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Cover Stories Series 2013> Monitoring East China Sea Airspace> Archive
UPDATED: March 4, 2013 NO. 10 MARCH 7, 2013
Abe's Lousy Souvenir
Japanese prime minister's U.S. trip didn't go as expected due to differing demands in East Asia
By Ding Ying

Abe's meeting with Obama was an important part of Abe's diplomatic design, said Gao Hong, another CASS researcher on Japanese studies. Gao pointed out that Abe tried to persuade Japanese people that his government can do better than the previous administration under the Democratic Party of Japan. Moreover, Abe aimed to win Washington at his side in order to gain support to cope with Japan's current diplomatic dilemma. For the U.S. side, it needs Japan's assistance in East Asia to implement its Asia-Pacific policy. But it doesn't want to sabotage the China-U.S. relationship when Japan crosses the line for being too self-assured of the Japan-U.S. alliance. This was the reason why Washington refused Abe's visit request when he expressed an aggressive attitude on the territorial dispute in January, and also the reason why Washington avoided talking about the Diaoyu Island issue openly during Abe's visit.

Future TPP

Unlike security issues, the two sides made some progress on the economic front. Obama said the two agreed that the "number one priority" must be increasing growth and making sure people of both countries can prosper. Washington wants Tokyo to join negotiations for the TPP, a region-wide free trade pact advocated by the United States. The two clearly reached consensus on this matter. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the two countries confirmed that should Japan join the negotiations, "all goods would be subject to negotiation."

"The economy is an area in which both Japan and the United States need to make some efforts. The U.S. side hopes to recover from the financial crisis, while Tokyo must revive its economy to solve its domestic problems," Pang said.

Pang stressed that Japan and the United States made compromises in signing the joint statement. "Their compromises indicate the two countries' common urgent demand of stepping out of the current economic difficulties," Pang said. He explained that the U.S. side needs to drive deeper into the Asia-Pacific region, which is considered the driving engine of the world economy, and dragging Japan into the TPP is a U.S. tactic to guide the economic development in the region in a U.S. style. It also seeks to balance growing Chinese influence in the region, he added. For Japan, joining the U.S.-headed TPP can take part in the profit of the partnership, so as to introduce external momentum to pull the Japanese economy out of recession, Pang said.

The two sides will face obstacles in following negotiations. For example, Japan will have to open its domestic markets that have been highly protected, such as the agricultural industry, to get investment, cheaper food and energy. Therefore, the agreement will also cause disagreements inside Japan, said Pang.

Jia Xiudong, a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies, said, "Washington and Tokyo have different demands on each other, so they are choosing to use each other by boosting their alliance." Japan needs the alliance to pose an influential force in Asia, and the United States needs Japan to complete its regional strategy. Washington considers the alliance as a cornerstone of its Asia-Pacific security strategy. But its precondition is that Japan must obey and serve U.S. global strategy and practical interests.

Jia pointed out that Washington consistently takes a dual-edge strategy on Japan, both utilizing and restraining it. And the strategy becomes obvious especially on issues concerning China. If Japan wants U.S. support, it must pay—just like Japan's compromise on the TPP agreement.

In matters concerning diplomatic relationships, it is always a country's interest that leads. Washington knows that. But does Japan? If Japan does, it will choose to deal with territorial disputes with its neighbors in a "calm manner" as it promised during Abe's visit to the United States. Conducting active, peaceful and practical cooperation in the region will surely be much more rational and comfortable than swallowing sugar-coated empty promises from the United States.

Email us at: dingying@bjreview.com

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