The US-Japan Strategic Relationship and the Rise of China


By kind invitation of Derek Twigg MP, the Henry Jackson Society was pleased host a discussion with Professor Kenneth B. Pyle, Henry M. Jackson Professor of History and Asian Studies, University of Washington & Founding President of the National Bureau of Asian Research. Professor Pyle is an expert in Japanese affairs and author of Japan Rising: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia, and outlined his thoughts on the current state of the US-Japanese strategic relationship, as well as remark on the developing impact the People’s Republic of China is having on regional dynamics in East Asia and on US Diplomatic relationships in the region.


I had a close relationship with Senator Henry Jackson. I spent most of the last five years of his life working closely with him. I was Director of the School of International Studies at the University of Washington and asked Senator Jackson to help me with fundraising. Senator Jackson never did anything by halves and so he immediately went to the CEO of Boeing and United Airlines and asked them to be the chairs of our fundraising campaign. So I worked very closely with him, I travelled in Asia with him, he was the guest of Deng Xiaoping on several occasions, and I went along with him on several trips to China in the late 70’s and early 80’s. We always went out to the boondocks after our meetings in Beijing, after our last meeting we went to the North East and three days after our return the Senator died very suddenly from an aneurism. So I have a special interest in the Senator and in his legacy and so it is a special honour to be here in Parliament.

This is a very interesting time in Asia, since the end of the Cold War there has not really been a settled order in East Asia. It was not as big a transition in Asia as it was in Europe because the Cold War left several unresolved problems in Asia, the Taiwan issue, the Korean issue, Japan still has no peace treaty ending the second World War with Russia, and of course there are still communist governments in China and Vietnam. It is a time still of tentativeness and a certain amount of uncertainty about the future.

The Senator had a certain likening for British scholars with whom he often consulted with during the Cold War, because he thought that British scholars had a sense of history which we Americans do not have and so, in that regard history teaches us that the arrival of a new power on the international scene can be destabilising. In Asia we have the rise of China which raises big questions about the future of Asia. You also have the rise of many other relatively new countries in Asia with a colonial past. After the Cold War ended things have been changed very rapidly and I would like to offer just a couple of statistics to show you how rapidly things have been changing in Asia.

When President Reagan became President in 1981 Asia’s share of the worlds GDP was 17%. When President Obama took office last year that figure had become 33%. Another gauge of change is US pattern fillings. In 1981 the Asian share was 13%, it is now 28%. Consider this factor, the absolute poverty rate in East Asia during the Regan administration was 78, East Asia was considered below poverty and today that figure has become 16%. So what is happening in Asia is really not only the emergence of China but the emergence of the whole region. The history of the 20th century tells us that when a new power arrives it can lead to a great deal of turbulence, think about Germany and Japan. So we are about to find out in the next 10 years or so what it means when a whole new region emerges.

The rise of China has occurred very rapidly, particularly in the last 10 years and various power relations are being effected in very fundamental ways. For example, the Japanese have been jarred psychologically by the sudden rise of China. The Japanese have been accustomed to a weak China, one that they could dominate throughout the last 150 years, and suddenly next door China has emerged and later this year China will surpass Japan as the number two economy in the world, a position that Japan has occupied for more than four decades. The Japanese are feeling this change in power relations very deeply. The US-Japan alliance is very much as the centre of the changing power relations in the region. The triangular relations between the US, Japan and China has, since the beginning of the 20th Century been very central to the politics of East Asia and in that regard Japan is beginning to raise new questions about the future and purpose of the US-Japan alliance.

In Japan, as of the elections last summer, there was the largest landslide in Japanese history, which led to the overthrow of the Liberal Democratic Party, who had been in power for the whole post war period, and has been replaced by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). The DPJ has made it clear that they have a new foreign policy in mind, one that will distance itself to some degree from the United States, and will instead seek a closer relationship with Asia. The man in charge of the new party, Ichiro Ozawa, did a rather eye catching event in December of last year. Mr Ozawa, who is a fascinating figure in Japanese politics, took a large party to Beijing consisting of about 650 people in five Boeing 737’s including 143 members of the Diet. This looked like a ‘tribute’ mission to China, well what is a tribute mission? Well it is kind of a stunt on the part of Ozawa to say to the Americans, we are going to be much more independent then what you are accustomed to. This party was met by Hu Jintao in Beijing and he shook hands with every single member of the parliamentary group and really made a great fuss over them. The Chinese for the last four or five years have been treating the Japanese with greater respect then they had been earlier when they used to cajole the Japanese and raise issues of history that perhaps they are very uncomfortable with. Since 2006 the Chinese have really changed their foreign policy towards Japan, treating Japan with somewhat more curiosity then in the past.

In contrast the United States has really not treated the Japanese as Ozawa would like, in fact President Obama is very popular in Japan, probably more popular in Japan than in any other country. His popularity rate this past summer was over 90% in Japan, a lot of that has to do with the speech he gave in Prague last April, as you recall he announced the goal of riding the world of nuclear weapons, and the United States as the one country to have used nuclear weapons has a responsibility to lead in this effort, and that electrified the Japanese. The Japanese had been waiting to hear from an American president about Hiroshima.

