Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Multihegemony, Sutured Regionness, and the US-China-Japan Triangle

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Multihegemony, Sutured Regionness, and the US-China-Japan Triangle

Article excerpt

WITH 2014 MARKING THE CENTENARY OF THE OUTBREAK OF WORLD War I, academic and journalistic attention is being paid to a set of extraordinary parallels between the security landscapes of prewar Europe and twenty-first-century Northeast Asia (Allison 2014; Tirone and Donahue 2014). Among the similarities are the rise of nationalism, unresolved territorial disputes, an intricate system of alliances, and power transition. The 1914-2014 comparison has also been used by top politicians. At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2014, Japan's prime minister Abe Shinzo compared China-Japan relations to those of Britain and Germany prior to World War I, when they went to war in spite of the manifold economic ties between them (Nihon keizai shimbun 2014a). Although the context of his remark was that Japan and China must do everything to avoid a similar fate, China denounced Abe's comparison. "I wish to emphasize that 2014 is not 1914, still less 1894," Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said, adding that "instead of using Germany before the First World War as an object lesson, why not use Germany after the Second World War as a role model?" (Wong 2014). Wang urged Japan to follow the path of post-World War II Germany, which made a clear break from the imperial past and played a leading role in the creation of the European Union.

Pundits joined the controversy as well. Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger asked China and Japan to exercise restraint at the Munich Security Conference, saying, "Asia is more in a position of 19th-century Europe, where military conflict is not ruled out" (Tirone and Donahue 2014). Graham Allison said, "The fact that Presidents Obama and Xi understand that war would be folly for both China and the US is relevant but not dispositive" (Allison 2014).

One of the objectives of war is to eliminate the identity threat for the actor but, given the results of World War I, the very act of going to war has eliminated the identities not just of enemies but also of the region itself. Consequently, it is crucial to have a thorough look at what leads great powers to the brink of war. In particular, it is necessary to cross-check the goals and capabilities of great powers and regional constellations of power and hegemony during the two wartime periods.

My article compares pre-World War I Europe and post-2010 Northeast Asia. The year 2010 marked the emergence of China as the world's number two economic power, with a gross domestic product (GDP) that surpassed Japan's. The United States was and remains one of the main players in the regional security dynamics of Northeast Asia. I will focus on US-China-Japan triangular relations because major wars in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries were fought alternately between two of the three powers: the first Sino-Japanese (1894-1895) and second Sino-Japanese (1937-1945) Wars, World War II (United States vs. Japan), and the Korean War (United States vs. China). The Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) was the sole exception. The US-ChinaJapan triangular relationship will remain the main determinant of the security dynamics of Northeast Asia for many years to come. In a parallel to World War I, surging nationalism in China and Japan and territorial disputes over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyudao in Chinese) have been identified as the catalysts for military clashes, while Japan's military alliance with the United States and US-China hegemonic competition have been referred to as structural and institutional factors that could potentially turn bilateral conflicts into an international war (Friedberg 2005).

With balance of power (BOP) theory predicting the possibility of conflicts between great powers at times of power transition (Mearsheimer 2001; Morgenthau 1948; Waltz 1979), I argue that the possibility of a major war is relatively low in Northeast Asia, even though a limited form of military confrontation cannot be totally discounted (Kivimaki 2014; Pinker 2011). …

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