Asia’s Reckoning: China, Japan, and the Fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century

A ChinaFile Transcript

The following is an edited transcript of a live event hosted at Asia Society in New York on September 7, 2017, and named for a new book by Richard McGregor, the former Beijing Bureau Chief of the Financial Times, “ChinaFile Presents: ‘Asia’s Reckoning: China, Japan, and the Fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century.’” Panelists included McGregor, Susan Shirk, and Ian Buruma, in a discussion moderated by ChinaFile’s publisher Orville Schell. —The Editors

Orville Schell: Thanks to all of you for coming and thanks to The New York Review for co-sponsoring this event. I think there is much to commend—this topic, this book, and this panel. Richard has written a beautifully researched, very elegant book which I can’t wait to ask you what your conclusion is. Because at the end of the book, there isn’t exactly a conclusion it is very haiku like, zen like in its ending. But the topic of the triangle of the U.S., Japan, and China is of course one that is critical to just about everything that is going on in Asia today, and relates to of course the career question. And it is a great panel, as you’ll see, no further words need to be said about it.

So let’s start. So Richard, I wanted to just let you discuss your book a bit, but maybe tell us: what was the itch you were scratching when you wrote, and what actually do you think we ought to take away from your historical narrative of these three countries interacting?

Richard McGregor: Thanks. Thanks Orville, Thanks Susan and Ian, thanks to the Asia Society for putting this on. I mean I confess openly, I don’t really have a conclusion. And in fact, I think there is an old idea about books that you should sort of work from the dust-jacket backwards. So in other words, you should write everything down and then expand from that point onwards so you have a sort of consistent theme running through the whole book. I mean having lived in both Japan and China for a long time, I was basically just interested in the relationship—the bilateral relationship and the story, much more than anything else. For example, if you go to a bookshop in the U.S. you’ll see there is a cottage industry of books on the U.S. and China, the U.S. and the Middle East, in the U.K. for example there is a cottage industry on the U.K. and France, France and Germany and the like, you’ll find very little on Japan and China. And it is a very consequential relationship. I hope I don't’ mean that in the kind of “eat your broccoli” type fashion, but—

Orville Schell: No, your book—it isn’t eating broccoli.

Richard McGregor: Well I mean for example, if you think about the war with ISIS, one thing we don't worry about in relationship with the war with ISIS, is the impact on the caliphate's GDP. We don’t even care about the impact on the oil price anymore. But in the case of Japan and China, if there were to be any conflict there, the entire global economy goes through these two countries, along with Taiwan and South Korea. And the second way it is consequential is imagine if Japan and China actually did get on. And if they did get on, then frankly, there would be little role for the U.S. in East Asia, there would be little to see the kind of Pax Americana that we see these days. The whole sort-of post war architecture that we’ve lived with for 70 years and that has sustained and depended the whole Asian economic miracle, wouldn’t really exist. But of course they don’t get on. The U.S. is still there, and is kind of stuck there in a way, alongside Japan as a treaty ally. And of course that hinders U.S. relations with China. I guess I had a couple of main themes throughout the book.

The first is to explain why they don’t get on. One of the odd things about Japan and China even though they’ve kind of raged against Western countries quite rightly over the last 100 years to be treated as equals, and with all of the sort of racially or racist policies against East Asian nations over time, they’ve never really been able to treat each other as equals. One has always been on top of the other. That’s one point.

There’s the history wars. You don’t have to look beyond the U.S. to see how history can still permeate daily politics. It is obviously up front here as well. But it is quite striking I think in East Asia how the history wars are still used to manipulate domestic politics, internal domestic politics, in a major way. But I’ve tried not to write so much about the history wars as the history of the history wars and explain how that takes place.

And I guess then there is the U.S.—you can’t write about Japan and China unless you write about the U.S. as well. The U.S. is Japan’s indispensable ally, it as I mentioned before, it basically set up the post-war architecture in the form of the San Francisco Treaty in the early ‘50s. I think and I think this is actually an area that needs a lot more work, but I think that China wants to unravel that, I think that it doesn’t accept—China has benefited enormously from the U.S. made world in East Asia, but quite naturally it doesn’t really want, it is strong enough, it thinks, or is starting to be strong enough now, to manage the region itself, or to start to manage. It doesn’t want the U.S. to leave quickly, I think China prefers the U.S. to go into “bourgeois decline” if you like, and sort of slowly ease out of the region. To go quickly would be destabilizing. But that is a big dilemma for the U.S.—does the U.S. stand its ground, pour enormous resources into trying to push back against China, contain China, however you want to talk about it, or does the U.S. slowly leave?

And on that point, I won’t go on too much. . . You asked me about my conclusion. And one person hanging over everything as he hangs over all of our daily lives here is Mr. Trump. And he gave an interview, as many people in this room know, Trump came to— his political awakening was in the ’80s during the Japanese trade wars. He was very anti-Japanese. And he gave an interview to The Economist magazine in late 2015, and this is a section that actually wasn’t published in the magazine at the time. And he was asked what he had been saying on the campaign trail about, Japan going nuclear no problem with that, South Korea can have nukes as well, why not? And the reporter asked him, you know but “Isn’t the U.S. going to defend Japan?” First of all he had had a rant about what he had just seen in Los Angeles, about all of these Japanese cars pouring off the container ships, and he said, “I’m saying to myself, we send them beef, it’s a tiny fraction, and by the way, they don’t even want it.” As always with this Trump, he often hits the nail on the head. But anyway, he went through is rant—oh I love China, oh I love Japan, all that sort of stuff. But then he was asked again, but what about the U.S. commitment to defend Japan? And he said, “If we step back, the Japanese will protect itself pretty well. Remember when Japan used to beat China routinely in wars. You know that right? Japan used to beat China all the time. Why are we defending them at all?”

And so we get to the point now where Trump of course is in the White House, the Japanese Foreign Ministry I think, the Japanese naturally need reassurance, I think the Japanese Foreign Ministry did a count the other day of how many times the U.S. administration under Trump had reassured Japan of the U.S.’s commitment to defend it, and I think they had done it 28 times. Probably 30 by now. And it sort of occurred to me, if you have to ask your partner 28 times whether or not they love you, you should probably start to worry.

Orville Schell: For what—China to ask Japan to apologize?

Richard McGregor: Yeah, that’s right. So that’s my conclusion really. And it is not much of a conclusion. But you can make up any scenario you want for China based off of this that and other facts, and the same goes from East Asia as well, but my broader conclusion that the old Pax Americana is unraveling, maybe quicker with North Korea, maybe slowly with Japan and China, but one way or another, the next 20 years will not look like the past 20 years.

