Following the expert seminar addressing China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) organized by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation's (SPF) Japan-US Program, SPF Now had the opportunity to meet with the featured experts to take a closer look at topics ranging from infrastructure investment to great power politics.
Abigail Grace, Research Associate at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), discussed her expectations for the potential implementation of the policies presented in the report "Power Play," which she coauthored, and touched on broader geopolitical shifts in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world. Dr. Kei Koga, Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, elaborated on his research into the reception of BRI policies in Southeast Asia, the potential role of Japan in the region, and the impressions of the Trump administration and its policies.
Below are excerpts from those two interviews, which were conducted separately. Comments have been arranged according to topic and edited for length and clarity.
Jackie Enzmann, Chief Editor …
Role of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and other groups outside of government
Dr. Kei Koga: The confidence toward the Trump administration in Southeast Asia has been decreasing but I don't think Southeast Asia lost all the trust toward the United States. They think of this as just the Trump administration. So in the longer run, maybe the U.S. would go back to its traditional behavior emphasizing the rules-based order through multilateralism. But for the time being, I don't think Southeast Asian countries expect that the U.S. is going to engage in multilateralism.
The biggest concern for Japan is that in the Trump administration, policy changes have been coming up out of the blue. Japan would not know what to expect because even if senior officials between the two negotiate about a particular agenda, it is always possible that President Trump will discuss a new agenda, which was not considered previously. Even though Prime Minister Abe frequently meets with President Trump, I think it is still hard to know what he will demand in the next couple of months. The good news is that U.S.-Japan relations are institutionally strong, so this does not trigger the deterioration of the bilateral relations. Now, the Japanese government has to be patient and try to cultivate a deeper relationship with President Trump. …
Abigail Grace: I think NGOs can really be helpful in identifying the needs and concerns of populations that are most immediately affected by infrastructure concerns. I think that when one sits in policy positions and is looking for the optimal place to build something on a map, they don't know the people that live there. It's time consuming to go out and do stakeholder interviews and engage with the population. I think NGOs can really be a value added, bridging that gap between communities and policy practitioners.
Regarding public diplomacy [JB emphasis], I think that non-governmental organizations certainly have that additional credibility because they're not speaking on behalf of any government and I think they're more reliable to accurately convey unbiased information by providing fact sheets, literature, and public awareness campaigns. I think that would be something that would be better received by local populations than if it was just solely a government actor.
Dr. Kei Koga: Since SPF has already organized some research projects including the "Power Play" report and also my research project, maybe it would be interesting to include a Chinese counterpart, for example researchers or businessmen. I think that if we talk about BRI, it would be really interesting to see how Chinese counterparts really want to implement the development projects through BRI. Particularly now, Japan and China are having a conversation about BRI, so it would be great to have institutionalized Track 2 [JB – see] forums among the three. SPF deals with a broad range of issues including Japan, China, the U.S., and Southeast Asia, so I think that SPF would be able to play a role. I really enjoyed this research supported by SPF and I expect to continue it over the next couple of months. Through these projects, I hope that Japan, China, and the United States could find a way to cooperate in building infrastructure in Asia and beyond.