“CHINA CANNOT BE CONTAINED” | publicatii - Politica La Est
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“CHINA CANNOT BE CONTAINED”

MIHAIL E. IONESCU

On March 17 a.c. in the organization of several non-governmental institutions in Romania (including the Aspen Institute), as well as the Japanese embassy in Bucharest, a meeting of experts was held online dedicated to the anniversary of a century of diplomatic relations between Romania and Japan (practical 100 years  since the opening of the Romanian legation in Tokyo in June 1921, because the mutual agreement in this regard dates from 1917). The central element of the meeting was the conference given by the Tsuneo expert "Nabe" Watanabe entitled "Politics and Diplomacy of Japan and the United States".

The presentation of the Japanese expert was beneficial for the Romanian public. On the one hand, Mr. Watanabe came to Romania on the eve of the important meeting between the heads of US and Chinese diplomacy at Anchorage in Alaska (March 18), where the relations between the two great powers would be discussed. In preparation for this meeting in Alaska, US State Secretary Antony Blinken paid a visit to East Asia, Japan and South Korea, to take the pulse of developments and assessments of the regional and global situation in this area of ​​the Pacific, where China is imposes more and more as the dominant economic and geopolitical power. Mr. Watanabe's views may not be much different from those of the Japanese political establishment, whose opinion Mr. Blinken sought to find out. On the other hand, Romania as an important EU country is interested in the future evolutions of the relations between the EU and China and Japan, so that the goals pursued in the European foreign policy - especially that of being a major independent actor on the global stage - be realized. Therefore, it was possible to get acquainted from the qualified source with the assessments of the current and future situation in the planetary region of the greatest importance today in global affairs and which focuses the interest of the diplomats of the main actors of the international system.

It must be said from the beginning that Mr. Watanabe's presentation fully met the expectations of the Romanian zoom audience through the clarity and argumentation of the views expressed, the event as such being one of the most important in the local scene in terms of deep analysis. of the current international situation and future prospects.

Expertise:Japan-U.S. alliance;security in Asia;politics and diplomacy of Japan and the United States;He served as a senior fellow at the Mitsui Global Strategic Studies Institute in Tokyo from 2005 to 2009. In 1995, Watanabe joined the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. He served as a visiting research scholar, research associate, fellow, and senior fellow until 2005. He is currently an adjunct fellow of CSIS.
From the beginning of his presentation, Mr. Watanabe pointed out that Donald Trump's accession to the US presidency in 2017 opened a real "Pandora's box". The concept of "America First" and the mobilization of the electorate with the slogan MAGA were the expression of a strong nationalist current in the USA, in which the fatigue accumulated in the singular support of the burden of a global order defined as Pax Americana were intertwined with the frustration concerning  the negative effects of the evolution of the world economy. Frustration that is felt at the societal level, reflected in both right-wing and left-wing  political orientations, including about countries that have benefited greatly from American Pax rules , in which Japan has been at the forefront and also,  in recent decades , China.

Moreover, the Japanese expert pointed out, the USA is today, after the events in Washington on January 6, 2021 - the siege of the Capitol  by D. Trump's supporters - a divided country, an expression of the fact that democracy is not a perfect system of social organization. The existence of this societal and political division will have an impact on the US's ability to exercise world systemic leadership. Under these conditions, the new Biden administration is called upon to pursue a foreign policy that meets the requirements of an divided electorate .  As a consequence   US foreign policy   will reflect the administration’s  main focus  on domestic issues . The foreign orientation of the United States will be increasingly determined by the demands of the middle class, which is a conceptual novelty for today's American diplomacy and will impose changes that will be seen very soon.

The "Pandora's Box" of global dimensions, opened by Trump, is now diversified, but dominated by the effects of the presence of  political principle launched by the former president "my country (region) first". Europe (EU), which is feeling the effects of the wave of immigration in 2015-2016, shows  declining expectations for the implementation of the concept of "strategic autonomy", which decreases its chances of being an independent global player. On the contrary, China is going through a national "great rejuvenation" and is engaged in a long-running competition with the United States. The influence of Russia, Turkey and Iran is growing in the Middle East, and the common Arab cause of the countries of the region has given way to the "my country first" principle, as evidenced by the recent agreements of some Gulf states with Israel. And in terms of Africa, Latin America or international organizations, it can be discerned as a main line the increase of economic dependence on China.

