Alumnae Spotlight: Chikako Kawakatsu Ueki

Chikako Ueki

Degree: PhD in Political Science, 2006
Dissertation: The Rise of "China Threat" Arguments
Current Position: Associate Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University
Recent Publications:
"Repairing the Strategic Safety-Net: Interdependence and Security in East Asia " (2006)
"Strategy, Military Power and Security," in Access Anzenhoshoron (2005).
"China — In Search of New Thinking " in East Asia Strategic Review (2004).

On 5 June 2007, SSP interviewed Alumnus Chikako Kawakatsu Ueki. Chikako was the winner of this year's Lucian Pye Award for best dissertation in Political Science, and has recently assumed a tenured position at Waseda University in Tokyo. Waseda is one of the major universities in Japan and has produced five prime ministers. Chikako teaches International Relations and Security at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies (GSAPS).

1. Last year, you finished your dissertation, "The Rise of 'China Threat' Arguments." The China threat seemed a high priority for President Bush before September 11, 2001, but since then it has taken a back seat in U.S. security discourse. What can your work tell us about the rise of China threat arguments during the 1990s and their decline in recent years? Do you think the U.S. is poised for a resurgence of those arguments?

One motive for “ China threat” arguments in the mid 1990s was to increase U.S. domestic support for political and military primacy. But a more important reason for the rise of “ China threat” arguments was the realignment of world power after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The United States stood clearly as the world's sole superpower. China, on the rise economically and militarily, was propelled into second place. Moreover, Soviet disintegration spelled the end of a shared threat to China and the United States. I call that shared threat the “strategic safety-net.” While the United States and China were in the strategic safety-net, important differences over human rights, Taiwan, the Spratly Islands, and nuclear espionage were routinely kept under control; the common enemy made good relations too important to jeopardize.

But since 9/11, the United States sees international terrorism as its most pressing security problem. With public support for a strong military ensured, “ China threat” arguments seem superfluous. In addition, China became an important partner for the United States in its fight against terrorism, and that mutual fight became a sort of strategic safety-net. I don't think “China threat” arguments are gone for good, though. Ultimately the U.S. drive for more sophisticated weaponry will be difficult to sustain domestically without a peer competitor, and the strategic safety-net of terrorism is just not as strong as the Soviet threat was.

2. You follow both Japanese and U.S. security debates. Do you see any parallels between the security situations of the two countries today?

Yes, definitely. Both countries seem eager to maintain today's free and open international system, with the United States at the top and Japan in second place. After the Cold War ended, both countries shifted to shaping the international security environment. Both see big threats in international terrorism and WMD proliferation. Yet both countries currently enjoy a fairly secure environment.

There are also some differences, though. The United States seems set on maintaining primacy, while Japan seems to have decided to bandwagon with the United States. The United States sees China as a potential global threat. For Japan, China is a regional problem. Of course, the United States is much more involved in the Middle East than Japan. For Japan, the Middle East is important, as Japan imports more than 80% of its oil from the region, but the Israel factor is absent in the Japanese political discussion. North Korea remains the primary security threat to Japan.

3. You recently left a position with the National Institute for Defense Studies of the Japan Ministry of Defense to become a professor at Waseda University. What are the benefits and drawbacks of a career in public service compared with university life in Japan?

The benefits of working in government are many. Most importantly, you have direct input into national security policy. You can get a feel for the critical issues on the national security agenda. This enables you to focus your research on policy relevant questions. The downside is that there are limits to what you can say in public.

I believe sound national security policy and future international security depend upon active security debate, not just in Japan but throughout East Asia. I hope to build a base for security studies at Waseda University that allows for such open debate. The students I teach come from Japan, the United States, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, and Singapore, to name just a few. My goal is to build a SSP at Waseda!

4. What will be your first research project at Waseda?

There are several. Together with a group of students, I am working on a grand strategy for the countries in the region: Japan, the United States and China. Chinese students will contribute to writing up a strategy for Japan and vice versa. Then we hope to develop an integrated strategy for the region.

I also want to look at crisis management or de-escalation mechanisms for potential conflicts in the region. The third project is more theoretical. Using Japan in the 1930s as a case, I want to examine the conditions under which rising powers opt to behave aggressively rather than join the international system peacefully. I hope the study will shed light on how we live with China.

5. As a recent graduate of the program, what advice would you give our current SSP Ph.D. students as they choose topics and work on their dissertations?

My advice would be to choose a question with a concrete answer. A yes or no answer would be ideal. A dissertation by SSP Alumnus Peter Liberman is a great example. His question was — Does Conquest Pay? I would also try to choose a topic that is not a moving target.

Having said that, I think the most important thing is to find a topic that gets you going. Writing a dissertation is a long and sometimes lonely process. Nobody knows the subject better than you do, and that is a wonderful feeling, but it means nobody is going to lead you by the hand. So, you have to be really curious about your own question. My topic was like that for me. I was truly puzzled by the “ China threat” arguments because they seemed to emerge so suddenly out of nowhere.

One other piece of advice is to keep in close communication with your thesis advisor. Sometimes when you have not made as much progress as you would have liked — and this happens! — it's so hard even to send a simple e-mail. But silence is definitely the wrong strategy. I would also encourage you to talk with family and friends who are not in the field. If you can't explain your work to them, there is a problem. Lastly, have fun and enjoy life as you write the dissertation!