Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Asian Alliances: Chinese and Japanese Experiences Compared

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Asian Alliances: Chinese and Japanese Experiences Compared

Article excerpt

MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS SINCE THE END OF THE COLD WAR, THE Japan-US security alliance, the crown jewel of the pentagonal US security network in the Asia Pacific (which also includes South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand) remains in effect. Its continuing political relevance became clear in the events of September-October 2010, when a Chinese fishing trawler in ter- ritorial waters claimed by Japan as well as China collided with two pursuing Japanese coast guard patrol boats, leading to the arrest of crew and captain. This incident quickly precipitated demonstrations in Chinese cities, diplomatic protests, even an (unofficial) embargo on the export of rare earth elements, on which China has an effective monopoly. Again in the summer of 2012, Japan's purchase of three of the uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu islands unleashed passionate mass protests in some fifty Chinese cities along with a consumer boycott, stimu- lating protests in Japanese cities as well. Confronting Japan as the initiating claimant in this dispute was the People's Republic of China (PRC). But as Beijing soon learned, any thought of esca- lating the dispute from invective to action risked activating the Japan-US security alliance, a formidable combination that China would face alone.

China's most important prior experience with alliances was the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assis- tance, formalized after intensive negotiations in February 1950. Although the Sino-Soviet alliance remained formally in effect until it expired thirty years later, strains in the alliance began to emerge in the late 1950s over questions of ideology, security, and economic development, culminating in public polemics and ulti- mately in violent territorial strife by the end of the 1960s. The question posed here is, How have such varied alliance experiences in China and Japan affected their respective foreign policies, par- ticularly their bilateral relations?

In view of the pivotal role of these alliances in the relation- ship among four powers with the largest economies in the world, three of which are nuclear-weapon states, a comparative analysis of alliance conceptualization and implementation in China and Japan may throw some light on at least one source of misunder- standing and tension in East Asia. I begin with a general review of the concept of alliance in the Asian context, focusing on recent Japanese and Chinese experiences. Though a staple of interna- tional politics in the West since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, alliances are relatively new to East Asia. In the second section I analyze how similar but divergent alliance conceptions have influ- enced subsequent political behavior among these countries.


The Logic of Alliances

Alliances, according to Snyder, are "formal associations of states for the use (or non-use) of military force, intended for either the security or the aggrandizement of their members, against specific other states, whether or not these others are explicitly identified" (Snyder 1990, 104).1 There are at least two interpretations of the logic of alliance formation. The first is "realist," rooted in balance- of-power theory: When a nation comes under threat and is unable to deter based solely on its own resources, it has two kinds of choices: attempt to appease or form an alliance with the source of the threat ("bandwagoning"), or try to resist the threat, either through self-strengthening (internal balancing) or by forming an alliance with another country (or countries) with a common inter- est in deterring the source of threat (external balancing) (Walt 2009). An alliance is what comes into play in the case of external balancing. "Power" is conceived to be a universal value, so the theory is readily applicable to any actor in the international system.

The second logic is constructivist, according to which threat, power, and other relevant variables may be differently understood in different political cultural contexts, in that the perception of threat depends not only on the objective balance of forces but on the Zeitgeist, ideological perspective, domestic political situation, prior history of specific interstate relationships, national identity, out-group stereotypes, and other contextual variables (Frederking 2003; Inoguchi 2005). …

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