As for Asia, the Japanese expert notes a mix of feelings about China's regional assertiveness (a major challenge for countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, especially those bordering the South China Sea basin) coupled with a weak expectation of US capacity. to respond efficiently to new geopolitical circumstances. It is also important to note the important regional assistance provided by China.

As a corollary of the current geopolitical situation, marking the existence of the China-Russia strategic partnership, the Japanese expert assessed that "Chinese nationalism is the greatest danger in today's world." He does not rule out a future stagnation of China's economic growth, but said emphatically that it remains strongly nationalist.

In this so diverse global landscape, but in which a common denominator can be seen represented by China's economic growth and its exacerbated nationalism, Trump brought a personal note. His character traits made him unexpectedly enter a dose of unpredictability into historical evolution - from facilitating the division of American society instead of its unity (according to the assessment of General James Mattis, former Secretary of Defense until February 2019) to a  behavior of   an accentuated personality  (as John Bolton, presidential adviser for national security said in his memoirs ) , so pushing to hurt  the transatlantic relationship through pressure on NATO.

The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the lines of historical evolution, from China's aspiration for global hegemony to the process of declining US global leadership and from halting globalization to opening up prospects for a new era of global cooperation. Against this moving background, evolutionary alternatives are defined, which are mainly related to the future relationship between the USA and China.

One alternative is the institution of a Cold War between the USA and China, similar to the one already consumed in the 20th century between the USA and the USSR. Such an alternative is denied by the near-impossibility of a complete economic decoupling between China and the USA, being necessary the continuity of the cooperation, less of course in critical fields. A variant of this Cold War alternative would be competition and discouragement of China by the United States along with its Allies. Another could be a partial disengagement from China, but not in the sense of a classic containment, but  it is not certain that the USA will apply such a "treatment", because it could encourage Beijing's military adventurism. On the contrary, such a partial disengagement and economic decoupling in key industrial-economic areas could deter a possible Chinese military adventurism.

Following his presentation, showing a refined evaluation ability, the Japanese expert made a presentation of the management team formed by President Joe Biden after his installation at the White House in January 2021. Describing the government and the team of advisers as very effective, he mentioned some personalities of this administration that must be taken into account in the analysis of the proposed policies. President Biden himself is characterized by extensive experience in parliamentary debates, with  Mr. Watanabe expressing his belief that the new president will succeed in curbing divisive tendencies in Congress that are essential to the unity of the American nation. An interesting view is held on the reason for Biden's victory in the November 2020 elections.

The blows of fate, which did not bypass the new president - the accidental loss of his first wife and children - mattered greatly to the American electorate at a time when many of his compatriots were dying of Covid-19. Biden shows an empathy for sufferings  - in the case of Japan, were cited the victims of the abductions of North Korean ethnics by North Korean agents or to the suffering of the 2011 tsunami - which ensures him  success with the public. In the field of foreign policy, especially in the Asian and India-Pacific area, Biden relies mainly on Jack Sullivan, and Janet Yellen is a strong supporter of economic issues, which is important in reducing the huge gap between rich and poor. Among those specifically mentioned by Mr. Watanabe is defense specialist Michelle Flournoy, co-founder of an influential NGO - Center for a New American Century "-, Brian Katz, a good connoisseur of East Asia and the India-Pacific region, and former head of US diplomacy John Kerry is responsible for the very important issue of climate change.
 
Before moving on to present the fundamentals of Japan's foreign and security policy, the Japanese expert drew attention to some of the results of the November 20-22, 2020 meeting in Halifax, Canada. The Halifax 2020 forum has an annual periodicity and was in November 2020 at the 12th edition, taking place both face to face and online. The meeting was attended by leading figures of international political life - presidents of states, heads of international organizations, foreign ministers, high-ranking military, as well as representatives of national parliaments or the industrial sector. A number of ideas were expressed regarding the evolution of global security. But what was central was a "handbook" on how China should be treated in the future, which also gave the title of the meeting: "China vs. Democracy: the Greatest Game." The President of the Halifax-2020 Forum, Peter van Praagh, “started the conversation by reaffirming the commitment that HFX makes to the strengthening of democratic institutions with the unveiling of a handbook on how to deal with an increasingly aggressive China. It is designed for democracies, but its recommendations are accessible to citizens, HFX2020 participants and decision-makers alike. The main message of the handbook? When democratic countries come together, the world is a safer place. ”[1]
 

 
 
