Is the US to blame for fomenting the China-Japan feud?

This article, brought to my attention by a commenter below, says that’s exactly what’s happening. And the writer makes a damned interesting case for it.

I’m not ready to buy it hook, line and sinker (yet) because this has been a smoldering feud for many decades, periodically turning into a full-scale conflagration. But the writer raises some alarming points (if they are all accurate).

While history does play a role in all this [the feud], if one wants to understand the antagonism between Beijing and Tokyo, one has to start in Washington and, in particular, Washington state. In mid-April of this year, the Japanese government agreed to let the US Army’s 1st Corps transfer from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Camp Zama near Yokohama.

US troops in Japan are nothing new. Some 50,000 of them are spread among 73 bases on the main islands and Okinawa, and the Japanese shell out US$2.6 billion yearly to keep them there. But American troops in Japan, according to the US-Japan security treaty, are supposed to maintain “peace and security in the Far East”. Period. However, the 1st Corps’ responsibility extends beyond the Pacific Basin to include the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, through which passes the bulk of the oil that supplies China’s roaring economy.

Besides the recent decision to re-deploy the 1st Corps, the US is busily building up Guam as a “power projection hub”, with, in the words of Pacific Commander Admiral William Fargo, “geostrategic importance”. The US is also trying to shift Guam-based bombers to Yokota airbase near Tokyo. Christopher Hughes of Warwick University, an expert on the region, told the (British) Guardian, “The ramifications of this would be that Japan would essentially serve as a frontline US command post for the Asia-Pacific and beyond.”

That “frontline” is heating up considerably. Earlier this year Central Intelligence Agency director Porter Goss and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress that China constitutes a “military threat” to the US. The testimony appears to signal a decision by the George W Bush administration to institute a policy of “encircling” China with bases and US alliances. The most obvious moves in this direction are the recent ones involving beefing up personnel and bases in Asia. But the US has also tightened its control of Gulf oil through its occupation of Iraq and is extending its influence into Central Asia, a growing source for China’s energy needs.

The Chinese are acutely sensitive to issues concerning their borders, and Taiwan in particular, but what has really put them on edge is a recent statement by the right-wing mayor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, that “the US, Russia and Japan” should work together to strangle China’s oil supplies. “It would keep China in check greatly,” he said, “since China has no resources.”

I wanted to think the “China threat” mentality was a thing of the past. Clinton was a huge proponent of warmer relations with China, and Bush has seemed to be continuing in his footsteps, though he’s had to pay lip service to his foaming-at-the-mouth far-right colleagues who still call the PRC “Red China.” Have we really gone so far in the opposite direction? Are actively attempting to contain and limit China?

If I lived in China and I read this article, I’d be scared out of my wits. And I’d be wary of the United States. This argument stands in stark contrast with the one put forward by Orville Schell in the post below, saying much of China’s “paranoia” is well justified.

Interesting juxtaposition; who’s right?

The Discussion: 33 Comments

Both. It’s never that black and white. !

June 6, 2005 @ 2:27 pm | Comment

That’s pretty much where I stand on so many things having to do with China. But it sounds so mealy-mouthed to say “they’re both right.” ๐Ÿ™‚

June 6, 2005 @ 2:28 pm | Comment

I should point out, that Shintaro Ishihara is full of shit. I got a good chuckle out of reading that last paragraph, the writer of the Atimes article should be a bit more warry about taking statements at face value. Ishihara’s comment follows in line with his other well known public statements, flat out stupid. Firstly Japan’s relations with Russia as of now are not exactly on friendly terms. The Khurile islands are a major issue that divide Japan and Russia, and Ishihara is certainly of the school of thought to aggressively pursue their return, something that the Russians are not going to do. How Ishihara expects the Russians to cooperate with his fevered dreams to neuter China when he is consistantly anti-Russian is beyond me.

Secondly the recent trend in the emphasis of the relationship between Japan and the United States is overlooking a critical factor. The closeness is an alliance of conveniance only and will not last. U.S.-Japan relations, while buddy-buddy now, will not neccessarily remain so for a number of simple reasons. Japan’s political climate, presently focused on China and North Korea, is anti-American on both left and right. Speaking of victim mentalities, the Left complains about the atomic bombings and Japan paying the bill for what essentially is a continued 60 year long military occupation. The Right chaffes at being the subordinate partner of the U.S.-Japan security arrangement and are keen to restore their place in the sun so to speak. Logical consistancy is not in Ishihara’s lexicon apparently, particularly considering his blatantly anti-U.S. sentiments expressed in the past. (I’m fondly recalling his outrage when he described as a boy a occupation GI taking his candy) That Japan has aligned itself more closely to the U.S. at present is not some grand realignment but rather where an area of mutual concern forces their cooperation. The U.S. likewise, assuming a power-maximizing situation where it seeks to dissallow any political rivals from emerging in Asia will aid Japan in “containing” China, but only to a certain degree. Remember if you will the antagonistic attitudes between Japan and America during the 80’s. The objectives of the American and Japanese rights are mutually exclusive.

