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Tadae Takubo

【#477】Can We Allow U.S. and China to Dominate Matters in Asia?

Tadae Takubo / 2017.11.02 (Thu)

October 30, 2017

     U.S. President Donald Trump will tour five Asian countries -- Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines -- in 12 days from November 3 through 14. Japan, South Korea and the Philippines are U.S. allies. Vietnam is a new “strategic partner” for the United States. In addition, President Trump has decided to visit China as a big Asian power, concluding that China will play a key role in the future of the Korean Peninsula. Washington has pressed China to rein in North Korea that has repeated reckless missile firing and nuclear explosion tests. Whether the U.S. pressure succeeds or not will become clear as Trump visits China.
Kissinger might have advised about a bargain
     One reason for this prediction is an October 16 report by the Newsweek magazine. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has close connections with China, might have advised Trump about offering a “grand bargain” to China when he was invited to the White House in October, the report indicated. The bargain might be that if China persuades North Korea to give up its nuclear program, the United States will in return agree to recognize North Korea diplomatically, supply North Korea with economic aid and, eventually, draw down its 29,000 troops in South Korea.
     Within the U.S. government, President Trump who insists a harder line against North Korea seems to have confronted with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who focuses on talks with Pyongyang, leading to a rumor of Tillerson’s imminent resignation. The grand bargain is reportedly based on Tillerson’s idea to refrain from seeking a regime change in North Korea.
     The second reason for my prediction is Kissinger’s long article contributed to The Wall Street Journal on August 11. In short, he urged the United States and China to agree to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and reach mutual understanding on how a North Korean regime should be after the denuclearization. What are behind Kissinger’s bold proposals before Trump’s Asian tour?
Trump plunging into a China trap
     While the coming U.S.-China summit in Beijing is important not only for peace on the Korean Peninsula but also for Japan’s security, we have to develop different ways of thinking from a longer point of view. The coming U.S.-China summit could help establish a system in which troubles in Asia, especially in areas surrounding China, cannot be resolved without U.S.-China consultations. The system exactly represents the so-called new model of major-power relations between China and the United States that China has advocated with unusual zeal. The Trump administration is plunging into a trap set by China.
     As indicated by Japan-U.S.-China relations since the prewar age, the three countries’ bilateral relations have never been good at the same time. Japan, if failing to think about its long-term national interests separately from short-term ones, could become an Asian orphan without realizing what happens.

Tadae Takubo is Vice President of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.