Orville Schell: Okay, so now maybe before, we all just have a sort of discussion and then throw it open to you all. Let’s just let Susan and Ian, give us some thoughts about their having read this book, and how they are looking at this topic. Susan.

Susan Shirk: Well before I do that I just have to observe that, Donald Trump, during the campaign and in the debates he often would say “Oh yes, they’re eating our lunch, they’re taking advantage of us” and then he’d say, “China, Japan, and Mexico,” and I thought he stepped back into the time where we were worried that Japan would surpass us economically, the Japanese model and everything. And he just blurs them all together in his mind. Very strange. But I’m really glad that you wrote this book, it is a terrific book, and I agree with you completely that the China-Japan relationship is really the critical hinge on which peace and stability in Asia rest. And quite a few years ago, a very senior Chinese diplomat, who I had dinner with him, and he asked me a question. Just one on one. He said, “What kind of role in Asia is the United States prepared to have China play?” And I thought for a minute, and I said it really all depends on China-Japan relations. Because if China and Japan could find a way to get along then, just as you said, the U.S. role is so much less critical, and I think that is actually in the U.S. interest. The key for us should be a peaceful, stable, Asia, not exactly what the American role is. So, if China could find a way to assure Japan that they can be trusted, that they can get along, I think that is good for the United States. I know in your book you mentioned that Nixon said that it is good for the United States to have them at each other. But I don’t agree with that, and to have them at each other as we have had it since the mid 1990s, is not a good thing for the United States. And I think your book vividly demonstrates that with the history you relate to us. And my takeaways from the book, just very briefly, are that China and Japanese relations are more fluid than you might think today. When you go back and you look at the history, there is not some determinism here, some international relations determinism that they have to be in conflict. And there were periods when they weren’t. And the second thing is that their policies toward one another are so intertwined with their domestic politics, and you tell lots of examples of that from both sides. So it's a great way of slicing into domestic politics in China and Japan. How intertwined their relations are with you know, the economic interests, the security interests, within the LDP [Liberal Democratic Party], especially the functions within the LDP, on the Chinese side, the felt-need to demonstrate strength in the party to the other elites and to the public by taking Japan as a foil that you see starting with the more insecure leaders like Jiang Zemin, and then history I also don’t think history is destiny here, because you show that the Chinese can play up history or they can play down history. And it’s really up to CHinese leaders how they want to play it. And we see Mao and Deng—they didn’t play it up. But Jiang Zemin did play it up. Who kind of played it down. Things are peaceful, more or less peaceful between 2005-2010. So, the whole situation is more amenable to political leadership than I think. I mean that’s what I take away from your book. And I think we have seen a lot of fluidity. So that raises the question that you just mentioned again, is can they actually improve their relations in the future? Xi Jinping right now is I think trying to cool, I wouldn’t say warm it up but stabilize the situation with Japan. Is it possible that a leader with the power of Xi Jinping that he might actually improve relations with Japan?

Ian Buruma: Yes. Well I think one of the great merits of the book, and it is much less usual than people might think, is that it is so even-handed towards all countries under discussion. It is one of the professional quirks of China experts, that they take on the prejudices of their subject, and they tend to think about Japan and the Japanese in the way that the Chinese do, and the same is true of Japan hands, who tend to have views on China that they take over from the Japanese. And your book, I think has the great merit that it doesn’t do that. And as I say, it is very unusual. My sense of Pax Americana and Sino-Japanese relationship is that it is facing the sort of dilemma that aging empires very often do. Which is that you have an empire, and you have colonial peoples, and the question comes up—when should the colonial peoples be allowed to rule themselves? And the argument with empires is “Oh, well, yes, of course, one day they will be able to do that. But not for a while, because if we leave now there will be chaos, and mayhem”—and so on. And the problem with that is that, of course, as long as the empire exists, they won’t be ready to rule themselves. And the only way that they will be ready eventually is for the empire to seize. But you often do get chaos and mayhem as a result. So it is a dilemma to which there is no very good solution. I think probably Pax Americana and East Asia has, is, something that eventually should make way for an “Asian solution,” where Asians take care of these things themselves. But as long as the U.S. is there, in some ways it hinders that process, because the U.S. is there as kind of the teacher who has to keep the children in order, and as long as the teacher is there, the kids won’t grow up to take care of themselves. On the other hand, if the U.S. retreats, especially if they retreat too soon, as you say, there probably will be all sorts of problems. Now, I am not as optimistic as Susan is on how the Chinese and Japanese are going to get along. And I’m not sure that reassurances, and talking to them, and telling them that they should be an adult about these things, and get on and so on, is really going to do the trick. Because there really is a real problem there, which is that Japan is a real democracy, with its flaws like most democracies, it is an open society, and China manifestly is not. So Japan would be faced with the problem that is inevitably they will be dominated by a power that is deeply unsympathetic to their interests and to an open society. And I think a kind of tension at least, one hopes without violence, but a tension will be there inevitably. And it is not a question of good will and so on, it is a question of Japan having to face a dominant power simply because of its size and so on—that is a huge problem for them. So they have every reason to believe that the longer the United States stays there, the better it is for them. On the other hand, in the long, long run, it probably isn’t. And that’s not a very cogent conclusion either, but that’s why I sympathize with the way you’ve ended your book—all you can say is “The End” and the story continues.

Orville Schell: “Well let’s tease that out a little bit, because I think you know, I think what you just hinted at is sort of undeniably true, what is really at work here, it seems to me is that different political systems and different values—it isn’t just country A and country B, you know, you can have one or the other and they’re both equally acceptable and soluble in the global order. So I think that this is not just Japan’s problem. It’s Korea’s problem. It’s America’s problem. You have China, and China seems to be now moving in a direction that is more divergent than convergent with Western-style democracies. So let me ask you, how do you think that has played out, is playing out, and should play out? What is the remedy for that incredible contradiction?

Ian Buruma: Well I think the problem for the U.S. is perhaps less acute. Because it doesn’t matter so much if powers have different kind of politics and political systems and different values if there is a rough balance of power. I mean, you can live with another power even if they have a system you deeply hate. You can come to some kind of agreement, as the Soviet Union did with the United States. It is much harder for Japan in a region where there is this one huge colossus, which is the ‘Middle Kingdom’—I mean it is not called that for nothing—and that is going to stay. And China will be the dominant power in East and Southeast Asia, there is not much you can do about that, trying to contain them and so on in the end is probably a mug’s game, but there is no way that Japan alone can balance that. Ideally, I’ve written that before, so I don’t want to bore people who might have read that, but ideally, I think, what you would need is a kind of East and Southeast Asian version of NATO, where you have South East Asian and East Asian societies who form an alliance that could balance China, and the problem with that is that the only country that could lead that would be Japan. And neither many Asians nor the Japanese themselves really want this. In Europe we’re faced with the same thing, that Germany is clearly the dominant power, people don’t really care anymore. I mean even when the German soccer team wins the World Cup, we don’t really mind that, and it’s full of Poles and they’re fine, they’re cool. But nobody feels that way yet about Japan.

