The workshop with the Keck Center for International Strategic Studies of the Claremont McKenna College

Date: Tuesday,March 13, 2018, 10:00 - 17:45
Venue: Meeting Room 801, Faculty of Law Building 3, University of Tokyo
Subject: “The Decline of Western Liberal Order and Its Impact on East Asia”
Language: English
hosted by: Security Studies Unit, Policy Alternatives Research Institute, the University of Tokyo
The Keck Center for International Strategic Studies of the Claremont McKenna College (Claremont, California)

The Security Studies Unit was honored to co-host a workshop with the Keck Center for International Strategic Studies of the Claremont McKenna College (Claremont, California).

The event was opened by Akio Takahara, Professor of Chinese political studies at the University of Tokyo, who greeted all participants and thanked all organisers from both institutions.

Session 1
The first session focused on the decline of liberal international order and its impact on East Asia. Speakers for this session were Minxin Pei, the Tom and Margot Pritzer ’72 Professor of Government and the Director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College, and Keisuke Iida, Professor of International Political Economy at the Graduate School of Public Policy, the University of Tokyo.

Professor Pei opened his talk with some considerations on the concept of decline. The system of international relations which emerged after WWII was clearly centred on the US and on an economic order based on trade liberalisation. In the past few decades, it is difficult to dispute that the centre of gravity of the world economy is shifting towards Asia. More in general, the size of Western economies relative to the rest of the world and of Asia in particular has been shrinking, and will likely continue to shrink. More recently, other factors have added to the decline, in particular 1) economic globalisation 2) mass immigration. These have triggered a reaction leading to high polarisation in US domestic politics, with far less political unity in Washington and less resources to be devoted to foreign policy, particularly concerning Asia.
Regarding the impact of all this on East Asia, there has not been so far a significant change in the most important indicators. Democracies (with the exception of Thailand) remain relatively stable, and so autocracies, although these latter have shown signs of tightening. While there is a widespread sense that an age of protectionism is coming, at the moment this has remained limited and international trade continues to grow, albeit at slower pace than before. From a security perspective, alliances remain robust. In conclusion, Professor Pei stated that the declining liberal order has had so far an indirect and moderate negative impact on East and South-East Asia, which remains dominated by intra-region dynamics. The crucial factors which will shape the future evolution will be what happens in China as well as the transformations within the US, and whether the US can have a revival and re-engagement with the region.

Professor Iida spoke about the economic dimension of the international liberal order’s decline, which appears to be multidimensional. Such decline appears difficult to avoid given the relative US decline and the rise of China. In numerous IR contributions concerning this “power shift”, it is predicted that the dominant power and the rising power will go to war, and that is the argument of Graham Allison’s Destined for War book. However, war between Washington and Beijing appears to be unlikely, if not just because of nuclear weapons. The most likely outcome is that of a trade war, or “Kindleberger’s trap”. This is a situation which occurs when the rising power is unwilling to lead and the declining power unable to, as in the interwar period between the US and Britain. With the election of Donald Trump as US President there has been an acceleration of this trend, which can impact the liberal international order quite severely. The crown jewel of that order, so to speak, is the regime of international trade established in several decades through GATT and WTO negotiations. Trump’s preference for bilateral, as opposed to multilateral, diplomacy can substantially contribute to the onset of a protectionist turn in world trade. Indeed the situation could still be contained if it remains within the limits of WTO rules. If that framework collapses, it will be a fatal blow to liberal international order.

Session 2
The second session concerned the sociological exploration of perceptions regarding democracy and mutual threats. Speakers for this session were Yun-han Chu, distinguished Research Fellow of the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica as well as Professor of political science at National Taiwan University, and Shigeto Sonoda, Professor of sociology and Asian studies at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA, the University of Tokyo.

Professor Chu illustrated in his intervention a complex public opinion survey concerning the support for democracy as a form of government in Taiwan in a comparative perspective with other countries in Asia. This study has been conducted in “waves” over the course of a number of years in order to track the change in the perception of democracy over time. The results are not very encouraging. It appears that support for democracy by citizens in democratic countries is flat or even slightly declining, with many having mixed feelings about democracy, remarkably more so than citizens living in authoritarian regimes. Professor Chu evaluated then a series of hypotheses to explain these results and trends. One of the most important point seems to be that people in Asia have a very diverse understanding of democracy, with varied opinions on what is to be considered essential to it.

