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The Three-legged Stool

Wanted: Enemy to Justify $344 Billion War Budget

By John Q. Garside
8 October 2001

On September 8 there was a spoof ad on --

Wanted: Enemy to Justify $344 Billion War Budget

Three days later one might have expected to see --

Position Filled
But, all the gung ho rhetoric notwithstanding, is Afghanistan or Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network going to be sustainable as a proper $344 billion enemy?

As historian John Dower observed --

Americans seem prone to resent only one Asian nation at a time.
Triangular relations among the United States, Japan and China, which has often resembled a three-legged stool, confirms this insight.

After an adequate period of resentment of the Taleban; after underscoring US dominance in Central Asia, things will return to normal --

# The United States will go back to maintaining an equilibrium in Asia by ensuring that neither the China nor Japan legs became so tall as to throw the stool off balance.

# China will continue to fear Washington imperialism only less than that from Tokyo.But fear the Soft War -- the cultural war -- more than either.

# And Japan ... China's little Finland?

Japan - Geo-Strategy

Flaccid as a Big Girl's Blouse

After the attacks on September 11, Tokyo's hawks fumbled, then held on to the opportunity to change the law and enable the military to take a more active role.
However, there's only limp endorsement from the public --

67 % said they were in favor of helping the U.S. - depending on what Japan was asked to do.
The electorate remains blissfully uninterested in the geo-politics outside --

Two U.S. experts on China have noted that U.S. air surveillance of China had been conducted at Cold War intensity for a year before the recent spy-plane crash near China's Hainan Island. These flights operate out of Japan's Okinawan territory. Yet most Japanese genuinely believe their nation shows a friendly attitude to China and that if China gets angry that proves Chinese ill-will.

Taiwan's recent decision to allow close economic links with China also got minimal coverage. On the NHK news it was item No. 4, after the usual roundup of minor domestic scandals. Yet eventual rapprochement between Taiwan and China will not only undermine the current thrust of Japan's military alliance with the U.S., it will completely change the Asian balance of power, and not necessarily to Japan's advantage.

And there's some confusion about pacifism --

Japan says it is anti-nuclear and pro-disarmament, yet it automatically supports a U.S. that is pro-nuclear and anti-disarmament. It says it wants peace and stability in Asia. Yet it tacitly supports a U.S. missile strategy that upsets that stability by denying others the ability to retaliate in the face of arbitrary U.S. attacks.

Content to be America's lapdog, "our little buddy across the Pacific"--
"Japan is a puppet, a satellite country. Japan is too obedient to the US; too loyal politically, economically and in security affairs,"

Yasuhiko Yoshida, professor of international relations at Osaka University of Economy and Law told AFP.
The debate about Japan's pacifist constitution is out in the open.
Is the pacifist stance impotence or virility - a counterpoise to the US?
Can the lapdog growl, must it be muzzled or can Japan act as a mediator?
"As an exemplary member of the Asian community, Japan is the one country respected by all parties for its sense of fairness and commitment to peace,"

said Sardar Mohammed Ibrahim Khan, a former Pakistani army general who now serves as president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the Pakistan-controlled sector of the disputed territory.

Japan - Economy

Credulous or Stoic?

Surely not, as Time quoted a member of the Nixon cabinet,
"The Japanese are still fighting the war, only now instead of a shooting war it is an economic war. Their immediate intention is to try to dominate the Pacific and then perhaps the world,"

But rather, as PJ O'Rourke says,
"Japan has turned out to be --

a macroeconomic Pokémon craze"
Words like "structural reform" repeated endlessly are supposed to give everyone the warm feeling that recovery is around the corner even as it is clear that the economy is going down the tubes.
The economy is about to drop to number 3 in the world, behind the EU. Yet Japan seems to be unable to marshal the will to deal with its problems.
"It would be a miracle if this government were able to come up with a policy to deal with a [non-performing loans] problem it doesn't understand."
Alex Kerr writes in his cogent analysis of Japan's calamity, Dogs and Demons --
"Radical change will only come when conditions have grown completely intolerable -- and in Japan's case that day may never come"

To The Economist
"Mr Koizumi seems to be gently subsiding into Japan's familiar political quicksand.... Jun-chan” already seems a shadow of the man who led his party to victory in July".
US - Geo-Strategy

Faustian Hegemon or Hyperpower?
Both now in 2001 and at the time when John Foster Dulles did the deal-making that he felt he needed to do on the eve of the San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan --

U.S. objectives [in East Asia had] little to do with the self-defense of either the U.S. or Japan, and a lot to do with the promotion of Washington's perceived interests.

