Student Experience | Japan-U.S. Relations in the Changing World

The SMU Tower Center Sun & Star Japan-East Asia Program hosted the discussion “Japan-U.S. Relations in the Changing World” featuring Naoyuki Agawa, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, Jan. 30. SMU Junior and HCM Tower Scholar Destiny Rose Murphy wrote about her experience at the event.

By Destiny Rose Murphy:

Mr. Agawa started his presentation honestly, and a bit pessimistically: he said he hadn’t slept but barely five hours the night before, having just recently arrived from Japan, and so if he fell over in the middle of his presentation we would know why. Though he did look tired, he also smiled as he spoke, and the room received his warning with a laugh. The rest of his lecture followed suit with his opening theme: a realistic representation of unfortunate events, presented with positivity.

The International Politics of Walls

He discussed how current international politics often focus on walls, whether they be along the United States’ southern border, winding through Jerusalem, or of the firewall variety, which prevents the free flow of information into and out of China. He also spoke openly of Japan’s slow decline caused by an aging population, a rising debt, and an increasingly dangerous environment thanks to North Korea, China, and Russia. Finally, he touched on the challenges involved in the Japan-U.S. alliance. Japan, after all, is not in the best position to offer military assistance in the case of an emergency thanks to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution (which renounces the country’s right to use war to settle international disputes) and the heavily debated pacifist tradition of the Japanese people.

The Case for Hope

In the face of all this though, Mr. Agawa found hope. He reminded us that President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Abe share a love of golf, which, according to Mr. Agawa’s secret sources, is often what they discuss on official phone calls before turning to matters of policy. Such a common interest, he argued, could help us all, for friends are more likely to reach agreements. He pointed out that, thanks to the threats coming from North Korea, the United States and many East Asian countries have a very good reason to improve their relationships, which is driving Japan to reach out to more allies. The pressure from North Korea could hopefully encourage South Korea and Japan to put aside the problems they have faced in their relationship because of historic war crimes. He also encouraged us to remember that although East Asia is facing difficulties right now, many other parts of the world are flourishing, with South Asia and Africa rising to join world leaders very quickly.

It’s easy to get caught up in the fear that sometimes dominates the rhetoric of our media and current administration, but Mr. Agawa reminded us of something he himself had been recently reminded of. When visiting an art museum recently he had seen a display of hundreds of years of beautiful Korean pottery dating back through many times of war and peace. All of that pottery still existed in its splendor, even though people probably believed at some points that they were living during the end of the world. And so he told us: this too will pass.

Destiny Rose Murphy is a junior at SMU triple majoring in political science, English, and philosophy, as well as minoring in Human Rights and Public Policy and International Affairs. She is a Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar.