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Tokyo’s False Choices

“A gloom is settling over Tokyo,” writes Brad Glosserman of Pacific Forum CSIS. Japan, he notes, is insecure as it watches its protector, the United States, rush to embrace a rising Chinese state. Glosserman correctly notes that the Japanese feel threatened by improving relations between Washington and Beijing.

As a result of their fears, he believes the Japanese see “false dichotomies” and are making “false choices.” Policymakers should stop framing things “in overly simple terms.” “Tokyo should adopt an inclusive outlook and not feel threatened by improved relations between Washington and Beijing,” Glosserman writes. “Just as a positive Japan-China relationship will not threaten Tokyo’s ties to Washington, improved U.S.-China relations need not undermine the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

Really? Diplomacy may not always be a zero-sum game, but it is in Asia at this moment because the most important continental power there—China—sees it as such. Beijing has foreign policy goals that contemplate the removal of the United States from Asia and the neutralization of its two historical rivals, India and Japan. The Chinese, Indians, and Japanese are engaged in intense competitions, and Americans, who fought a series of wars in Asia last century, should know better than to spout bland statements and expect everyone to just get along.

For one thing, the American alliances with Japan and South Korea have no purpose if there are no threats. Why should we keep 28,000 military personnel on the Korean peninsula and 50,000 on the Japanese islands if they are not needed? They are there because the South Koreans and the Japanese feel insecure. And contrary to the blame-America-first crowd, it is not Washington that is creating an enemy to keep its alliances in place. Its alliances remain in place because Asians residing on the perimeter of the modern Chinese state are concerned about Beijing. They see that China is sustaining a hostile North Korean state, threatening the democracy on Taiwan, claiming vast expanses of international waters as its own, making outsized territorial claims, regularly violating their neighbors’ sovereignty, and engaging in aggressive military maneuvers.

The United States has sought to come to an accommodation with China as we hope that the Chinese will moderate their behavior and integrate themselves into the existing international system. So far, we have viewed this as a cost-free exercise. It is not. By doing so, we are undermining our alliances with democratic Japan and South Korea, both of which view our actions with concern if not alarm. Asians do not see “false dichotomies,” they are not making false choices,” and they are not viewing their region “in overly simple terms.” They are reacting to the failure of Washington to understand both the dynamics of Asia and the cost of its policies.



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