In America and the Japanese Miracle Forsberg addresses Washington’s post-war strategic objective of "keeping Japan on our side," he correctly points out, as Noam Chomsky and Gabriel Kolko did several years earlier, that the other side was not the Soviet Union or China, but simply a neutralism similar to that of Nehru in India.

Was Japan likely to, as Richard Nixon predicted (to the Chinese),
"either go with the Soviets or re-arm" ?
Whatever threat there was from Japan --

Economic - Japan As Number One : Lessons for America (Vogel)
Military - The Coming War With Japan (Friedman & LeBard)
is petering out.

In his book, The China Threat, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz foresees
"the very real possibility that China's rulers could make the same kind of catastrophic miscalculation that Japan's dictators did in attacking Pearl Harbor".

The China threat

"puts at risk the very national existence of the United States ... our country, by virtue of its wealth and power, is the leading force for freedom and democracy everywhere. Without this leadership, there is little hope of a better life for all mankind".

In California --

43 percent of respondents said the United States' relationship with China was more important than its relationship with Japan; 40 percent thought Japan was more important.
So, after 30 years of "here comes the Japanese bogeyman", it's China's turn to be sawn down to size ... preferably with Japanese help.

China - Geo-Strategy

Infected by Western Expansionism?

So is the threat real?

Will China, infected by the democratic and therefore aggressive virus, be able to absorb democracy yet reject expansionism?

In his book Another China (serialized recently by the LA Times), Francesco Sisci is forthright on the bogeyman scare --

The catch phrase for the next few years is to increase domestic consumption "through any means needed".
The West must be persuaded that China's growth is in its best interests, helping global growth. In this situation, is it so important for the US to be vigilant against possible Chinese attacks? And how vigilant should China be against possible US attacks?

China is aware that the decisive test for its future as a major power is not geopolitical or economic.
The battle is against the same formidable weapon used by the US to dismantle the "Evil Empire" -- the culture industry.

Seen in this light, China's goal -- increased domestic consumption -- is its only way to win the Soft War.
China - Economy

Psst ...wanna sweatshirt for that nanotech cell phone?

Japanese shrine visits, revisionist textbooks, trade spats ... notwithstanding,

Andy Xie, chief economist for Asia Pacific at Morgan Stanley, believes that (although neither is aware of it yet, and it may take a crisis for each to realise how powerful their common interests are) Japan and China are --

Asia's natural partners: economic integration and shared security goals [could result in] within as little as 10 years, China and Japan replacing the US as each other's most important trading partner. And will push China and Japan towards [being] fully fledged allies

The Americans do not dismiss this lightly --

A two-day conference, pulling together a handful of experts, to project what Japan would look like in the year 2020 envisaged 6 scenarios. The sixth, the least pleasant, was --

Finlandization - Japan will be so heavily under Chinese influence that it will be unable to implement any foreign or defence policy independently from China, as was the case with Finland vis-à-vis Soviet Russia during the Cold War era.

Washington must, despite itself, back off if it wants to avoid this scenario.

As Christopher Layne wrote in the Washington Post --

What could be better than being the sole superpower in a unipolar world? The answer usually given in Washington is "nothing." In the real world, however, this unilateral dominance--what political scientists call hegemony--is self-defeating. In the first place, hegemony cannot be sustained. Secondly, attempts to do so may ultimately prove more harmful than beneficial to American interests.

As William Pfaff wrote in the International Herald Tribune --

The question for both China and Japan is: What does the United States want, since it is the non-Asian actor in this situation? Being the foreign power, America must in the long term leave the region to them, and to the smaller political actors in Asia. They can see this, even if today's Washington cannot.

What the United States cannot reasonably want is to exercise permanent power in the Far East, against China's hostility, and eventually that of Japan, which sooner or later will shake off its subordination to the United States. However, that is a long-term consideration, and Washington deals in the short term.
Copyright © 2001 by John Q. Garside

John Q. Garside lives west of Tokyo, writes about Japan in general, and can also be found at and insite-tokyo. Let John know what you think, send him email at:

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