Asia, Human Rights

The Color Wars

I played for Green when I was growing up. That was my soccer team. We were divided up by color: Green vs. Red, Gold vs. Blue. The teams were chosen at random, but we became fiercely attached to our color. Friendships across color lines became strained. We talked of “Purple power” and the “Gold tradition.”… Continue reading The Color Wars

Asia, US Foreign Policy

Asia: The Ghosts of 1914

On the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, Europe is at peace. There are no major border disputes. The countries form a unified economic bloc instead of a patchwork of jostling alliances. In the last 70 years, the only large-scale violence took place during the unraveling of Yugoslavia, which ended 15 years… Continue reading Asia: The Ghosts of 1914

Asia, China, US Foreign Policy

The Empire’s New Asian Clothes

In a future update of The Devil’s Dictionary, the famed Ambrose Bierce dissection of the linguistic hypocrisies of modern life, a single word will accompany the entry for “Pacific pivot”: retreat. It might seem a strange way to characterize the Obama administration’s energetic attempt to reorient its foreign and military policy toward Asia. After all, the president’s… Continue reading The Empire’s New Asian Clothes


The Sun Also Rises

  I passed through an enormous tori, the traditional gate in front of Shinto shrines. In the courtyard, white-clad Shinto priests walked quietly back and forth. A flock of white doves, specially bred on the site, pecked at the ground and then took wing at the prodding of a photographer. I visited the strolling garden and… Continue reading The Sun Also Rises

Asia, US Foreign Policy

U.S. Still Playing Catch-up in Asia

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden wrapped up his finger-wagging tour of Asia on Friday, with a busy week of lecturing the Chinese, trying to get the South Koreans and Japanese to play nice with one another, and damning North Korea with faint praise for releasing an 85-year-old American after more than a month of detention.… Continue reading U.S. Still Playing Catch-up in Asia

Asia, Korea, Uncategorized, US Foreign Policy

The Paradoxes of the Pacific Pivot

The “Pacific pivot” of the United States is nothing new. At the same time, it doesn’t really exist. And yet, even though it doesn’t exist, this pivot is partly responsible for the escalation of tensions in and around the Korean peninsula. How can all three of these statements be simultaneously true? Such are the paradoxes… Continue reading The Paradoxes of the Pacific Pivot

Asia, China


We won our independence from the British in a hard-fought revolutionary battle. Today, no hard feelings: the Anglo-American alliance is strong, we all love Downton Abbey, and our skirmishes are largely confined to disputes over which version of The Office is funnier and how to spell and pronounce the word “aluminum.” We fought the Germans, the Japanese, and the… Continue reading Frenemies

Asia, Security

Asia Is Up In Arms

The geopolitical centre of gravity, as measured in arms spending and transfers, has shifted to Asia. The top five arms importers over the last five years, according to new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), are from Asia. And, led by deep-pocketed China, Asia is poised to overtake Europe for the first time in… Continue reading Asia Is Up In Arms

Asia, China

Our Man in Beijing?

When Hu Jintao took over as the leader of China in 2002, U.S. companies welcomed his accession as a “good sign for American business.” Political analysts described Hu as a fourth-generation member of the Communist party leadership who might very well turn out to be a “closet liberal.” Playing it safe, the media tended to… Continue reading Our Man in Beijing?


Letter from Okinawa

Dear Mom: I haven’t written much from Okinawa. I’m sorry about that. I guess maybe you were expecting lots of exciting war stories from your son the Marine. But honestly, the most exciting thing we’ve done is put in a sea wall over by the Torii Beach shoreline and then take it down again when… Continue reading Letter from Okinawa

Asia, Blog, Korea

The Other Kim

When Kim Jong Il died last month, it made headlines. When Kim Geun-Tae died just a few days ago, it merited only a small obituary in U.S. newspapers (if at all).


Pacific Pivot or APEC Misstep?

President Barack Obama intended to use the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting last weekend in Hawai'i to signal a shift in U.S. foreign policy away from the Middle East and toward the Asia-Pacific region.


The End of America’s Pacific Century

Usually it’s the giant stories that catch your eye. The wars, the uproars, the Arab Spring -- the things you can’t miss. But every now and then, news stories about easily overlooked subjects somehow manage to shine the strongest light on a changing world.


