongman; he was the paramount leader, even if his only title was the honorary chairman of the Chinese Bridge Association. That's no longer the case. Hu may be No. 1 in China, but institutions are now more important than when Deng was around. There are now term limits. You expect a change of leadership after every 10 years. When Jiang stepped down (in March 2003) that was the first time in CCP history that the leadership changed hands, even though somebody didn't die.

RCW: You're a journalist with quite a history covering China. Tell us more.

Ching: I've been in journalism all my life. I was a reporter with the New York Times and then the Wall Street Journal, opening their first bureau there in 1979 after China's normalization (of relations with the U.S.). I took a few years off to write a book, research my ancestors, and it really was a book on Chinese history from the Song Dynasty to the present, using my family as the vehicle. Now I write three columns a week and I teach a class on China's international relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.