Friday, December 15, 2006

Keeping Japan 'Onside' (and containing China)

In Tokyo many years ago, an Australian intelligence officer under cover as a business executive was asked what was his nation's fundamental interest in Japan. ADVERTISEMENT

In a flash, he blurted out: "To keep Japan onside."

That was in the middle of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

I guess Japan want to keep itself onside too.

Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England met in Washington last week with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Defense Minister Brendan Nelson of Australia to discuss, among other things, U.S.-Australia-Japan security cooperation.

It is the long run that concerns Australian and American diplomats. They are intent on encouraging the Japanese to continue shucking the pacifist cocoon into which they retreated after the devastating defeat of World War II and to be more active internationally. At the same time, America and Australia are eager to keep Japan from slipping under the influence of China

Right, Japan owes a lot to China culturally. And there are a lot of pro-China businessmen and journalists in Japan.

Australians and Americans have thus sought to reassure the Japanese that they are valued allies. In some respects, Australians share Japanese anxieties. Australia is culturally, politically, and economically a Western nation of 21 million people. Geographically, however, it is situated next to an Asia where it lacks major allies and therefore looks to the U.S. as it main protector.

Chinese diplomats have looked askance at the emerging three-way alliance and complained that it is part of a U.S. conspiracy to "contain" China. All three deny it, an Australian diplomat saying: "This has nothing to do with China. This is all about Japan."

Maybe this has something to do with both Japan and China.

A trilateral dialogue among Australian, Japanese, and U.S. senior officials started in 2002. Then began a "track two," or unofficial, dialogue among Japanese, Australian, and American scholars, security specialists, and former officials. They met, for instance, at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, the educational and research center in Honolulu, in 2004.

Last March, Secretary of State Rice, Japan's foreign minister, Taro Aso, and Foreign Minister Downer met in Sydney to raise the dialogue to ministerial level. Beyond discussions of China's rising power,
North Korea's nuclear threat, and Burma's jailing of political prisoners, were talks about responding to the potential influenza pandemic in Asia. A second meeting is to be held in early 2007 in the U.S.


On the long-term question of Japan's isolation, a scholar at the Asia Pacific Center, John Miller, has written that Japan has long been an "outlier," a nation "in" but not "of" Asia. In pre-modern times, Japan refused to pay tribute to China, unlike Korea and Vietnam, and went into seclusion. Since then, Miller wrote, Japan has "oscillated" between Asia and the West.

In the late 19th Century, Japan became a Western-style industrial and military power, and carved out an Asian empire in which Japan sought to drive Western powers from Asia. That led, in 1945, to Japan's catastrophic defeat and occupation.

In the postwar era, Japan again embraced the West, reinvented itself as a democracy, and succeeded in becoming an economic powerhouse. At the end of the Cold War, Miller wrote, Japan seemed ready to reject the West again in favor of seeking the leadership of Asia. Instead, Japan tilted toward the U.S.

Miller concluded: "It is as yet unclear where the Japanese will find a balance among an Asian role, the American alliance, and a 'normal' international political role." That assessment seems to motivate Americans and Australians who want to keep Japan "onside."Richard Halloran

I think this is relatively an accurate description.

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