Gambling in Japan

The great kabuki actor Mitsugoro Bando VIII was a fan of fugu, or blowfish. Fugu is a rather bland, unremarkable fish except for one thing: its internal organs, particularly the liver, are highly toxic. Japanese chefs have to acquire a special certificate to prove that they know how to remove all traces of toxin before… Continue reading Gambling in Japan


Japan’s Three Elections

Washington may well be rejoicing at the result of today’s election inside the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Prime Minister Naoto Kan defeated rival Ichiro Ozawa by a large margin in a battle for the party’s top spot. Ozawa, with his calls for a more equal partnership with the United States and a renegotiation of… Continue reading Japan’s Three Elections


Allied Regime Change

Earth Day was a big event this year. Sting sang on the Mall here in Washington. The citizens of Qatar turned off their power for an hour. The U.S. Navy rolled out its new biodiesel-fueled Green Hornet fighter jet. Okay, maybe the Earth was not so impressed with all the events held in its honor.… Continue reading Allied Regime Change


Can Japan Say No to Washington

For a country with a pacifist constitution, Japan is bristling with weaponry. Indeed, that Asian land has long functioned as a huge aircraft carrier and naval base for U.S. military power. We couldn’t have fought the Korean and Vietnam Wars without the nearly 90 military bases scattered around the islands of our major Pacific ally.… Continue reading Can Japan Say No to Washington


An Arms Race in Northeast Asia

Asia is in the midst of its most peaceful period of the 20th century,” The Economist editorialized in 1993, “yet its nations are continuing to arm themselves at an alarming rate.” A similar assessment came from Newsweek: “East Asia’s arms race already makes it one of the few places where defense budgets are rising—and the… Continue reading An Arms Race in Northeast Asia


Obama: Visit Hiroshima

President Obama has talked a lot about ridding the world of nuclear weapons. He won a Nobel Peace prize largely on the strength of those words. Now, he needs to translate words into actions and vindicate the Nobel committee’s decision. When he goes to Japan this month, the president should make an unprecedented visit to… Continue reading Obama: Visit Hiroshima


The Other Democratic Party

Last November, shortly after Election Day, I met with a legislator from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Kuniko Tanioka was in town to see the usual Washington types. But she also wanted a front-row seat to watch Barack Obama’s historic win. After all, Obama was the reason she’d thrown her hat in the ring… Continue reading The Other Democratic Party


Revolution in Japan

Japan has been a one-party oligarchy for a very long time. This may not be a polite thing to say about a democracy and a U.S. ally. But Japan has been ruled by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for the last 54 years, except for a few nanoseconds after the Cold War when the ruling… Continue reading Revolution in Japan

Asia, Book Reviews

Review: Securing Japan

Securing Japan: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia. By Richard J. Samuels. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2007. ix, 277 pp. $49.95 (cloth); $19.95 (paper).   Grand strategy is all the rage in Tokyo these days. The Japanese political and military establishment senses a new world of possibilities now that it has… Continue reading Review: Securing Japan

Asia, Korea

Japan-ROK Relations on the Rocks

Japan and South Korea are allies. That means they are constrained from going to war with one another. Despite a long history of conflict — including Japan’s colonization of Koreaduring the first half of the 20th century–the two countries have had to make nice as part of their anti-communist alliance with the United States. For… Continue reading Japan-ROK Relations on the Rocks


Thinking Big in Crisis Time

It might seem like the worst possible time for Tokyo to think big. The global economic crisis is hitting Japan hard. The current government of Taro Aso is scraping the bottom of public opinion polls. And with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party poised to suffer a game-changing defeat in the upcoming elections, the domestic political… Continue reading Thinking Big in Crisis Time


Japan: The Price of Normalcy

Japan: The Price of Normalcy John Feffer In the early 1990s, the Japanese military adopted a cute mascot by the name of Prince Pickles. He’s a little guy with a big head and big eyes who lives in a tranquil country bordering on some pretty dangerous territory. In three action-packed comic books aimed at young… Continue reading Japan: The Price of Normalcy