Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Changing U.S.-China Relationship and Japan's National Security
Magosaki Ukeru / Professor, National Defense Academy

March 17, 2005
Security issues surrounding China have rapidly become an important agenda in international politics. These include frictions between the United States and the European Union over the latter's sale of weapons to China, expressions of concern by Japan and the U.S. over China's military buildup, strengthening of U.S. relations with Taiwan, and heightened activity by the Chinese Navy. Why have tensions suddenly flared up? China has always signaled the possibility of military action against Taiwan's independence. The rise in its defense budget has been prominent over the past few years. However, while creating cause for concern in the East Asian region, this was not an important issue for some time. Why is it now a problem?

In general, changing situations in a certain region are due to causes within that region. However, when a regional situation becomes an important agenda for international politics, other factors come into play. Often, it is the changing national interests and perception on the part of the foremost super power at the time -- the United States, in today's context. And this is the phenomenon currently at work with regard to China.

There are three courses of action in terms of recent U.S. policy towards China. The first is to focus on China's economic development and promote relations in this area as a means for cultivating democracy and market economy in the country. The second is to focus on the military aspects and recognize China as a strategic challenger. And the third is to assess relations based on other important diplomatic and national defense issues at the time. President Bill Clinton's administration clearly followed the first course, at times placing China above Japan in terms of importance and pursuing diplomacy aimed at solidifying relations with China. At the time President George Bush assumed power, there was a fair possibility his administration would take the second course. However, in the wake of the simultaneous terrorist attacks, war on terrorism and attack on Iraq became the top priority agenda for U.S. national security and diplomacy, and relationships with other countries were assessed solely from this perspective. The times required dealing with the United Nations Security Council, and the second course of action retreated to the background. The United States thus sought to check and restrain any moves for an independent Taiwan as a factor that may cause its relationship with China to deteriorate.

In the second term of the Bush administration, Iraq remains a serious agenda, though the issue is centered on Iraq's internal security and Chinese involvement is unlikely. Thus U.S. policy towards China can be separated from Iraq. Within this context, the perception of China as strategic challenger gains momentum. And what would be the consequences on North Korea, another important foreign policy issue? The United States wants to use the Chinese card in making North Korea scrap its nuclear weapons program. However, while the United States seeks the collapse of the Kim Jong-il regime, China seeks stability on the Korean Peninsula, which suggests a different course of action for the two countries.

The United States will not allow China to take military action against Taiwan or enhance its strategic balance against the United States. It will respond with military action and take retaliatory measures in the economic and political arenas as well. Furthermore, it will require its allies to follow suit. Therefore, Chinese military action against Taiwan or efforts to strike a strategic balance with the United States would not only prove a near-impossibility, but also cause harm in other areas and consequently work against China's national interests. Unfortunately however, the current Communist Party of China is unable to adopt such a standpoint due to domestic reasons. Rather, China is moving in the opposite direction by challenging the United States. The "Anti-Secession Law," which endorses military action against Taiwan, is a typical example of this stance.

Such developments naturally cast an influence on Japan's relationship with the United States, its national security policy and its relationship with China. In its National Defense Program Outline issued in December, Japan recognized the need to closely monitor China with regard to its missile capabilities, the modernization of its sea and air powers, and its maritime activities. China was also the main theme at the Japan-U.S. ministerial meeting on security held in February. For the time being, responding to China's military threat has thus become a major agenda for the Far East region.

Japan has been pursuing a contradictory policy towards China, seeking to strengthen economic relations while raising the tone of confrontation on national security issues. However, given the change in U.S. policy, the basic direction of Japan-China relations will be dictated by political and security issues. In the past, political friction between Japan and China concerned the handling historical issues. In future, national security will come to the fore. We should brace ourselves for tougher days to come.

The writer is Professor at Japan's National Defense Academy and former Japanese Ambassador to Iran.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

孫崎 享 / 防衛大教授

2005年 3月 17日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Changing U.S.-China Relationship and Japan's National Security