What was very important about this forum was that valuable ideas were expressed regarding the ways in which China's challenge will have to be faced, among them some that will play a decisive role in the evolution of tomorrow's world. For example , “The real China challenge for the world democracies is how to cooperate effectively with each other… Now is the time for democracies to modernize the international system created upon victory 75 years ago to ensure that peace, prosperity and freedom are readily within reach . ” (Peter Van Praagh); “Too many of the world’s great challenges, including climate and inequality, require China’s input for the country to be isolated by the West, the Halifax International Security Forum report concludes, but those democracies will need to use the US-led post-war alliance system to force chance. That’s one fundamental advantage China does not have at its disposal: It has no real allies, only clients and fearful neighbors. ” (Ryan Heath – ‘Politico’); “One of the marquee panels at the Halifax International Security Forum, held virtually this year, began on Friday with a grainy, gray video of an elephant being chased and eventually overpowered by a pride of lions. It was a stark visual metaphor for Beijing’s relative isolation as a world power - the fact that China is a powerful nation with few allies, while western democracies are overwhelming when they act in concert. There was, however, a palpable sense of dismay among some of the panelists when the conversation turned to whether the international community is a pride of lions or a collection of kittens. ”(Murray Brewster-CBC News); “ ‘ I wouldn’t expect the president-elect to simply just take off all the tariffs and try to take us back to where we were in 2016, ’Coons / Senator Christopher Coons- D- Delaware –o.n. / said at a security conference Friday . 'I would expect him to begin by consulting with our close and trusted allies, like the United Kingdom, like Canada, before moving forward.' Coons, who appeared at the Halifax International Security Forum, said he was not speaking for Biden or the transition team but was outlining what he saw as Biden's likely course of action based on their relationship and Biden's long experience working in foreign relations as a senator and vice president. ”(Daniel Flatley- ‘Bloomberg’).[2]
 

 
             So, if China is seen as a global challenge, new political concepts are emerging to identify a reliable answer: an entourage of the middle powers with a weighting role of ‘heavy’ competition; an alliance of democratic powers, if authoritarianism becomes a mortal threat to democracy. But, first of all, a recognition that global threats - such as pandemics or climate change - can only be addressed through a global response. And this is also true for China's challenge: the only valid answer is the one sought together, because nothing can be solved without it. It excludes a kind of traditional containment, such as that of the last Cold War ended in 1989-1991.
 
An important part of Mr. Watanabe's presentation was devoted to Japan's relationship with the United States, which began with initiatives taken by the Tokyo government to meet China's challenge to the international order. It must be said that among the international actors, the first to draw attention to China's challenge to the liberal settlements installed after World War II and refined in the post-Cold War period was Japan, which warned since 2012 -2013 on the fact that the historical moment when it can be faced with a chance of success is almost over. Japan's foreign and security policy after these border years is based on several pillars - both politico-diplomatic and military - designed to prevent China's hegemony in the West Pacific, seen as the main threat to Japanese interests and the international liberal order. .

The first of these (rational) pillars is the dialogue of the "four" (quad - USA, Australia, Japan and India), an informal and irregular meeting dedicated to this goal, initiated by Japan since 2007. Reflecting the sharpness of China's recent assertiveness in early 2021 (March 12) had its first Quad States Summit, an online meeting attended by Joe Biden and N. Modi (India) and Prime Ministers Yoshihide Suga (Japan) and Scott Morrison (Australia). Although not a formal alliance like NATO, the "Quad" format has the potential to become such a group of states to counter / discourage China's assertiveness - the Chinese press has been categorizing the format as an "anti-Chinese bloc" for several years. It also involves the conduct of joint military exercises in the maritime field. The last of these military exercises took place in November 2020 under the code name "Malabar" playing various threat scenarios in the Asia-Pacific region. The Australian Prime Minister recently assessed the format as "very central to the United States' and our thinking about the region."[3] Gradually . the Japanese energetic efforts  have imposed within the ‘Quad’ the great subjects of democratic contest of China  in its action against the international order: the issue of civil liberties in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in the Uyghur province of China.

US, Japan and India ships in the Gulf of bengal during Malabur military exercise
The second pillar of Japan's security policy is the EU-Japan SPA (Strategic Partnership Agreement), signed in July 2018 after more than a dozen rounds of negotiations. Affirming the common attachment to the principles of democracy and universal human rights, the Contracting Parties “shall continue to uphold the shared values ​​and principles of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms which underpin the domestic and international policies of the Parties. "It shall cooperate and coordinate, where appropriate, in promoting and realizing those values ​​and principles, including with or in third countries."[4] The agenda of this partnership is very broad, addressing the main threats to international legality and pledging to cooperate to combat them: from civil protection in the event of natural disasters to economic security and from non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to terrorism and climate change.

