October 28, 2009
Written by C.N.
Ever since World War II, the Asian-Pacific political and military landscape has been pretty stable from the U.S.’s point of view — Japan has been the U.S.’s staunch ally while China looms as possible threat and enemy to the U.S. However, we might be seeing this situation change in opposite directions — China and the U.S. moving closer together while Japan starts to increase its distance from the U.S. In regard to the former, as Reuters reports, the Chinese military (no less) says it wants closer ties to the U.S.:
At the start of a visit to Washington, Xu Caihou, vice chairman of the People’s Liberation Army Central Military Commission, said military ties were generally moving in a “positive direction” and defended China’s fast-paced military development as purely “defensive” and “limited” in scope. . . .
Xu’s visit, which will include a tour of major U.S. military bases, including U.S. Strategic Command, was meant to give a boost to military-to-military dialogue, which Beijing resumed this year after halting it in 2008 to protest a $6.5 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan. . . . Last week, Gates said better dialogue was needed to avoid “mistakes and miscalculations.”
Xu said U.S.-Chinese military relations have improved since President Barack Obama took office in January and can be expanded further.
As an example of the latter development (Japan and U.S. relations moving farther apart), the Brookings Institute describes how Japan’s new government is looking to do things a little differently than its predecessors:
Among the changes sought by the [Democratic Party of Japan, DPJ] is a new approach to the Japan-U.S. relationship. In a statement made both before and after the election, [new Prime Minister Yukio] Hatoyama has pledged to build “a close and equal relationship with the United States,” which implies that the new government will re-examine the current relationship with Washington.
He has also proposed an idea to create a so-called “East Asian Community” . . . [that] would include such countries as China, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, and the ASEAN countries, but would exclude the U.S. . . .
[DPJ co-founder and former leader Ichiro] Ozawa’s basic argument is that the [Japan's] overseas deployment for international peace activities should be carried out based on UN resolutions, rather than on alliance-based agreements with the United States. His basic idea is “Japan has to have an equal relationship with the U.S. It should have its own voice.”
This approach is already causing some concern in Washington, and it will certainly cause stress in the Japan-U.S. relationship when in January the DPJ will terminate the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling activities in the Indian Ocean which support U.S. and coalition activities in Afghanistan.
We should note that both articles make clear that the status quo is still in effect for now. That is, big differences and suspicions remain between the U.S. and China and that the overall political relationship between Japan and the U.S. is still strong. Nonetheless, these developments demonstrate that international relations can change rather quickly.
In fact, this rapid pace of international political and military evolution seems to be one of the basic characteristics of the Asian-Pacific region in the age of 21st century globalization. On the heels of apparent increased tensions between China and India, flux and fluidity are likely to be the normal dynamic of the region for the foreseeable future.
As always, such changes can create both dangers and opportunities for different actors and parties. This includes Asian Americans, who may have the chance to play a greater role in helping to shape these changing political, economic, and cultural landscapes.