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Japanese Nationalism and U.S. Foreign Policy
[Opinion] America's future in the New Asia may be affected by Tokyo
Jae Young Lee (ohmyjoshua)     Print Article 
Published 2007-04-19 16:49 (KST)   
In February 2007, Richard L. Armitage and Joseph S. Nye, in their report, "Getting Asia Right Through 2020," (1) emphasized the necessity of upgrading the U.S.-Japan alliance.

In particular, the report touched on two positions. The first is the necessity of upgrading the U.S. and Japan alliance to maintain American involvement and interests in Asia. The second is the possibility that American dependence on the U.S.-Japan alliance beyond necessity may isolate both countries because of the political conflicts between Japan and China, and between Japan and Korea, in connection with Japan's past wrongdoings

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This report, although it supports the first standpoint, has little concern for the second one because it is based on the belief that the U.S. and Japan will remain the world's largest economies on the basis of their common interests and values, and that their alliance could advance in a way that embraces China and Korea.(1) However, it seems that some lawmakers in the U.S. could not simply agree with the report on this point. They seem to consider that the alliance could fail in Asia unless the U.S. takes some action toward Japan right now.

Some U.S. lawmakers have started to openly criticize Japan's attitude in dealing with controversial issues with its neighboring countries. Last year, during a Sept. 14 hearing entitled "Japan's Relations with Her Neighbors: Back to the Future?," the House International Relations Committee raised the concern that the history of Japan's war-time atrocities is putting U.S. interests in Asia in serious danger. This concern finally led the U.S. to take specific measures.

The U.S. Congress last year attempted to approve an initial non-binding resolution urging Japan to admit its responsibility and educate people about its war-time atrocities and crimes, but failed in the face of the Japanese government and its Washington lobbyists. The Congress again presented another resolution bill requesting Japan to formally apologize for sex slavery issues and to acknowledge its involvement.(2) Furthermore, the U.S. State Department recently used straightforward words to criticize Japan's attitude toward dealing with sex slavery issues, words which may have been regarded as too severe to direct at one of its cherished allies.(3) What prompted the U.S. to bring change in its attitude toward Japan? Of many possible reasons, one main reason can explain it: the "New Asia."

A new Asia is emerging. The major forces shaping the new Asia come from Asian economic integration and China's rise. Although it seems that the institutionalization of the Asian regional integration has dragged on so far (4), as the East Asian economy continuously expands, it should be admitted that economic integration between the ASEAN countries and the northeast Asian countries such as China, South Korea and Japan does not remain as a goal, but is taking shape as a "de facto reality."(5)

Because the U.S. has been involved in the Asian region, providing for an enormous market for products and supplying new technologies (6), this landscape may cause the U.S. to fear or at least engender a sense of American isolation in the Asian economy.(7) This also possibly means that America's political influence in Asia may gradually wane in times to come. In light of this situation, Japan's role in their alliance should come to the fore and occupy a more critical position than it presently does in America's economic and foreign policy toward Asia.

Furthermore, China, backed up by the leap-frog growth of its economy, is believed to be reshaping the Asian regional order, which has been under American control since the end of World War II.(8) Armitage and Nye maintain that the cooperative relationships among the major countries in Asia are critical to their proposed goal of maintaining U.S. interests based on regional stability. So they advise that the U.S. not attempt to contain China because, unlike it did to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it could prompt China's regional neighbors to remain in neutrality or to side with China. This possible bipolar structure, with the U.S. and Japan confronting China and its neighboring countries, instead of maintaining cooperative relationships, could drive the region back into a Cold War era that is not consistent with regional stability or U.S. interests.(9)

However, even though the U.S. could adopt such wise behavior, its effort could be undermined by a significant outside factor. The new challenge to the U.S. now seems to be its closest partner in Asia, Japan. Specifically, the problem is Japanese nationalism, which has been provoking China and South Korea. South Korea is one the U.S.'s traditional Asian allies. Japan is being intransigent on sensitive issues such as history text books, wartime sex slavery, Yasukuni shrine visits, and territorial disputes.

In this way, first of all, Japanese nationalism has, in effect, damaged diplomatic relationships between China and Japan, thus intensifying tension and hindering the formation of cooperative relationships between the U.S., Japan and China. Furthermore, it also has seriously hampered Japan's relationship with South Korea, and prompted South Korea to stay closer to China when addressing Japan. Japanese nationalism, therefore, may invite the risk that cooperative relationships fail to stand, possibly leading to the loss of U.S. strategic interests in Asia.

The source of sustained Japanese nationalism is the nationalist factors that are significantly affecting Japanese society and the political mechanism because of the control and constitution of the Liberal Democratic Party.(10) Junichiro Koizumi, the former Japanese prime minister, could win September's general election not because his privatization and deregulation policy succeeded, but because his pursuit of nationalism was politically popular.(11)

As for Abe, Koizumi's successor, the most critical requirement for avoiding lame duck syndrome is to sustain public support on a high level in order to keep his members in his control. As he inherited a substantial share of public support from Koizumi, it is somewhat questionable whether he can continuously preserve this public support on his own.(12) It is most likely that he will follow Koizumi's steps into nationalistic politics.

As acknowledged in the report presented by Nye and Armitage, Japan has failed to achieve political status commensurate with its economic and security contribution to Asia because of its insistence on nationalism and intransigence when handling its past issues. Could Japan be encouraged to drop its nationalist policies in exchange for a higher political status that it considers just? For example, is it imaginable that Japan could make a deal for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council by adopting the German model to resolve its past? (13)

The advocates of nationalism, Japanese right-wingers, are most likely to view their yielding to China and South Korea as a humiliation. For them, this sense of humiliation seems to outweigh any consideration of national interests.(14) It is very unlikely that Japanese nationalism could be diluted easily. This seems to have left the U.S. nervous, with no choice but to take those actions on its governmental and congressional level toward Japan.

Japan has expressed concerns over these U.S. actions mentioned above in relation to the risk of harming their alliance because Japan cherishes its alliance with the United States. It seems that Japan has relied on its close relationship with the U.S. to expand its political influence in Asia. But, the new Asian reality has arrived, in which the U.S. should turn to Japan more than before. Or, can the U.S. even do this? Japan should be aware of the current reality and should respond reasonably to America's call. Japan's reaction to the U.S. could show whether Japan will remain a sincere and trustworthy partner or a heavy burden for the U.S. in the new Asia.

(1) Richard L. Armitage and Joseph S. Nye, The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Getting Asian Right through 2020, Center for Strategic and Int'l Studies (2007).
(2) U.S. likely to pass sex slave bill this month
(3) US urges JP to deal with more forthrightly sex slave issue (IHT).
(4) Christine P. Brown, Northeast Asian Integration: The U.S. Perspective, Pacific Forum CSIS (2005).
(5), (6), (7) Center for Strategic and Int'l Studies, East Asian Integration and U.S.-Japan Relations, Executive Summary (2006).
(8) Drew Thompson, the Future of the U.S. in East Asia: Integrating China
(9) Richard L. Armitage and Joseph S. Nye, The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Getting Asia Right through 2020, (2007).
(10) Allen Chen, a Grand Bargain for Japan and Northeast Asia, Pacific Forum CSIS (2005)
(11) As China rises, so does Japanese nationalism (Guardian)
(12) Center for Strategic and Int'l Studies, An Uncertain Future for Japan's New Prime Minister, (2006)
(13), (14) Allen Chen, a Grand Bargain for Japan and Northeast Asia, Pacific Forum CSIS (2005).
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Jae Young Lee

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