The third foundation is of a military nature and is represented, first of all, by the US military presence in Japan, according to the bilateral treaty. This physical presence of the USA is a military vector capable of discouraging aggression, and the Japanese defensive force is a complement to it. Ideally, this vector is also a dependency, as is the case, but from another perspective, with the existence of economic supply chains in Japan's relationship with China.
Finally, another pillar in development is the one launched as a political-diplomatic and trade project by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2016, the Open Indo-Pacific Initiative (OIPI). The initiative aims to ensure interoperability with the states in the area interested in maintaining liberal global order and free trade (in this context, ASEAN is also an important vector). Particular attention is paid in this initiative  to attracting India, with remarkable results in various fields, such as pharmaceuticals.

The Tokyo government has taken extensive steps to strengthen regional cooperation in recent years: in 2015 it developed "The Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation"[5], developed and agreed a perspective plan with India ("Japan and India Vision 2025 Special Strategic and Global Partnership "[6]), with Australia (" Next steps of the Special Strategic Partnership: Asia, Pacific and Beyond "[7]). They are closely monitored in implementation and constantly updated to meet the increasingly complex requirements projected by China's regional action.

Questions for Mr. Watanabe in the audience received qualified answers. From the relationship between China and North Korea, which is a serious concern for Japan and the US and whether "the Pandora's box will be closed", opened by former US President Trump - questions raised by the Japanese ambassador to Romania,  Hiroshi Ueda- how Japan's policy can influence the Biden administration's guidelines in the vast India-Pacific area or what Japanese thinking is about the possible establishment by China of non-fly areas in the South China Sea , the answers were concise and clarifying. We recall from the question and answer session two very important mentions of Mr. Watanabe. The first refers to his statement that Japan will defend itself territorially in case of aggression, the central element in this case being the discouragement offered by the US military presence (in the context he stressed that the Senkaku Islands are not the problem, but Taiwan is the critical point).

The second very important clarification, reiterated at the end - but adequately stated during the presentation - is that China cannot be limited to the traditional containment model of the Cold War, but must find the appropriate means to deter the possible Chinese  military adventurism. Therefore, competition doubled by economic collaboration (decoupling being impossible). It is a conclusion that was also imposed on the Halifax Security Forum in November 2020, Mr. Watanabe emphasizing that out of the 300 participants at the reunion  subjected to an ad hoc survey, only a few did not agree with it.
Tsuneo Watanabe has offered an interesting presentation through information, methodology and conclusions.
 
Post Scriptum.  A recent reading intrigued me by analyzing the reception of the famous ‘Meiji Revolution’ among the Japanese youth of today. Compared to the late 1960s, when the centenary of the ‘Meiji Revolution’ was an expression of national pride for the performance of Japan's insertion into the Western international system and the rapid advancement among  of the great systemic powers, after 50 years the situation was everything else. Today's Japanese youth seem much more withdrawn from the outside world, compared to the national mentality of more than half a century ago. What the quoted author calls to be a kind of ‘isolationism’ in relation to the outside world, a phenomenon designated by the Japanese term hikikomori. The author we refer to notes that: “the nationalism of hikikomori  is insistent upon the building of a wall, in fantasy or actuality, to prevent alien intruders from entering the national interior. It is important to note that this is not unique to Japan, while hikikomori as a sociological phenomenon may, at least statistically, appear particular to Japan; it is universal in the sense that the nation state cannot be built without this mechanism of exclusion based upon the geo-body of a nation. Every formation of a modern community called a nation potentially includes hikikomori.Hikikomori nationalism shares many features of an ‘inward-looking society’, including anti-immigrant racism, that have been observed in many post-industrial countries”.[8]

This is what prompted me to ask on the zoom chat a question Mr. Watanabe about the position of the younger generations of Japanese on the geopolitical issues of today's world. However, the large number of questions received by the Japanese expert and the discipline of the zoom and the moderator spoke for themselves.
 
              March 26, 2021
 
[4] The EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) A framework to promote shared values- https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000381942.pdf; vezi si Axel Berkofsky, Moving Beyond Rhetoric? The EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) https://isdp.eu/content/uploads/2020/04/EU-Japan-SPA-IB-09.04.20.pdf
[8] Naoki Sakai, Retinking the Meiji Restoration ,https://engelsbergideas.com/essays/rethinking-the-meiji-restoration/- the author is Goldwin Smith Professor of Asian Studies at Cornell University.
 

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