A limited liability partnership for Japan and the U.S.?
Posted by ampontan on Sunday, April 25, 2010
ALL THE MORE WORTHWHILE to read because it’s been written by serious people, this article in The National Interest by Robert Madsen and Richard J. Samuels about the Japan-U.S. alliance provides an excellent summary of the bilateral relationship in the postwar period and sketches the possibilities and problems that lie ahead.
You’ll understand just what they’re talking about by the time you reach this paragraph:
(T)he image of Tokyo as a feckless ally that prevails today completes the century’s cycle. Japan has by turns been a promising newcomer in the Pacific, an evil enemy, a dedicated junior partner, a serious economic and technological threat, and now a strategic disappointment. All of these images have been problematic, deviating as they do from the surprising degree of continuity in the fundamental interests that bound the two countries together for many decades.
They also have their eyes fixed on the future:
Before, geopolitical and political bases of the alliance were relatively stable. But that is not true today. Japanese domestic politics and the East Asian balance of power are evolving rapidly, and diplomatic estrangement in these circumstances could harm Tokyo and Washington’s strategic interests, not to mention fuel a domestic backlash against the United States that has been building for decades. Politically, Japan is not the country it was a few years ago.
The two allies must adjust to the facts on the ground. Just as it was unwise for the DPJ government to reject diplomatic pacts that had taken years to negotiate, it would be a mistake for the United States to continue to ignore the Japanese public’s yearnings for sovereignty and for equality that are no longer the exclusive preserve of Japan’s Far Right and Far Left. Post-LDP Japan will eventually become a “normal” country, but what version of “normalcy” is yet to be determined….
They even have a realistic understanding of Japanese politics and admirably restrain from using it as an opportunity to moralize.
(P)ersistent instability in Japanese politics and the structural weakness of the Japanese government ensure that Tokyo cannot play the more assertive role that some envision for it anytime soon.
There are some nits to pick, and everyone will find a few. They refer to the “once-mighty” Hirohito, which is a bad choice of adjectival phrases. While they do provide a good perspective on the DPJ election victory, they overlook the forehead-smacking incompetence of the Hatoyama administration in dealing with the United States in general and the Futenma Base issue in particular. (The latest installment: Some municipal officials on the offshore island of Tokunoshima might have been disposed to accept the base at one time, but now they’re livid over the behavior of the Cabinet. Meanwhile, the islanders seem ready to burn them in effigy.)
The absence of any mention at all of the serious physical and psychological burdens the American presence imposes on Okinawans is unfortunate.
Then there’s this:
(T)he Hatoyama government has from the beginning sought better relations with China and the potential establishment of a pan-Asian economic bloc.
When the closest political ally of DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro gives a news conference in Shanghai and describes how Mr. Ozawa explained to the Chinese leadership that he wants to create an “equilateral triangle” of the Japan-U.S.-China relationship, it is a change of much greater magnitude than mere “better relations with China”.
Finally, the expression, “sought..the potential establishment of a pan-Asian economic bloc”, is as ill-defined as the Hatoyama Pipe Dream itself. While mentioning the idea is pertinent to this discussion, it’s not possible to provide the background information critical for placing his ideas, such as they are, in context. It might also have been more useful to have offered an expression that isn’t as empty as “seeking the potential establishment” of something.
Nevertheless, it’s a refreshing change from the embarrassments that too often pass for critical commentary on this issue.