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FOREIGN REPORTFOREIGN REPORT
Japan, Another Outcast?
Kang Sang Ji  |  kangaji95@korea.ac.kr
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승인 2014.03.04  16:00:56
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President Obama signed a bill on the seventeenth night of January. Soon after a hurray burst from Korea, and a howl from Japan. It reads: “Apologize, Japan.” And here comes another blow from the U.S. John Kerry, the Secretary of State, will skip Japan in his Asia tour. Amid its risky war of nerves with the U.S., Japan is at stake; will it be another U.S. outcast or an everlasting buddy?

Prologue: A War of Two Titans

   
▲ Vice president Joe Biden with Abe: U.S. recently put brake on Japan's far-right movesProvided by themalaysianinsider

Gone is the age of the Cold War; the Soviet Union collapsed and the following open-door policy of China reassured it. It was a great shock, a great shift. And so was the power shift that took place right after that. As the greatest enemy of the United States (U.S.) was crippled, the Cold War officially ended. China established itself as the emerging big power threatening the U.S. Japan countered such efforts by tightening the bond with the U.S. as a response. But the U.S., the single greatest decisionmaker in this region, yet unfolded its scheme.

Admittedly, the U.S. distanced China during the Cold War. After the Berlin Wall tumbled down, however, it seemed these two titans could be on speaking terms, if not friendly terms. But the fastgrowing Chinese economy overwhelmed the U.S., and such rosy prospects soon shattered. Being the greatest reservoir of U.S. dollars, China soon waged currency war against the U.S., giving it a critical blow to its recession-stricken economy.

Still, China is neither foe nor friend of the U.S. at this moment. In fact, they need each other whether they want it or not. China simply has too much American dollar that it becomes shaky whenever the U.S. falls into an economic recession—yes, they are in the same boat in economic sense. And recently, the U.S. is also in need of the Chinese help regarding North Korea. All seemed well, until there popped up an unexpected sabotage—Japan.

   
▲ To solve North Korea conundrum, U.S. is in need of ChinaProvided by technology inquirer

Japan and U.S.—A History of Their Friendship

Among those Asian nations, Japan is by far the most U.S.-friendly. The bygone history testifies to this attachment. As a matter of fact, Japan was defeated in World War II. The U.S. temporarily seized control over this lonely island, but freed the nation soon afterward. That sounds a bit weird, since rare is the case that a conqueror shows such great hospitality to a loser, especially when the loser is responsible for the bloodiest war in human history.

The U.S. was not a fool. It had its own scheme for Japan. Even before the war ended, it foresaw the ascendency of the Soviet Union, the single greatest rival of the U.S. This red empire was then sprawling toward the Asian-Pacific, watching for a chance to engulf the whole Northeast Asia, including Korea and Japan. And what does it mean to the U.S.? A red alert, for sure.

Thankfully, the U.S. had Japan then. Being the farthest U.S. outpost around the Asian-Pacific, Japan was just a perfect bulwark against the Soviet expansion. The U.S. deployed its aircrafts and armies in Japan, as well as economically supported this foe-turned-friend island. With the aid of most powerful nation, Japan soon came out of the bloody nightmare of WWII. And ever since, Japan has been the loyal pro-American watchdog on the Asian-Pacific border. The first prime minister of Japan, Yoshida Sigeru, handed over military control to the U.S. In return, the U.S. promised unlimited protection, which is reaffirmed by the Acheson Line Declaration in 1950. It officially incorporated Japan under the U.S. protection umbrella, reassuring its status as the most credible partner in Northeast Asia. Then in 1999, Japan joined the Missile Defense (MD) program of the U.S., risking a staggering amount for the membership fee. That is not the end. The U.S. airbase took up residence in Okinawa, and Japanese soldiers were dispatched to the Iraq War waged by the U.S.

Such devotion is not for free, of course. Whenever Japan embroiled itself in chronic territory disputes with neighboring nations, the U.S. backed them up behind the scene—it claimed control over Dokdo Island, Kuril Islands, and most recently, the Senkaku Islands. Such bald-faced provocation inflamed all of its neighbors in the end—Korea, Russia, and most intensely, China.

Stop Deluding Yourself, Little J

The U.S., unfortunately, is not willing to do Japan’s bidding. A recent flurry with financial crisis, government shutdown, and precarious tug-of-war with China has worn it out. However, Japan still pushes the U.S. to stand up for it. A recent fuss regarding the War Shrine serves as an example.

Abe Shinzo, the prime minister of Japan, professed his far-right color only to win popularity— and such efforts paid off, as he was re-elected in December 2012. He cried for “Strong Japan,” a slogan redolent of a fascist propaganda half a century ago. And it only chafed against the rest of the Asian-Pacific neighbors, including the U.S. On January 17, President Obama signed a bill that forces the Japanese government to make an official apology to Korean victims, especially to comfort women harmed during wartime. In addition, the U.S. decided to leave Japan in the cold; it announced on January 28 that Secretary of State John Kerry will make his visit to China and Korea, but not Japan. Japan got enraged, and the anger drove it to cross the line; it publicly got on China’s nerve in the 2014 Dabos Forum, warning China of possible military action. This unprecedented diplomatic indecorum backfired, to the grief of Japan; it got both the U.S. and China twisted. Soon afterward, the U.S. publicly blamed Japan by saying it was “disappointing,” as the Wall Street Journal reported.

In the past, it was none of the U.S.’s business whether Japan provoked neighboring nations—the heyday for Japan, in a word. Japan did what it pleased, thanks to the impervious protection of the U.S. Looking back, however, such favor was not meant for Japan; it was meant for the U.S. itself.

