DYLAN RAMOS WRITES — North Korean missiles, awkward Trump handshakes and the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya may dominate today’s Asia headlines. But in his new book, “Asia’s Reckoning,” journalist Richard McGregor turns the spotlight to the more enduring, triangular relationship between the United States, China and Japan.
To look forward, McGregor first takes us back, exploring bits of history such as the U.S. ending Japan’s isolation via gunboat diplomacy in the 1850s, the carving up of China over the 19th and 20th centuries, the U.S. occupation of Japan after World War II and the spread of Socialism in China and elsewhere.
He notes that Japan’s victory in 1905 over Russia, a Western power, inspired leaders from Jawaharlal Nehru to Mao Zedong with hopes they too could be decolonized. The country’s economic progress post-WWII similarly inspired the so-called “Asian Tigers” of Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. In turn, if it weren’t for Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and the success of overseas Chinese populations, Deng Xiaoping would not likely have considered the reforms that set China on its current path to power.
Despite this, McGregor says that Mao was still acutely aware of Japan’s influence and value to the U.S. He sought to strengthen ties between Communist China and Japan, once telling a Japanese delegation they “cannot be asked to apologize everyday” for Japan’s wartime atrocities, a line President Xi Jinping’s party could not be imagined voicing today.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has previously suggested the rearmament of Japan, similar to when the Self-Defense Forces were created. McGregor notes that President Richard Nixon pushed his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to convey such suggestions as implicit threats to former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.
As the Japan Times reports, “such events hold particular relevance today, as Beijing seeks to match and eventually surpass Washington as the dominant Pacific power, and as Japan works to build the strongest security ties it has ever had with the U.S. under the administration of President Donald Trump.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who secured his third term as head-of-government on October 22, is a fan of Nippon Kaigi (“Japan Conference”), an ultra-nationalist, right-wing organization that, among other things, calls for the revision of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which relinquished the country’s right to declare war and maintain offensive military forces back in 1947. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, leader of Japan’s main opposition party, is also affiliated with the group.
With an administration in the White House that can be unpredictable, to say the least, and leaders in both China and Japan intent on increasing their countries’ power, the future of the Pacific is up for grabs. “Asia’s Reckoning,” as McGregor calls it, has arrived.