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Auteur Archief: Ted Galen Carpenter
Ted Galen Carpenter
As Japan shows increasing signs of playing a more vigorous political and security role in East Asia, neighboring countries are exhibiting a range of reactions. Predictably, North Korea’s response to any manifestation of a stronger Japan is a caricature of saber-rattling paranoia. China and South Korea have responded with a mixture of nervousness and hostility, as Jeffrey W. Hornung of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies ably documented recently in The National Interest. But the reaction has been surprisingly favorable in other countries.
South Korea’s wariness reflects primarily historical factors, although ongoing bilateral tensions over disputed islands (known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan) also play a role. The emotional wounds from Japan’s exploitive and sometimes brutal colonization of the Korean Peninsula during the first half of the 20th century have been slow to heal. Japanese officials exacerbate Korean suspicions by making clumsy, insensitive statements about that period. The most recent example was Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto’s comment that World War II “comfort women” (young women pressed into sexual slavery by the Japanese military) had been necessary to maintain discipline.
Historical factors also play a role in China’s stance toward Japan. Chinese officials and journalists never miss an opportunity to remind listeners about Japan’s egregious behavior in their country during the 1930s and early 1940s.
But for China, current geopolitical rivalries are a larger, more important motive. Indications that Tokyo might end its self-imposed limit of spending no more than 1 percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product on the military provoke strongly negative reactions in Beijing.
The same is true of suggestions that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government might seek to modify article 9 of Japan’s post-World War II constitution, which places severe restrictions on the country’s use of military force. “Given the Japanese government’s refusal to apologize for Japan’s aggression during World War II, any revision of Japan’s constitution,” an editorial inChina Daily warned, would be “a cause for concern in the rest of the world.” Tokyo’s surprisingly uncompromising stance over the past year regarding the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea has produced shrill accusations of renewed Japanese imperialism in the Chinese media.
But the reaction elsewhere in East Asia to Tokyo’s more assertive behavior in the political and security realms has been markedly different from the response in the two Koreas and China. Less than two decades ago, such countries as the Philippines, Australia and Singapore were adamantly opposed to a more robust Japanese military and the expansion of Tokyo’s security role beyond homeland defense. East Asian leaders also were emphatic that the United States needed to exercise a strong supervisory function regarding Japan’s military activities. Singapore’s long-time leader, Lee Kuan Yew, was the most outspoken in warning about the danger of revived Japanese militarism, but he implicitly spoke for many of his colleagues in the region.
And Washington’s stance was scarcely more trusting. In the early 1990s, General Henry Stackpole, the commander of U.S. Marine forces on Okinawa, famously stated in an interview that the U.S. military presence was “the cap in the bottle” that reassured the region against any prospect of a new Japanese imperialism.
China’s rise has changed the strategic calculations, both in Washington and in many East Asian capitals. During George W. Bush’s administration, U.S. officials worked tirelessly to strengthen the alliance with Japan and to get Japanese leaders to view the alliance as a vehicle to address other security contingencies in the region, not confine it to Japan’s territorial defense. That deepening strategic partnership has continued during the Obama years.
Several East Asian nations now seem to view Japan as an important strategic counterweight to China. When asked how his government would view a rearmed, non-pacifist Japan, Philippines Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario told the Financial Times “We would welcome that very much.” He added, “We are looking for balancing factors in the region, and Japan could be a significant balancing factor.” And such opinions are being put into action. In January 2013, Tokyo and Manila agreed to enhance their cooperation on maritime security. Ties are also growing between Japan and Singapore, as well as between Japan and Australia on such matters. Worries about the need to balance China’s growing power is evident as well in the recent summit between Prime Minister Abe and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in which cooperation even on the highly sensitive issue of nuclear technology was high on the agenda.
Acceptance of Japan playing a political-military role commensurate with its status as the world’s third largest economic power may be slow to develop in China and the Koreas, but it is already happening elsewhere in East Asia. Rommel Banaoi of the Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, based in Manila, succinctly captured that new perspective: “We have already put aside our nightmares of World War II because of the threat posed by China.” The principal remaining question is how effectively Tokyo will respond to that new opportunity.
