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Foreign Policy

Risks for US Military Strategy in Asia Loom Large

May 08 , 2015
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

With the conclusion of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the United States from April 26 to May 3, 2015, the US and Japan are set to further strengthen their military cooperation in a way that “marks a turning point in history”. The most significant feature of the new guidelines for their military cooperation is that the US will support the Japanese self-defense force in playing an active role in any part of the world in the name of helping to provide the US and other partners, when attacked by force, with defense capability.

That would mean Japan must no longer observe the prohibition of “the right of belligerency” as stipulated in Article 9 of the Japanese constitution and that Japan will fully exercise collective self-defense in disregard of the Japanese constitutional stipulations and relevant decisions of the previous cabinets. The new direction of the US-Japan military cooperation has quickly become one of the major concerns in Asia and other parts of the world. In the short term, it would seemingly help the US overcome difficulties resulting from federal budget constraints when implementing the strategy of rebalance in Asia. In the long term, however, with the profound change of the world situation, risks for the current US military strategy in Asia will be looming large. Most probably, the US cannot escape the fate of reaping what it has sown.

History is like a mirror, and can serve as a good teacher. When the world is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the victory in the Chinese people’s war of resistance against Japan and of the victory in the world anti-fascist war, it is particularly helpful to understand why the US military strategy in Asia is misguided by briefly reviewing a few relevant segments of history.

History shows that a strong military force in Japan is the cause of wars in Asia and the world. In this sense it is undoubtedly dangerous for the US to foster Japan’s military forces for its immediate interests of maintaining the so-called “leadership position” in the world at present.

During the Meiji Restoration, Japan underwent a political, social and industrial evolution and the rulers of the country redoubled their efforts to build a military force capable of establishing hegemony in northeast Asia. Japan fought two wars, the first one against China between August 1894 and April 1895, the second one against Russia between February 1904 and September 1905. On a course of expansion, Japan went on to impose colonial rule in Korea in 1910.

After the Meiji Restoration, Japan had the strongest military force in the region. Japan’s imperialist avarice led to the outbreak of the September 18 incident in 1931 in northeast China, and reinforced its ambition to colonize the whole of China. In a report at a conference of Party activists on December 27, 1935, Mao Zedong pointed out that “the Japanese imperialists have already shown their intention of penetrating south of the Great Wall and occupying all China. Now they want to convert the whole of China from a semi-colony shared by several imperialist powers into a colony monopolized by Japan.” Nearly two years before Japan launched an all-out war of aggression against China on July 7, 1937,Mao Zedong already had a keen insight into Japan’s true intentions against China and its plans to drive the US, Britain and others out of China in its colonization process. However, Japan’s evil intentions against the US were not realized by American strategists and policy makers until the surprise strike on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, because the US was so seriously indulged in the policy of appeasement towards Japan. The US paid a price in blood and loss of life for its fatal miscalculation of Japan’s strategic intentions and US policy blunders.

On May 25, 1941, Mao Zedong exposed the plot of “a compromise between Japan and the United States at the expense of China and the creation of an Eastern Munich against communism and against the Soviet Union”. However, Mao Zedong’s warning was not heeded by the US policy makers. The US was so keen on conducting negotiations with Japan that the strike on Pearl Harbor came as a profound shock. With the wrong strategic judgment, it was quite natural for the US to neglect valuable clues for discovering Japan’s military plans against the US.

Though history would not repeat itself in exactly the same way, it is invaluable to recognize historical similarities. With the new guidelines for US-Japan military cooperation implemented, a strong Japanese military force will emerge in Asia and Japan will play an active military role in world affairs. If Japan will truly and firmly take the road of peaceful development with US help, the strong Japanese military force would not be the cause of new wars or new dangers to world peace. More likely, the strong Japanese military force will pose serious challenges and risks for the US and other countries in the world. The latest political developments in Japan are not telling the world that Japan is determined to take the road of peaceful development. Japan’s lack of sincere remorse for its military aggression, refusal to officially apologize for its war crimes during World War II and for “sex slaves” used by the Japanese imperial military all indicate that Japan’s expressed intention to take a road of peaceful development is not to be fully believed. One wonders if Japan, when stronger in military strength, will compete with the US for a leadership position in Asia, and if the US would make the same blunders as those made in the months just before the Pearl Harbor incident. In particular, the situation in Asia would become even more worrisome when the US takes sides on territorial disputes between Japan and its neighbors.

The deepening US military involvement in Asia with US-Japan military cooperation as the main pillar goes against the world tide of peace and development, and against the will of the Asian people. Therefore, risks for the unwise US military strategy in Asia are looming large and the US would have to attend to it very seriously and change course in the not-too-distant future.

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