Relations of Northeast Asia

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16, 2018

The U.S.-Japan Relations: A U.S.



The U.S.-Japan relationship since the end
of World War II has been intimate and complex. The formal structure supporting
the relationship has been the US-Japan security alliance, however, the
bilateral relationship encompasses no only the military alliance but also close
and complex economic and political ties. Since the US is a military and
political superpower with both military and economic advantages over Japan, the
asymmetry between the two nations caused the abnormal status of the US-Japan
relations, and as a result, it is recognized as a one-sided relation.

The world changed a lot since the late 20th
century. During the Cold War era, the former Soviet Union had been the main
threat to Japan’s security. After the collapse of the USSR, instead, other
potential danger spots in Southeast Asia, events on the Korean peninsula, and
even China, Japan’s largest neighboring country. A series of provocation by
North Korea and increasingly aggressive maritime operations by China since 2010
appeared to have set the relationship back on course. Also, changing policies
due to unstable leadership e.g. The electing of Trump also slowed some
bilateral security initiatives.

This paper will introduce and discuss the
1) goals, 2) means, 3) policy contents and priorities, 4) implementation and evaluation,
and 5) implications of the US’s policies and strategies toward Japan. In my
opinion, the United States and Japan are constrained in their ability to
strengthen alliances and need new tactics to find new guiding principles for
shaping an environment for China’s rise.



On August 6 and
August 9, 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs, code-named
“Little Boy,” in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, killing at least
129,000 people. It is still the only time in history today Use nuclear weapons
for war. After World War II, Japan surrendered, followed by the U.S. occupation
of Japan and the military’s marginalization. The US-Japan relationship today is
basically formed at that time, when the United States established a significant
presence in Japan to slow the expansion of Soviet influence in the Pacific
after World War II. The United States was also concerned with the growth of the
economy of Japan because there was a risk after World War II that an unhappy
and poor Japanese population would turn to communism and by doing so ensure
that the Soviet Union would control the Pacific. By the late 1960s, Japan had
risen from the ashes of World War II to achieve an astoundingly rapid and
complete economic recovery.



In my opinion, the goals for the US
dealing with Japan are mainly the following: Dealing with a rising China and
unstable security threats on the Korean peninsula, strengthening U.S.-Japan
alliance, focusing on bilateral relations and opening Japanese markets for the

The United States has struggled for a
century to define and redefine its strategic relationship with China and Japan.

From the beginning of the twentieth century until the latter part of the Cold
War in the 1970s, the United States never simultaneously had good relations
with China and Japan. As the 21st century begins, the US again faces strategic
choices in Asia. Now China is the ”rising” power, therefore the U.S.-Japan
alliance remains as strong as ever, indeed perhaps even stronger. Russia cannot
be counted out, but it is now a weakened regional player, despite its
continuing arms sales to North Korea and China. And since the Trump
administration seems to be more economically oriented, opening markets in Japan
will still be an important goal for the US.



For eight years, President Obama’s foreign
policy doctrine has been rooted in a belief of multilateralism, while President
Trump has promoted the “America First” agenda and shifted his focus to
bilateralism. Economically, Trump’s protectionist policies, such as the border
tax and U.S. withdrawal from the TPP, may have significant implications for
major powers including Japan. Politically, US’s traditional allies in Asia
including Japan and South Korea are still playing important roles on the
region’s security and stability. On the other hand, the several missile tests
launched by North Korea became an opportunity for the US to export its weapons
to Japan and Korea, eg. The THAAD system.

The U.S. deployed a missile defense system,
Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea in April 2017,
citing North Korea’s nuclear and missile “threats” as justification. Its
deployment, however, needs to be seen in the wider strategic context. Not only does
the measure raise the arms race with North Korea, it also facilitates Japan’s “proactive
contribution to peace” and exacerbates the security dilemma between the U.S.

and its allies on one side and China and Russia on the other.


and Priorities

Since the rising of China, most countries
in the Asia-Pacific region followed the option of trying to integrate China
into existing and new regional and global institutions such as the RCEP, or
ASEAN plus.

The US under Trump administration has
been explicitly rebalancing its international posture toward Asia and China.

