The U.S.-Japan alliance 2.0
The U.S.-Japan relationship is a mysterious one.
In 1854, the Black Ships of the Perry Expedition resulted in the opening of Japan. After the modernization of the Meiji Restoration, Japan became militaristic. Its militarism led to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, which shook the United States out of its isolationism and eventually led to the U.S. occupation of Japan. The occupation led to Japan reinventing itself as a democratic state, virtually a second founding of the nation. Since then, the United States and Japan have been in the same boat, with the U.S.-Japan alliance becoming an axis of the world order during the Cold War.
But it is uncertain how the United States and Japan view each other today.
At the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, U.S.-Japan relations will go through a major turning point as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits America from April 26 to May 3. The visit is noteworthy for three reasons.
First, Abe will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, a first for a Japanese prime minister. The leaders of Germany and Italy, two of the Axis powers during the Second World War, spoke at a joint session five times and six times, respectively. Korean leaders gave six speeches to the Congress, but Japan has never had an opportunity.
The day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt gave a speech to the joint session of Congress, “December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy” and urged Congress to declare a war against the Empire of Japan. It is America’s way of concluding a chapter in its history by allowing Abe to speak in the same space where a war was declared upon Japan. That conclusion comes at a time when the historical reconciliation of the United States and Japan has been facilitated by the rise and aggressive marine expansion of China and Japan’s contributions to security.
Second, the visit indicates that the U.S.-Japan alliance 2.0 has begun. During Abe’s visit, the 2+2 meeting of foreign and defense ministers will conclude the revision of the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, which will mean that the two countries will have tighter military cooperation in times of peace and during emergency crises. The new guidelines removed the geographical restrictions for the cooperation of the U.S. Forces and Japan’s Self Defense Forces.
The U.S.-Japan alliance has changed as the Abe government approved the collective right to self-defense and pursues a more active role in security. Japan is no longer a country that just provides base sites to the U.S. Forces and provides backup in non-combat areas. When the United States is under attack, Japanese Self Defense Forces can now engage in combat. Ending the unilateral alliance focusing on Japan’s defense has long been Washington’s demand, and the U.S.-Japan alliance is one-step closer to a reciprocal alliance.
The entire structure of the U.S.-Japan alliance is changing, a complete makeover rather than a mere touch-up. Abe’s grandfather Kishi - who was responsible for revising the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty to allow U.S. forces get involved in suppressing a civil war in Japan - dreamed of building a more equal alliance with the United States. Abe has realized that dream. The post-war system in Japan is coming to an end.
The third is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is the economic axis of the U.S. rebalance of Asia. The United States and Japan hold the key to the establishment of the TPP, and earlier this week, the two countries narrowed the difference in opinions on mutual market approaches. Abe is likely to emphasize progress in the TPP during his visit, and the U.S. political system is beginning to take action. Congress is reviewing a bill that gives President Obama the authority to “fast-track” in the negotiation. Obstacles to TPP are being cleared one after another. Vigilance against China is a factor here as well. Before China preoccupies the trade and investment order in Asia, the United States wants to create a new rule.
The changes in the U.S.-Japan relations affects Korea in two ways. They will help Korea’s security, as long as Korea is in an alliance with the United States. Also, they will put a cap on Japan’s overly aggressive diplomatic posturing. The original purpose of the U.S. alliance with Japan was to prevent the expansion of communism and the revival of militarism in Japan. That purpose has shifted to forming a confrontational structure to counter China. Korea must not miss the economic opportunities that this presents, while also not undermining our own security. It is best for Asia to deviate from distrust and confrontation and pursue peace and prosperity.
As much as we demand Japan to part with historical revisionism, we also need to ask China to abide by international laws and rules. We need to ask the United States what its vision of a pivot to Asia means and how it will rebalance Asia. There is a lot of talk happening simultaneously between the United States, Korea, Japan and China. As that is taking place, Korea needs to build strength internally. An agile and flexible dolphin can swim through the turbulent waves. What’s more serious than the changes in the external environment are the incompetent politics of division and our lackluster economy. The biggest threat to Korea may live within us.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 23, Page 32
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Young-hwan