Jiang's Visit Ends America's Cold War Alliance With Japan

TOKYO -- If Nixon's breakthrough to China came as a shock to Japan two decades ago, the White House's about-face on U.S.-China relations comes as a thunderbolt. The surprise this time wasn't just the plush red carpet Washington rolled out for the Chinese president. It was the choice of location for Jiang Zemin's first stop in the U.S. -- Pearl Harbor.For Americans, the sight of Jiang tossing a lei over the sunken USS Arizona may have been a reassuring sign of friendship, heralding back to the World War II battle against Japanese aggression. But for Japan's arch-conservative government, the gesture holds a deeper symbolism, signaling a seachange in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Tokyo's attempt to extend the Cold War with a containment policy toward China has failed, and Japan now sees itself cast adrift.The Clinton-Jiang summit inaugurates a Sino-American strategic alliance based on mutual interest rather than join-the-enemy-of-my-enemy approach taken by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Clinton is reviving U.S.-China trade, underscoring the key role commerce plays. But more important to Washington is China's role in stabilizing most of the world's hot spots -- the Mideast (through Beijing's ties with Iran and Syria), Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Korean Peninsula, the long border with Russia and even the Indian Ocean (through allies Pakistan and Myanmar).At the time of the Nixon-Mao summit, the U.S. valued China for narrower purposes -- to check Moscow's ambitions and nudge North Vietnam toward peace talks. Tokyo deeply was upset and humiliated, in part because it had been left out of the loop. Japan's prime minister quickly set off for Beijing with fat business deals and promises of foreign aid. The goal was to prevent a U.S.-China partnership from solidifying.Tokyo envisioned a three-way equilateral triangle of Japan-U.S.-China, but this proved to be ephemeral. First the collapse of the Soviet Union eliminated China's strategic role in checking Moscow. Then, as Sino-American ties soured over the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, Japanese conservatives and liberals saw their chance to rebuild what U.S. ambassadors to Tokyo called "the special relationship." Eager to undercut its rival, Tokyo became increasingly shrill about China's human rights violations and suspicious North Korean maneuvers, and quietly backed the diplomatic campaign by Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui (a graduate of Kyoto Imperial University at the height of World War II).Japanese conservatives then pushed for overt military cooperation with the U.S., urging Washington to ignore local protests against U.S. troop levels in Okinawa and to expand its naval activities to civilian ports. Japanese politicians and business leaders even began casually mentioning that China would soon collapse into several small states before it could reassert its authority over Hong Kong.Instead, it was Japan's containment policy that began collapsing, even as China emerged as the region's key financial player as well as military power. When Thailand's stock market plummeted, Wall Street yawned, even though the Nikkei exchange took a serious hit. But when Hong Kong's index slipped, the New York Stock Exchange panicked. China stepped into the breach, defending the Hong Kong currency against speculators with billions of dollars, and Wall Street roared back.As Sino-American ties warmed over recent months, Japanese political analysts again started to advocate a triangular relationship. But Tokyo is proving to be the odd man-out with ever fewer options for countering the new Pacific alliance that is coming into being.Tokyo could opt for a coalition between Russian military power and Japanese high technology -- as advocated by former Diet member Shintaro Ishihara, author of "The Japan that Can Say No." Another possibility would be to provoke a clash between Taiwan and China, eventually forcing the U.S. military to intervene. Former populist Diet member Koichi Hamada, in his book "Hamaako's Emergency Statement," has warned that Taiwan is "the greatest factor for destabilization in Asia."Japan's remaining path is to become what its postwar constitution envisioned: a country that eschews war and expansionism for neutralism and abandons the temptation to become a great power. This could well be Jiang's message from Hawaii.Tokyo-based writer Yoichi Clark Shimatsu was former editor of the Japan Times English-language weekly.


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