From a Regional to a Global Alliance: US interests and Japanese Relations with China
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
Christopher Hill, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, characterized the US's connection to Northeast Asia as "vital" in his remarks before the subcommittee responsible for Asia and the Pacific in the House International Relations Committee. In order to secure US interests in the region, Hill emphasized that strengthening US relations with Japan was central. He spoke of the US' desire to advance ties with Japan "toward a fuller more global partnership" and highlighted cooperation between the two in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq as evidence. Hill insisted that endorsing Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council was part of the administration's overall vision to "enhance stability and increase prosperity and liberty," in the region.
Despite this rhetoric, which places the Japan-US alliance in global perspective, the administration's focus is clearly on China. Hill himself admitted that, "One of the key challenges before us - and especially before the nations of the Asia-Pacific - is how to adapt to China's emergence as a regional and global power." Hill stressed that the US would pursue common interests and explore differences with China through dialogue, however, he also indicated that the US would be "vigilant" when defending its interests and "those of our friends and allies." What is clear is that the US will do everything in its power to protect and extend its stake in Northeast Asia, however, it remains uncertain as to whether US policy has Japan's best interests in mind.
According to Hill, the US still sees Japan as a bulwark of democracy and free markets globally. This viewpoint has remained constant since MacArthur's days and the consensus among US policy makers emerging from that period is that the US succeeded in remaking Japan into its own image. Postwar Japan was envisioned as a platform from which the US could expand its influence in the region. Thus, when US policy makers talk about transforming the US-Japan alliance into a global alliance, suggestive is the notion that Japan will be used to spread US interests globally. In US political discourse, Japanese interests are synonymous with American ones.
It is important to recognize that this view is not widely held in Japan. While institutions, values and practices such as democracy, human rights and the promotion of a capitalist market economy are commonly held, Japan has been struggling over the past decade to emerge from under the shadow of the United States and develop an independent foreign policy. Scholars such as Inoguchi Takashi have written extensively on this subject. It is also with this objective in mind that politicians and policy makers often stress Japan's need to become a "normal country."
With US officials and newspapers stressing the rise of China as Japan's "sharpest long-term security problem" (LA Times, May 30), it is becoming ever more difficult to position the China-Japan relationship in a cooperative light. The two are increasingly pushed toward the path of confrontation. The collapse of the left in Japan, which has long promoted rapprochement with the Peoples Republic of China, does not help to deflect Japan from this trajectory. Scholars and others need to work hard to remove Japan from this potentially hazardous course.