Nicholas Szechenyi is Deputy Director and Fellow, Japan Chair at CSIS. Prior to joining CSIS, he was a news producer for Fuji Television in Washington, D.C. In 2000, he served as editor of an annual overview of US-Japan relations published by the Edwin O. Reischauer Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). From 1994 to 1998, he was a program associate at the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, where he administered more than 30 policy-oriented research projects on East Asian affairs. He received an M.A. in international economics and Japan studies from SAIS and a B.A. in Asian studies from Connecticut College.
Articles by Nicholas Szechenyi
Benefiting from a window of political stability, the Abe government continued to focus on the twin pillars of economic strategy and defense policy reform. Bilateral engagement on security, trade, and regional and global issues informed the agenda for the prime minister’s official visit to Washington in late April, the first by a Japanese leader in nine years. Abe also became the first Japanese leader to address a joint session of Congress and relayed the main themes from his summit with President Obama by reflecting on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, celebrating the evolution of the US-Japan alliance, and outlining a strategic vision for the future.
Weak economic data prompted Prime Minister Abe Shinzo to postpone painful tax increases and call a snap election to extend the window in which to advance his policy agenda. US-Japan negotiations on TPP slowed, but President Obama made his first significant public push in December on TPP. Discussions on revising the bilateral defense guidelines advanced somewhat but were extended into 2015 to better coincide with the legislative debate in Japan on defense policy. Trilateral coordination with Australia and South Korea reflected a shared commitment to network the alliance agenda. Public opinion surveys revealed a foundation of support for the US-Japan relationship across a range of issue areas. All of the bilateral agenda on defense and trade was aimed at a potential Abe visit to Washington in the spring.
The Abe government outlined an economic growth strategy and introduced a package of defense policy reforms aimed at enhancing Japan’s leadership role on security. Bilateral dialogue on security cooperation and military exercises featured prominently, complemented by trilateral coordination with other US allies on the margins of multilateral gatherings in the region. The two governments conducted several rounds of bilateral trade negotiations related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership but were unable to make progress on sensitive market access issues that threatened to prolong efforts to boost the economic pillar of the alliance.
The Abe government focused on the economy, energy strategy, and defense policy reform but the timeline for implementing these pillars of Abe’s agenda was uncertain. A flurry of bilateral diplomacy paved the way for various initiatives including a trilateral summit with South Korean President Park Geun-hye and President Obama in The Hague. Obama made a state visit to Japan highlighting areas for strategic cooperation between Japan and the United States but the two governments were not able to conclude a bilateral trade agreement that would strengthen the economic pillar of the alliance.
Prime Minister Abe continued to focus on the economy but also introduced diplomatic and defense strategies as his first year in office came to a close. The US and Japanese governments participated in TPP trade negotiations and bilateral talks but could not resolve differences on agricultural liberalization and market access for automobiles. A meeting of the bilateral Security Consultative Committee set forth priorities for defense cooperation, and China’s announcement of its East China Sea ADIZ put bilateral coordination to the test. The governor of Okinawa approved a landfill permit for the Futenma Replacement Facility on Okinawa, establishing some momentum for the realignment of US forces there. Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine disappointed the Obama administration and sparked major debate in the US, but was not expected to upend bilateral diplomacy.
Prime Minister Abe focused intently on economic policy and led his Liberal Democratic Party to a resounding victory in the July Upper House election, securing full control of the Diet and a period of political stability that bodes well for his policy agenda. Multilateral gatherings in Asia yielded several opportunities for bilateral and trilateral consultations on security issues, and the economic pillar of the alliance also took shape with Japan’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and discussions on energy cooperation. Comments on sensitive history issues sparked controversy but did not derail bilateral diplomacy. The nomination of Caroline Kennedy as US ambassador to Japan marks a new chapter in the relationship.
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo generated a buzz in the media and the markets by introducing a three-pronged economic strategy designed to change expectations for growth as his ruling Liberal Democratic Party prepares for a parliamentary election in July. President Obama hosted Abe in Washington for a summit that paved the way for Japan’s inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. Bilateral coordination on regional security and defense cooperation accelerated with high-level visits in both capitals to reaffirm the vitality of the alliance. The reemergence this spring of tensions between Japan and its neighbors over history issues was the only wrinkle in an extremely productive period in US-Japan relations.
The Liberal Democratic Party won a Lower House election in a landslide and Abe Shinzo became prime minister for the second time amid public frustration with poor governance and anemic economic growth. The United States and Japan continued a pattern of regular consultations across a range of bilateral and regional issues with tensions between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands and another North Korean missile launch topping the diplomatic agenda. The US military presence on Okinawa also featured with the deployment of the V-22 Osprey aircraft to Okinawa and the arrest of two US servicemen in the alleged rape of a Japanese woman. The year came to a close with Prime Minister Abe hoping for a visit to Washington early in 2013 to establish a rapport with President Obama and follow through on his election pledge to revitalize the US-Japan alliance.
Prime Minister Noda advanced a legislative package on tax and social security reform but faced stiff political headwinds in the form of a frustrated public and a jaded opposition steeling for an election. Japanese concerns over the safety of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft scheduled for deployment in Okinawa dominated the bilateral agenda – at least in the media – and tested the mettle of Japan’s widely-respected new defense minister. The two governments agreed to continue consultations on Japan’s interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but political paralysis in Japan and presidential politics in the United States could complicate efforts to make progress in the near term. Two reports issued over the summer addressing US force posture strategy in the Asia-Pacific and the agenda for US-Japan alliance, respectively, focused on the future trajectory for the bilateral relationship.
After three tumultuous and frustrating years as the DPJ tried to find its legs, Prime Minister Noda finally visited Washington. Noda has been busy pursuing an increase in the consumption tax, trying to gain support for some continuation of nuclear power, cobbling together domestic support for Japanese participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, and facing the perennial struggle on relocating Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa. By the time of his visit, Noda had started to line up support for the consumption tax, backed off temporarily on TPP, and waited on restarting nuclear plants. However, he did manage to complete an agreement to de-link the move of about 9,000 US Marines to Guam and other locations in the Pacific from the Futenma relocation issue. That announcement was a rare victory and set a positive tone for the summit and the joint statement pledged to revitalize the alliance. The prime minister returned home to face the same domestic political challenges, but with an important if limited accomplishment in foreign policy.