Orville Schell: So, Richard, can you respond?

Richard McGregor: Well I think that even if Japan were to lead an Asian-style NATO, that would be a radical change anyway. Because as Ian illuded to, Japan has been like the sort of 46-year-old who won’t move out of his parents’ house. You know, it just won’t go out and make its way in the world alone. And it has gotten to the point now, such as the balance of power with China, if this were to be talked about 10 or 20 years ago it might have been different. But in no way is a Sinocentric order good for Japan. And even if it were to lead a NATO style set of alliances or security pact in Asia, it is doubtful that would be enough to balance China even then. And of course, look at the rest of Asia. Is Japan really going to lead a bunch of countries like Indonesia, Malaysia? Can they all be reliable partners against China? I doubt it very much actually.

Orville Schell: Well there’s India.

Richard McGregor: “There’s India. Well what is happening now, the U.S. and our allies in Asia used to be hubs and spokes, quite separate arrangements with each other, in part because Asian countries, U.S. relations with Asian countries were much better with Asian countries themselves, now we’re moving to a much more network arrangement. A response to China is Japan-India, its India-Australia, its Vietnam-Philippines, it’s Japan-Philippines, and that’s evolving and that is one of the most interesting things that is happening. Because if the U.S. does become weaker, other countries have to step up basically. They can’t just cower.

Susan Shirk: “Right and I have to say that I don’t agree that we are going to have a recreation of the China-centered hierarchy in Asia, because it is not possible, because China is surrounded by 20 neighbors, and many of them are big, substantial countries in their own right, with a lot of economic power and substantial military power as well. And that includes not just Japan, and Australia, and India, but even Korea—you know, South Korea is a major economic and military power, too. And Indonesia is a big country, so you know I think that I’m a little more optimistic about balancing and in fact trying to integrate China into some kind of Asian system in which the U.S. plays less of a role. I think the problem that you point to about Japan’s leadership of such an effort, is that Japan has made proposals—they weren’t welcomed that heartily by other Asian countries.

Richard McGregor: Well they weren’t welcomed by the U.S., the U.S. knocked a few of them on the head as well.

Susan Shirk: Right, and the fact that Korea and Japan can’t get along is a huge problem.

Ian Buruma: Yeah, but that’s a soluble problem. And I think that even if there was some kind of arrangement, an Asian arrangement, that would include China, it’d still be stuck with the same problem because if it included China, China would still dominate.

Susan Shirk: Well, economically. And it is the number one trading partner of almost all of those Asian neighbors, and so that means that China is at the center of an increasingly integrated Asian economy.

Orville Schell: So, let’s look for a moment, I mean, why is it when you can build a very strong case that it is in Japan’s interest and China’s interest just to get along—the war is over, and they have so many reasons to cooperate, collaborate, not only culturally—trade, a lot of other reasons. So why isn’t this happening? Why isn’t that common interest recognized, and sort of trans-substantiated into policy and collaboration?

Richard McGregor: Well, yes I mean in theory if you’re a Chinese strategist and you wanted to diminish U.S. power in East Asia, the best way to do that is to pull Japan away from the U.S. . Even one third of the way across. And they’ve never been able to do that. Now, why is that? It’s almost like Japan is the kind of bone in China’s throat or something. They just can’t get out of their system. It’s been emotional.

Orville Schell: And visa versa.

Richard McGregor: Yeah, well it has become visa versa, but I think the story in some ways—I mean I don’t want to say on the one hand, on the other hand, and sit on the fence or something, but I think in some ways it does, it is locked up in domestic politics in both countries, but in China’s case particularly in China. You know one reason why Chinese propaganda about Japan works is because it is based on facts, unlike other Chinese propaganda, you know the Nanjing Massacre is not fake news, Japan did invade, it did advance into China, that sort of thing. And we always have the terrible bunch of Japanese revisionists that keep this going. As somebody, one of my colleagues in Australia once said, “Every time Japan apologizes, somebody comes along and un-apologizes a few days later.” So apologies have been basically useless. But I really do think it has become such a weapon inside Chinese domestic politics. Its very hard for anybody to take on a leadership role in China on Japan other than at the top, right now and in particularly with the very powerful leader, you can’t stick your neck out and call for better relations, for the propaganda department within the communist party, if you want to mobilize the masses, there's no better way than giving Japan a good kick, it’s one of the few areas and spaces in which people can protest in China. And I think it is proving very difficult to unwind that. And particularly, when it’s part of a broader set of post-war arrangements, which China would like to unwind as well, and if you read what the Chinese leaders say and also in popular culture, I mean their view is Japan is relegated to a permanently junior role in Asia as the loser of the war. In some respects, Japan’s role is to do nothing, be inert. I used to think that well, we have all of this stuff about the old Chinese trippity system and all that sort of thing, and I used to think that was something people would talk about on TED Talks and things, I never took much notice of it. But certainly I think in other Asian countries, they think that is China’s mindset—that China will be on top, and other countries can be junior partners as long as they behave. And that’s not a good recipe for mutual respect, and you know, stability.

Ian Buruma: But that’s why I think that the wars of history are very interesting, and they are used so that they are politically relevant, but it’s not the heart of the problem. I mean, if you look at European history, in 1914, or before 1914, the elites of Germany and France and Russia, and so on, they’ve gone on perfectly well. It’s not a question of not getting on—I mean they knew each other, and so on. But what you had was the problem of different powers docking for the position of who can dominate. And I think the Europeans have only solved it, maybe not forever, but at least in our lifetime, by having this kind of European unity where sovereignty is pulled and all of the rest of it. Which was one way of keeping us safe from Germany, because it embedded Germany in it. But I don’t see how that can be done in East Asia, because it only works in the E.U. because they’re all democracies. A similar arrangement in East Asia will not work with the China that not only probably does genuinely think that it should be top dog, just because it’s China, and it’s bigger, and all of the rest. But it’s not a democracy. So whatever the historical arguments and the cultural aspects and so on are, this particular problem of who is going to be top dog in East and Southeast Asia is going to be very difficult to solve, or it’s going to be a source of tension.

Orville Schell: So Richard, how do you assess, I mean I sort of sense in reading your book and listening to you that you probably think that the preponderance of burden for a bad relationship with Japan lies on China’s side. And I would like to ask all of you this, but what would you conclude having done this great recherche.

