From international affairs newsletter Earlywarning:
President Bush tours East Asia this week, Washington is pursuing a
strategic agenda which could produce significant changes in the region.
Stretched with its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US
is set on reducing its military commitment to the Far East. Pentagon
warnings of the problems of mounting any further action in the Middle
East – for instance against Iran or Syria – are hitting home in the
Warnings by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
about China’s rising military power are intended to sound a warning to
the region. In the face of the PLA build-up, at sea as well as in
planes and missiles, East Asia can no longer count on the all-embracing
US military umbrella that has covered the region since 1945.
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shift is behind the new security agreement reached between Washington
and Tokyo at the end of October – though Washington would like Tokyo to
move faster. Under the agreement, the two countries will set up a joint
operations centre, and Japan will form a Central Readiness Force
Command for ground forces.
Seven thousand US Marines will move
to Guam from Okinawa. The US is also making a point of re-stating its
nuclear protection for Japan, seeking to head off development of
nuclear weapons there.
To achieve its purpose of reducing its
commitment on the ground in East Asia and to encourage Tokyo to send
forces abroad, as in Iraq, Washington will need to see the revision of
the country’s constitution to go through to allow Tokyo to take a
higher-profile military stance by revision of the “no war” clause.
will encourage those in Japan who want to end the subordinate position
which their country has occupied since its defeat in 1945. That, in
turn, could face the United States with the job of managing a radically
changed relationship in which Tokyo claims greater strategic parity in
This would inevitably, arouse deep disquiet in
Beijing, ratcheting up the tension between the two major Far Eastern
powers which earlywarning has highlighted as one of the main threats to
global stability – particularly as Japan steps up its backing for
Countries like South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines
and Indonesia will have to choose between Japan and China, as military
rivalry runs in tandem with Beijing’s drive to push its economic
presence in a region where Tokyo traditionally made the running as a
regional foreign investor.
The Sino-Japanese economic
relationship, with trade running at $US 210 billion a year, could also
come under strain, threatening the operations of major Japanese
companies which use the mainland as a major assembly zone for their
The dynamic of Japan’s emerging position is likely
to continue as Tokyo moves from merely being content to assure its own
defence into a more outgoing strategic posture. Any help it can give
Washington in areas like Iraq, North Korea or the security of shipping
lanes will bolster US backing for its new course – whatever the
regional tensions that result as Washington re-assesses its strategic
view of China.