June 6, 2005 @ 3:11 pm | Comment

I remember about a month ago when I went to Japan and expressed concern about alienating people because I was American and the States wasn’t enjoying very good PR. To which my girlfriend replied – don’t worry, Japan is the most Pro-american country out there.

I understand what you’re saying Jing, and I know a lot of it is very correct. But Japan is still one of the biggest proponents of the States, and I think it will most likely continue to be pretty amicable. My girlfriend hates the GI’s as much as anyone but is quick to point out that she loves the US. She seems to think that she’s in the majority.

I also think you’re overlooking some cultural exchange that has occurred. Baseball diplomacy?

Finally – the antagonism of the 80’s probably brought Japan and the States closer than they would have become otherwise, culturally and economically.

Anyway, I guess my point is that I don’t think the relationship is so cold as you’ve described it. I felt really at home in Japan in a lot of ways – lots of things were really familiar – both from Japanese origin and adopted American culture.

Shintaro is ridiculous.

Richard – yes, to say, “well, it’s both” all the time can be mealy mouthed – but it can also allow for a lot more nuanced analysis, where hardline approaches can’t afford it. Hence: Reality based community.

June 6, 2005 @ 4:50 pm | Comment

I, too, read Jing’s comment with some bewilderment. Every country has gripes and hostile feelings toward America (and toward just about every other country as well –
let’s face it). But Japan and the US have enjoyed a relatively stable and cordial relationship for more than a half-century, despite some bumps in the 1980s, when America got hysterical and everyone was predicting Japan was about to take over the world — a healthy reminder about how stupid we all can be. I really can’t think of a stronger and mututally beneficial alliance. To say matter-of-factly that this friendship “will not last” verges on the bizarre. What will make it wither on the vine after 60 years? That would be counter to everyone’s self-interest.

June 6, 2005 @ 5:01 pm | Comment

Hi, richard, just to let you know, Chinese can easily find this kind of article in their newspapers, and indeed they are scared. The fact listed in the article is just a tip of iceberg. There are more evidences showing that at least pentagon is trying to encircle China(according to “Nelson report”, it seems secretary Rice is relatively moderate) , and Japan’s militaristic and imperialist idea (not power) hasn’t gone yet. I would say “they’re both right” too, which means these two conflicting views about China (engage or encircle China) coexist and will do in US policy. Only those who wanted to engage complain that Chinese feel like victims all the time because they just ignore or don’t know what people who want to encircle China have done.

June 6, 2005 @ 5:18 pm | Comment


“They’re both right” isn’t meant to reflect just the U.S. policy, but those in the CCP who are liberal or hardnosed as well! I’m sure the U.S. isn’t the only country with a complicated political landscape, and not everything is the U.S. fault, although god knows we contribute to just about every situation, good and bad, in the world today.

June 6, 2005 @ 5:43 pm | Comment

I agree with your comments, Laowai

By the way, more about that mayor of Tokyo, he is the guy advocating that Japan should firmly say “No” to US in early 90’s. Now it seems that he found that “sayNOtoChina” is much easier and he once said people from mainland, korean, taiwan are rotten apples in Japan and should be kicked out. What would you think if you found this kind of leader is constantly elected in Japan. Do you think Chinese have the right reason to be cautious about these developments in Japan? Hey, don’t stare at Chinese only, (“they are manipulated by the CCP.”) watch Korean too.

June 6, 2005 @ 6:22 pm | Comment

yeah, this guy does for Japan what Pauline Hansen does for Australia.

I think it’s safe to say that the more conservative elements often maintain the power that they have because they ARE conservative – that is, because they represent to the people that they will conserve something that other candidates won’t. At least in democracies. I’m not sure how it works in an autocracy, but within the CCP it’s probably the same sort of dynamics as countries experience nationally. So Japan must feel threatened on some level. I’m guessing at the moment it is less the U.S. and more China.

I don’t like how it’s moving though – the pentagon, the CIA, bush – Tokyo and China are all escalating the rhetoric. it needs to diffuse, not build up, because someone’s going to lose if it becomes a competition. so what can each side compromise on? and what would it take to compromise on each issue that there is out there?

