Academic journal article Strategic Forum

Visions of Order: Japan and China in U.S. Strategy

Academic journal article Strategic Forum

Visions of Order: Japan and China in U.S. Strategy

Article excerpt

The search for order has long challenged diplomats and statesmen. Today's liberal international economic and political order has evolved out of a century of conflict, revolution, and war into a pattern of interest-based cooperation among the world's great powers. The international system, however, is not a self-regulating mechanism; maintenance of order, once established, requires the active and full participation of major powers with high stakes in the effective functioning of the system.

In East Asia today, Japan and China are two such powers. The former is a long-standing democratic ally of the United States; the latter is a rising power destined to shape the contours of the 21st-century international order. Since coming to office in 2001, the Bush administration has attempted to engage both countries toward support of global and regional order. Yet the strategies adopted--and exemplified by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and current Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick--represent strikingly different approaches to order in East Asia and beyond.

The case for a Japan-centric strategy was articulated in a report prepared by a bipartisan study group chaired by Armitage and Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard, which was published by the National Defense University in October 2000. (1) Armitage drew heavily on the report as a road map for policy after joining the Bush administration a few months later. The China-centric approach, by contrast, gained visibility in a speech Zoellick delivered to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations in September 2005. (2) It would be misleading to suggest that these two documents represent the totality of the Bush administration's thinking on either Japan or China, but they do provide insights in the core elements and underlying logic of each approach. Particularly in East Asia, both documents are regarded as highly influential statements of American strategy.

Ultimately, the two strategies may prove compatible. The 2006 U.S. National Security Strategy combines elements of the Armitage and Zoellick approaches to international and regional order in articulating a "hedge strategy" toward China. (3) However, implementing the strategy will call for properly balancing its engagement and military legs. It will also require defining U.S. priorities in the interplay of global and regional interests and finding the right policy balance between China and Japan.

The Armitage Exegesis

Richard Armitage's emphasis on Japan reflects above all an alliance-centric approach for managing change. Anticipating the challenges of the new century, the Armitage report found the U.S.-Japan relationship to be "more important than ever." Japan not only had "the world's second-largest economy and a well-equipped and competent military" but also stood as "our democratic ally." In addition to many common interests, shared democratic values provide a firm and enduring foundation, allowing the two allies to cooperate readily in shaping the international order of the 21st century.

Looking back on the 1990s, the study group expressed concern that "China had become the principal focus of American policymakers," despite the fact that since the suppression of pro-democracy forces in Tiananmen, relations with China had been "characterized by a series of crises." Implicit in this concern was the criticism that the attention paid to China had come at the expense of the U.S.-Japan relationship and the alliance.

The Armitage report took the Clinton administration--and Japan--to task for failing to implement the security agenda set out in the 1996 U.S.-Japan Tokyo Declaration "in large measure because of concerns over Beijing's hostile reaction to the reinvigoration of the security partnership." The declaration provided a post-Cold War vision for alliance security cooperation, and Japan's subsequent 1997 Defense Guidelines committed Japan to provide rear area support to the United States in contingencies "in areas surrounding Japan. …

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