The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Japan Embraces US In Game of Thrones

With its island disputes with China getting serious, Japan is beginning to play a more active role in the Game of Thrones. Already this week, we’ve seen signs that Japan is moving closer to India and Taiwan, and now it appears to be moving closer to America as well. The US and Japan haven’t seen eye-to-eye on a number of issues recently, but the FT reports that Tokyo is appealing to Washington to update their defense co-operation guidelines in reference to China, something which hasn’t been done since 1997. This move has generally been seen as an attempt to enlist American help in its struggles with China:

“There are lots of risks that were not really anticipated 15 years ago [including] the issue of China’s maritime emergence,” Mr Morimoto said, citing other newly pressing problems such as terrorism, cyber security and leadership changes in North Korea.

The minister said he hoped to start discussions with Washington on revisions to the guidelines before the end of the year.

China, naturally, will be none too happy about this development, but this comes largely as a result of its own policies. As China steadily becomes more assertive in the Pacific, other states with an interest in the Pacific—Japan very much included—are driven into an even tighter embrace of the US. This is the conundrum at the heart of Chinese foreign policy—the harder it pushes outward, the tighter its encirclement becomes.

This is largely a victory for American policy in Asia, but there are plenty of challenges for Washington as well. The US needs to be careful that its allies in the Pacific are pulling their weight and aren’t rely on America to do all the heavy lifting. In this case, the US will need to both reassure Japan and urge it to take on more of the burden of regional defense itself; the US wants to work cooperatively with others interested in the security and peace of Asia, not to single-handedly take on the burden of a long terms arms race with China.

Published on November 11, 2012 12:00 pm