June 6, 2005 @ 6:50 pm | Comment

There is currently a high level meeting going on between the United States and Vietnam…
I would not be surprised to see a military alliance, of sorts, in the very near future. There is no love lost between Vietnam and China and in their last little border skirmish Vietnam gave China a bloody nose (8000 dead in month)

June 6, 2005 @ 7:24 pm | Comment

Thereโ€™s an interesting article about how China is now back in U.S. sights as a competitor.

Hereโ€™s an excerpt:


How will China and the rest of Asia respond to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s blunt assertion that China’s military spending is a threat to regional security? This is the very stance that some of America’s friends in the region were hoping it would avoid. Only the day before, Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, warned that a policy of containing China would find few takers in the region.

China could probably see this coming. What Rumsfeld said in Singapore on Saturday simply restored a default setting of American foreign policy, at least under the Bush administration. Before 9/11 changed the world, Rumsfeld and other neoconservative hawks were busy fashioning a policy that cast rising China as America’s competitor. Now that the war on terror seems to be waning, there has been a noticeable shift in Washington back to considering China a threat to free trade and security.

June 6, 2005 @ 8:10 pm | Comment

I think you have to view international relations in a different light to understand what I’m hinting at. Relations between nations with serious political and economic interests are contests of power in an anarchic environment. All state actors will seek to essentially to maximize their influence while diminishing those of others, even potential allies. That is the underlying assumption, yet of course as always the devils are in the details.

That Japan has accepted the postwar situation thus far is because it has benefited them. The reason that relations between Japan and U.S. chilled wasn’t neccessarily simply because of American hysteria, but rather that Japan was beginning to question the benefits or even neccessity of the present security arrangement. One has to keep in mind the political developements of the time, the Cold War having been somewhat defanged by detante and the growing economic capabilities of Japan and the ensueing confidence hinted to many Japanese that the alliance was no longer neccessary. That U.S. military forces were an affront to the “dignity” and sovereignty of Japan. Japan, then as now, wanted to pursue a more “active” diplomacy. Unlike now, “active” meant an independent course of action not neccessarily aligned with U.S. interests. Thus all the bellicose expressions of possible Japanese menace within the U.S. However when Japan now stresses more “active” foreign relations, it falls in line with U.S. interests, thus Bush and Co laud the Japanese for being more well, more “active”. Coincidentally during the 80’s, Japan’s relations with China were at their best, not because of any great differences in how one viewed each other, but rather differences in priorities at the time.

Taking another cue from the present, consider if you will the U.S. and South Korean security relationship. It is definetly in a state of flux because it is plausible that the South Koreans have begun to re-evaluate the neccessity of of the relationship. It has brought them prosperity, security, and stability in the past, but in some perceptions both in Korea and the U.S. it could become a liability in the future. For the U.S. the relationship with South Korea already posses a problem with negotiations with the North. Having to take the interests of the South into consideration considerably limits the possible courses of action of the U.S. Likewise South Korea has begun to perceive that U.S. interests in the peninsula may not sit well with their own long term objectives of what a future Korea will entail.

I did not mean my original post to imply that relations between Japan and the U.S. were cold at present, far from it. However, I have to point out that political relationships, like most personal ones, are prickly and ephemeral at best. An ally at one moment, can be the enemy the next depending on how the currents flow. That Japan and the United States are in lock step at present is not neccessarily due to the solidity of or attachment towards the U.S. Japan security arrangement, but rather a convergance of mutual interests. As soon as those aforementioned interests diverge, expect friction. While many at present choose to wax lyrical about possible Chinese aspirations for Asian, nay global hegemony, there is an element of truth in this. While hegemony does not neccessarily mean PLA troops rampaging across the rest of Asia, it does mean that China wants more power. Power is an end in and of itself. The U.S. has it, it strives to keep it, others covet and want it. In this regard all states with any clout will pursue it, be it China or Japan.

June 6, 2005 @ 8:32 pm | Comment

I agree that the Japan-US link is a partnership of convenience, and would not last … except for the fact that China and North Korea are of mutual concern to both powers, and as long as they continue to be, the “convenience” of the alliance will also last.

The idea that the China “threat” is a myth is itself mythical. Japan, Taiwan, both North and South Korea, Vietnam, India, Russia, Mongolia … all of them have reason to be nervous about China’s “peaceful rise”. It’s not that China is being encircled by some shadowy anti-China alliance … it’s simply that all China’s neighbours have good reason to be concerned. If all these countries started increasing their military budgets by the amount China has been doing every year since the early 90s … then we’d have a full-blown arms race going on. On the other hand, is it wise to sit back and NOT increase your military spending when a large regional power IS? China doesn’t have to be a threatening power just because it’s China … but the fact is that the way China is moving, it would be foolish in the extreme for policy makers in neighbouring governments not to take precautions.

