Friday, September 29, 2006


Ideally, Washington would like to see Japan take a greater security role in Asia, albeit, at a measured pace. Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in a visit to Tokyo this year that Japan needed to play a greater role in Asia, despite China’s growing influence in the region. “Japan is a valued partner and a better model for Southeast Asia and other countries than China,” he said.

Japan is now undergoing changes that have long-term implications for the U.S. and its allies in Asia. In a world where alliances are based on economic cooperation, energy security and ideological alliances, Japan finds itself at a crossroads. The country needs to secure its own Asia revival through cooperation with its neighbors, but also must support traditional, Western-based economic and security alliances.

Under Prime Minister Koizumi’s five-year tenure, Japan has demonstrated an increasing willingness to act independently on Asia-related maters. Although this new found independence is not evidence of a fissure in U.S.-Japan relations, it does show that Tokyo’s foreign policy is in a stage of maturation.

An accelerated intermingling of Japan’s national interests with those of China will almost certainly complicate U.S.-Japan bilateral relations, making it more difficult for the U.S. to convince Tokyo to follow its direction on Asia-related matters. At the same time, Tokyo will need to be extremely careful to ensure that its defense, economic and energy relations with Beijing do not compromise U.S. plans for a more robust security arrangement in the Pacific, especially in defense of Taiwan.

Are Japan and China destined to be regional adversaries, or will both countries decide to put aside their differences to facilitate a more beneficial relationship? And how will Washington react to improved relations between the two countries? Moving forward, the newly elected administration of conservative Shinzo Abe will need to fashion a balanced China policy that takes into consideration Japan’s long-term economic and security interests and its relations with traditional ally the United States. link

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