Richard McGregor: You’re putting my head on a chopping block with a question like that. Of course, what’s the Chinese internet bots know, translate the comments or something like that. . .

Orville Schell: Well I know. [Laughter] That’s why I’m the question man and you’re the answerer.

Richard McGregor: Yeah, it’s your fault. Well I think you know, it’s the politics of Japan inside of China that make it very difficult, there’s a sort of much bigger driver, I think, inside China holding Japan down. Japan for all of it’s faults, is a much more open society, you can be for or against China there. People forget that a lot of the evidence of Japanese war atrocities has been dug up by Japanese left-wingers. It’s a different dynamic. It’s not all China’s fault, I don’t know if I can fall back into a 70/30 formula or something like that. [Laughter] But I think one of China’s problems more broadly is the inability to seduce other countries, persuade, reassure, and the like. And that’s a quality of a great, great, power, and I still don’t think we’ve seen that. And I think also the other issue is that China is still growing, it’s becoming more powerful, when you’re not the ascendant but still ascending, then it’s rarely time to take a step back.

Orville Schell: Susan, let me ask you the same question. I mean, you’re a very level-headed observer of these kinds of feuds.

Susan Shirk: Well I mean ,you know, Ian’s book comparing Japan and Germany had a huge impact on me. You know, because, your argument is not about apoligoies and things like that, but about the whole domestic society coming to grips with the wartime experience, and educating successive generations to learn from it. And Germany has done an amazing job of doing that, and Japan hasn’t. So that’s the problem, but now it's probably too late to ever undertake that kind of effort in Japan now. And I think that that is the problem for Japan in exercising leadership in Asia.

Orville Schell: Susan, do you think that Japan—there is any form of apology that Japan could make now that would satiate China?

Susan Shirk: No, no, no. It’s not about—I mean I find the whole thing so distasteful, because it’s such a show, and if somebody forces you to say magic words, but people won’t believe they’re really sincere. Because they’re just said in order to get the right response. They’re not really coming from some sincere coming to grips with the wartime responsibility. And you know, I’m not worried about Japan in the future, but I understand why other Asian countries—Korea and China, you know, resent the fact that Japan has never come to grips with its wartime history. But oh the other hand, your book shows how not every Chinese leader played the Japan card. And you know, Mao didn’t, Deng Xiaoping didn’t, it only really started with Jiang Zemin. It’s not that long of a history. Hu Jintao didn’t do it as much.

Orville Schell: Hu Yaobang was a great lover of Japan.

Susan Shirk: And well Hu Yaobang, right.

Ian Buruma: I would differ on that. I think Deng Xiaoping was the one that started it. Because it was in the mid-80s when China opened its doors to do business with capitalist countries, including Japan. The hardliners, the Nationalists, in China were very quick to pounce on Deng for being soft on Japan and so on and that’s when the Nanjing Museum plans to build a museum.

Orville Schell: You had the first demonstrations.

Ian Buruma: It was the first one. Also, I feel deeply flattered by your words about my books, so I hesitate in taking issue.

Susan Shirk: Then I got it wrong?

Ian Buruma: I think I said something slightly different, and this goes back to the question of Pax Americana.

Susan Shirk: Okay, I’ll have to go back and re-read it.

Ian Buruma: No, the Pax Americana was founded both in the West and in East Asia on how to deal with the former enemies Japan and Germany. In the case of Germany, West Germany at least, it wasn’t very difficult, because there was a consensus in Germany and amongst the allies that Hitler had been a bad thing, the Nazis had to be purged, and once you have done that, West Germany could become a Western democracy, and so on. And so the Nazis, and Hitler and the SS and so on, were held responsible, quite rightly, and once you got rid of them, Germany could become a normal country. In the case of Japan, it was never that simple because there were no Hitler and Nazis, and so they had to come up with a different answer to what had gone on in Japan, and it was militarism, and the Samurai, and so Japan had to be made into a pacifist country. That meant that Japan was politically divided from the very beginning. From 1945. And so as long as the Japanese liberals, who were the majority, agreed with the allied interpretation of Japan that it had a deeply flawed, militarist culture and so on and so like an alcoholic should be kept away from such dangerous toys as tanks and battleships and soon couldn’t be trusted with that kind of thing. As long as they said “Well look what we did during the war, so we need a pacifist constitution.” Those on the right who wanted to revise the Pacifist Constitution had to use historical arguments to make their claim, and say, “No, no, no—of course we did bad things in the war, but every country did, every country has had wars, there was nothing especially atrocious about ours, these things happen, we should be trusted again to be a sovereign power.” So a deep political division that started because of what MacArthur and the Americans put in place with Japanese liberals in 1945, a political problem, or historical problem, became a political problem. In a way that it never was in Germany. That’s sort of what I was trying to say. And I have been praised by many including you for saying the opposite. [laughter] but that’s sort of what i meant to say.

Susan Shirk: Well, I mean if you go to Yasukuni Shrine, you know, expecting to see it sort of through Chinese eyes, I ended up seeing it through American eyes sand thinking, being totally horrified, by the depiction of how the Americans basically caused you know, the war, Second World War in the Pacific.

Ian Buruma: Yeah, but that is not official Japanese policy.

Richard McGregor: Weren’t you able to change some of the exhibits in the Yasukuni Museum? Was it you or another U.S. official who fought—the Japanese actually changed some of the stuff for the U.S. but they didn’t change it for China.

Susan Shirk: No, not me. Yeah, they did. But I saw it before it changed. And you know, I was amazed that in this, you know, late 20th, early 21st century, actually I didn’t go until I was no longer in government, I went afterwards. And so in any case and then when I was in Berlin at a meeting, experiencing what how the Germans were educating each successive generation about what had happened during the war, and I was there with the trilateral commission and all these Japanese friends, and I said, “Well how is it that you’re feeling about this?” You know, and we had a conversation and every single Japanese said, “Well, it’s all the fault of the Americans. You let us keep the Emperor.” And I have heard this—

Orville Schell: Well but the truth is Germany came to terms with this not until the 1970s, it was not because of the Americans and the occupation. So—

Richard McGregor: Can I just make one point?

Orville Schell: Yeah, yeah, please. Sure.

Richard McGregor: I’ll read one quote from Mao—one of my favorite Mao quotes, with a Japanese delegation in the 50’s, which was very striking. It says “You cannot be asked to apologize every day, can you? It is not good for a nation to feel constantly guilty, and we can understand this point.” Now of course that’s not the kind of quote you see grounded in Chinese you know, school textbooks these days. But having said that, I think that you know, dictated from Mao, Mao didn’t want the Japanese to, or didn’t want to talk about the war for all sorts of geopolitical reasons. I don’t think that ever sat well with the Chinese people.