June 6, 2005 @ 8:34 pm | Comment

Surely the apocalypse is nigh. I find myself agreeing more and more with the filthy stinking one. ๐Ÿ™‚

I guess my political metamorphoses is complete. From marxist to full fledged neo-conservative power monger. ๐Ÿ˜€ Sadly I still find democracy and liberalism to be irrelevant details that exist merely to rationalize American atavism. So you don’t expect any grand narratives calling for the overthrow of unpopular governments. ๐Ÿ˜›

June 6, 2005 @ 8:51 pm | Comment

Here’s an interesting article called “U.S. Role in Japan’s Amnesia.” It’s an old article written by Steve Clemons in 2001 that appeared in FEER and, I think, the NYT op-ed page. Steve Clemons is basically the guy who’s behind the push against John Bolton for US ambassador to the UN. He’s got a blog called The Washington Note, which I highly recommend.

This article here doesn’t speak exactly to the issues in your post, Richard, but it looks a little further back and more deeply at the ways in which the US has guided/controlled Japan’s historical memory since WWII, which definitely has implications for Japan’s image in the world, including China.

June 6, 2005 @ 9:07 pm | Comment

Matt, speaking of the conclusions of WW2 (off topic I know) I would wager prescious few know of the haggling and minutae involved in the San Francisco peace treaty. While it officially brought a conclusion to the war in the Pacific between the Allied powers and Japan, it more appropriately reflected American post-war plans for Japan than any actual settlement of issues caused by the war. While the treaty has a significant 48 signatories, I should point out that only 4 of the signatories were within Asia, the region actually affected by the ravages of the war. Many of the signatories were in fact Latin American nations who had not particpated one iota in the war beyond a token declaration. 3 additional signatories within Asia were present, but all were non-sovereign and were representing the interests of the French colonialists. Of the 4 genuine signatories, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The Pakistani government never ratified the San Francisco Treaty and the Phillipines only did so after all was already concluded and the treaty in place. A bitter irony that those most affected by the war would be excluded from its settlement.

People can be anti-American for lots of stupid and petty reasons. But then people also overlook the damning and real incidences of bald injustice perpetrated by the Americans for their interests. At one point, I would have been indignant and demanding justice, but alas I have become too jaded to care to any significant degree. Marxism had as its heart, the idea of a better world for man, but I’ve come to realize that it probably isn’t possible nor are people even particularly worthy of it. The only absolute that has manifested itself to me through a study of history and politics is the universality of power and parochial self-interest.

I’m beginning to meander…

June 6, 2005 @ 10:42 pm | Comment

Damn. I couldn’t find anything to disagree with in Jing’s last post. Whatever is the world coming to? And here was I thinking my comment would spark off a storm of protest. Where’s JR when I need him/her?

June 7, 2005 @ 12:14 am | Comment


Speaking of power, I am currently in the middle of reading Robert A. Caro’s mammoth biography of Robert Moses, the man who, more than anyone else, made New York City what it is today. It’s called The Power Broker. Highly recommended, even at a whopping 1250 pages.

June 7, 2005 @ 2:28 am | Comment

jing, I read your comments with interest but I feel that your view of the Japan/US r’ship is flawed.

Yes, anyone can bang on about power and self-interest, the ultimate national quest for power and also criticise the US for multiple historical injustices etc.

However, you’re not taking a balanced view. After WW2 the US took it upon themselves to nurture Japan and Germany into economically powerful democracies. They’ve both done a hell of lot better than most of the Allies. Well done America.

Far from forcing Japan to “pay for it’s own occupation” US troops and military protection created an environment in which Japan could prosper into what it is today.

Today, it’s the US that are quietly encouraging Japan to play a more global role, drop it’s pacifist (Article 9) constitution and possibly adopt nuclear weapons in response to a changing Asia. Hardly the behaviour of an occupying force. Some sections of Japanese society

If you were Japan, what are the alternatives to an alliance with the US? Where would you go?

Japan’s just announced that it’s adopting Son of Star Wars next year to come fully under the US anti-missile umbrella. The US also recently announced the permanent deployment of Aegis, anti-missile, warships in the Sea of Japan in 2006.

These are hard facts, not just talk of ‘national priorities, injustices, power, dignity,’ etc.