Professor Sonoda offered in his talk an analysis of the “China Threat” perception from the perspective of East Asian elite university students, which was conducted with a series of surveys at several top schools in Japan, China, Korea and other Asian nations. Of course the idea of “threat” is fairly vague, and the survey itself was designed to explore this very dimension of vagueness as well. The major findings of this study are that the majority of university students in East Asia regard the rise of China as the result of Chinese people’s effort, while they also think that this rise offers them opportunities more than risks (with the exception of Vietnamese and Japanese respondents). On the other hand, for the majority of respondents, with the exception of mainland Chinese, the rise of China poses a threat to global order, and there are suspicions about China’s ability to maintain peaceful relations within the neighbourhood. Despite the high evaluation concerning the future of China, still the majority of respondents show little interest in studying in China or working for a Chinese company, while the US is still highly valued for study and work.

Session 3
The third session was devoted to the discussion of Latin America, in particular Mexico and Peru. Speakers for this session were Roderic Ai Camp, Philip McKenna Professor of the Pacific Rim, and Kazuo Ohgushi, Professor of Latin American Politics and Comparative Politics of Developing Countries at the Graduate School of Public Policy, The University of Tokyo.

Professor Camp illustrated in his talk a research work he is conducting on the quality of democracy in Mexico. That country has had a problematic political history, with really democratic elections being achieved only in the year 2000. Although electoral democracy seems established, Mexico is still far from a consolidated democracy, as many elements are missing. This situation seems to be occurring regardless of economic development. The analysis of the data collected by Professor Camp shows that the major policy changes which have occurred in the country are institutional alterations (a strategy supported by the US), but these have a relatively limited impact as many problems with the consolidation of democracy have to do with nearly intractable cultural patterns, which impact the effectiveness of institutions. Trust is an important matter which directly affects the credibility of the democratic system in Mexico and beyond. Violence appears as well as a major factor able to dramatically alter lifestyles. In conclusion, the focus of reforms in Mexico should be less on institutional design and security, more on addressing the structural social and economic problems which underpin violence and corruption, and the US should play a role in this by considering a broader policy of economic assistance to its southern neighbour.

Professor Ohgushi’s talk focused on transitional justice in Latin America, particularly on the case of Peru, leading to a series of considerations on the more general conditions and effects of such process. Transitional justice started in the 1980s as an upfront approach to truth and reconciliation, where initially the attention was more on the establishment of the truth (e.g. tracing desaparecidos). Gradually however the aspect of reconciliation as emerged as a possibility based on the ascertainment of truth, punishment, atonement and forgiving. Truth and reconciliation has in the meantime been incorporated in the agenda of most international efforts in post-conflict reconstruction work. Nevertheless, Professor Ohgushi criticised the idea of an unconditioned application of this approach. There are indeed instances in which reconciliation was not possible nor desirable, and has not been achieved or even attempted. The most obvious case is the impossibility to reconcile with members of National-Socialist organisations in post-WWII Germany. In some areas of Latin America, for instance in Peru, the crimes of Sendero Luminoso appear to be beyond all proportions in comparison to the stated political goals of the movement, making reconciliation little desirable or possible.

Session 4
The fourth session was devoted to the discussion of Eastern and Central European politics. Speakers for this session were: Hilary Appel, Podlich Family Professor of Government and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College, and Kimitaka Matsuzato, Professor of Comparative Politics at UTokyo.

Professor Appel illustrated in her talk the trend of Eastern and central Europe turning away from liberal internationalism, presenting the results of a number of surveys conducted to investigate the attitude towards democracy and liberal values in various populations. Interestingly, anti-immigration sentiments are now higher in Western Europe than in the East. However, democracy-monitoring organisations like Freedom House have been downgrading several countries in the regions for their diminishing civil rights and especially freedom of the press. Professor Appel focused then on the situation of Hungary, where PM Viktor Orbán will face new elections on 8 April 2018 with good prospects of being re-elected, and Poland, where the result of the 2015 elections put the PiS party in power, leading to a very aggressive anti-EU, anti-immigration stance. Finally, Professor Appel investigated the relation between what is happening in Russia and the event in Eastern Europe. While many nations in the region are hostile to Russia, Moscow has a clear influence on them in terms of setting an ideological example, which Putin has cultivated through good personal relations with some leaders, particularly in Hungary.