Ian Buruma: And Mao had more to apologize for than any Japanese leader.

Richard McGregor: Yeah, and Mao, on top of that, I don’t think it ever sat well with the Chinese people, and that’s why once the Party started talking about the war and started talking about the Nanjing Massacre, and it was never talked about in the 50s, it struck a chord. I mean you can see Chinese civil groups in 1960 in Nanjing doing research, so I think it was always there amongst the Chinese as it would’ve been memories of war. That’s the same as in any country. But in some ways the Chinese leadership suppressed it, and then they turn it up rapidly.

Susan Shirk: Well, and you can see it’s no generation so younger Chinese are more anti-Japanese than older ones. So, younger Chinese are less anti-American than older ones, but they are more anti-Japanese. And that’s because it's been taught. It’s not memories of the war, it’s been kind of constructed.

Ian Buruma: Absolutely.

Orville Schell: Well if you watch Chinese television, I mean any night on Chinese television they’re four or five, six films about China fighting the Japanese during the war. And of course it really was not the Communists, it was the Guomindang who were the line shares, and the Americans, and yet this is—so I mean clearly these history wars are very much alive, the Yasukuni Shrine is a kind of radioactive core for this issue. So what’s the remedy?

Richard McGregor: It’s very hard. I mean Yasukuni was deliberately, if you like, it’s all sort of insider Japanese politics. You know there was a new chief priest took over in I think 1978 who was a captive of the conservatives, very right-wing, it was his decision to in turn the eight or however many there were war panels in the shrine.

Ian Buruma: Enshrine, not inter— I don’t think they were alive.

Richard McGregor: Enshrine, what am I saying? [Laughter] Thanks. Enshrine.

Orville Schell: But they’re not actually there?

Susan Shirk: No no no, they’re tablets.

Richard McGregor: They’re spirits.

Orville Schell: It’s a pure, virtual, enshrinement.

Richard McGregor: And they knew exactly what they were doing, because they never announced it at the time, it didn’t come out until later what had happened, so these people knew what they were doing was sensitive. And they knew what they were doing was of some moment. And ever since then it has been impossible to unwind. Japan resents being talked at over history, like other countries do, all these sorts of proposals have come up for a separate war memorial outside of Yasukuni, where you can have the war criminals here and you know, our Japanese dead in war there. But it’s never, you know, there’s a sort of tight little bit of kryptonite in the Japanese system that nobody has been able to touch. And as Susan said, and I agree with her, it’s too late. Now, you know, all of the apologetic gestures are political constructs and Abe I think has finally gotten clever about handling this. But he’s handled it looking at Washington to try and you know, Obama gave, I’ve gotten a lot of detail in my book about you know, Obama lecturing Abe to fix this issue, because it was a geopolitical problem for the U.S.

Susan Shirk: Yes.

Richard McGregor: So he’s fixed it with Washington, but he hasn’t fixed it with South Korea, even though to his credit he finally made an effort on comfort women and stop talking about them being you know—Japan hardly done by on that. So he made an effort with he fixed it with the U.S., made an effort with South Korea, but with China it’s just sitting there like a bomb just smoking away.

Ian Buruma: Was Murayama’s apology enough?

Richard McGregor: Well, exactly. Well the Murayama apology in 1995 was a big deal, and I mean a little bit undercut by a bit of un-apologizing, but it was a big deal. But you know, there was a great, great, quote from former, one of the old LDP makers, Takeshita, who said, I have it written down, I think he said, he once said, “We can apologize as much as China wants. It’s free, and very soon China will become tired of asking for apologies.” But of course they didn’t get tired of it. And they haven’t. And they won’t.

Ian Buruma: But there is a solution, I think. Which is that if the Japanese were to revise their constitution, and become a sovereign power with the right to take care of its armed forces, and use them in combat and so on, like in any other country, it would take the politics out of this, but or history out of all the politics out of a historical discussion. The problem is, Abe is the last person to do this, because Abe himself is a revisionist, and a nationalist, and wants to change the Constitution from a Pacifist to another different one for all of the wrong reasons. His argument is that “We didn’t do anything wrong in the war.” Well that’s not the way to do it. What you would need is a more liberal government in Japan that after a proper discussion, a political debate, can normalize the situation in Japan, so there can be a responsible power with its armed forces that it could actually use if necessary. But it would have to come from the left and that would undercut the right wing arguments of sort of, “We did nothing wrong in the war”, because it would no longer have any purpose.

Orville Schell: It’s like Nixon recognizing China, you need someone—

Ian Buruma: In a way. But this is not going to happen very soon.

Orville Schell: Alright, we’re going to get the questions from you [audience], and let’s start with you, Richard. Some nice thought to glide us into the question period.

Richard McGregor: On what issue? I mean, what do you want me to prompt?

Orville Schell: I just want to give you a chance to kind of do a little coda here. I’ll just take questions.

Orville Schell: Alright, now please raise your hands and we can pass the microphone so that we can get you on the webcast. Yes. Let’s start right up here in the front.

Jerome Cohen: This has been an excellent general discussion.

Orville Schell: Jerry, introduce yourself.

Jerome Cohen: Jerry Cohen from NYU and part-time at the Council on Foreign Relations. It’s been a very fine background discussion and general principles, etc. But now we have to face the future, and my question concerns some of the major flashpoints that we have to confront, and what are the prospects for reconciliation between China and Japan when confronted by the necessity of facing the North Korean immediate crisis, South China Sea, East China Sea problems and the one I think is getting too little attention, understandably because of the others, but is going to be very serious before the end of the Xi Jinping administration and that’s Taiwan. If you really are looking for a serious problem to divide Japan and China, and the U.S. and Japan on one side, its Taiwan. But i’d love to hear people address these specific questions and what are the implications.

Orville Schell: Well let’s start with you, Richard. And then of course, not to be, I mean Taiwan, India has a Himachal Pradesh, which is the size of the state of Texas, which China claims. We’ve heard very little about. But when that begins to come online we’re going to have a whole other altercation of rather monumental proportions. Richard—

Richard McGregor: There’s lots in that question, I mean part of the thesis of my book is that all the sort of frozen in the 50s conflicts—the Korean Civil War has never been solved, the Chinese Civil War has never been solved, Sino-Japanese relations are maybe the worst they’ve been for decades, once these were papered over relatively speaking, by the stupendous economic success of the region, but you know you can argue it as being a political failure, but that’s all coming home to roost now, I don’t know which of those issues is going to come to a head first, you know I should have thrown North Korea into the title of my book and I would’ve lifted sales—I’ve got a bit of North Korea in there but it’s not fundamental to it. You say Taiwan is going to come up under Xi Jinping—maybe, maybe not. There’s a lot of talk about that in 2021, I just don’t know. But that’s a very—they’re all dangerous issues, maybe a longer term— I don’t know how to grade them, actually. Taiwan maybe people forget the Japanese and Taiwanese have a very good relationship. The Taiwanese like the Japanese, and there’s a great deal of support within Japan. The LDP for Taiwan, and they’re even talking in Japan still these days about having their own Taiwan Relations Act, so that’s a bit of a sleeper. But it’s some, you know, the front burner right now is the DPRK, and that’s obviously very important for the sorts of military reform that Ian talked about. China is the big thing which helps Abe push through change through I think North Korea is obviously the accelerant.

