February 7, 2005

FUTILE FLIRTATION:

Japanese nervous again, this time over China (James Brooke, February 7, 2005, The New York Times)

In the eyes of Shintaro Ishihara and others here, Japan used to be too meek and mild, allowing an overbearing United States to push it around. Ishihara was one of the authors of the best seller "The Japan That Can Say No," a call for national spine-stiffening that framed the foreign policy debate here in the 1990s. One of Japan's responses was to build a thriving relationship with China, whether Washington liked it or not.

Now Ishihara and Japanese nationalists like him are at it again, but in reverse. It's an overbearing China that needs to be told no, they say; the alliance with America should be nurtured.

The latest rallying point involves the economic rights to a large swath of the Pacific Ocean around an uninhabited Japanese atoll about 1,800 kilometers, or 1,100 miles, southwest of Tokyo. Ishihara, now the governor of Tokyo, briefed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last week on a plan to cement Japan's claim to the ocean rights by building a power plant near Okinotori Island and encouraging commercial fishing.

"We will conduct economic activities there," the governor said. "We will not let China say anything about it."

That kind of talk breaks with the stereotype of modern Japan's make-no-waves foreign policy and is all the more remarkable considering the huge economic stake Japan has in China. Long the leading destination for Japanese foreign investment, China displaced the United States last year as Japan's biggest single trading partner.

But Beijing's "peaceful rise" unnerves Tokyo. It has reacted by building up its lukewarm partnership with Washington into a rock-solid alliance.


Pity the poor Japanese, no one here even cared about their dalliance with China.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 7, 2005 12:01 PM
Comments

The Japanese are less well loved in China than the Germans are in Eastern Europe, just to get some perspective on the 'Japanese flirtation.'

The uber-nationalists in Japan, like the unintentionally comical Ishihara, may hate the US but even they know that they are stuck with us.

Posted by: Bart at February 7, 2005 1:30 PM

Back in the halcyon days of the high Nikkei, I think a large number of policy makers cared about Japan leading an Asian bloc.

Ishihara is a Japanese nationalist, but not reflexivley anti-American. He made some good points. I read the Japan that can say No in my Jap-bashing days, but came to realize his criticisms were not unjust. I remember reading an interview at some point where Ishihara said that he criticized America, unlike Europe, because he thought America was still capable to shaking off decline but that Europe was already hopeless.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at February 7, 2005 6:52 PM

Chris:

No one who mattered cared about the boogeyman of a rising Japan. For example, Reagan didn't, Mondale did.

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2005 7:44 PM
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