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is the author of nine books on international affairs, including (with Doug Bandow) The Korean Conundrum: Washington’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea(Palgrave Macmillan).
Ted Galen Carpenter
The satellite launch and subsequent nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have greatly increased the level of concern in the United States and its East Asian allies. A frequent response is to demand that China rein in its troublesome ally. There is a growing view in the West, now verging on consensus, that China holds the key to taming Pyongyang’s behavior and solving the crisis caused by the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs. And there is mounting anger that the Chinese government seems unwilling to use its influence in a decisive manner.
Washington Post writer David Ignatius stated in a March 13 column that “through two administrations, the underlying US strategy toward North Korea has been to seek China’s help in containing this destabilizing force in northeast Asia”. But that policy “has largely failed, and the United States should be running out of patience. With depressing consistency, China has failed to step up to its responsibilities as a regional superpower”.
The view Ignatius expressed is neither rare nor recent. A December 2012 editorial in the conservative financial newspaper Investors Business Daily urged the Obama administration “to scrap the weasel words and start shaming China, whose actions are making the UN good for nothing in the face of a rapidly progressing nuclear threat”. More than a decade ago, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman asserted that Beijing could end the North Korean nuclear crisis with a telephone call threatening to cut off aid, and he found it highly suspicious that Chinese officials were unwilling to make that call.
“US policymakers and pundits should perhaps examine how a change in US strategy might produce better results.”
Such views overestimate the extent of Beijing’s influence, and often seem designed to make China a scapegoat for the international community’s inability to end Pyongyang’s nuclear aspirations. True, China is one of the DPRK’s few allies, and is by far that country’s largest and most important ally. Since the late 1940s, mutual strategic interests and ideological factors have cemented the alliance. Today, China also provides the DPRK with much of the food and energy supplies it requires.
Both the history of the alliance and the current economic relationship mean that Beijing has more influence than any other country in Pyongyang. But that does not translate into being able to dictate to the DPRK’s government. Kim Jong-un’s regime has its own interests, policies, and priorities. Although it certainly listens to its Chinese ally and takes Beijing’s views into account, the decisions are its own.
Indeed, there have been several instances in which Pyongyang has acted contrary to the Chinese government’s wishes. In the weeks leading up to the DPRK’s latest nuclear test, Beijing urged its ally not to take such a disruptive, provocative step. Kim’s government ignored the advice and went ahead with the test.
China has repeatedly signaled to the DPRK that it is disturbed by that country’s destabilizing actions regarding missile and nuclear issues. Beijing has admonished Pyongyang to behave in a more constructive, responsible manner, and China voted for the most recent sanctions in the UN Security Council.
Those in the West who demand that China curb the DPRK’s behavior overrate China’s influence and underrate the potential adverse consequences if Beijing adopted more coercive measures. Short of severing all food and energy assistance, any unilateral sanctions that Beijing might enact would probably not have a decisive impact on Pyongyang’s behavior. The DPRK regards its missile and nuclear programs as high-priority goals, which it is not likely to relinquish — especially without major diplomatic, security, and economic concessions from the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.
As such, a decision by China to cut off all food and energy assistance would not only inflict great suffering on the DPRK’s people, it would risk the onset of chaos in the country. That development could produce a major refugee crisis for China and the ROK, as well as other unpredictable but likely very dangerous consequences on the Korean Peninsula. That outcome would not be in the interest of China or any other country involved in dealing with the DPRK.
It is certainly reasonable to ask Beijing to make a more concerted effort to prevent the DPRK’s nuclear crisis from spiraling out of control. But the US and its allies need to do more as well. For decades, Washington’s strategy has emphasized increasing pressure and penalties on Pyongyang while offering few (if any) meaningful incentives — such as normalized diplomatic relations, greatly reduced sanctions, and a peace treaty formally ending the state of war on the Korean Peninsula — for more responsible, conciliatory behavior. That approach of “all sticks and no carrots” has not worked and is not likely to work in the future. Instead of reflexively blaming China for the continuing impasse, US policymakers and pundits should perhaps examine how a change in US strategy might produce better results.
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is a co-author of “The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations With North and South Korea.”
Ted Galen Carpenter
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