Japan's `arc of freedom' shifting the balance

By Lee Cheng-hung 李政鴻  / 

Thu, Aug 30, 2007 - Page 8

On his visit to India, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe talked about his idea of establishing an "arc of freedom and prosperity" consisting of Japan, India, the US and Australia. It is no accident that this concept doesn't include China.

It is worth noting that the fact he brought up this idea demonstrates Japan's intention to challenge China's rise in power.

It would be in Taiwan's interest if it would publicly announce that it welcomes Abe's idea, and actively join these four countries.

The book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives, by former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, sees the rise of China and Japan's attitude as the key factors influencing Asia and even the whole world.

Americans often think that it was only because of the protection provided by the US military that Japan could reach its current economic status.

That's why the US demands Japan make a contribution whenever the US is confronted with an international crisis. But Japan is limited by the regulations in its Constitution, and often takes responsibility for part of the military expenses instead of directly contributing military power.

The US is not very satisfied with this kind of cooperation, but if Japan were to decide that it wanted to be a stronger player on the global political stage, the US would have to worry about how to handle the change in the situation and what that would mean to the relations between the US, China and Japan.

The rise of China and its important role in the region are already a reality.

According to Brzezinski's point of view, the US should treat China as its most important partner, and use this relationship to contribute to making China a more democratic country.

This was also the principle behind former US president Bill Clinton's policy of "constructive engagement" with China. What US President George W. Bush is worried about is China, Russia and Iran forming an alliance against the US. Although he thinks that -- rationally -- China would not choose this path, he can't entirely rule out the possibility.

The primary country hindering China from assuming hegemony in Asia is Japan. Japan's attitude is determined by its impression of China

If Japan feels threatened, it's unlikely that it will continue to meekly walk along on the US' leash.

At the beginning of this year, Japan upgraded its Defense Agency to a ministry level and strengthened its navy.

Also, Abe made amending the constitution one of the goals to be completed within his term as premier.

These are all signs showing that Japan's attitude toward China is changing. Because of geopolitical reasons, Japan cannot just sit and do nothing while China is so clearly on the rise.

The "arc of freedom and prosperity" that Abe talked about in India is mostly based on the two important ideologies of political democracy and economic freedom.

Apart from the US, Australia and India sharing these two important values, Japan chose these three countries for geopolitical and geo-economical reasons.

China is without a doubt their biggest perceived enemy.

Taiwan should be the country most worthy of an invitation to join these four countries, and it could also be the keystone in the arc of freedom and prosperity.

Lee Cheng-hung is a doctoral candidate at National Sun Yat-sen University.

Translated by Anna Stiggelbout