Taking Sides without Taking Sides is Taking Sides, a Definite No-No!
On Oct. 4, 2013, in a move some might consider surprising for its breach of convention, which dictates that no two government officials listed in the presidential line of succession should be abroad at the same place at the same time, secretaries of state and defense John Kerry and Chuck Hagel (respectively, 4th and 6th in line to the presidency) met with Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister, to convey the U.S.’s unwavering dedication to its long-standing security alliance with Japan. If, however, this meeting, the latest in a series of diplomatic exchanges meant to demonstrate to Japan and its neighbors the U.S.’s commitment to a highly sensationalized ‘pivot’ towards Asia, was intended to empower the U.S. to reassert itself in the region, President Obama will be sorely disappointed. This meeting will serve only to antagonize Japan’s neighbors, for, by blithely encouraging Japan to strengthen its military, the U.S. only reveals itself unable to correctly interpret the sociopolitical situation in the Far East.
Mr. Kerry and Mr. Hagel met with Mr. Abe ostensibly to discuss North Korea, a mutual enemy whose suspected possession of nuclear-tipped missiles has reduced its neighbors to a state of agitation reminiscent of the Cold War era. Certainly, that the U.S. agreed to install an X-band radar system in Kyogamisaki, near Kyoto, suggests the two nations feel at least moderately threatened by North Korea. But, though the new X-band radar system may allow the Pentagon to divert funds from the costly Aegis radar ships deployed near the Korean peninsula to ward against a possible nuclear strike by North Korea, might this development instead serve as a cautionary message to China that the U.S. and Japan, united as ever, refuse to permit China’s subversion of their shared influence in the region?
Indeed, the new security guidelines coincide with an alarmingly partisan move by the U.S. to assure Japan––publicly, no less––that the Senkaku Islands are covered by the two nations’ post-World War II security treaty. And though this ill-conceived assurance, essentially a declaration of support by the U.S. for Japan in the latter’s ongoing territorial dispute with China, was promptly followed by a token attempt at conciliation when Mr. Kerry asserted that the U.S. in no way recognizes Japan’s administration of the islands, that the U.S.’s allegiance is to Japan, not China, is unmistakeable.
One should find it perplexing that the U.S. would regard China with such suspicion, given that the two nations are exceedingly dependent on one another. In fact, just this past month, a meeting at the White House with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi prompted Vice President Joe Biden to admit that China’s thriving economy, second only to the U.S.’s, is not quite inimical to American interests, as is so often suggested by politicians and pundits who bemoan the 2.7 million U.S. jobs lost to China between 2001 and 2011. Mr. Biden’s admission is hardly astonishing; in considering that China owns roughly 8% of the U.S.’s $16.74 trillion debt, much depends on China’s continued goodwill towards the U.S. Furthermore, China’s status as one of five permanent members on the U.N. Security Council compels the two nations to work out their differences, which, needless to say, are many, whenever an international crisis à la the ongoing Syrian conflict erupts.
And yet, the two nations’ close symbiotic relationship notwithstanding, the U.S. cannot seem to transcend its misgivings about China. Determined as the U.S. is to believe that China seeks to undermine and supplant America’s post-Cold War hegemony, the U.S. seems only to regard its much-debated ‘pivot’ towards Asia as a convenient way to reassert itself in the region and to puncture China’s sphere of influence. For, however much the U.S. maintains that its sole purpose in Asia is to see to the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, surely it has sometimes considered that containing China, which last year boasted a staggering $87.8 billion in overseas investments, would be in the U.S.’s best interests.
Certainly, the U.S. is right to arm its allies, Japan included, against North Korea as a precautionary measure, and in fact should take it a step further by working with China, the North’s close ally, to address the numerous humanitarian offenses committed by the repressive Kim regime. However, the U.S. is wrong to blind itself to the fact that Japan and China, though economic partners, have bad blood between them, a legacy of Japan’s cruel annexation of the Far East in the early twentieth century. The U.S.’s support of Japan’s claim to the Senkaku Islands, and Japan’s efforts to remilitarize, are sure to hit a nerve with Japan’s neighbors, and will only alienate Japan (and, by association, the U.S.) from the rest of Asia, ultimately crippling the U.S.’s attempt to reestablish itself in the region. The U.S., sad to say, is ill-prepared to acquit itself well in the Far East. That being said, the U.S.’s presence in the region is not, nor should be, unwanted, for the U.S. can serve as a harmonizing voice of reason, but only if it remains resolutely impartial, a custodian of all Asia rather than just another acquisitive participant in the rat race of international politics.
Copyright © 2013 Elliot Silverberg. All rights reserved.