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Japan Diary

February 15, 2009

The stronger China becomes, the more America needs Japan(only if Japan has a proper governance)

From January 29th to February 7th, I visited Honolulu, Boston, and Washington D.C. where I exchanged views with many experts on foreign relations. The purpose was to find out whether the Japan-USA alliance is still viable under the growing importance of China. The following is a report of the results.

I was uneasy leading up to my departure...
Ever since the end of World War Two, Japan has long been treated as America’s number one partner in Asia, but this position was a new precedent in the post Meiji period. In fact Admiral Perry had only demanded the opening of Japan’s ports in order to use them as a half way point for trade with China.

Further, that Japan, defeated in war, could become the number one partner of the conqueror America was itself a rare event in history. Needless to say, the reason for this was the rise of communism, or in other words, the cold war with the Soviet Union and the seizure of power by the Communist Party of China.

Since that time, we saw the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the rise of China as a major political, economic and military power in the new millennium. Thus for the first time in its history, Japan finds itself sandwiched between two interdependent, non antagonistic global powers in the form of America and China. Today, “the colonization of Japan by America and China” is even being discussed among Japanese and American pundits as if it were a possibility.

Certainly from Japan’s point of view, at one time America’s predominant policy had been to solve issues in Asia throught Chinese mediation, looking over Japan’s shoulder.
Therefore, I departed for Honolulu with a gloomy feeling, “Do I again need to cling to the Americans and beg them not to abandon us?”

“The stronger China becomes, the more America needs Japan”

However, for some reason my mood began to improve at the Japan America seminar in Honolulu, and later when a friend said to me the following in Boston, I became convinced: “America is in ever greater need of a friend it can depend on in dealing with the might of China in Asia. Looking around in Asia, we find that Japan is the most plausible and most reliable. Yet Japan is sulking alone and trying to grow further and further apart, even when America needs Japan.”

“The stronger China becomes, the more America needs Japan”. -- Since that day, I have said this to each American I met. Not only experts on Japan but also experts on China have been in complete agreement.

During this trip I had the opportunity to speak at MIT where I said, “If you attempt to decide things in Asia solely in a tandem with China, this will eventually lead to completely entrusting Asia to Chinese influence. Asia is too important for America to do so, politically, economically and militarily, and if that is lost, it will be a major setback for America’s position on the international stage.”

Neither the nations of South East Asia, South West Asia, nor the Asia Pacific region wish for only China to stand out and exert domination. In order to maintain balance, they are placing great importance on enhanced relations with America and Japan.

And even from the point of view of China, it is still simply too dangerous to bet everything on relations with America. This is because signs of protectionism are appearing in the American Congress, and it is because if there were to be another incident like Tiananmen Square, the support of Japan would be essential.

Further, Japan is not idly watching the entente between America and China. Since the Fukuda administration came to power, the establishment of close relations with China has been the foremost policy.

In this day and age, it is almost impossible for a nation squeezed between two great powers to become divided, notwithstanding cases where any semblance of governance has been lost. Mongolia and Kazakhstan are both doing well despite being squeezed between Russia and China.

So, there is nothing to worry about. But be that as it may, why is Japan so unreliable? Why does it behave so ambiguously? ---These are the concerns of American analysts regarding Japan. They have a point, because all of the postwar authorities in Japan, be it government officials, be it politicians, have lost confidence of the public in the tug of war following the collapse of the bubble. Every Japanese searched for a culprit of the economic mishap, tearing down the authority one after another.

What can or should be done between Japan and America?
The “soft power” that the Obama administration holds in the world is enormous. If Japan joins this tide, it will no longer be kept at a distance as simply the hand of America. In other words we can more safely work with the Americans abroad without a fear of jeopardizing its own relations with the local society.

What can be done with this opportunity? As the Yen has risen, this year the amount of Japan’s ODA (official development assistance to developing nations) could once again become the second largest in the world. This is one way in which Japan could do more, and it has a political connotation as well..

1) A call for a "concerted policy" between Japan and the USA to maintain balance in Asia

When one speaks of Japan, it is quickly written off as a “political small-timer” and has been viewed by the world as having no political power at all. However, after assuaging disputes involving historical issues with China and Korea, the Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Summit was held for the first time in Japan last December.