Orville Schell: Either of you want to comment on Jerry’s question?

Susan Shirk: Well I think Japan and working the North Korea problem has always been a little bit marginal compared with China and the UNited States and South Korea, and even Russia. So now I think wasn’t someone just saying that Abe is speaking with Putin about it? But he’s not speaking to Xi Jinping about it. For one thing, there’s no good communication channel, they meet very infrequently, and secondly, I think Abe thinks that probably he is the last person whose advise Xi Jinping would like to hear on what to do on North Korea. So the prospect of cooperating on that issue, I mean, my perception is that unfortunately approached in North Korea we now see a split between Russia and China taking one approach and the United States and South Korea and Japan taking another approach, so it’s looking a lot more Cold War like than for a decade, we had the five countries really trying to find a common approach to solve the problem. But we don’t see that today.

Orville Schell: Next question. Let’s see, does somebody in the back have a hand up? Yes.

Brian Kelly: My question was actually addressed in the previous question. It’s Brian Kelly with Asian Century Quest. Several of you alluded to this network of Confucianism or perhaps Confucian values as it pertains to the role of hierarchy in the region, I think this is underappreciated and remains, I strongly believe having spent a significant period of time in the region that remains a major impediment to these countries getting on in the future, and China’s—the perception of China proceeding as a hegemon, whether it’s realistic in a medium to remote outlook or not is certainly pervasive in Japan, in my opinion. I guess my question is, in that context, if this sort of vassal state, in which China may desire—many of the other countries in the region comes to pass, where does North Korea fit in in this solution? And how are the Chinese going to relate to North Korea in its present state 10-20 years from now?

Orville Schell: You have a chapter on Asian values, Richard, and the sort of hierarchy.

Richard McGregor: The Asian values, I mean, it’s sort of, why does America need to be in Asia at all? You know, when Japan was the leading country in Asia, and they started to talk about Asian values, well China wasn’t very interested in that. When China became the sort of leading power in Asia, and they started talking about Asian values, Asia for Asians, the Japanese certainly weren’t very interested in it. There has been many ways this has been looked at over the past twenty, thirty years, well actually longer than that, but in recent politics. Singapore was an incubator of this sort of theory of “Asian values” where everybody could get along because somehow organic to their cultures or societies which is obviously nonsense. Mahathir used to talk try to get an Asians only sort of regional organization that was what he called the East Asian Caucus, which was the “Caucus without Caucasians”—some of you will remember that. [Laughter] But none of these have really worked, because they simply are at different stages of development, or don’t trust each other, or because you know as countries which we lump together as Asia, they’re very different. And it has never come together. As for North Korea, I don’t know where North Korea will be in 20 years—in 20 years Kim Jong Un will only be 53, you know. [Laughter] Probably a grandfather. So, it’s you know, we don’t know where North Korea will be in six months to a year, so it’s, you know I think we all know China and North Korea don’t get on, they haven’t for a long time, they distrust each other as well, but anyway, that’s a whole other story.

Orville Schell: So how do you all come down on the question that China is sort of the new central Kingdom of Asia, the hegemon of Asia, do you all think that that sort of historical memory is shaping China? Let’s start with you, Ian.

Ian Buruma: I think to some extent, inevitably. Yeah. And the base of modern Chinese education is nationalism based on the idea of humiliation—of 100 years of humiliation at the hands of foreigners. The British in the mid 19th century, and then of course the Japanese in the 20th century. And so of course people, several generations have been educated with the idea that we have to make sure this never happens again, we have to be powerful enough so that no foreign power can ever challenge us again. And humiliate us has happened in the past, and the only way it can be done, is according to the official propaganda, is under the firm leadership of the Communist Party. And but I think that does echo a sense of superiority, of natural order of things, and other countries have to find some way to live with this, or accommodate themselves to it.

Susan Shirk: I think I already said that the Chinese might like to do that, but I don’t think it’s possible for them to re-establish that kind of hierarchy. And I mean you see a lot of resistance to China, every place they go, frankly. And these are large powerful countries it is surrounded by. It’s not like the United States and the Caribbean or something. You know? No I mean, some people make that argument that of course, China wants a Monroe Doctrine, of course they want to dominate their environment, that’s what international relations theory would predict. Or you know, Chinese history, the history of Asia would predict. But it’s not, you know there are important countries that will balance and react against it even if the U.S. role is diminished.

Richard McGregor: I think that covers it, yeah.

Ian Buruma: Can I add just one thing? I think it depends a lot, we’ve been talking a lot about culture, and history, and emotions, and that kind of thing, it also depends on how countries perceive their interests. And if China economically becomes more and more dominant, the Vietnamese might always have a problem with China emotionally. But most countries in Southeast Asia and East Asia depend more and more on the Chinese economy, their interests are with China, and so even without the Chinese coercing them, inevitably they will bow to China in many ways.

Susan Shirk: Some gravity, some economic gravity.

Orville Schell: In the Philippines.

Ian Buruma: Thailand.

Richard McGregor: There’s one funny point about this—you know, in the countries where I’m from, Australia, South Korea, Australia and South Korea are the two countries most dependent on China as a market. Japan’s economy is also tremendously dependent on China, and China much less so on Japan. So countries like Japan, and Australia, and Singapore, are now building up their defense budgets in theory to defend themselves against rising China, but to fund their defense budgets they need China to continue to succeed. And I haven’t worked out whether this is a virtuous or vicious circle yet, but it’s where that takes us.

Ian Buruma: I forgot you’re the only Asian on this panel.

Richard McGregor: Isn’t it obvious? [Laughter] I don’t want to be racist. . .

Orville Schell: There’s a woman right here who has a question. The microphone.

Joyce Slayton Mitchell: Thank you.

Orville Schell: Identify yourself.

