Nicholas Szechenyi Presentation

By: Edbert Jao

In August of 2020, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo suddenly announced his resignation due to health concerns. Especially given Abe having successfully pushed for a reinterpretation of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese conclusion, his yet-standing proposal to directly revise it, and an ambitious economic reform agenda colloquially called “Abenomics,” Abe’s resignation may have significant geopolitical implications. Following his announcement, pundits across the world debated what would happen to Japan’s foreign policy after Abe’s unexpected departure.

To allow Tufts University students to hear an expert perspective on this issue, on Tuesday, November 17, Sino-US Relations Group Engagement hosted Nicholas Szechenyi from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to share his insights on the direction of Japanese foreign policy. Deputy Director of the Japan Chair and Senior Fellow at the CSIS and with extensive previous international relations experience relevant to Japanese policy, Szechenyi delivered his lecture and answered questions from the audience.

According to Szechenyi, interim Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has indicated an intent to continue Abe’s foreign policy. The three key arrows of Abenomics – monetary easing, fiscal stimulus via government spending, and structural reform – and Japan’s increasingly active security operations will not change. Japan will continue engagement with other countries where interests align. With Taiwan, the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United States, Australia, and others, Japan will cooperate on maritime freedom and trade. To thisend, Prime Minister Suga embarked to Vietnam and Indonesia for his first official travel in October 2020.

Critically, Szechenyi noted that Prime Minister Suga holds office until September 2021, when the next elections are due. Until then, the interim government under Prime Minister Suga will provide continuity. Whether or not Japanese foreign policy undergoes substantial shifts may very well be decided by the elections of September 2021.

For Nicholas Szechenyi’s time and knowledge, Sino-US Relations Group Engagement and the audience are grateful.

Mr. Nicholas Szechenyi is Deputy Director of the Japan Chair and Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), one of the most prestigious foreign policy think tanks in the US. His research focuses on U.S.-Japan relations and U.S.-East Asia relations. In 2009, he was selected as an inaugural fellow of the U.S.-Japan Network for the Future program established by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation. Prior to joining CSIS in 2005, he was a news producer for Fuji Television in Washington, D.C., where he covered U.S. policy in Asia and domestic politics

Book Talk with Professor Rana Mitter: “China’s Good War”

By: Megan Starses

Since the turn of the century, China has grown increasingly more interested in redefining its post-World War II role to reshape both its domestic and international policy. On October 27th, Tufts SURGE had the honor of inviting Rana Mitter, a University of Oxford professor, for a discussion about his new book, China’s Good War, at our annual Book Talk. According to Professor Mitter, even though almost 100 million Chinese citizens became refugees in their own country and an estimated 15-20 million Chinese were killed either through combat or starvation during World War II, China’s participation in the war is not very well known around the world.

The reason for this is because when Mao Zedong assumed the position of chairman of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, he was hesitant to admit that the Nationalist Party (KMT), led by Chiang Kai-shek, contributed in any way to fighting off their common enemy—the Japanese regime. However, after Chiang and Mao died in the mid-1970s, the Chinese government was more inclined to reexamine the KMT’s role and accomplishments during World War II in accordance with the combined efforts of both the Nationalist and the Communist Party. Among these achievements were the augmentation of the Chinese role in the Allied Powers, China’s pride in being one of the founding members of the UN, and its current role as one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. As such, these sentiments have allowed Communist China to bolster itself and assert its place as a key player in the realm of international relations.

However, it is essential to note that this reassessment of World War II is not only central to redefining China’s role in the international sphere, as it has also significantly affected the domestic sphere as well. Even though many Chinese netizens have often mocked the Communist Party’s attempt to portray its role in World War II as more significant than it truly was, a portion of the Chinese general public is actually beginning to buy into this narrative told by the Communist Party to an extent, as seen by a few newly produced, popular movies set during World War II. Thus, this newfound focus on World War II has allowed the Chinese government not only to foster a new sense of nationalism among the Chinese general public, but also strengthen its own popular support.

In fact, in the age of COVID-19, Professor Mitter even stated that the Chinese Communist Party is using the same rhetoric of claiming victory over Japan in World War II and applying it to their desire to “defeat” the coronavirus. As such, this demonstrates the scale at which the Communist Party has utilized World War II to unify the Chinese people and forge a new sense of nationalism among the citizens. To put it simply, in the words of Professor Mitter, “World War II is not just history for China, but an aspect of incredibly current affairs.”