October 15, 2005

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What Part Of East Asia Is Important?

According to TNR's Joshua Kurlantzick (Subscription-Required), there's closet militarists in Japan PM Koizumi's entourage. Amid the cheering as Japan's Upper House approved a postal privatization bill on Friday lurks the fear that amending Japan's pacifist constitution to permit remilitarization could be on Koizumi's agenda. East Asian neighbors didn't ry to hide how much they would have preferred the opposition, a pro-pacifist, Democratic party, with its own postal privatization plan, to win the September 11 election. Now, Kurlantzick is get America on the bandwagon.

A more powerful Japanese military may be inevitable, even necessary, if Washington's relations with other countries in the region, such as South Korea and China, continue to deteriorate. And Japan today is a democracy with strong civilian control over the armed forces, which have participated effectively in international peacekeeping. But many American officials don't recognize the potential damage Japanese remilitarization will do to America's already shaky image in Asia. Americans may have forgotten about Japanese abuses in the Pacific Theater during World War II, but the populations of countries in the region have not, and these abuses are often magnified by nationalist governments in China and other Asian nations eager to deflect attention from their own shortcomings and to justify increases in defense spending.


If the United States openly backs Japan's rearming, it could find itself and Tokyo ostracized by vital allies like Korea and Thailand, moving it even further from China. Many Japanese hawks don't seem to care. "What's the solution to North Korea?" Okazaki asked me when I visited his office. "A closer U.S.-Japan alliance." "What's the solution to China? A closer U.S.-Japan alliance." He pauses. "What's the solution to South Korea?" You can guess the rest. But, in the long run, America might not like the answer.

Putting aside the good reform legislation the Upper House just passed, though, is progressive dread about a remilitarized Japan warranted? The part about China's and South Korea's "shortcomings" is a huge speed pump in the argument to ignore. According to a Joong-ang Daily poll---mind you, ROK newspaper polls are like editorials with a few more quotes than usual, because the polling samples as a percentage of population are smaller than the margin of error---67% favored a ROK nuke. Even more depressing are some of the xenophobic attitudes justifying that opinion. North Korea has also aroused Japanese voters' ire, and, as Kurlantzick argues, Beijing incited more than rhetoric after anti-japanese riots earlier this year:

Beijing also seems to be playing into Japanese hawks' hands. Japan provides China with roughly $1 billion in annual direct development assistance, but a rash of anti-Japanese riots in China this spring reinforced the positions of Japanese politicians like Abe, who have questioned this assistance, as well as the broader Japan-China relationship. After the riots, The New York Times reported, a poll by Japan's trade agency showed that the percentage of Japanese companies planning to expand in China fell by more than 30 points.

These are the choices! Sentimental favorites aside, the choice between which horse to back is like choosing between a crack-backed cripple (DPRK), a slick-looking gelding with a temper (ROK), an obese, oat-slurping manure machine (PRC), and a winner owned by a criminal syndicate (Japan). Let's not even discuss Taiwan! The only aspect of the choice facing Washington, when it considers an East Asian policy, completely in its control is its own reputaion. Whomever Washington favors assumes Washington's faults, too. One choice is not good enough, so Washington needs to buy two, China and Japan. How Washington puts two blood enemies into the same stable is the foreign policy progressive Democrats need to devise.

The long-term dynamic in East Asia is the generations' old rivalry between China and Japan that could erupt into war at any time. Korean unification looms over the horizon. The question of Taiwan's status requires attention. But none of these questions, including economic liberalization and democratization, can proceed until Japan and China are yoked together like Germany and France into a mutual defense community.

So, let's stop making Japan into the bogeyman, or China, North Korea, etc. All choices are bad. Secretary of State Acheson put diplomatic capital on the line, including East Asia's, to bang Western Europe into the Coal and Steel Community, so now Washington owes the region. Or, watch the region go up in flames.

Cross-Posted at Barbarian Envoy

posted by Infidel on 10.15.05 at 06:02 PM in the East Asia politics category.


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great post.
and asia in flames hurts US interests and may even security in its Pacific coast.

Japan has the ability (i.e. Plutonium) get nuke overnight. In fact, at least 4500 nukes! And it has ICBM capability after sending satellites to the sky.

When Korea re-unites, it is likely to get the Uranium/Plutonium from the North. It can be nuclearize overnnight as well. US needs to prevent this from happening. It can only do so if it denuclearizes Japan. Otherwise, Korea will use Japan as a reason to get nuke. (and Japan use NK as an excuse)

US needs to take full control of the enrichment plant in Rokkasho-Mura. Maybe that should be the price for Japan to get UN-SC seat.

(see below and the link to Asiatimes about Japanese nuke)

posted by: sun bin on 10.16.05 at 12:51 AM [permalink]

Totally agree with Sun Bin. Very insightful post.
However remilitarization of Japan and a future war between Japan and China may be American's interests. US has benefited from two world wars and gained its current monopoly position from its clever strategy in both Wars.

posted by: lin on 10.16.05 at 06:10 AM [permalink]

I would agree with you, lin, except that now more than ever, East Asia is a very important part of the global economy. The political gains from a confrontation are trounced by the fiscal and corporate losses. That's why this is such a problematic time in the region. Both rivals are on the verge of complementing each other perfectly. On that account, the current tension could be a sign of strength. But then, Japan and ROK have been nearly economically complementary for decades, but looming unification could exacerbate resentments. Having played this game in Europe, the world might have to watch it happen again in Asia.

posted by: Infidel on 10.16.05 at 12:01 PM [permalink]

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