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How to Lose Half an Ocean

Will America abandon long-term ally Japan? Unfortunately, Washington’s most important alliance in Asia is in jeopardy. “Many Japanese analysts and commentators have worried that the United States is losing interest in Japan,” states a report released last week by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

In short, the problem is that the Bush administration has been paying too much attention to-and lavishing affection on-dictatorial states in North Asia, namely China and North Korea. As a result, Japan’s people are, once again, questioning the alliance, especially after the Bush administration last month ignored Tokyo’s concerns about Pyongyang’s abduction of its citizens and took North Korea off the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. With doubts about Washington’s intentions to defend the Japanese homeland, Tokyo feels it must come to terms with Beijing. As Prime Minister Taro Aso said at the end of last month in the Chinese capital, “It is difficult to name other countries as important to Japan as China is.”

Ouch! What is the price of trying to engage hardline states? Sometimes, you lose your friends. And that is what is happening now with the “high-maintenance” alliance with the Japanese. If Beijing can neutralize Japan, the United States will find it hard to defend South Korea and Taiwan. In short order, the American alliance structure in Asia will dissolve. As they say in geopolitical circles, there goes the neighborhood.

And maybe more than just the neighborhood. With Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea in Beijing’s hands, the Chinese navy will have unimpeded access to the Pacific. Beijing has already floated the idea that the United States and China divide that ocean at Hawaii. Make no mistake about it: the Chinese want to govern at least half that body of water. Say goodbye to Guam and all the other strategic islands there.

Of course, Beijing is still far from realizing its expansive notions. Yet the erosion of influence can occur fast. Instead of ardently pursuing failing notions like engagement, it’s time for the United States to shore up relations with the democracies in Asia, by far the most important region in the world.


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