Joyce Slayton Mitchell: Yeah, Joyce Slayton Mitchell, I work in China with I’d say 17 year olds to 20 year olds, most of the time. And talking about higher education in America. The young people love to go to Japan from China. They like to study there, they like to have their holidays there, they spend a lot of travel money in Japan, and once they have money they don’t pay attention to what the history books say-not at all actually. And of course, if anyone has lived in China, we also acknowledge they don’t pay any attention to the government. I saw great, big, picture of Trump and Xi Jinping, their first meeting ever, in all of the newspapers in China and I’d say to the Chinese 25 and 30 year olds professionals, “Oh, look! The two leaders, they’re getting together.” And they just you know, go on to the next thing that they want to talk about. But my question to all of you is, what about the economics? And the Belt Road Initiative? China does feel like the biggest guy on the block, in terms of numbers, the economy going up, Japan’s economy I thought was going down to nothing and heavens knows there’s no birth rate. So what’s to be afraid of Japan? I don’t understand that.

Richard McGregor: Well, certainly there are some people in China who have written off Japan. Still, the world’s third largest economy, will be for some time. Yeah, they’ve got massive demographic problems, but actually so does every country in East Asia. China does, South Korea does, Taiwan does, they’re all going to have falling populations, they’re all going to have similar problems. On the other point you talk about, you talk about tourism to Japan, that’s very interesting. There is a boom of Chinese tourism to Japan at the moment, and I think it’s a great thing actually. And one thing that was very interesting for me researching my book at the early stages, I went around systematically and talked to every Chinese expert on Japan in Beijing, and they had a wide variety of views on different issues, but one thing they nearly all complained about was the incessant use of the propaganda term to describe Japan is “Japanese militarism”. And one thing that Chinese will see if they go to Japan is that you couldn’t go to a less militaristic country. Unless you think every salaryman working for Mitsubishi is you know, a little soldier in a blue suit or something. So the personal interaction might be quite significant, but I have got to say, it runs against all the polling over a long time of how Chinese feel about Japan and how the Japanese feel about the Chinese it’s gone from extremely positive in the early ’80s to extremely negative now. One final point—your students might not care about the government, but I’m sure the government cares about them when they go overseas.

Orville Schell: And I think it is worth pointing out that a lot of Chinese tourists once were going to Korea, and now with China penalizing Korean companies, not only are Korean stores shut down in China, there’s a huge cut back on flights to Seoul, they’re really punishing Seoul and making it very difficult for that tourist flow which they come to count on.

Richard McGregor: And even Hyundai sales in China.

Orville Schell: Yes, factories have shut down. Okay, way in the back there, right by the door.

Audience Member: Thank you. The—is a new slogan, they don’t have “dadao meiguo zhuyi” anymore for America, and the question, in your book about the Communist Party that you wrote what do you know about how Chinese foreign policy is made? What are the inputs? Who, will there be a change in the 19th Party Congress? Do people from the military, the PLA get together? Is there a permanent group of people giving input? Do they have think tanks like we have who talk to party officials? How is it actually formulated? How is it cooked? How does it keep continuity? At what point does the agreement, the harmony change and they decide they’re going to do something else? Can you give us some insight into that regard? Especially regarding Japan—when did this start? What were the touchstones? What little hints suddenly emerged that you can analyze that said, “Let’s go have this, you know, attack Japan” type of attitude and what would stop it?

Richard McGregor: Well thank you. Well, Susan will have something to say about policy making in China as well. I mean, you know, in a technical way, it’s the Communist Party leading group on Foreign Affairs which makes policy, Xi Jinping is the head of that. Usually the Foreign Minister and the State Council for Foreign Affairs sit on that, but I don’t think they’re very pivotal. It’s very hard to know what is pivotal in a particular policy at a different time and why it changes. It depends on the strength of the leader, Xi Jinping is a very strong leader, very decisive, Hu Jintao was much weaker, but then again Hu Jintao was leading a much less powerful country. There’s all sorts of variables. You know, there is a sense in some ways in China, maybe less os in the last two years because of the way Xi Jinping has constricted debate, that the number of voices, including public voices, on foreign policy, had widened to military, they were often on TV. Public opinion—it’s very hard to measure public opinion, and calibrate its importance, particularly on Japan, you know, is the party scared of the people or can the party sort of turn off anti-Japanese sentiment when they want? I lean to the latter, but it’s an open question.And academics and scholars—we were talking earlier about the divergence on North Korea, with a lot of scholars being quite openly critical of Chinese policy and supporting cutting North Korea loose, so far it has had no visible impact on policy itself. It’s hard to pin it all down to one person, but I don’t think anything changes dramatically or fundamentally at the moment in China, without Xi Jinping’s say-so. Anyway, that’s enough garble. Susan, you’ve written about this.

Susan Shirk: I think that under the previous leader, Hu Jintao, what we saw was the Foreign Ministry becoming less and less central to the foreign policy process, and lots of different bureaucratic interest groups getting involved so that for example in North Korea policy, you have certain communist party organizations that have a strong sentimental attachment for fellow communists in Pyongyang and the military also having a sense of comradely support for North Korea because they fought in the Korean war together, and this kind of thing. And then South China Sea, on those issues we saw a number of different bureaucracies Including fisheries, coast guard, marine surveillance, so if it became really a more pluralistic system, but bureaucratic pluralism not you know, democratic pluralism, but under Xi Jinping, he was critical of that. And he’s tried to get control of all of those strings, so that they go to him and his advisors, but the actual decision making process is very opaque. We don’t really know in what body in decisions get made. Do they get made in a leading small group or just Xi Jinping’s office? We really don’t know.

Orville Schell: You know, we really do want to take one or two more questions, but before the evening is out, we have not once uttered the word Trump in this equation, and of course—

Susan Shirk: We started.

Orville Schell: Well of course we’ve had a brief flirtation, but it seems to me that’s a pretty critical variable in everything we’ve been talking about. But let’s see. One more question, right here. Yes.

Audience Member 2: Thank you, I came from South Korean Consulate General in New York. Actually, you know I deeply agree with you that you know, the Japanese apology is too late. We don’t expect any sincere apology from Japan. But nevertheless, I think South Korea has to cooperate with Japan in dealing with China, in dealing with North Korea, and everything else. So what would be your recommendation for South Korea in dealing with Japan? You know—how should we deal with Japan? Do we have to keep suggesting Japan to start some kind of apology, or just to let history be history? What is your recommendation?

