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Interviews with experts and opinion leaders from our research network
The existing international order has been disrupted due to the shift in the global power balance, including the intensified U.S.-China conflict and increased tensions in the Middle East. As symbolized in the U.S.-China trade friction and the competition in the area of advanced technology, a comprehensive perspective of economic, diplomatic and security policies is becoming imperative to discuss the outlook of the world. In the Asia-Pacific region, a global economic powerhouse, the relationships among the U.S., China, India and Japan hold the key to future prosperity. In this interview, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, who is well-versed in Japan and has long contributed to strengthening the U.S.-Japan relationship, discusses the role of Japan and the U.S. in this region.
President of Armitage International, L.C. and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
Richard L. Armitage graduated in 1967 from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy. Armitage is a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of State (2001-2005) and has served as the assistant secretary for international security affairs and deputy assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific affairs at the U.S. Department of Defense.
In addition, Armitage has held a wide variety of high-ranking U.S. diplomatic positions; including, Presidential Special Negotiator for the Philippines Military Bases Agreement, Special Emissary to King Hussein of Jordan during the 1991 Gulf War, and Ambassador directing U.S. assistance to the new independent states of the former Soviet Union. In 2015, Armitage received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun from the Government of Japan for his contribution in promoting friendly relations and mutual understanding between Japan and the U.S. Currently, he is serving as the president of a global business advisory firm, Armitage International, L.C.
Shirai：The world is now facing geo-challenges: the mixture of geopolitics, geo-economy and geo-technologies as well as recently deteriorating global environmental issues. Could you share with us your views on the current international order and how the world could be reconstructed under these extremely chaotic circumstances?
Armitage：There are several factors involved in the current disruption in the world. The first one is climate change. Though people don’t generally think about this problem, this is going to disrupt the international order as much as anything else. As our friends in Australia are suffering from severe bushfires and Japan was devastated by typhoons and floods last year, we are all going to be disrupted by climate change.
The other factor is China and Russia. The continued rise of China on the world stage will keep disrupting the order. Russia’s pressures on Europe, as well as Russia’s joining with China in Asia, can also be a direct cause of disruption. And the last factor is the U.S., which under President Donald Trump’s administration seems to be removing themselves from foreign policy.
With all of these factors happening almost simultaneously, it is not too late to restore the international order, but another term of the Trump administration may make it too late.
Shirai：With the progress of the post-Cold War globalization, the world’s economy has grown at a great speed. However, globalization clearly appears to have entered the period of stagnation, with the role of the World Trade Organization decreasing amid intensifying tensions among major nations and decreasing mutual trust. Considering these circumstances, how do you foresee the future of globalization?
Armitage：In my opinion, globalization is an irreversible trend. It is true that there are some reactions to it right now in the U.S. and Britain, but as a general matter, we all need each other for trade and economy. I believe that if people are properly informed under a more enlightened leadership in the U.S., Europe and some places in Asia, we can return to a feeling that globalization is beneficial to the majority of our citizens.
At the same time, we have to find a way to address the concerns of some of our citizens who are not benefiting from globalization. We need to provide them with opportunities for retraining to take positions in an economy that can benefit them.
Shirai：Attempts to combine traditional national security and economic security have been recognized not only in the U.S. but also in other major countries. If this integration deepens in the future, protectionism in trade, investment and technology could accelerate. How do you consider this situation?
Armitage：We have seen what protectionism has done here in Asia as the U.S.’s trade war with China has, to some extent, harmed all the economies, including Japan’s. For 70 years, ever since World War II, Americans have always held that protectionism is bad. The Trump administration doesn’t seem to have the same opinion, but you are seeing that the U.S. Congress is starting to wake up and, as they wake up, I think they will come to the conclusion that globalization must continue. Protectionism harms us more than it helps us. At least I hope that is the case.
Shirai：On one hand we believe that the ideology of freedom and democracy never changes in the U.S., but on the other hand, we are seeing changes in American citizens’ views on the U.S.’s role in the global community or global security. How do you think the U.S. foreign policy and security policy will develop in the coming era?
Armitage：I think the U.S. will probably not be a forceful voice for peace on the world stage until after the next election and only then, if President Trump is not re-elected. The U.S. is not exercising global leadership now, and in my view Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is serving as the leader of the free world as a force for peace. I am glad that Prime Minister Abe is able to have good and beneficial relations with major countries around the world, and I believe it will bring new developments to the global society.
National security and foreign diplomacy have responded to some shifts over the years. However, we have to pay attention to a policy of rhetoric. For instance, the U.S. says that the Indo-Pacific is going to be a priority theater, which gets a lot of resources. In fact, right now all our attention is on the Middle East and resources, including military resources, are also going to the Middle East. We rhetorically say things that sound good, but we are not doing the things that we need to do to make the words true.
