If you paid attention to certain mainstream outlets on both the right and left, you may think that China and Japan have begun a fundamental re-orientation of their relationship. The longtime rivals, considered to make up the most dangerous relationship in Asia, have never gotten along for any prolonged period.
Yet, some critics of President Donald Trump’s trade policies have strongly implied, if not outright stated, that a little economic hardball may be driving Japan into China’s welcoming arms.
There’s no denying that Japan’s leadership is promoting a thawing of tensions between the two nations. President Shinzo Abe has said so himself.
“I want to lift up the Japan-China relationship to a new stage,” Mr. Abe said at a news conference this month, describing a May visit to Japan by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as “an important first step toward a dramatic improvement.” (Wall Street Journal)
However, let’s not forget that only a few months ago, Japan was engaging in rhetoric antithetical to what it is espousing now. Condemnation of Chinese practice and policy is the norm, while the latest show of goodwill is the exception.
‘Both sides in recent months have refrained from familiar denunciations in which Japan accuses China of trying to disrupt regional stability through force and China accuses Japan of ignoring the lessons of history through Mr. Abe’s military buildup.’ (WSJ)
It’s important to note that China and Japan are both export-dependent economies, and the imposition of tariffs by America effects both economies negatively. Japan’s economic system is already teetering on the brink of potential disaster. It’s shrinking, and has been bolstered only by unsustainable economic policy referred to as Abe-nomics, which has been likened to an ‘economic time bomb’. Meanwhile, speculators who profess that China’s debt-reliant economy is in for a major downturn sooner than later abound.
If there was ever an issue that these two nations could find common ground over, it’s mutual opposition to policies which could put further strain on the Asian economies. And, it appears that they have.
But let’s not mistake this recent agreement between the Asian powers as anything more than it is. China remains the greatest regional threat to Japan by a long shot. The same goes for Japan’s potential to inflict devastation upon China, though the military balance has certainly skewed in China’s favor in the decades post-WWII.
This imbalance of armaments is further reason why any posturing about Japan migrating away from the cold, metallic embrace of America’s defense sector are preposterous. The alliance between the two nations is one of such great mutual benefit that its dissolution would fundamentally alter geopolitics. America’s military presence in Japan serves as the greatest check on Chinese aggression – both Japan and America understand this, and both have great stake in stymying Chinese aggression.
The degredation of this alliance in any capacity would represent a massive step in the wrong direction for each nation, which is why it’s not going to happen. Plus, the suggestion that any real measure of trust can be established between China and Japan – especially in terms of military alliance – ignores history. Japan’s disarmament post-WWII has put them far behind China militarily, and trusting China not to eventually betray any kind of non-aggression pact would be purely fantastical. The Japanese people would never go for it, if a wrong-headed leader should be so ill-advised to propose the idea.
Some – almost exclusively critics of Donald Trump’s trade policies and the man more generally – are pushing hard to spread the implication that Japan and China are on the road to some sort of alliance. It’s the kind of dishonest fearmongering that is aimed solely at drumming up public condemnation of tariffs and the president himself.
Don’t buy it.
You can be against tariffs; many are, and lots of them voted for Donald Trump. Speculating on the negative consequences of a trade war and the misguided rationale of such tariffs is your right as a citizen in a country where free speech still exists, even in a diminished capacity. But citing a closer relationship between China and Japan as your reasoning for being anti-tariff will not come off as well-informed. Frankly, those who understand the deep-seated mistrust between the Asian powers will likely consider both your overt and implied assertions on the subject to be laughable.
If tariffs aimed at China end up materially impacting the Japanese economy, there will be a certain level of distaste and even enmity for the American President. However, even a Japanese economic crash couldn’t erase the skepticism or arms disparity between Japan and China.
America and Japan overcame WWII to eventually establish a sturdy alliance. Economic policy is not going to serve as the impetus to throw that allegiance away. So, don’t let anybody tell you that the trade war is driving Japan into China’s arms.
A single point of agreement and public cordiality do not an alliance make, nor do they an alliance break.