Sasakawa USA Newsletter August 31, 2020
Included in this issue of the newsletter:

  • Message from Sasakawa USA's Chairman, Satohiro Akimoto
Past Activities
  • Policy Briefing: Challenges posed by COVID-19: Japan, the U.S., and International Coordination featuring Member of the House of Councillors, Prof. Keizo Takemi 
  • Policy Briefing: Rekishi no Kyokun Author Talk with Prof. Nobukatsu Kanehara
Future Activities
  • Expert Presentation: Dr. Akimoto to speak at Japan National Press Club
  • Commentary & Analysis: U.S.-Japan Cooperation in the Pacific (O’Brien)
  • Japan Political Pulse: Launch of Interactive Abe Cabinet Approval Rating Chart
  • Sasakawa USA Board Meeting: Welcoming Dr. Atsushi Sunami 
  • In-Depth Alumni Research Trip: Sasakawa USA 2020-2021 Application Open
  • Congressional Staff Program on Asia: Launching New Initiative with East-West Center in Washington 
Message from Sasakawa USA's Chairman, Satohiro Akimoto
I hope this finds you and yours safe and healthy during this pandemic.

On August 28, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced he would step down because of health issues related to ulcerative colitis. It was a decision which came as a tremendous shock even to those who had closely worked with him within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Concerns about Abe’s health condition were growing due to multiple visits to Keio University Hospital over the last few weeks. In addition, he did not take his usual summer vacation at his Lake Kawaguchi home in Yamanashi. He even spent Monday, August 24, when he became the longest serving prime minister in Japan, at the hospital for further tests and IV injections. In the end, Abe resigned saying “If I can’t discharge my responsibility to the people of this country with confidence, I should not continue as prime minister.”

Being prime minister for 7 years and 8 months is not an easy task, to say the least. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to his dedication to the U.S.-Japan relationship and support for our activities such as his annual meeting with the Congressional Study Group on Japan, which is co-sponsored by the Association of Former Members of Congress. Despite his very busy schedule, in February 2020 Abe spent 45 minutes with the delegates led by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN) discussing a wide range of diplomatic and security issues. In addition, Abe kindly delivered a keynote speech at Sasakawa USA’s Security Forum in 2015.

At his resignation press conference, Abe said “It is gut wrenching to have to leave my job before accomplishing my goals.” He mentioned Japanese abductees by North Korea, a peace treaty with Russia, and constitutional reforms as examples of his unrealized political agendas.

While there may be other political agendas that Abe would have liked to finish, such as a successful Tokyo Olympics next summer, the second Abe Administration is largely a successful one because it gave Japanese people a renewed sense of confidence in a very uncertain world. Indeed, in this regard, Abe has set a very high bar for his successor, whoever that may be.

First, Abe brought long-term stability to Japanese political leadership. One of the major weaknesses of Japanese politics has been the briefness of prime ministers in office. Abe has set mid to long-term expectations and goals for Japan by his longevity in office. 

Second, Abe introduced an economic policy, consisting of “three arrows,” i.e., monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and structural reforms. While the policy labeled “Abenomics” did not revive the economy enough to achieve the two percent inflation target, both private corporate sector activities and employment situations have improved.

Third, Abe firmly established the importance of national security in Japan’s national political discourse. Abe passed a major security legislation, which could allow Japan’s Self Defense Force to engage in action overseas by exercising Japan’s right to collective self-defense. The changes the new legislation has brought about have certainly bolstered the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

Fourth, Abe held a strong leadership role in the international community, which was rarely seen before by a prime minister of Japan. Following the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, Abe took over the leadership position and successfully brought the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership to fruition.
Lastly, Abe stressed the importance of universal values, such as freedom, democracy, and rule of law. He effectively used universal values to establish Japan as a respected member of the G7 and to introduce the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision concept.

Several LDP politicians, who aspire to succeed Abe, have begun jockeying for the position. According to the LDP rules, under normal circumstances, an open LDP election will be held to select the next leader. Half of the voting power is held by the LDP’s more than one million members and the other half is held by LDP law makers. Under emergency situations a faster process exists, which restricts voting to LDP law makers and three representatives from each of the 47 prefectures. 

Which route the LDP leadership will take has much bearing on who Abe’s successor will be. Some politicians are stronger amongst general members, while some are stronger with their fellow law makers. For example, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba put up a decent fight in the party leadership election in 2018 by winning 44.6% of votes cast by the general members at the prefectural level. In the end however, he could not win the leadership position due to the lack of support among fellow law makers.

Toshihiro Nikai, the LDP’s influential Secretary General, seems likely to take the emergency option to ensure a quick and smooth transition to a law maker of the party’s choice, preventing a challenge from a maverick like Ishiba who relies on the rank and file party members. 