Shirai：With the digital era getting up in speed and the importance of data increasing, cyber security has become a crucial element in sustaining our society, economy and national security. Can the U.S. secure its advantage in the digital era in terms of not only economy but also security?
Armitage：In the short term, I think the answer is ‘Yes’. We have woken to the problem of digitalization, data analytics and its implications on security, and separated our CYBERCOM (Cyber Command) from the National Security Agency. These are all steps that demonstrate our heightened awareness of these issues.
In the longer term, however, the answer is more complicated. We do not have the same amount of people we can put against the problem as, for instance, China can. And we found over the recent years that it’s not just China and Russia but also North Korea and Iran that have capabilities to be a cyber security threat. So, I think in the longer term it’s going to be harder and harder for any country to continue to protect their data. In that sense, President Trump’s Space Force *1 has a significance that it gives us opportunities in space, where we also have to protect information and data. I think in that regard, we’ll be ahead of the world.
Shirai：We are now seeing serious trade friction between the U.S. and China, but when we look back at history, trade friction intensified between the U.S. and Japan in the second half of the 1980s. At that time, Japanese companies expanded their manufacturing bases in the U.S. and the U.S. reinforced its industrial competitiveness, resulting in the creation of a new division of labor. How do you evaluate the era of friction between the U.S. and Japan in the scope of the U.S.-Japan history and what are the differences and similarities when you compare it with the ongoing U.S.-China friction?
Armitage：The 80s was a difficult time between Japan and the U.S.; this was when the U.S. was fearful of Japan, Inc., buying Rockefeller Center and other U.S. assets. People in the U.S. were arguing that Japan’s markets are closed and that there are unfair trade barriers. However, those views were wrong. We were able to work through them, and over the years, it has been developed that: we have no better relationship than Japan; there is no more respected nation than Japan in the U.S.; and the affection of the U.S. Congress for Japan is at historic levels.
There is no comparison at all between now and then regarding the U.S.-Japan relations. But there are similarities between the current U.S.-China relations and the previously mentioned U.S.-Japan history. As is the case in the 80s, the U.S. has lost a little confidence. We are not so sure of ourselves. We are not confident in ourselves. This was what I think led to overreactions, which has potentially hurt Japan’s economy, other Asian economies and, in a way, global economies.
Through it all, the extreme difference is that China is a communist country. We knew that Japan was clearly a member of the West since 1945.
Shirai：The U.S.-Japan relationship seems relatively stable and good compared with the U.S.-China and the U.S.-EU situations. Could you provide us with your thoughts on what would be the important agenda to further develop the U.S.-Japan relations in the long term, regardless of any future administrations?
Armitage：As I’ve said, there is a good basis in the U.S. for the continuation of the strong U.S.-Japan relationship, and I think there is a recognition on Japan’s side too that the U.S. has been a strong partner. We have enjoyed the leadership of Prime Minister Abe for his several terms as prime minister, and he has introduced a good amount of stability. The fact that Russia and China are going to continue to pressure the Asian countries is the biggest unifier that we have between the U.S. and Japan.
North Korea is another factor that will force the U.S. and Japan to continue to work together closely. The recently completed trade agreement between Japan and the U.S. was less of an agreement than we had already agreed to in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement which the U.S. had withdrawn from, but politically, it was very helpful for the U.S. and Japan. As for security challenges, if we can keep President Trump from being too transactional and demanding high payments in the so-called ‘Sympathy Budget’ that Japan puts aside for U.S. military forces stationed there, I think we will have a good relationship.
Shirai：China is catching up with the U.S. in economic, technological and military capabilities and the number of countries supported by China and economically depending on China have been increasing. Will U.S.-China economic transactions continue to shrink due to the restriction of trade and investments or is it possible to find a mutually beneficial scheme in the future?
Armitage：Fu Ying, who was previously a Chinese ambassador to Australia and is well-known also in Japan, recently used a coined word to talk about the new U.S.-China relations that we should aim for. The word was ‘co-opetition’, deriving from ‘cooperation’ and ‘competition’. What she meant was that we should cooperate where we can, such as in environment and controlling infectious diseases, and we should compete where we need to. Everyone will benefit if we compete. When we hit at each other, however, no one benefits; everyone loses. In this sense, I am partial to Ms. Fu Ying’s interpretation of ‘co-opetition’, and I hope for the creation of a new scheme that would benefit everyone.
Shirai：The Indo-Pacific region, which includes China and India, will continue to show the highest growth in the world, but it is also true that security risks in this region are relatively high. While China is strengthening its engagement in this region through the Belt and Road Initiative, to what extent will the U.S. deepen in economic and security ties with this region? Also, how do you assess the Japan-India relations?
Armitage：The U.S. and Japan both have a very good relationship with India. Japan’s relationship is more historical than ours. It’s often recognized in India that whatever difficulties Japan caused during World War II, she also was responsible for loosening the colonial hands around the throat of India, And, everyone remembers that in the Tokyo Tribunals, which tried Japanese leaders for crimes relating to the war in the Asia- Pacific region, the Indian judge did not want to impose death penalties.
