Japan-U.S. Relations toward the 21st Century

By Shank, Gregory | Social Justice, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

Japan-U.S. Relations toward the 21st Century


Shank, Gregory, Social Justice


Japan and Asia will undoubtedly figure prominently in the future of the United States economically, politically, and strategically. Yet despite much fanfare about President Clinton's involvement in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) talks, a coherent policy toward this region appears to be a low priority in Washington. Relations with Japan, the strongest U.S. ally in Asia after World War II and America's most important partner in the world today, have reached an all-time low. In the popular U.S. media, the representation of Japan both in novels and on screen, promotes an adversarial relationship. Central to the conflict is economic rivalry in the context of prolonged world recession. The future of these two nations holds much more in common than a mutual worship of urban consumer culture, baseball, and business acumen. Below I will sketch the probable relationship between Japan and the U.S. at the millennium by examining the scenarios of futurists and well-known scholars in this area.

At the level of the world-economy, more than half the world's populetion is located in Asia, making it the future site for low-wage work forces and potential unsaturated markets. Over the last decade, East Asia has become the most dynamic economic success story in the world. The eight Asian economies designated by the World Bank as "dynamic" (Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, and Thailand) have seen their collective gross domestic product rise from $922 billion in 1971 to $3.43 trillion 20 years later (in constant dollars). In 1971, the combined size of these eight economies was just 33% of the U.S. economy; by 1991, that figure had reached 76%. At this rate, the eight will equal the size of the U.S. economy in 2002 (Mead, 1994).

According to the International Monetary Fund, China now has the world' s third largest economy, trailing only the U.S. and Japan (Nomani and Greenberger, 1993). China's economy has been growing at a rate of more than 10% per year. Japan is China' s leading trading partner, investment partner, source of foreign aid, and source of technology (Johnson, 1993). Of consequence for regional stability, East Asia is now the world's leading growth market for aerospace and weapons technology, and each year China has posted double-digit increases in its defense budget (Mead, 1993).

U.S. and Japanese economic expansion in the 21st century will require China as a market, a production zone, and a force for political stability. Because the present market zones of Japan and the U.S. are reaching saturation, China is the next logical arena. Since wage costs are becoming too high even in the Four Dragons and Southeast Asia, China is needed as a production zone. China's wages will not reach those levels for another 20 to 30 years (Wallerstein, 1993).

None of the above means that Asia is about to become the locus of the next hegemony, but it is perhaps becoming the principal region of capitalist accumulation (Amin, 1994: 346-347). According to Ikeda (1994), in the coming century, the postwar expansion of the Japanese enterprise networks will continue, and East Asia's weight in world affairs is expected to increase. This expansion will take place in the context of a U.S.-lead interstate system where the Japanese state remains a junior and more or less dysfunctional partner. Although Japanese dominance over a regional economic bloc would appear to be a foregone conclusion, such a scenario underestimates Japan's vulnerability despite its global commercial preeminence. A primary impediment is Japan's wartime behavior, on the basis of which neither China nor Korea would accept being subordinated to Japan. Maintenance of an inter-Asian equilibrium therefore will depend on forces external to the region, with the United States the only candidate for this role.

Japan will therefore remain tied to the United States in the future; in the process, the primacy of the U.S. on the world scene will be prolonged. …

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