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Global Commentary
Monday, 21 March 2005
The China threat
Topic: Politics
Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, has written an article entitled "The real 'China threat'". In the article, he describes how China's rise in the past few decades is being perceived in the United States as a threat to its dominance.

An important basis for Johnson's position is that historically, the United States, like Britain before it, has had difficulty adjusting to the emergence of new centres of power. In the past century, the United States, with Britain, has fought two world wars to curb the rise of Germany and Japan, and a cold war to thwart Russia.

Now, the United States has turned its attention to China. And where Britain was its close ally in opposing Germany and Russia, Japan is now being seen in the United States as its "proxy in...balancing China". Hence, its repeated requests to Japan to rearm, despite the apprehension of most other Asian countries.

Johnson thinks that President Bush's administration has been actively pursuing a strategy that is hostile towards China's rise. He quoted President Bush as saying that he would do "[w]hatever it takes to help Taiwan defend herself". During its convention in August, the Republican Party proclaimed that "America will help Taiwan defend itself". And in February, President Bush went to Europe where he urged European leaders not to lift their ban on military sales to China.

On 19 February, the United States signed a new military agreement with Japan in which the Taiwan Strait was identified as a "common strategic objective". Johnson describes this as the Bush administration's "most dangerous card".

"Japan had decisively ended six decades of official pacifism by claiming a right to intervene in the Taiwan Strait," he warned. "It is possible that, in the years to come, Taiwan itself may recede in importance to be replaced by even more direct Sino-Japanese confrontations. This would be an ominous development indeed, one that the United States would be responsible for having abetted but would certainly be unable to control."

Johnson is almost certainly correct in saying that the Taiwan issue threatens to drag China, Japan and the United States into military conflict. However, President Bush -- to be fair to him -- is not exactly oblivious to the danger.

Recall that in late 2003, in response to Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian's proposal to hold a referendum regarding China's missile threat -- a referendum which was widely seen as an attempt to stoke independence sentiment among Taiwanese -- President Bush had reaffirmed the United States' one-China policy and said that he opposed any "unilateral decision to change...the status quo", adding that "the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally to change the status quo -- which we oppose" (see the CNN report "Blunt Bush message for Taiwan").

Nevertheless, Johnson's overall message -- that opposition to China's rise is dangerous and ill-conceived -- is an important one. He asks rhetorically: "Why should China's emergence as a rich, successful country be to the disadvantage of either Japan or the United States?" Then advises with a warning: "The world needs to adjust peacefully to its legitimate claims...while checking unreasonable Chinese efforts to impose its will on the region. Unfortunately, the trend of events in East Asia suggests we may yet see a repetition of the last Sino-Japanese conflict, only this time the US is unlikely to be on the winning side."

Posted by lim_cs at 3:31 PM WST | post your comment (0) | link to this post

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