Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Tadae Takubo

【#244】Be Alert to Double-Track U.S. Policy on Asia

Tadae Takubo / 2014.05.01 (Thu)

April 28, 2014

      Japanese mass media noisily discuss whether U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Japan last week was successful or not. But they should put an end to such narrow-sighted approach of discussing international issues only from the viewpoint of bilateral relationship.
      Obama visited Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, all of which have territorial disputes with China, in a bid to enhance Washington's rebalancing or pivot policy for Asia.
      The U.S. government had seemingly separated territorial problems from the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. During his Japan visit, however, President Obama stated: “Let me reiterate that our treaty commitment to Japan’s security is absolute. And Article 5 (of the treaty) covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku Islands.” The clear statement may be the only achievement for Japan. Since Japan and the United States failed to agree on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement of strategic significance, Obama's Asian visit cannot be described as successful.

U.S. accepting a new model of relations with China
      Before Obama's Asian tour, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Tokyo, Beijing and Ulan Bator. In Tokyo, Hagel reaffirmed that the United States would keep step with Japan in addressing the Senkaku problem and support Japan's efforts to change the interpretation of the Constitution to exercise collective self-defense rights. He also promised to deploy two more Aegis cruisers in Japan by 2017. In Beijing, Hagel argued bitterly with his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan over the Senkaku problem as well as China's unilateral establishment of an air defense identification zone last November.
      These actions aimed to enhance the rebalancing policy. In an address to the China National Defense University on April 8, however, Defense Secretary Hagel vowed to develop and build on a new model of relations between the U.S. and China that could be taken as an attempt for the two countries to control regional and international issues.

U.S. support failing to assure allies
      As generally discussed, the “new model of major country relations” between the United States and China was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping at his meeting with Obama last June and endorsed by U.S. Presidential National Security Adviser Susan Rice last November. At his meeting with Obama on September 6 on the occasion of a Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, however, President Xi said: "In that meeting (in June), we reached important consensus of mutual interest in our bilateral relationship. In particular, we agreed once again to building a new model of major country relationship between China and the United States" (a White House press release).
      The Obama administration, which hates any war and wants to refrain from being involved in any war related to any ally, pursues a double-track Asian policy under which the administration reaffirms support for allies while developing the new model of major country relations with China. In this context, Japan should decide its future course. Depending only on Japan-U.S. bilateral relations for assessing overall diplomacy could lead to a major mistake.

Tadae Takubo is Vice President, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.