One thing is clear. The period of long stability under Abe has suddenly ended and Japanese politics is in unknown territory. 
Past Activities
Policy Briefing: Challenges posed by COVID-19: Japan, the U.S., and International Coordination featuring Member of the House of Councillors, Prof. Keizo Takemi
On July 30, Sasakawa USA featured Prof. Keizo Takemi, member of the House of Councillors, National Diet of Japan, who provided analysis on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by Japan and the United States. Prof. Michael R. Reich, Taro Takemi Research Professor of International Health Policy, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, offered commentary on the issues. Throughout the conversation, both speakers utilized the “control-tower” metaphor to illustrate the responses by the U.S. and Japan. In the Q&A portion of the event, roundtable participants were able to hear more about international efforts relating to the COVID-19 vaccine, importance of U.S. involvement in international governance, and the differing roles of the central and local governments in Japan. Sasakawa USA looks forward to continuing this important conversation in the future. You can read a detailed recap and view a recording of the virtual presentation here.
Policy Briefing: Rekishi no Kyokun Author Talk with Prof. Nobukatsu Kanehara
On August 26, Sasakawa USA welcomed Prof. Nobukatsu Kanehara, Faculty of Law Department of Political Science at Doshisha University, to discuss his new book, Rekishi no Kyokun, a historical analysis of Japan’s foreign policy. Through his talk, Prof. Kanehara explained to participants how various failures in Japan’s past led to Japanese strategies of the present. The event was held on-the-record and included distinguished guests from the Washington, D.C. policy community, think tanks, industry, and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. Dr. Satohiro Akimoto, Chairman and President of Sasakawa USA moderated the Q&A discussion. An in-depth recap of the event, as well as a recording of the discussion will be available on Sasakawa USA’s website in the coming weeks.
Future Activities
Expert Presentation: Dr. Akimoto to speak at Japan National Press Club
Dr. Satohiro Akimoto is scheduled to speak on the U.S. presidential election at the Japan National Press Club on September 10. Dr. Akimoto’s presentation will be part of an ongoing series on the subject matter. Japanese experts on U.S. politics, such as Prof. Toshihiro Nakayama and Prof. Yasushi Watanabe of Keio University, Prof. Saho Matsumoto of Nagoya City University, and Associate Prof. Seiko Mimaki of Takasaki City University of Economics, have also presented on the series. 

Photo Source: David Wall/Moment via Getty Images
Commentary & Analysis: U.S.-Japan Cooperation in the Pacific (O’Brien)
In her new article, U.S.-Japan Cooperation in the Pacific: 75 Years After the End of the Pacific War, Dr. Patricia O’Brien, Visiting Fellow at Australian National University and an Adjunct Associate Prof. at Georgetown University, observes the anniversary of the Pacific War and leads us on a historical survey of U.S. and Japanese relations with the Pacific Islands. Her work analyzed the historic ties both countries have to the region, as well as the current geopolitical challenges the alliance faces there, from intense Chinese investment to climate change and food insecurity. Dr. O’Brien offers insightful policy recommendations and cautionary advice for U.S. and Japanese government entities wishing to re-engage with the Pacific Islands after decades of neglect.
Japan Political Pulse: Launch of Interactive Abe Cabinet Approval Chart
Sasakawa USA ​recently launched an interactive chart for Japan Political Pulse, which showcases nearly a decade of aggregate approval rating data for Prime Minister Abe’s Cabinet. On August 24, Prime Minister Abe surpassed the continuous term of his granduncle Eisaku Sato, setting a record to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. He expressed his decision to step down as prime minister on August 29 due to health concerns. Friends of Sasakawa USA can use the interactive chart, in which the data has been generously provided by Real Politics Japan. Visualization of the data illustrates the peaks and valleys faced by the cabinet under Prime Minister Abe’s long tenure and will serve as a useful tool for those seeking to understand Japanese domestic politics. The chart will continue to track the approval rating of the new prime minister. 
Sasakawa USA Board Meeting: Welcoming Dr. Atsushi Sunami
The Board of Directors of Sasakawa USA came together for a virtual meeting, welcoming newly elected Board Member, Dr. Atsushi Sunami, President of Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF). Most recently, Dr. Sunami was the Executive Director (Programs) of SPF, overseeing the Ocean Policy Research Institute, among other programs. His area of expertise is Science and Technology Policy and Science and Technology Diplomacy. He served as Special Advisor, Cabinet Office responsible for Science, Technology and Innovation from 2015 to 2018. He holds a BSFS from Georgetown University and MIA and PhD in political science from Columbia University. In addition to welcoming Dr. Sunami, the board discussed dramatic changes in environment, in which Sasakawa USA’s activities are held, arising from the COVID-19 crisis. The board agreed Sasakawa USA would continue to do its best to promote the understanding and deepening of the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, while continuing to mainly telework to ensure the safety and health of its staff.  
In-Depth Alumni Research Trip: Sasakawa USA 2020-2021 Application Open
The application for the 2020-2021 Sasakawa USA In-Depth Alumni Research Trip is now open. This program provides the selected alumni with an opportunity to return to Japan for a deeper understanding of common challenges in the U.S.-Japan relationship. Upon completion of the trip, participants are required to submit a policy paper or at least two stories for publication by U.S. media, based on their research and findings. These deliverables will be featured in Sasakawa USA’s on-line publications, and participants will have the opportunity to present their findings to the DC policy community at an event hosted by Sasakawa USA. The safety and health of participants is our top priority, therefore if travel is not possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, travel dates can be pushed back as far as February 2022, pending available Sasakawa USA funding. If interested, please find information on the application process here. Applications are due via the online application on Monday, September 28 at 11:59 pm (EST). 
Congressional Program on U.S.-Japan Relations and the Indo-Pacific: Launching New Initiative with East-West Center in Washington 
Sasakawa USA is partnering with the East-West Center in Washington to launch the Congressional Program on U.S.-Japan Relations and the Indo-Pacific. This new initiative will convene a series of workshops with U.S. congressional staffers of the 117th Congress in early 2021, enriching staffers’ understanding of the breadth and depth of issues pertaining to the U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship and the significance of Japan’s role across the Indo-Pacific region. Bringing in experts from both within and outside the U.S. government, sessions will cover topics such as Technological Supremacy, Economic Challenges Post COVID-19, and Japanese Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Aid.
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