Mr. Abe goes to Wash­ing­ton

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

On April 29, Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe will ad­dress a joint ses­sion of the United States Congress. The Ja­pan-US al­liance is now 63 years old, but this will be the first time that a Ja­panese leader will be ac­corded this high hon­our from the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment and peo­ple.

Abe’s visit to the US comes at a time when fric­tion be­tween the two coun­tries is at an all-time low. The trade and eco­nomic dis­putes that in­cited ten­sions – and a sub­genre of para­noid movies about Ja­pan – in the 1980s, when nine mem­bers of Congress even smashed a Toshiba ra­dio with sledge­ham­mers, rarely make an ap­pear­ance nowa­days.

Those past dis­putes prob­a­bly ex­plain why for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Ya­suhiro Naka­sone, though a po­lit­i­cal soul mate of thenPres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan, was never in­vited to ad­dress a joint ses­sion of Congress. To­day, how­ever, the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship is very dif­fer­ent. Ja­pan’s eco­nomic in­ter­ests are more closely aligned with Amer­ica’s – the coun­try is poised to join the US-ini­ti­ated Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, which will cre­ate a vast free-trade zone among a dozen Pa­cific Rim coun­tries – and the two sides’ strate­gic vi­sions for Asia are in near-har­mony.

More­over, the long-sim­mer­ing dis­pute over the US Marine Corps base on Ok­i­nawa, which had roiled bi­lat­eral re­la­tions dur­ing the years the Demo­cratic Party of Ja­pan was in power, has been set­tled am­i­ca­bly, with the US agree­ing to move the base to a less pop­u­lated part of the is­land. Of course, some Ok­i­nawa res­i­dents re­main op­posed to the US base’s con­tin­ued pres­ence on their is­land, but most Ja­panese recog­nise the need for this tan­gi­ble sym­bol of their al­liance with Amer­ica, which re­mains the bedrock of Ja­pan’s na­tional-se­cu­rity strat­egy.

The two sides’ in­creas­ingly sim­i­lar views on in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues as well, par­tic­u­larly where China is con­cerned, no doubt also con­trib­uted to the de­ci­sion by the US Congress and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion to hon­our Abe. Both Abe and Obama are fo­cused on cre­at­ing a durable struc­ture of peace for all of Asia, and Abe has been ea­ger for Ja­pan to play a more ac­tive role in this re­gard, and in sup­port­ing its al­lies. That stance is mak­ing the al­liance much more a part­ner­ship of equals than it has been for the last six decades.

In Amer­ica’s view, the rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of Ar­ti­cle 9 of Ja­pan’s “peace con­sti­tu­tion” that Abe un­der­took – thereby al­low­ing Ja­pan’s self-de­fense forces to aid al­lies un­der attack and to as­sist the US and other al­lies in meet­ing their com­mit­ments to se­cur­ing Asia’s peace – was long over­due. That bold pol­icy ini­tia­tive – in the face of the Ja­panese public’s deeply in­grained skep­ti­cism to­ward any in­creased ex­po­sure to mil­i­tary risks – has no doubt en­deared Abe to US diplo­mats and mil­i­tary strate­gists, as well as se­cured both open and some­times tacit ap­proval from Ja­pan’s Asian neigh­bours.

In­creased mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion with the US is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant now, given Amer­i­can wor­ries about many of its other strate­gic part­ners’ readi­ness. Even the United King­dom, long seen as Amer­ica’s clos­est ally, now seems in­tent on un­der­min­ing its abil­ity to work co­op­er­a­tively with the US in times of cri­sis, even in meet­ing its NATO com­mit­ments, be­cause of se­vere cuts to its mil­i­tary bud­get. Other al­lies are also in­creas­ingly re­garded in the US as free rid­ers on Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary might.

Abe’s com­mit­ment to the rules and in­sti­tu­tions of the post-1945 world or­der, which helped bring Ja­pan out of the ru­ins of World War II and has al­lowed China to rise so peace­fully, gives the US an­other rea­son to hon­our him. Like the US, Ja­pan has many con­cerns about the par­al­lel in­sti­tu­tions – in­clud­ing the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank and the BRICS coun­tries’ New Devel­op­ment Bank – that China is cre­at­ing.

Hav­ing ben­e­fited so much from the post­war global or­der, most Ja­panese share Abe’s view that China’s ef­forts to re­place it with one more to its lik­ing is both un­wise and danger­ous for Asia. In­deed, coun­tries that have de­cided to co­op­er­ate with China in cre­at­ing ri­val mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions should ask them­selves a sim­ple ques­tion: Would a world or­der de­signed by China al­low for the rise of an­other power to chal­lenge it in the way the US-led world or­der al­lowed for – in­deed, en­cour­aged and as­sisted – China’s three-decade-long boom?

To an­swer that ques­tion, one can look to the writ­ings of the Chi­nese strate­gist Yan Xue­tong, whose book An­cient Chi­nese Thought/Mod­ern Chi­nese Power ar­gues that all coun­tries must rec­og­nize and ac­cept China’s cen­tral­ity to the world as the Mid­dle King­dom. More­over, China has thus far shown lit­tle in­ter­est in dis­cussing the stan­dards by which the mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions it has launched will be gov­erned – or, in­deed, the ex­tent to which they will be truly mul­ti­lat­eral.

Abe’s visit to the US thus comes at a mo­ment of clar­ity in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. Both coun­tries seek to cre­ate a vi­able struc­ture of peace for Asia, one that al­lows China to con­tinue to grow and pros­per, but that pre­vents any one coun­try from claim­ing hege­mony. And both favour a rules-based Asian trad­ing or­der that re­in­forces the global norms that have served the world so well since WWII’s end. In hon­our­ing Abe with an ad­dress to Congress, the US is re­ally hon­our­ing the val­ues and vi­sion that both coun­tries share.

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