When Prime Minister Abe first became prime minister in 2006, one of his trips was to India and he took 200 businessmen with him, making it a very successful trip. I salute and acknowledge the fact that Japan has long been involved with India and, without doubt, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, which Japan has heavily invested in, is one of the premier infrastructure developments in the world.
The U.S. will continue our relationship with India. It will continue to be good, as long as we are not seen as trying to engage India in some sort of great game against China. We have our Quad meetings *2 among Japan, Australia, the U.S. and India, which have achieved major successes. Our security operations are quite successful, as long as we don’t use the word China. Overall, I think you’ll see a deepening of those relationships.
Shirai：Following China, India has increased their regional presence in both economy and security. India is also known as a very democratic country and the country is highly important for both the U.S. and Japan. What kind of policies do you think are necessary for the U.S. to strengthen its relationship with India?
Armitage：The relationship with India has been bipartisan, developed by both Republican and Democratic presidents. That ought to give people in the U.S. and in India some confidence that this good relationship will continue. I think it will. The one problem we have is if Indian President Narendra Modi becomes more anti-Muslim. There are about 200 million Muslims in India and to the extent President Modi is seen as being anti-Muslim, this will complicate everyone’s relationship with India, including Pakistan and Afghanistan. We have every reason to be optimistic, but we have to be aware that there are some strong clouds out there.
Shirai：As for the geopolitical situation in Asia, Japan-China relationship has drastically improved in these couple of years and Japan has a longstanding good relationship with India. In order to develop peace and stable growth in the Indo-Pacific region, Japan is expected to play the role of providing a bridge between the U.S. and China and also between the U.S. and India. Do you think Japan will be able to take this role?
Armitage：I think in the short-to-medium term ‘Yes’. Prime Minister Abe has invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Japan as a state guest this spring. I think one of the reasons that Japan will continue to have a fair-to-good relationship with China is because China is of the view that the U.S. is leaving Asia. So, President Xi thinks he can put Japan to one side until later and he doesn’t need to rush now. That is why I think in the short-to-medium term, Japan and China will be okay, but in the long term, we have to say the prospects are unclear.
Shirai：This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and some argue that we are reaching the end of Pax Americana. A political scientist Ian Bremmer pointed out the arrival of the G-Zero world with no leaders in the international community, or the formation of the G-Two framework, a leadership by the U.S. and China. How do you value the U.S. that has led the world in security and economy and in enhancing freedom, democracy and globalism? And looking forward, what do you think the U.S.’s role should be?
Armitage：In this regard, my crystal ball is as cloudy as yours. Although we are still the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world, we are no longer holding on tightly to those ideas of enhancing freedom, democracy and globalism. To the extent the U.S. is not promoting democracy, human rights, and freedoms, including individual freedoms so our position of global leadership has decreased.
My view is that if President Trump wins re-election, our role as a global leader will continue to decrease. It’s quite clear to me that President Trump is a protectionist and an isolationist, who finds relationships with foreigners uncomfortable. And he wants to go back to a time that he thinks things were better. That’s the biggest reason the time of Pax Americana may be over. It’s not quite over yet, as I say we are still the strongest economically and militarily, but if we continue down his path, Pax Americana will be over.
Shirai：Are you optimistic or pessimistic for the growth of globalization?
Armitage：I would not describe myself as optimistic or pessimistic, but realistic.
There are several moving parts here in the U.S.: the first is the election coming up in November; the second is what happens to the Senate and the House; the third is how long the Republicans want to stay closely tied to President Trump; and the fourth is the global situation. Right now, we are having a very difficult time in the Middle East. The recent assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani is going to cause some repercussions. In this regard, by the way, I salute Japan, particularly as Prime Minister Abe has been searching for peace with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Prime Minister Abe is going to do what he needs to do to guard Japanese assets in the request for the dispatch of Maritimes Self-Defense Force ships without taking sides in the coalition, and he explained that very carefully to Iran. If there’s a good sign for the future of globalization, it is that a very notable country like Japan is moving so strongly to try to promote peace and stability.
Shirai：What do you expect of Japan in the current Asian and global situation?
Armitage：I expect and hope that Japan will continue to display global leadership. As the U.S. seems to have turned away from the long held and cherished ideas of democracy, human rights and individual freedoms, I hope Japan will not turn away from those ideas. In a very real way, I think power has been temporarily shifted to Japan from the U.S.
Shirai：Thank you very much for your time today.
In this interview, we sat together with former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Mr. Richard L. Armitage to ask his opinion on the role of Japan and the U.S. in the international community based on his deep experiences in strengthening the U.S.-Japan relationship. In the world with no leader, his strong expectations for Japan’s role left a great impression, especially when he emphasized the need for Japan’s leadership in the Asia-Pacific region.