While Japanese society often has widely diverse views over many issues, the alliance with the US has been a success for both sides so far and I can’t see Japan radically changing from this course.


June 7, 2005 @ 7:23 am | Comment

True true….and by playing up the nationalism card, the CCP is not doing anything to nip the growing alliance in the bud either. If I were Japanese, I would quite value an alliance with the US…especially now.

Obviously relations between countries can change, but to majorly change the direction of the one between Japan and the US, I think the CCP would have to foster a more friendly attitude towards Japan inside of the PRC. And since keeping public sentiment against malicious outsiders is one of the CCP’s trump cards to keep attention directed away from itself, I don’t see any moves in that direction happening any time soon.

June 7, 2005 @ 8:03 am | Comment

Thomas, I think you’re right about the CCP and Japan is a very effective nationalist card to play.

I can’t quite believe the CCP that the CCP could be so short-sighted/stupid to alienate Japan due to perceived internal pressures but that’s exactly how it looks.

Think about how frightening an East Asian bloc consisting of South Korea, Japan and China would be to the US/Europe.

Still, for all the talk of the US being obsessed with the war on terror and neglecting Asia, it’s doing a pretty good job of things from where I’m sitting.

I forsee Vietnam as being next to allign itself with America and I’m sure the country will do very well out of the arrangement.

Again my question is, where would the Japanese go? What are the options? Are there any definitive reasons and cold hard facts why Japan should break away from, or even loosen it’s alliance with the US in the forseeable?

June 7, 2005 @ 8:44 am | Comment

You can’t be serious. That little article you quoted from Conn Hallinan of the Foreign Policy In Focus is really nothing much more than a long dig at the evolution of Japanese Foreign Policy. A changing foreign policy brought about by changes in the regional situation. China is a land based power that is busily building up it’s Naval Power in an effort to enter an area of influence occupied by the United States. The fact that the United States and Japan are reacting should come as no surprise at all. Japan happily kept it’s Peace Constitution since the end of World War II and is only now making noise about changing it. Why is that? Simply because of China. The fact that some people recognise the efforts of China and are sounding the warning claxons about it does not make us ‘foaming at the mouth far right” types. (I voted for Kerry) And it is “Red China” – remember Tianamen Square? Cultural Revolution? Korean War? What has happened to all the reformers again? Totalitarianism, Communist, – those labels still apply you know. So heck yes, we are actively attempting to contain and limit China. To do otherwise would be amazingly irresponsible and itself a guaranteed threat to peace.

And if you live in China and you read this article you are scared out of your wits. You are scared to say anything that disagrees with the government. You are scared to try to have that second child. You are scared if you own a website now. See the article about China ordering all web sites to register here But scared about the US Navy that’s been there in the East China Sea since 1943? I don’t think so.

June 7, 2005 @ 8:55 am | Comment

I should point out gadlaw, that Japan’s peace constitution became irrelevant as soon as the Korean war and the establishment of the “SDF”.

June 7, 2005 @ 9:57 am | Comment

thomas and martyn: I agree totally. I see that jing hasn’t disputed any of the points you both raise.

June 8, 2005 @ 5:27 am | Comment

lol morons.

June 8, 2005 @ 10:45 am | Comment

Jing, be nice.

June 8, 2005 @ 10:55 am | Comment


You’re quickly losing your credibility here and that’s a great shame as you’re clearly very clued up.

Please give a response to the above posts which oppose your view as I would love to see how you respond.

The people above took the time to read your posts and respond accordingly, don’t just call them morons because they don’t agree with everything you say, you make yourself look silly.

June 8, 2005 @ 11:10 am | Comment


June 8, 2005 @ 11:19 am | Comment

Jing, I don’t know what to say. By calling people morons what on earth do you think people will think of you?

After posting a few great comments you’ve now made yourself look like a total idiot.

June 8, 2005 @ 1:37 pm | Comment

Give Jing a break … but … I do hope Jing responds too.

June 9, 2005 @ 8:22 am | Comment

C’mon filthy, you can’t come on here and call people morons, it’s very poor form.

Jing is probably far too intellectual to debate with our motely crue.

June 10, 2005 @ 3:49 am | Comment

I’m not going to comment on the past, but if the keeps pushing Japan to militarize agressively, and it does, it is REALLY going to upset China.

The US forces in Japan are a target, if Taiwan flares up they will be a bigger target, and if Japan gets involved in an unconstituional war, then Japanese civilians will become targets too.

June 12, 2005 @ 10:32 pm | Comment


July 4, 2005 @ 5:25 am | Comment

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