A brief overview on maps explains the reason hidden behind it. Russia, China, and North Korea; these three nations have something in common. Yes, they used to be antagonized by the U.S. The most careless glance at Obama barely meeting eyes with Putin or someone from these nations—though part of politics and not of personal grudging—corroborates their convoluted relations.

So far, to the relief of the U.S., these titans are more concerned with their own regional issues—Russia suffering from independence protest of ethnic minorities, China embroiled in territory disputes on both east and west side, and famished North Korea, that they do not spare time to challenge the U.S. power on a global scale.

That sounds a bit harsh to Japan, yet it perfectly makes sense given the fact that diplomacy in essence aims for maximizing self-interest. The U.S. simply follows what is held right in this field. The problem is Japan which adheres to the U.S. without taking this factor into consideration. Japan perhaps wants to believe the U.S. will forever stand by its side, but Japan had better stop deluding itself.

It somehow suggests changing U.S.-China relation, now getting greater than U.S.-Japan alliance. Put in a different way, the hostility the U.S. once harbored against China is now slowly morphing into something that can be safely described as “partnership.” Why? It has all to do with Xijinping, the new leader of huge China. From the very inauguration, he pressured North Korea, professing a utilitarian approach to foreign issues.

He put economic sanctions on North Korea, forcing it to denuclearize itself. Then he slashed financial aid to North Korea as well. A series of shifts in China’s foreign policy soon drew the U.S.’s attention, of course. President Obama flew to Beijing to welcome this change, and Xijinping flew to U.S. on June 7, 2013. Such friendly hangouts of the two leaders are just enough to conclude that China established itself as the top-priority partner of the U.S. in this region; too bad for you, Japan.

If it were the 1970s, the last resort for the U.S. would be to ask for Chinese help. Why? Back then, China was a nation of no importance to the U.S.—it had nothing, be it military force or monetary force, to threaten the U.S. at that time. Things have turned upside down, however. Now China arms itself with nuclear weapons, has the biggest U.S. dollar reservoir that can be used as financial attack to the U.S., and above all, has a solution to the North Korea conundrum.

And back to Japan again. What does China-U.S. relation have to do with Japan-U.S. relations? It looks a bit tricky at first sight, but a brief glance at China-Japan relations succinctly explains what it is; they are fighting over territory issues. The U.S. is in need of Chinese help to resolve the North Korea conundrum, yet China is getting unwilling to give the U.S. a hand—because of Japan, a self-claimed pro-America buddy whose action inadvertently spoils the U.S.-China relation.

A recent CNN editorial by Professor Andrew Brazinsky (Georgetown University, History) makes it even clearer. Japan now “undermines the strategic interests in Asia,” as he accuses. The interests he mentions, of course, are interrelated to China. “If Japan goes on, then how can China—the only conundrum-solver—with far fewer reasons to trust the U.S., be expected to do otherwise?” was the theme of his anti-Abe editorial.

No wonder the U.S. frowns at Japan’s fuss—far-right moves, historical revisionism, provocative territory disputes—that angered China. What the U.S. wants Japan to do is to take a step back and stay silent. The more Japan goes aggressive, the greater the chance of China distancing itself from the U.S.—as well as bonding with Korea as an alternative. Then here goes one possible scenario; Korea-China forms one side and U.S.-Japan forms the other side. This is likely to result in two disastrous consequences to the U.S.

First, the U.S. will find itself dealing with North Korea without Korean and Chinese aid; it would only result in a stand-off at best, as the last six-party nuclear talk was in 2007. Second, it will see China take Korea away from its umbrella; and it means smaller room for the U.S. in Northeast Asia. If things go on this way, the U.S. cannot but see its shrinking power in this region. 

   
▲ As China pulls Korea closer to ward off U.S.-Japan alliance, U.S. is on red alertProvided by thenewyorktimes

Watch Out, Japan

Japan is going too far. And the U.S. has had enough. If this tension goes unassuaged, it will only result in Japan’s harm. The U.S. will do all but lose its grip on Northeast Asia, and Japan may have to risk being cut off forever if it sticks to self-isolating diplomacy. An early example of Iraq beautifully epitomizes how the life of a U.S.-abandoned outcast would be.

Unimaginable as it seems right now, but Iraq and Iran were the Southwest-Asian allies of the U.S. in the 1970s. Being the geographic neighbor of Soviet Russia, these two oil-rich fellows were more than underdeveloped nations—they were strategic spots where two big powers confronted each other and played tug-of-war.

All was good until 1988, when 8 years of the Iran-Iraq war ended. When the Iranian pro-U.S. monarchy was overthrown, Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, declared war against Iran for several reasons, most markedly religious difference—Iran and Iraq believe in different versions of Islam, Iran being Shi’a and Iraq being Sunni.

The U.S. supported Iraq, the second biggest oil reservoir, even equipping Iraq with biochemical weapons—it sparked a flurry of criticisms. After the war, however, Iraq refused to hand over the oil reserves to the U.S.—the beginning of tragedy. Iraq was torn up by the following U.S.-Iraq war, and it seems to go parallel with this case—a friend turned-foe nation is bound to pay the price.

Japan can indefinitely remain as a reliable U.S. ally, if it goes back to what it used to be under the Democratic Party’s reign—a moderate nation remorseful of its past atrocities, and a loyal watchdog of the Asian-Pacific border of the U.S. Though the recent fuss of Japan makes it a bit hard to materialize, Japan still has a chance to get back together with the U.S.—well, their friendship outlasted both post-WWII chaos and the Cold War, anyway.

   
▲ Obama diplomacy is now on grave turning point: will U.S. prefer China to Japan?Provided by japantimes

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