Mon, May 08, 2006 - Page 8 News List

A minnow among the big powers

By Chou Shyue-yow 周學佑

On May 2, the US and Japan published a joint statement about the realignment of US forces in Japan, the second so-called "2 plus 2" meeting under the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee.

The proposal of a rapid transformation of the US military power ratified by US President George W. Bush will soon be completed. It is clear that the US military deployment is moving southward to establish a warfare center in Kanagawa and redeploy its Air Force personnel to Kyushu and its Okinawa-based US soldiers to Guam.

Next month, the US will hold the largest military exercise in the Pacific Ocean since the Vietnam War, with the participation of nations including Japan, South Korea, Canada, Peru, Chile and Australia. The underlying goal of this drill is to tackle the US-Japan alliance's most sensitive issue: The rise of China.

China, of course, is aware of the implications of the US-Japan alliance.

It is also very much aware of the fact that there have been several Sino-Japanese spats recently, over the interpretation of history, controversial textbook materials, the sovereignty of the Diaoyutais, the development of the East China Sea continental shelf and the Taiwan issue.

The Sino-Japanese relationship is not as good as that between the US and Japan, and the US-Japanese relationship is, of course, more important than that between the US and China.

China has to take advantage of the differences between the US and Japan to restrict an increase in Japan's power.

As a result, their strategic orientation has turned east. Last August, following the joint "2 plus 2" statement made by the US and Japan, China launched a joint military exercise with Russia.

Ostensibly it was an anti-terror exercise, but actually it was a way to display the strength of the alliance of the two land power nations that is a counterweight to the sea-power alliance of the US and Japan.

The US-Japan alliance is the primary strategic entity in East Asia, with other bilateral relations in the region, including cross-strait relations, seen as secondary. Any objective regional situation must be seen in the light of this primary alliance, which is why the cooperation between the US and Japan is so significant to Taiwan.

First, the deepening of the US-Japan alliance indicates that the right-wing is still strong in both the US and Japan, and that the US is unwilling to withdraw from Asia.

This means that other nations within the region, including Taiwan, are more restricted in how they can act. As the US has no intention of pulling out, it can use its influence to maintain regional balance and prevent the rise of any power that could confront its own power on the European and Asian continents.

This strategic objective necessarily includes controlling the rise of China. But it also implies keeping Russia's ambitions in check and helping other nations in the region move toward democracy. Democratic countries have higher transparency, making it easier for a power to divine their intentions.

But they are also less effective, in that it is easier for that power to apply pressure and persuade such countries to go their own way, or to pull the puppet strings.

Second, the US-Japan coalition is based on national interests, and this does not necessarily work in Taiwan's favor. Taiwan has never played a key role in historical turning points in the region, and has long been dependent on outside help for its own national security.

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