With Asia’s political and economic underpinnings in flux, Japan has “stepped out to take the lead” Adm. Dennis Blair told Global Atlanta during a telephone interview related to his upcoming Sept. 5 visit to Atlanta.
Mr. Blair is to participate in a midday “fireside chat” with Amb. Charles Shapiro, president of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, at the Commerce Club downtown concerning the importance of U.S.-Japan relations to the U.S. generally and Georgia more specifically.
He is a former director of National Intelligence and a former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command and has been decorated by the governments of Japan, Korea, Australia, Thailand and Taiwan. Now retired, he serves as chair and distinguished senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA and has been promoting the importance of the Japan-U.S. relationship in appearances around the country through the auspices of the World Affairs Councils of America and the East-West Center in Washington.
“From 1999-2002 Japan was in sort of a funk,” he said. “There were no initiatives.” But in 2012 when (Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe came on “Japan has been taking a more active role.”
When Mr. Blair says that “the world is moving toward Asia,” he does so with years of experience including a 34-year Navy career including the commander in chief post for the U.S. Pacific Command, the largest of the U.S.’s combatant commands.
And he points directly to “China’s rise,” militarily as well as economically, as the “outstanding feature of change.”
“Things are more exciting now than when I was on active duty,” he added, pointing to initiatives that the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA is taking to improve relations with Japan and to encourage its importance in the region as a counterweight to China’s Belt and Road initiative.
The Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA was established in 1990 through an endowment from the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo. Both foundations get their names from Ryoichi Sasakawa, a Japanese philanthropist. Mr. Blair joined the foundation in 2014 as CEO. From then until Feb. 2017, he led the foundation’s refocusing of its mission on security as well as people-to-people initiatives.
Mr. Blair cited the importance of Australia, India, Taiwan and South Korea in helping provide a balance to China’s aggressiveness.
He said that India’s border conflicts with China and Japan’s concerns about China’s activities in the East China Sea, specifically its encroachment on the Sekaku Islands, provide a mutual interest in developing counterweights to China’s aggressive pursuits.
“They don’t want China to push them around,” he said.
He also pointed to the importance of Taiwan’s historic ties to Japan, which have provided a bridge of understanding between the two.
And while Korea also has concerns about the growing influence of China, he acknowledged the continuing tensions with Japan due to Japan’s annexation of Korea from 1910-45.
Mr. Blair went so far as to call Japan the U.S.’s foremost ally, even compared to NATO, which, he said, now practiced “a la carte” policies with each member following its own course.
“When I grew up, NATO was unified, but now it’s Japan that is unified with 50,000 U.S. troops there and its Air Force also benefiting.
He didn’t hesitate to add that “China has “a chip on its shoulder,” follows mercantile policies and “steals intellectual property.”
Nor was he entirely uncritical of the Trump administration. The U.S. rejection of the Trans Pacific Partnership, which was approved in Atlanta after years of negotiations elsewhere, was “a major mistake and a terrible disappointment ,” he said, adding that “It did all the things we wanted on labor, the environment, and intellectual property.”
During his discussion with Amb. Shapiro, he also will discuss the importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship for Georgia and then be joined in a panel discussion by Dr. Satu Limaye, director, East-West Center, Washington; Jim Reed, president, YKK Corporation of America and Amb. James Zumwalt, CEO, Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA.
In addition, he will address his concerns as a former director of National Security about security risks facing the U.S. including the ubiquitous presence of technologies related to the Internet of Things.
The Sasakawa foundation also will co-host a public event on Sept. 6 with the U.S. Department of State and the Japanese Consulate-General of Atlanta, titled “Investing in Georgia’s Workforce: A U.S.-Japan Dialogue,” which will explore how local governments, Japanese and U.S. companies, and educational institutions can work together to prepare Georgia’s future workforce. Local supporting organizations of this event include the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the Japan-America Society of Georgia, and the Technical College System of Georgia.
To register for the World Affairs Council event to be held at the Commerce Club downtown, click here.