Japan and South Korea are military allies

Geopolitical Shift in the Pacific : Japan feels abandoned by the US

Wieland Wagner was a correspondent in Asia for a long time and is the author of the book "Japan - Descent in Dignity. How an aging country struggles for its future".


It was almost the same as always when a Japanese prime minister calls a newly elected US president. In Tokyo it was pointed out afterwards that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was the first Asian to congratulate Joe Biden.

And that he wants to be the first to travel to Washington, probably in February, as befits America's closest allies. Even before the President of South Korea, the unloved neighbor.

So far everything was routine. What made people sit up and take notice, however, was that Biden assured his caller that, in an emergency, the USA would fulfill its military obligation under Article 5 of the bilateral alliance agreement.

Specifically, Biden's commitment referred to the Senkaku Islands (Chinese: Diaoyu). These uninhabited rocks in the East China Sea are also claimed by China; The emerging superpower has its own coastguard patrolling the adjacent waters almost every day. Suga is apparently so concerned about this that he insisted on renewing the American protection commitment.

In Tokyo, many doubt America's protective power

Because in Tokyo many doubt that American soldiers would shed their blood for uninhabited Japanese islands in an emergency. Just as the island country trusts less and less in the Pacific protective power, which under US President Donald Trump primarily insisted on its own interests and seems to be paralyzed by the crisis of American democracy these days.

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Japan feels abandoned by Washington, even if it has so far patiently accepted every turn in US policy. First the third largest economy had to endure how Trump canceled the planned Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (TPP), with which China should be excluded. Next, Trump started a trade war with China that particularly affects Japan.

China is Japan's largest trading partner, with around 14,000 Japanese companies doing their business in the huge neighboring market. But in the wake of the new Cold War proclaimed by Trump, the US is also pushing Japan to decouple economically from the People's Republic. Since last Sunday, however, it has been shown that a completely different decoupling has begun in the Asia-Pacific region than that desired by Washington: Together with 14 other Asian countries, Japan has entered into the new free trade zone led by China, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP ), merged.

Japan's behavior shows the erosion of US domination in the region

These include the US allies Australia and
South Korea. The example of the hitherto loyal Japan is particularly striking
blatant. Because it proves how American hegemony is in
Asia slowly threatens to erode. Japan is like the canary in
the coal mine, which first indicates when the air is dangerously thin
becomes.

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The Japanese withdrawal movement only affects them for the time being
Economy. Militarily, however, the aging Japan has none
Alternative than on the nuclear protective shield of its former
To trust occupying power.

But it becomes clear that the business basis for the US-Japanese alliance is crumbling because the US is increasingly questioning multilateral trade. Japan fears being crushed in the conflict between Washington and
Beijing. Unlike Germany, it has no EU and no NATO. The drifting country nervously snaps at any free trade agreement that offers it additional security: 2016 with the ten Pacific TPP countries, 2017 with the EU, recently with Great Britain for the time after Brexit and now with China's RCEP.

Japan needs a strong America


How closely and how permanently Japan will continue to submit politically to the USA depends on the future Biden government. Tokyo initially reacted with relief to the Democrat's victory. "I told him that we would like to cooperate with the US to create a free and open Indo-Pacific region," said Prime Minister Suga after his phone call with Biden. Japanese politicians like to use the formula of the free and open Indo-Pacific region when they are actually expressing their fear of China.

But in order to curb the rival's hegemonic drive, Japan needs a strong America. Only: Japan cannot expect a return to pre-Trump times from Biden. Domestically, Biden is unlikely to be able to afford to join the TPP, the free trade agreement that Trump canceled.

They call him "Yabaiden" - a mixture of Biden and the Japanese word for "risky"

In the Japanese ruling party, among the conservatives
Liberal Democrats, some even suspect that Biden is dealing with China
State and party leader Xi Jinping could arrange at the expense
Japan. They call the future US president “Yabaiden” - one
Word creation from his family name and the Japanese word
“Yabai”. That means in German: risky.

For China it is a coup that Japan of all places is beginning to feel its way away from the ailing USA. Japan was the first Asian country to join the United States in 1853 as part of its western expansion
Forced opening. After Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945, it was the Americans who occupied the empire and educated it to be democratic.

Japan always orientates itself towards the most successful great power

But this almost 170 years of the American
Influences act like an episode when compared to the
Comparing Sino-Japanese Relations. As early as the 7th century, Japan began its state system based on the Chinese model
centralize. The Chinese took it over from the Middle Kingdom
Chinese characters, Buddhism, Confucianism and much more.
Japan's rulers followed a principle that still applies today: you
are based on the great power that is currently most powerful to them
and appears most successful.

Today Japan is more closely intertwined with China than it has been for a long time
economically and culturally. Chinese firms buy the remains of the
Japanese electronics industry to acquire Chinese billionaires
on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido huge lands and
Chinese mass tourists are often Nippons' greatest hope
Hotel industry.
The perpetual dispute over the Senkaku Islands does little to change any of this.
The Tokyo government avoids everything the communist bosses do
could provoke in Beijing: Criticism of the incorporation of Hong Kong
or the oppression of the Uyghurs is hard to hear from Tokyo. Also in
the new common free trade area is likely to adhere to the
Adjust geopolitical power shift. Time works for that
Empire of the middle.

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