Japan Needs to Accept China as an Equal
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
The Far Eastern Economic Review featured an instructive article written by Masaro Tamamoto (senior fellow of the World Policy Institute in New York) in its January/February 2005 issue. In his piece entitled, "After the Tsunami, How Japan Can Lead," Tamamoto put Japan's $500 million Tsunami aid package into perspective and issued a warning against the direction in which Japan's regional policy is heading. Instead of using the Tsunami disaster to promote cooperative relations and programs with China, Japanese politicians have chosen to take advantage of the tragedy to assert their country's leadership role in Asia. His analysis alerts us to the fact that the logic behind Japan's $500 million pledge was dictated by a matter of prestige which insisted that Japan's offer not only had to be bigger than the American one because it was an Asian disaster, but more importantly greater than the Chinese offer to make clear Japan's supremacy in the region. The simple truth exposed by this article is the fact that antagonistic relations between China and Japan serve the region no good. Japan needs to move away from the mindset that presents China as a threat and focus on working together with China to resolve outstanding regional and global problems.
One of the main obstacles to the realization of the cooperative vision between China and Japan, however, is the nature of US policy toward Asia. As Tamamoto described, US policy toward East Asia has always framed China and Japan in an aggressive and binary manner. According to his analysis, keeping Japan and China antagonistic is a mentality "ingrained" in the US geo-strategic mindset as a policy that serves American interest.
The foundation of this binary model for the past fifty years has been the US-Japan Security Alliance. Under this structure, the US has consistently sought to push Japan toward remilitarization in order to maintain the status quo in East Asia. As Tamamoto put it, the "American intention has been to use a remilitarized Japan to foil future Chinese military ambitions and to deter China from making a military move toward Taiwan." Recent news reports indicating that Japan will publicly support US concerns about the growing political and military might of China by insisting on the integrity of Taiwan confirm that the binary framework is fully operational and that the establishment of a cooperative and peaceful relationship between China and Japan is in doubt (See Joel Brinkley, "Japan Said to Support U.S. on Security of Taiwan," NYT, February 19, 2005).
Japan seems headed in the wrong direction. With increasing frequency, Japan is publicly declaring China as a "threat" to Japan's economic wellbeing, its national security and to "maintaining peace and stability" in the region, which roughly translates into the status quo. In addition to expressing caution over China's military and economic ascendancy, China has consistently been portrayed as the main obstacle to Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Most recently, China is also being represented as not interested in pushing the North Korean crisis toward a peaceful conclusion. Just yesterday, Howard French of the New York Time's noted that China is "reluctant" to take the lead in this crisis and may be more desirous of maintaining the status quo which keeps US and Japanese influence on the Peninsula at bay ("China Uneasy In Korea Role, Wary of U.S.," February 19, 2005).
Japanese leaders need to shake off their fear of China and shed themselves of supremist attitudes, which refuse to see China as an equal. For its part, the US needs to assist Japan in doing so. As Tamamoto concluded, perhaps "the most important contribution that Japan can make to international peace is the establishment of a solid and peaceful relationship with China."