Thu, May 10, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Kurt Campbell on Taiwan: The silence in the US-JApan 2+2 statement

By Kurt Campbell

The recent 2+2 statement emanating from the US and Japanese ministers' meeting in Washington in the immediate aftermath of the summit between US President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe represents the logical growth and diversification of the most important US alliance in Asia. Underscoring an increasingly complex set of overt missions and unstated intentions, the document is more detailed -- but less ambitious -- than previous 2+2 statements.

In this respect, it reads like a workmanlike roadmap on a range of operational and policy tasks confronting the leadership in Washington and Tokyo.

What has raised a few eyebrows is the general absence of the subject of the situation across the Taiwan Strait as an enduring matter of mutual concern, particularly given the central treatment of the subject in the previous 2+2 statements when the US and Japan came out firmly and in unison for preserving peace and security across the Taiwan Strait.

The most recent 2+2 document underscores the simultaneous operational challenges and global objectives of the US-Japan alliance. Reflecting the new realities of a nuclear North Korea and the potential anxieties this provokes, the document takes pains to reaffirm the US nuclear umbrella over Japan and the continued relevance of extended deterrence in Asia.

There is also a very clear desire to shore up signs of disagreement between the US and Japan on six-party negotiating matters, including Tokyo's unhappiness over the unfreezing of disputed North Korean holdings in a bank in Macau and the downplaying of the abductees issue.

Also, continuing a recent trend in highlighting common values, the statement underscores the common democratic inheritance and purpose in the US and Japan's approach to the world.

In addition, there is a clear call for greater operational cooperation and strategic dialogue among several key states, including the US, Japan, India and Australia, a kind of "containment-lite" effort with China clearly in mind.

However, to balance out the clear intent of this subtle grouping of nations are reassuring words to China which make clear that both the US and Japan prefer to see China's emergence as a peaceful, stable and harmonious player in Asia.

This is significant given all the recent tension in Sino-Japanese relations and the clear competition between Tokyo and Beijing.

And finally, the document contains the inevitable nuts of bolts of the maintenance of the military dimensions of the alliance, including specifics about adjusting military airspace and the status of US bases in Japan.

However, documents such as these are important not only for what is specifically articulated but for things that go unmentioned as well. And in this respect, the subject of the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan itself goes unheeded. What is the meaning behind such an oversight?

The truth is probably multifaceted and layered. Documents such as these can resemble at a quick glance a laundry list of "to-do" items with no particular organizing principle, but in truth, respective bureaucracies labor over every word and punctuation mark in a 2+2 statement: Few other official joint statements receive such careful attention.

So be assured that the drafters were mindful of what they were doing by ignoring the Taiwan dimension in this most recent statement.

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