Richard McGregor: I frankly think I’d be asking you for a recommendation. Not the other way around. I mean it seems to me that the Abe and Madam Park turn the temperatures down on that issue, and made a deal on relating to comfort women so-called, that’s appeared to unravel a little bit with the election of President Moon, right now obviously Japan and South Korea have other issues to cooperate on, which for the Americans is I think just what they want. I think the U.S. is desperate for Japan and South Korea to cooperate. You would know far better than me, but dealing with Japan in South Korean domestic politics is very difficult, there’s been a number of deals which have been done on security dialogue which have fallen apart. Once somebody makes a fuss about it, but I can understand South Korean sentiment, because if you go into Japanese bookshops alike these days, there’s all sorts of odd anti-Korean stuff, which I really don’t understand that it’s all still there. In one part of the Japanese psyche, but I guess at the end of the day you know, you’re going to cooperate with Japan if you have an interest to do so, and hopefully through that you build more ballast which so you can manage the sort of inevitable you know, pressure you get from the domestic politics on the issue.

Ian Buruma: Can I give you an answer you don’t like? Which is that I don’t think the Koreans themselves have rarely dealt with their history adequately yet, which is that career is just almost as polarized about the past as Japan is, but and it’s yet just as political. Which is to say that large parts of the Korean elites I don’t have to lecture you on this, but large parts of the Korean elite collaborated with the Japanese during the Japanese Empire. And whenever a leftist in Korean politics wants to get back at a conservative this history comes up. And it’s used to purge conservatives, and that kind of thing, and then not just the people who themselves collaborate with the Japanese, but their children and their grandchildren are still blamed for this. And it’s still a political issue in Korea. So I don’t think it’s as simple as to say Korea victim, Japan aggressor, how can the Koreans possibly forgive the Japanese? How can the Japanese apologize enough to the Koreans? There’s a real problem in career about history, and I don’t think it’s yet being adequately resolved, and I’m not saying that blaming the Koreans for this, because it’s a very difficult thing, you could argue that the same thing is true in Italy and in Greece and so on, these things go on. But it’s not just a question of how one country deals with another country, it’s also a domestic issue.

Richard McGregor: Plus, of course, there have been three deals between Japan and South Korea, which have in theory irrevocably settled all issues. 1965, when the reparations money was paid by Japan and President Park, who was a collaborator of course. He was a colonel in Manchuria in the Japanese, I mean he spent it, didn’t give it to the Korean people, he gave, spent it on Pusan still they’re setting up a steel company. 1998 with Kim Dae-jung, there was another deal which of course was very controversial with China, and of course we had another one with Abe and Park as well. And that’s unraveling a bit. So it’s hard.

Orville Schell: Now, we’re coming to the end and I don’t want to let the question of America drift from this discussion, because I do think we have suddenly entered all of these problems in a new and very catalytic way, and I just wonder what each of you anticipates. I guess it’s too much to ask for an analysis of something that is very hard to predict. But let’s start with you Ian.

Ian Buruma: No, start with Richard, he’s the star.

Orville Schell: Yes, Richard, he’s the man of the hour.

Richard McGregor: No, I think if you look at the contrast is greatest with China, and well I’ll be brief now. But in China you have the most powerful Chinese leader in generations in charge of a China which is more powerful than it’s been maybe for a hundred years, whatever. Not only on top of that, you have the most disciplined Chinese leader.

Orville Schell: And consistent in a way.

Richard McGregor: Yeah. And in the White House, you’ve got the most ill-disciplined president in charge of a White House which is increasingly weak, and which various U.S. institutions in the Pentagon, the State Department, are trying to keep him moored to pass practices and alliances and commitments. And so I think that trend line, we you know, Xi Jinping could slip up. But that’s a very worrying contrast not just for the U.S. but for U.S. allies.

Orville Schell: Susan, let’s hear your remarks. But also, maybe address what you think Xi Jinping, how you think he ought to deport himself towards Trump and America now.

Susan Shirk: Oh gosh, I mean he’s really, you know, I think he’s played Trump very well, and there’s but he’s trying to, he’s kind of joined in the effort that everybody has engaged in in trying to put him in a box and act like he is really the President in following you know, carrying out long-held U.S. policy, he’s trying not to embarrass him, for one thing, and not to publicly attack him, because we know that he gets provoked when he’s publicly attacked in the media, so you know I think he’s kind of walking on eggshells very carefully to handle them as best he can and—for this visit now, this state visit, I just don’t know how they’re going to do it. Because on the U.S. side, we don’t really have the people to do this. Kushner and Ivanka are now not going, because I believe Mr. Kelly must have said, “Look we’re going to prepare this summit, and the proper authorities are going to do it.” And that means the Senior Director at the NSC or some other folks at the NSC, so it’s really a very difficult situation. And normally, we want the leaders to get together, early and often, in this case I’m not so sure. Because you know, Mar-a-Lago lost a great opportunity at Mar-a-Lago. We just sort of threw it all away. We had a lot of leverage, we didn’t use it, and I think that was pretty much a disaster—I mean it could’ve been worse, I guess. It could’ve been some kind of crisis in U.S.-China relations, but we have very real problems in the United States that we’re not pursuing with China, so I’m concerned.

Ian Buruma: I mean, the fact that a great power like the United States has to rely on Ivanka and Jared Kushner to deal with China is in itself of course—

Susan Shirk: Well, they’re not going, so. . .

Ian Buruma: No, of course. But the whole idea. And the problem that the Ameri cans traditionally, especially in the ’80s, and you’d know much more about this from your own experience than I do, but dealing with Japan was always, you never really knew where the center of power was. Everything was hidden behind somebody else. Was it MITI was it the Prime Minister, whatever the Prime Minister said didn’t really matter, because it was nobody really knew, it was a system sometimes described as a system of irresponsibilities. But, and the U.S. you at least had a pretty fair idea of how things worked. You don’t anymore, because where is the center of power now? Is it the Tweets that come out of the White House? Is it Tillerson who doesn’t seem to know very much more about these countries than his president, is it McMaster, is it Congress who were more and more left to deal with foreign policy which is also an absurdity? So one of the fears I have is that McMaster and Matt is sort of there and was sort of told in Washington the understanding is that they have to be there to make sure that the President doesn’t do something truly insane. So that the armed forces would obey the Secretary of Defense rather than the White House. But once a great democracy has to rely on generals to keep it safe, we’re on our way to becoming Argentina. And this has consequences for our relations in Asia as well, because we could blunder into wars.

Susan Shirk: And then you have to wonder, the President talking about the trade agreement with South Korea, at a time right after the sixth nuclear test, and I mean it’s…

Ian Buruma: Well then somebody else will contradict him, and…

Richard McGregor: It was dropped two days later.

Susan Shirk: Yeah.

Ian Buruma: Well that’s the thing.

Orville Schell: But you know, if we go down this road we’ll be here all night. So let me just recommend this, really, it’s a book I enjoyed as much as any book I’ve read of late, so Richard has done a wonderful job. It is available to you all outside, and Richard will be signing it, so join me in thanking our guests.