What the United States can learn from Japan to counter the rise of China

In mid-March, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel to Japan and South Korea at the end of the month – and this will be the first international trip for Joe Biden administration officials.

Among the main topics on the table will be strengthening alliances with the two Asian countries, efforts to denuclearize North Korea, and perhaps also the Chinese file: Blinken himself in recent weeks. He knew The relationship with Beijing as “the greatest geopolitical test of the twenty-first century,” and that this challenge must be met with “allies and partners.”

In recent years, when the United States led by Donald Trump reshaped its relations with several allied nations, Japan established itself as a forward center of international liberalism in Asia. It is not just the rhetoric of an economic power or a political force. In a sense, Tokyo has replaced Washington in the Pacific region while awaiting a change in the White House: With Shinzo Abe as president, Japan has promoted liberal values ​​in the commercial, legislative, and security spheres. I contributed to the development of the idea of ​​a free and open world in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, based on the principles of the rule of law, freedom of navigation and free enterprise.

He published a long article on the role of Japan in this quarter of the world Foreign affairsSigned by Zhang Qi (Reporter from Shanghai).

In his analysis, the author recalls how in 2019, at the G20 summit in Osaka, Abe made a major contribution to international standards of digital governance by engaging in conflict with the Chinese vision of so-called cyber-sovereignty, and defining the future. Data can flow freely and safely across national borders.

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But not only this: Tokyo has also deepened ties with its neighbors, expanded multilateral initiatives, and “with a combination of good timing, leadership and innovation, the island nation has proven not only a reliable partner of the United States and its allies, but as the architect of the emerging liberal order in the region,” he writes. Zhang Chi.

Japan’s recent rise as a guarantor of freedoms in the region – albeit overshadowed by more media rhetoric from the Chinese government and North Korea’s provocations – could become a useful foreign policy tool for the United States: Tokyo has become a cornerstone of restoring American credibility in Asia.

Only by consolidating ties with its old Asian ally and cooperating in multilateral efforts – as stated in the article – can the United States repair its damaged reputation in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and regain a foothold in the future of the region. Also because in the meantime Trump has undermined Washington’s position and Biden will have to. Repair parts ».

The history of the Pacific Archipelago in the second half of the twentieth century can be imagined as a straight line that starts at a very low point and represents a steady upward growth. In the early years after World War II, Japan remained a peripheral figure in foreign policy. Above all is the error of postwar treaty obligations, with a never proactive role, in what has been renamed “karaoke diplomacy”: the term used to denote Tokyo is forced to sing to the tune chosen by Washington.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the rise began to make Japan the second largest economy in the world. Thus in the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and participation in the first Gulf War, Washington was quickly convinced to grant its ally the role of guarantor of security in Asia, at least in its region.

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Then in the first decade of the new century, the music changed again, says Zhang Qi of Foreign Affairs: “The new nationalist policy led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later strengthened Japan and strengthened its capabilities. The executive branch of government is at the expense of the country’s powerful bureaucracies. Finally, in 2015, Parliament approved a law that would reinterpret the constitution to allow the country’s military to engage in collective self-defense under the UN Charter.

From 2017 onwards, the shape of Japan as the outpost of the liberal world in Asia should take into account Donald Trump’s out-of-the-box decisions. The former US president withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the agreement his predecessor Barack Obama wanted, leaving a void behind. Washington’s disengagement paved the way in Tokyo, which managed to salvage the agreement by persuading the remaining states to go ahead with a new version of the treaty: it is now the “Global and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty” (CPPTP).

The new agreement laid down new rules on trade, intellectual property and data management, all in stark contrast to China’s illiberal view. Biden himself has already declared that his administration is interested in joining the CPTPP – even if it is not a given today that he will enter the agreement: if he does, he will demonstrate the intention to bring the United States back. In the international liberal trading system of which Japan has become not only a symbol, but also the backbone.

With a foreign policy strategy based on transparency, environmental sustainability and responsibility, the Japanese program stands in stark contrast to China’s more ambiguous Belt and Road initiative. So, while Beijing’s financing efforts also produced negative image returns, the Tokyo strategy always appears to translate into real confidence: in a 2019 survey commissioned by the Japanese Foreign Ministry, more than 90% of respondents are in the ten countries that make up the Southeastern League. Asian countries described Japan as a “friend” and “trustworthy,” according to Foreign Affairs.

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Now after four years with Trump at the White House in Asia, the United States is not necessarily seen as the main defender of the liberal order. The Biden administration should start here: It will take a more discreet approach to international relations, in an effort to restore the credibility and leadership of the United States. In the Pacific region, it will try to strengthen relations with Japan and coordinate its multilateral regional initiatives.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, a political follower of Abe who took office in September, has made it clear that he intends to continue following his predecessor. Then, as Zhang Qi suggests in his article, “The United States will have to do something it has not used in foreign policy: to take a cue from another country. But after the past four years it appears to be a necessary choice. The Indo-Pacific karaoke room is still open to Americans. “But now Japan is choosing the song.”

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