As China rises, US taps Japan as key Asia ally

Robert Marquand – The Christian Science Monitor

Copyright The Christian
Science Monitor
TOKYO – With quiet determination the Bush
administration is attempting to revitalize strategic
and military ties with Japan. The US is hoping to make
the island nation and the world’s third largest
economy an unambiguous “anchor” in an Asia that shows
signs of fraying relations and uncertain alliances.
Washington is working to put Japan at the center of
its vision of Asia, at a time when North Korea may
soon be labeled a nuclear state.
American diplomats are also more explicitly
benchmarking concerns about China, including the
nation’s rapid military rise, and its unclear internal
Indeed, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, stood
in Tokyo less than 24 hours after the passing of
George Kennan, the fabled US architect of Soviet
containment, and articulated a new, modified, and
arguably “friendly” form of containment of China, the
world’s largest remaining communist power.
Describing the “rise of China” as a “new factor in
global politics,” Ms. Rice stated that while the US
regards China as a partner and desires its prosperity,
that China’s political direction is unknown. The
“strategic context” in Asia demands that the US foster
stronger ties with Japan, South Korea, and India –
even while encouraging greater trade and cooperation
with Beijing, Rice explained.
“The internal evolution of China is still undefined,”
Rice told an audience at Sophia University in Tokyo.
“Issues of freedom of religion, human rights …
Taiwan … are matters of concern that could take a
wrong turn … and … we want to push, prod, and
persuade China on a positive course.”
Analysts were quick to note that geographically,
alliances with South Korea, Japan, and India appear to
“encircle China,” as one source noted. Rice herself
stated that “these alliances are not against China,
but are ‘values-based relationships’ ” among states
that have already chosen to be democratic and open.
Japan will be the umbrella for the US Asian presence
since the US and Japan have “already chosen” a common
set of values and understandings, Rice said.
The White House has in recent months expressed
appreciation that Japan readily sent troops to Iraq.
Japan recently altered its Constitution to allow its
military, the world’s fourth largest, to participate
in “out of area” missions. In coming months, Pentagon
sources say, US and Japanese officials will discuss
enhancing command and control centers in Japan,
missile defense, and deployment of forces, including a
possible further drawdown of US forces in Korea. These
developments take place just months after official
defense papers in Tokyo for the first time explicitly
pointed to China as a “threat.” The US now
unambiguously supports a UN Security Council seat for
“The US is moving to restructure the alliance with
Japan, to make it an enhanced maritime alliance,” says
Carl Baker of the Asia Pacific Center for Security
Studies in Honolulu. “At the same time, both the US
and Japan have begun to more explicitly state concerns
about China. What had been implicit is now more
Relations between China and Japan remain mixed and
often sour. Japan is concerned that China will simply
use North Korea as a kind of proxy threat against
Tokyo. Japan also worries that China will seize Taiwan
and block oil lanes. Beijing is concerned that the US
is aligning itself with a Japan whose own direction is
not entirely clear. In the past five years, Japanese
nationalist sentiments have risen markedly. While the
US has encouraged Japan to take a more assertive role
in the world, and to be a so-called “normal nation,”
Chinese officials say that Japan remains unrepentant
for its World War II past.
Nor is South Korea’s view on a Japan-centric US
Pacific policy entirely positive. South Korean
officials have discreetly stated that Seoul does not
want to have to choose between the US and China on
regional hot spots, like Taiwan.
Secretary Rice will leave Beijing for the US Monday
after visiting Tokyo and Seoul, in what has been an
extremely quick first visit. Chinese state-run media
had very little to say about the secretary’s trip, and
have not yet mentioned a more explicit White House
backing of Tokyo. Yet Hong Kong media have predicted a
more hawkish Washington diplomacy, with the departure
of former Secretary Colin Powell, viewed in Beijing as
a moderate.
In a meeting with Hu Jintao Sunday evening, Rice told
the Chinese leader that the US government “recognizes
fully the transformation that is going on in China, a
remarkable transformation that people around the world
are watching.” She added, “I’m quite certain that we
will be able to manage the issues before us.”
Wen recalled his visit to the US in 2003. During that
visit, President Bush made clear that the US was
committed to the “one China” policy and opposes Taiwan
Rice, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, also
vowed to speak about religious freedom with Hu and
Wen. The US for the first time this year did not take
up China’s human rights record at the UN forum in
Geneva. Yet Rice has raised it publicly and
consistently on her trip.

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