The alliance today is really coming into a period of fluidity as a result of the political changes in Japan and as a result of the rise of China and the belligerence of North Korea. The Alliance between Japan and the United States which goes back to the end of the occupation has been a rather strange creature. It is not the usual alliance that one would think of as an ‘alliance’ which you would think as an aggregate of power against some common threat. The Americans viewed the alliance as a way of continuing the occupation in a more informal way, and to control and manage the relationship with Japan as best it could. The Japanese on the other hand very quickly shaped the alliance to suit their needs. The Japanese did not want to get caught in the midst of the Cold War they did not want to be the creatures of American foreign policy if the could prevent it. They had a brilliant post-war Prime Minister, Shigeru Yoshida and he used the American constitution, we wrote the Japanese constitution in the space of five or six days and then imposed it on the Japanese, we put this article nine in, which stated that the Japanese could not have a standing army or recognise the right of belligerency. So Yoshida used that constitution as a pretext, and built a firewall so that Japan would not get involved in the politics of the Cold War and could put all of its energy into economic growth and becoming an economic power.

In the 1960’s Japan put into practise a number of policies that defined a particular post-war grand strategy of the Japanese. I sum up these policies as a ‘firewall’ to stay out of the Cold War as much as possible the ‘8 negatives’. These are things that Japan said that under its constitution it could not do. These are the 8 negatives;

1. No oversees deployment of Japanese self defence forces.
2. No participation in collective self defence arrangements.
3. Japan would have no power projection capabilities.
4. Japan would have no nuclear weapons.
5. Japan would not export arms.
6. Japan would not share technology that was defence related with any other country.
7. Japan would not spend any more than 1% of GNP on defence expenditure.
8. Japan would make no military use of space.

These 8 negative policies concentrated all of their energy into economic growth and leaves their security completely in the hands of the United States. The alliance was really a trading off of the right to have American bases in Japan in return for protection. This policy worked brilliantly so long as the Cold War lasted. Japan stayed out of politics and it grew enormously, it became the world’s second largest economy and thrived. However, when the Cold War came to an end, Japan was totally unprepared for the dramatic change in the international system. The Americans were no longer willing to provide automatic security guarantees for the Japanese and Japan was faced with a situation in which it had literally no plans, no legal plans, no contingency plans, no plans whatsoever, to protect itself. Japan, a sovereign country, had no plans as to how it would protect itself. Japan has built its entire system on a dependent relationship with the United States.

Japan was faced with an impatient ally, that now said, you must do more, you must be engaged, no more free riding. At the same time things changed dramatically in the post Cold War era in East Asia with the growing belligerence of North Korea and the rise of China and subsequently the onset of global terrorism. The Japanese were faced with having to do something new and that was to think seriously about their security. In 1994, when the first real crisis with North Korea occurred and the Americans were on the verge of taking out the nuclear plant in North Korea, they turned to the Japanese and asked if they would provide back up, the use of their civilian airbases, would the GI’s that are injured be able to use your hospitals, and the Japanese said we can’t to do that.

Bill Perry, the secretary of defence said that if that crisis had come to fruition that would have ended the alliance. The Japanese were shaken up by that, and they were also shaken by the first crisis in the Taiwan Straights in 1996 and subsequently North Koreas firing of missiles through Japanese air space and the nuclear experiments in North Korea forced the Japanese to begin changing their whole grand strategy that had prevailed during the Cold War, so those 8 policies that the Japanese followed have all, with the possible exception of the nuclear prohibition , changed in the past decade, particularly under Prime Minister Koizumi. The Japanese self defence forces were sent to Iraq and provided back up and logistic support for the operation in Afghanistan. The principle of collective self defence has virtually although not officially been acknowledged. Power projection capabilities has been quietly acquired through the acquisition of Boeing in-flight refuelling tankers  and proto aircraft carriers. The Japanese have cooperated in ballistic missile defence with the United States. In May 2008, they passed a new law that allowed them to begin actively turning to space for security purposes and putting up spy satellites and allows them to think about the development of rockets and satellites. These were all the works of the previous administration, the LDP administration. With the new administration last summer came a determination to chart a new independent course, Ozawa was the power behind the throne, he believes that there should be a scaling down of American forces in Japan, that naval bases would be sufficient to protect Japan, and that hitherto secret agreements that were greed during the Cold War that allowed the transit of nuclear weapons. Ozawa is looking for space where Japan can create a particular stance in its foreign policy.

This is not to say that the Japanese are not extremely weary of China, the Japanese have a variety of concerns especially China’s growing military power, but at the same time they have a desire not to be held hostage to American foreign policy, especially Americas war on terror. This is something that the Americans were taken aback by and have so far indicated considerable displeasure at the new administration.

This is the scene of American – Japanese Alliance which is feeling new tensions. A Japan that is looking for greater autonomy and a China that is of uncertain national purpose. The very question is, what kind of a nation is China going to be. No new power has studied the historical rise of great power transitions more than China. There have even been programmes on national television discussing what the theorizing is about the rise of a new power. The Chinese have gone to some length as to be a different kind of rising power, a peaceful power. But of course when you look at Asia, the big question is, will Europe’s past be Asia’s future, in other words will the warfare and the tensions and nationalisms and rivalries of Europe’s past be in store for Asia in the future?

There are, generally speaking, two scenarios for the future of Asia. One is optimistic, it sees greater integration, trade, and peaceful relations even multilateral institutions that might be built towards a prosperous and more democratic Asia. Pessimistically, Asia is viewed as being competitive, arms races, Japan and China are in a low level arms race but others are involved, there is rampant nationalism, border disputes and a region that has had practically no experience of multilateral institutions.


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