Japan has constantly worked to prevent America from being excluded from discussions to strengthen cooperation with South East Asia, and it provides the most ODA funds to India and has greatly contributed to that country’s development and stability. Further, it provides support and direct investment to Central Asia and the Russian Far East, contributing to the stability of those regions. The contribution Japan is making to maintain the balance and stability of the Eastern Eurasia is considerable. These efforts may be said to be largely in line with America’s objectives in Asia.

But Japan cannot do everything exactly as America does. In the case of ODA, for example, America is swift and decisive whereas Japan takes the time to consider feasibility and accountability, thus it is not easy for Japan and America to proceed with ODA investment by pooling funds.

However, the directions Japan and America are aiming for are the same, which are the maintenance of stability, economic development, and providing assistance in building societies with transparency and accountability in each region.

If one makes high handed declarations that one is spreading “democracy” and “the free market economy”--sound alien in the ears of the people in non-Western countries--, then one will earn the antagonism of the local populace, but if one speaks of “building an open and fair society”, one will earn their sympathy.
This can be called a “Concerted Policy” because both countries share a common direction and report their actions to each other as they proceed.

2) This requires a robust mechanism for policy coordination between Japan and America

In carrying out a concerted policy, the governments of Japan and America must strengthen communication and coordination at every level. But that is not all. Under the banner of “Global Partnership”, Japan has implemented a multitude of specific projects throughout the world, but this has not been adequately appreciated by America.

If Japan and America are to do something together, it must be combined with a mechanism to properly explain the same to the upper echelon of the American administration. This could be achieved by reestablishing the foreign affairs meetings between both countries at the deputy minister level that were terminated in the latter part of the Bush administration.

Japan must also communicate a clear and substantive message. Reasons must be promptly and articulately given when something cannot be done, and an alternative proposal should be presented immediately. America despises nothing more than indecisiveness.

3) Preventing the vicious circle of “disappointment when excessive expectations are not met”

Until now, I feel that America has placed excessive importance on whether or not Japan deploys its Self Defense Forces. Japan is able to deploy the Self Defense Forces as part of United Nations peacekeeping operations. As there is strong hesitation in Japanese public opinion regarding participation in multinational forces without a UN Security Council resolution, and this opinion greatly effects voting outcome, such participation is difficult.

However, America needs to better acknowledge the essential role played by Japan’s provision of military bases in America’s global strategy. This alone provides reason for the existence of the Japan-US Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.

On the other hand, Japan’s minimum expectation toward America is nuclear deterrence. Faced with the threat of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) losing its substance, Japan needs to openly discuss nuclear deterrence strategies toward North Korea’s nuclear armaments. For example, while many American tactical nuclear weapons are deployed in Germany, the consent of the German government is required in the event they were actually to be used. This policy is called “Dual Key”.

In the case of Japan, the deployment of nuclear weapons within its borders is neither necessary nor desirable. It would perhaps be enough if cruise missiles with American tactical nuclear warheads were deployed on the open seas. Japan’s nuclear deterrence capability would improve if this issue were discussed and decided openly.
The provision of bases and nuclear deterrence should be considered the bare minimum for Japan-US security.

4) If Japan does not protect America, America will become unconcerned

The Japan-US Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security is a “unilateral treaty” which only defines cases in which Japan is in peril. This simply reflects the immediate post war power relationship, whereas today it would be irrational for the Self Defense Forces not to provide assistance if the American military were being attacked nearby. The interpretation of the right of collective self defense allowed by the constitution should be expanded.

While Japan’s fear of getting dragged into America’s wars is always strong, America’s concern today is being drawn into the historical disputes between Japan and the nations of Asia. If Japan does not do what needs to be done, it will be more difficult for America to generate the motivation to assist Japan in, for instance, the defense of the Senkaku Islands.

5) A transition from “let’s go to war together” to “let’s prevent war together”

At any rate, to sum up what I have written above, I believe it means a change from the previous “let’s go to war together” mind set to a new “let’s prevent war together” approach. This would also be in line with the long term foreign policy of the Obama administration.

However, in the short term, Afghanistan will be a litmus test for the relationship between the two countries. I welcome the fact that the first country Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit in Asia will be Japan. It must be the product of the hard work of the interested people in both Japan and America. But if Japan will not reciprocate this courtesy with substantive measures about the anti-terror war in Afghanistan, Hillary's dissapointment will be even bigger.

I would not be surprised if China sends military forces to Afghanistan. Japan must provide support that equals that level of magnitude. That may well be in a form other than the deployment of the Self Defense Forces. In any case, Japan must swiftly and clearly communicate to America what it can do.

copyright: Akio KAWATO


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