Professor Matsuzato illustrated a paper on the situation in East Ukraine he is about to publish. The paper explores the political situation before, during, and after the Donbass conflict in two typical Eastern Ukrainian towns, namely Mariupol and Kramatorsk. In order to write this paper, Professor Matsuzato has travelled to Ukraine conducting extensive field work with numerous interviews. He explained in detail the history of these two towns, which emerged as industrial centres in the Soviet era, being dominated by one or few large industries, implying that the owners of those industrial companies become de facto the political leaders of the communities, not only providing jobs in a direct fashion, but being responsible for practically everything else. Professor Matsuzato also explored and explained the ways in which these power constellations navigate through the perilous waters of regime change in Kiev and military operations in the region.

Session 5
The fifth session returned to East Asian and global politics. Speakers for this session were David C. Kang, Professor of International Relations and Business at the University of Southern California, and Kiichi Fujiwara, Professor of International Relations at UTokyo, Director of the Policy Alternatives Research Institute and of its Security Studies Unit.

Professor Kang offered in his talk the view that the political situation in East Asia is often misunderstood, particularly in the Western world: Asia was never completely Westernised even when some countries adopted institutions and norms originally elaborated in the West. Focusing on Korea, Professor Kang stated that Korea has evolved in a democratic state only fairly recently, and while some elements, such as the deep intertwining of state and business, are certainly a problem, overall Korean democracy is quite strong and vibrant. The very fluctuations and shifts taking place within the electorate, although they may be an issue with regard to stability, are a proof of that.

Professor Fujiwara spoke about the trajectory of the international liberal order, making some conceptual distinctions between (electoral) democracy and liberalism. These two have been historically amalgamated in the modern liberal-democratic model, but they also have very different historical roots. Democracy existed already in the Greek antiquity, while liberalism emerged out of the medieval and feudal context in Western Europe and particularly in England. In terms of international order, several models are available in the political literature: an order base on sovereign states, declined as Schmittian Nomos or as Bull’s Anarchical Society; a proper liberal international order such as that proposed by Cobden (Manchester liberalism) or by US President Woodrow Wilson; the compromise of the post-WWII international order. The post-war order thrived on the economic foundation of trade liberalisation, on successive waves of democratisation, and on a set of international institutions capable of restraining power and enhancing the value of international law as well as international organisations. Now we have reached the limits of this model of international order: globalisation has produced numerous grievances in specific communities in the Western world, and illiberal alternatives putting again the nation state at the centre have become more appealing. This has important consequences for the future of trade, alliances, and international organisations.

Session 6
The sixth and final session focused on China. Speakers were Wu Guoguang, Professor of Political Science and History as well as Chair in China & Asia-Pacific Relations at the University of Victoria (Canada), and Akio Takahara, Professor of Chinese Politics at UTokyo.

Professor Wu reminded all workshop participants that the People’s Republic of China is the largest non-democratic country in the world. In the past few decades, there were numerous signs of a transition away from the totalitarian experience which had characterised the first part of the PRC’s history under Chairman Mao. However, under the leadership of Xi Jinping China appears to be currently experiencing a reversed transition towards neo-totalitarianism. This is visible in a number of transformations. First, there is the establishment of a new cult of personality of Xi Jinping himself, along the lines of Mao. Secondly, one can see Xi’s clear attempt at centralising every aspect of political life in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, after a few decades during which the party had allowed a relatively more open atmosphere. Thirdly, there is a vast expansion of surveillance in all directions, and a tight control of the means of communication, particularly on the Internet. It is unclear where all this is heading to but it will certainly impact China’s role in the international order.

Professor Takahara highlighted in his intervention the contradictions at the core of Xi Jinping’s policies. From the inception of the PRC, the political leadership in Beijing has been confronted with the problem of coping with an ever-growing demand in terms of cultural and material needs from the population, while production was lagging. This situation has lasted until China has emerged as a major economic powerhouse in more recent decades, and since then the problem has become how to cope with the rising demand of a better (beautiful) life and an unbalanced and inadequate development, as in Hu Jintao’s principle of “putting people first”. While Xi recognises the latter problem, he is promoting the idea that a better life can be achieved by centralising everything in the hands of the Communist Party. The contradiction is here between an absolute party leadership and modernisation, which is not new but part of the cycle of loosening and restricting which has been at the core of China’s politics. There is no doubt that under Xi China finds itself in an intense restriction phase.