The US-Japan alliance is becoming less important than before, given the fact
that this bilateral relation depends heavily on the Sino-US relations and the
instability of the Korean peninsula. But the U.S.-Japan alliance is now far
from the only relationship of substance for the United States in the
Asia-Pacific region. Most notably, relations with China have become an enormous
focus for U.S. policymakers in recent years and will continue to be a high
priority for the foreseeable future. While fundamentally different from the
U.S.-Japan relationship, the elevation of U.S.-China relations as a major focal
point for U.S. foreign policy raises a critical question: How can policymakers
ensure that the rise of U.S.-China relations does not come at the expense of
the U.S.-Japan relationship?1

Until the end of the Cold War, China
valued the U.S.-Japan security alliance’s role as a counter to Soviet influence
in East Asia. It also appreciated the alliance’s role in capping Japanese
military options and ambitions. Even after the end of the Cold War in the early
1990s, China was concerned that U.S.-Japan trade tensions and American troop
pull-downs from Asia might impair the U.S.-Japan security alliance and open long-closed
security debates and options within Japan. On the other hand, Japan was also
greatly concerned about America’s alliance fidelity during President Bill Clinton’s
first administration because of the lack of a U.S. strategic focus and,
especially, the emphasis on trade-deficit reduction. From 1995, the Japanese were
gradually reassured with the Nye Initiative and the U.S.-Japan Defense
Guidelines review. However, since the United States and Japan acted to
strengthen their alliance, China has warned that Japan’s expanded role could be
the first step toward Japanese remilitarization, and it has expressed concerns
about an increasingly independent Japan.2

However, there is currently no prospect
of China and the US becoming strategic allies, but in contrast, Japan is a key
American security and political ally in Asia, and in addition, Japan
contributes about $5 billion annually to underwrite the cost of maintaining
U.S. forces there. On the other hand, unlike China, Japan shares core
democratic values and institutions with the United States. As a result, it
is still important for the US to maintain the US-Japan alliance while facing
the challenge of a rising China.


and evaluation

            In order to deal with a rising




Trump’s bilateral approach to foreign
relations might lead to decreasing influence of the US in Asia. Though after
withdrawing from the TPP, the renewed CPTPP negotiations went on promptly, the
ASEAN-China leading RCEP, and the One Belt One Road Initiative launched by
China seemed to declare a new era of globalization, without the US
participation. And all the dramas between Donald Trump and Kim Jung Un also led
to a concern of a less stable security environment in Asia. On the other hand,
the instability of the Korean peninsula might also lead to the normalization or
even re-militarization of Japan, which the US and the rest of the world won’t
be happy to see.

Given the fact that China has made clear
that it now prefers a ”hollowed out” U.S.-Japan security alliance3
and has pressured Japan on the guidelines but has gone relatively easy on the
United States. Japan, as the weaker alliance partner, has sidestepped China’s
pressure tactics. But this unpleasant experience has enhanced the strong
Japanese trend toward a more hard-nosed and wary approach to China. The Japanese
have concluded that China is now the most important and unpredictable geopolitical
variable in Asia’s future. American policymakers and others need to consider
the policy implications of new trends in China-Japan relations for the United



In the near future, the present security
relationship will continue witj no doubt, perhaps with Japan taking a more
active role in its own defense, but not militarization. As China starts to take
on a larger and larger role in regional and global affairs, the United States
will also have to modify its relations with China, Japan, and Asia. I will make
the following suggestions for the future of the US-Japan relations:

The United States cannot afford to become isolationist. It must balance the
reduction of U.S. forces in Japan and Asia with an increased diplomatic and
economic presence.

While the United States should continue to support Japan’s development of a UN
peacekeeping role for Japanese troops, it should make it clear that a
“remilitarized” Japan is not in the best interests of either Japan or Asia.

To continue to play an effective role in Asia, the US government must gain a
deeper understanding of Asian politics, economics, and culture. In order to
maintain the respect of its allies, it will be necessary to move toward an
equal political relationship.



1.     Neil E. Silver, The United States, Japan
and China: Setting the Course (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press,

2.     Harding, Brian. “The U.S.-Japan
Alliance in an Age of Elevated U.S.-China Relations” Center for American
progress. (March 17, 2017)


1 Harding, Brian. “The U.S.-Japan
Alliance in an Age of Elevated U.S.-China Relations” Center for American
progress. (March 17, 2017)

2 Neil E. Silver, The United States, Japan
and China: Setting the Course (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press,

3 Neil E. Silver, The United States, Japan
and China: Setting the Course (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press,

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