January 8, 1999

(crosspost from H-US-Japan)


Published by H-US-Japan@h-net.msu.edu (January 1999)

Susan Maybaumwisniewski and Mary Sommerville ed. _Blue Horizon: United States-Japan-PRC Tripartite Relations_. Washington D.C.: National Defense University, 1997. xv + 203 pp. Bibliographical references. ISBN 1-57906-038-2.

Reviewed for H-US-Japan by Jing Zhao , US-Japan-China Comparative Policy Research Institute, San Jose, USA

"How Should We Integrate China's Emergence as a Potential Superpower?"

According to the Press Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA) on November 26, 1998, the history of Sino-Japanese relations with Taiwan was the main topic of the summit meeting between President Jiang Zemin of the People's Republic of China and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi of Japan. Jiang reiterated that the issue of Taiwan pertained to China's sovereignty, and emphasized the importance of Japan's abidance the Joint Communiqu牢of 1972. He also referred to the Japan-U.S. security cooperation saying, again, that the focus should be Taiwan. To include Taiwan in the Japan-U.S. security cooperation, in particular the Japan-U.S. Guidelines for Defense Cooperation, would be an interference in the domestic affairs of China.

The Japanese government's response was nothing new for China. They had no other choice, Japan argued: just before Jiang's arrival, the U.S. President visited Tokyo, and the U.S. Defense Department issued its "East Asia Strategy Report," in a revised version, which clearly stated that China afforded challenges.

The book under review is a collection from the U.S. National Defense University's 1996 Pacific Symposium "U.S.-Japan-PRC Tripartite Relations: Foundations for a Stable Community?" Though the specific objective of the symposium and the goal of the book are "to better understand how these three nations might influence the future in the Asian-Pacific region," regretfully there is not a single article dealing mainly with Japan. No article deals specifically with the U.S. either, though most authors in the book develop their discussion with the U.S.'s China and Japan policy as a precondition. This reflects the fact that Japan is the smallest player among the three powers. Voices directly from Japan, however, especially those other than the Japanese government (which follows the U.S.) -- such as Asahi Shinbum's Yoichi Funabashi or Meijigakuin University's Motofumi Asai -- should be given a hearing.

As a conference collection, the level and relevance of the articles in this book vary. It includes good reviews of Sino-European relations (David Shambaugh), and of Russia's security and economic interests in the Asian-Pacific region (Yevgeniy Afanasyev, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs). It also contains tedious lectures and a statistical report (Bilver Singh, Akio Watanabe, and Frank Ching). Among many "facts" listed in Singh's article, for instance, one is that "economic power cannot earn a country international respect, as the Japanese discovered the limits of their 'checkbook diplomacy' in the Gulf War" (p. 99). It would have been better had Singh specified which Japanese and what kind of "international respect" he means. Many Japanese, and many international societies, also believe that Japan could earn international respect if its government dared refuse to pay the check for that war.

Citing mainly from China's official statements (Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zeming, Li Peng and _Beijing Review_), Xinbo Wu's "China as a cooperative power" offers a defensive Chinese view. For example, "the [Weapons of Mass Destruction] regime does not prohibit sale of advanced manned-aircraft capable of delivering WMD, such as F-15s and F-16s, which are produced by the United States and its allies. According to the regime, what China can produce [missiles] is prohibited from exporting, while what it cannot manufacture can be sold" (p. 126). While China's foreign policy is still strictly dominated by the central regime, voices from ordinary people have been reflected in the government (for example, concerning Japan's war reparations). Even some passionate nationalistic statements have appeared in the media. One 1996 best-seller declared: "China will never be led by other powers. The U.S. should better lead itself only. Japan cannot even lead itself."

The "WE" view expressed from several U.S. strategists is the most valuable part of this book. Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt's keynote address suggests a "balance of interests" approach among the three powers to "accommodate the interests of all the players without conflict." To achieve this "equilibrium," among other suggestions, McDevitt proposes maintaining a continued strong "by-invitation" U.S. military presence in the region, and allowing "an adequate" Japanese Defense Force capable of defending its own territorial integrity and "close to being able to defend air and sea lane out to 1,000 miles from the home islands" (p. 7). As for China, he suggests "WE" satisfy China's interest "to be taken seriously and receive the accord expected of a Great Power" (p. 7). However, China may not have such an interest (for example, during the WTO negotiation process).

Following the same line, James Kelly discusses integrating China through the use of multilateral structure and mechanisms, with the condition that "forward deployed American military and naval forces must continue to be the heart of its political and security strategy in East Asia" (p. 49). Ralph Cossa's short piece compares the military capabilities of the three powers. He asserts that Japan "is not a threat to anyone and is not likely to become one anytime soon, provided the U.S.-Japan alliance remains intact" (p. 52). He also stresses Japan's more active role in regional and global defense arrangements should not be seen as threatening to anyone, especially if done "within the framework of the U.S.-Japan alliance" (p. 56). This pushing of Japan's armament policy has puzzled this book reviewer for years since the end of the so-called "Cold War." Does the U.S. not know that a militarized Japan will be isolated from Asian people? The U.S. does know that an isolated Japan will be more dependent on the U.S. Obuchi feels this: when Jiang "[spoke] frankly in the interests of the future," he could not offer any rebuttal.

Nancy Tucker continues this integrating theme with a discussion of a specific topic involving the three powers: the Taiwan question. Actually, the Taiwan question is the core issue of the Sino-American relations, the Sino-Japanese relations, and the tripartite interactions. Many U.S. analysts like to develop their discussion based on the current image of "democratic Taiwan vs. authoritative China," as many did with the frame of "free China vs. Communist China" in the so-called Cold War time. However, nobody can avoid the historical linkage: where does the Taiwan question come from? For this reason, Tucker does not illustrate a clear-cut policy, nor does the U.S. government.

According to this how-should-we-integrate-China theme, the U.S. is a veteran power player, skillful in handling international affairs, while China is a newly rising power. Thus, in order to avoid a vital confrontation (as that brought about by Germany and Japan), the U.S. should teach China to follow the rules. Seen otherwise, China -- having a thousand years experience as a great power, if not THE great power (while the U.S. has only decades of experience)--, is still a country with a clear vision, and enough wisdom to implement its foreign policy, with the U.S and Japan as its first and second priorities. What China lacks is the means (i.e., the power) to realize its goals.

Since China's "Reform and Openness" policy, many Chinese youths have studied in the U.S., Japan, and Europe (thousands of them have obtained Ph. D's), but how many U.S. and Japan's China specialists can speak fluent Chinese? When Hosokawa, Japan's Prime Minister, visited China, MOFA could not even provide a qualified translator for him (the woman translator assigned by the Chinese government intentionally mistranslated some politically sensitive words). It is obvious who knows whom better. If we assume that 20% of Chinese can read English and 10% of Chinese can read Japanese, then the tripartite theme might be changed to: how should WE integrate the U.S. and Japan? This would not be more ridiculous than the theme of the book.

Certainly, there is no guarantee that China will emerge as a superpower. Many inside reports indicate that China is facing a more serious systematic crisis than it had before 1989. The key factor, i.e., China's democratization, is vital not only to the country's dynamic development but also to future interactions in the region. This book does not offer such a depthful exploration of whether China will emerge as a superpower. This is not a criticism of the book, because the theme of U.S.-Japan-China tripartite relations is so complex. Rather, for the purpose of the long-term peace and prosperity in the region, this book offers a valuable beginning.

Copyright (c) 1999 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact H-Net@h-net.msu.edu.

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