Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Japan as the Bulwark against Red China to Defend US and Asia Pacific Nations

China’s expansionist ambition and North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship diplomacy intensify tension in East Asia. Particularly, tightrope foreign policy is required to manage China. While exploring some security cooperation and economic ties, the United States and Asia Pacific nations must be well aware of the danger of this country. A strong Japan will serve as a bulwark against Red China, which will serve the interests of nations in this region, whether engaging or confronting the Beijing regime.


The problem is, the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia often appears just rhetorical, and throwing away America’s special role in the Middle East. That can lead to a super power suicide. Current US policy in East Asia must be understood in a global context, beyond Sino-Japanese geopolitical rivalries. Those who endorse America’s role in the Middle East are steadfast against Chinese expansionism. In an era of rising isolationism in the United States, as witnessed in the sequestration, we must keep it in mind.

Why America and Asia Pacific nations need a strong Japan? Vance Serchuk, Former staff of Ex-Senator Joseph Lieberman tells why in his recent article (“An ascendant Japan would boost U.S. interests”; WashingtonPost; April 19, 2013). Lieberman and former Senator Jon Kyl contributed an article with to make the case against isolationism (Thedanger of repeating the cycle of American isolationism”; Washington Post; April25, 2013), and launched the “American Internationalism Project” in the American Enterprise Institute. Therefore, Serchuck’s policy analysis presents insights to see the Obama administration’s Asia policy critically, and assess the strategic importance of Japan to the United States and Asia Pacific allies.

Let me see Serchuck’s view on East Asia and Sino-Japanese rivalries. Regarding regional security, the United States may have to ask China’s cooperation on North Korea to curb its nuclear threats. However, China does not necessarily share vital interests of nonproliferation with the global community, and more concerned with the collapse of the regime in North Korea. Also, China’s cyber threat and maritime expansionism are critical concerns. Japan has a great potential to become a reliable security partner to those who face such threats. Despite a mere 1% of GDP in defense spending, Japan’s military capability is the most advanced in Asia. In addition, he points out that the Abe administration is willing to assume more security responsibility as tensions grow in Asia.

Does the Obama administration understand those arguments? Let me see a commentary regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’ visit to East Asia last April by Christopher Griffin, Executive Director, and Robert Zarate, Policy Director, both at the Foreign Policy Initiative (What John Kerry is Doing Rightand Wrong in East Asia”; Diplomat Magazine; April 18, 2013). Secretary Kerry articulated to defend Japan and the Asian sea lane, in case of aggressive intrusion by China. But we have to remember that eight Republican senators wrote to Kerry on April 12 to call an attention to the dangerous adventurism of China and strategic importance of Japan. Signatories of this letter were Marco Rubio, John Cornyn, James M. Inhofe, James E. Risch, Kelly Ayotte, Robert Corker, John Barrasso, Saxby Chambliss, and John McCain. 

Actually, the eight senators who sent the reminder to Secretary Kerry are seriously critical of Obama’s Middle East policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran. From this fact, you will understand that Obama’s disengagement in the Middle East does not necessarily mean strong commitment to Asia. An appeasing America in the Middle East is also an appeasing America in Asia. Policymakers in Japan and the rest of the Asia Pacific should keep it in mind, rather than welcoming the pivot to Asia naïvely. 

Meanwhile, Kerry even thinks of soliciting Chinese cooperation to manage North Korea in exchange for removal of US missile defense system. Though China is an indispensable partner on North Korea, it is a nuclear power challenging the world order of Western democracies. Removing deterrence will not be in favor of America’s interest in the Asia Pacific. At the meeting between the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, and the Head of PLA General Staff department Fang Fenghui, the Chinese side mentioned three obstacles in US-Chinese military cooperations: US arms deals with Taiwan, reconnaissance against Chinese targets, and arms embargo against China. Furthermore, in the recent PLA white paper, China denounces implicitly that the United States augments regional tensions (“US,China military top brass take aim”; Asia Times; April 26, 2013).

But it is China that intensifies tensions across the globe and the region, notably by aggressive maritime intimidation in the East and the South China Seas, and cyber attacks. As Senator John McCain argues, Asians still want to "live in a world shaped by American power, American values, and American leadership (“Why Asia Wants America”; Diplomat Magazine; May 22, 2012), but China defies American supremacy. Though politicians are cautious to avoid provocative words to China, Joseph Bosco, former staff at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, clearly states China is a threat. He warns that China has grown wealthy, strong, overconfident, and defiant under the benefits of the international system and generous Western engagement. This is typically witnessed in China’s aggression to the freedom of navigation in international waters in the Asia Pacific region (“Red China Remains a Threat”; WeeklyStandard; November 26, 2011). Japan is the most ideally located to stop China in terms of geography.

Humanitarian aspect is another issue to manage Chinese expansionism in Asia. Kılıç Kanat, Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University, comments that the United States and Western allies should not dismiss China’s repression against Uyghur people as typically seen in the clash in Kashgar this April. Kanat says that the pivot to Asia putting heavy emphasis on commercial interests without giving consideration to human rights and libertywill create not only a humanitarian disaster in the region but will also pave the way for a crisis of legitimacy for the policies of Western democracies” (“The Kashgar incident andChina’s Uyghur question”; The New Turkey; May 9, 2013). This message is primarily addressed to Americans and Europeans, but Japanese and Asian policymakers should also keep it in mind. In the Security Diamond Strategy launched by the Abe administration, humanitarian values are the key (Shinzo Abe’s Strategic Diamond”; DiplomatMagazine; January 15, 2013).

Above all, we should not welcome the pivot to Asia so naïvely for simplistic fear of China. As shown in the case of the letter by the eight senators, America's disengagement in the Middle East leads to appeasement in Asia. In parallel with contacting incumbent Obama administration, Japanese policymakers need to found strong ties with defense hawks and global interventionists in the United States who are critically concerned with the superpower suicide. That serves the key interest of the United States, Japan, and Asia Pacific democracies.