Given the current world political climate, there is a growing sense that there must be an attempt to go “Beyond Bilateralism,” and this was the title of Dr. Ellis Krauss’ lecture Friday evening in the Smith Center Multicultural Center. The presentation drew a crowd of about 90 people, and was sponsored by PSU’s Center for Japanese Studies as well as the Japanese Consulate.
Krauss is a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who focuses on the political economy of Japan, as well as its relationship with the United States. The speech was subtitled “American and Japanese Economic Cooperation and Conflict in Multilateral Asia,” though Krauss joked that it should perhaps be changed to simply “The New East Asia,” a much easier title to digest. Also, Krauss commended PSU for its creation of the Center For Japanese Studies, something that he did not find in many institutions of higher learning, including his own school.
Krauss began by relating back to a time when Japan was essentially the only economic and military power that was on par with Western standards. After World War II, however, and during the Cold War, China became a major power, both economically and militarily, something that Japan is becoming increasingly worried about. In addition, many other nations in the area have grown economically, some of which formed the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), forming an important trading bloc with which Japan deals on a consistent basis.
This also shows, as Krauss explained, how even with U.S. multilateral relations in the area, we “cannot bypass Japan,” as they have invested so much in the area and are involved in nearly all aspects of regional issues. Much of this has to do with Japan’s effort to reassure the world that it “will never go back to its colonial past,” and also the fact that “the Cold War never ended in Asia,” with China still posing as a threat to Taiwan and North Korea as one to the South. Japan is thus seen to be an ally to U.S. interest in the region, which also helps legitimize the country’s own leadership.
The tensions that have troubled U.S.-Japan relations in the past may well have been exacerbated by bilateralism, Krauss said. This overlooked perspective is partially due to the fact that “the problem with academics is that we get into our own specialties,” so it was Krauss’ belief that “conflict can help relationships, in the long run.” Even if expectations for Japan on security issues have been somewhat unrealistic, the “gradual process” that Krauss cited as being part of U.S. strategy in recent times “has been successful,” as evidenced by the movement of Japan peacekeeping activities to other regions, and the presence of Japanese warships in the Indian Ocean, all events which have been accepted by the Japanese public, and “would have been unthinkable 20, 25 years ago.”
With multilateralism, Krauss felt that there were now “multiple forums,” so that whether it be issues of “finance or trade or others, it is now more difficult (for the United States and Japan) to resent each other, since other countries are now also involved.” Though the United States has been overall slow to new multilateral organizations, Krauss believed that this will still result in a better relationship for the two countries, as they are no longer in “an intense bilateral relationship.” He warned that we should not, however, consider Japan to be “the Britain of Asia,” as some in the Bush administration would have it, since at least right now, the Japanese are not currently looking to expand their presence by very much, even if they have taken steps in that direction.
Finally, Krauss acknowledged that Japan also has some major problems inside its own borders, as it has still not fully recovered from the recession beginning in the early ’90s, as the financial troubles continue with massive government debt, making reform difficult for leaders such as current Prime Minister Koizumi. In the future, there is always the issue of its aging population, which will affect the Japanese even more than many Western countries because there is little comparative immigration, all of which will heavily burden social programs and the idea of the corporate seniority system.