Uncomfortable bedfellows

Updated: 2014-04-22 08:13

By Li Wei (China Daily)

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The US and Japan will haggle over who gets what as they each look to use their security alliance to their own ends

Since the United States began to promote the rebalancing of its military and diplomatic assets toward the Asia-Pacific region, each trip to Asia by high-level officials from the White House and the Pentagon has been closely scrutinized by world's media. The state visit to Japan by US President Barack Obama from Wednesday to Friday is no exception, and it is already under the microscope.

This is because the realization of the core objective of Washington's Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy - to maintain the US' leadership in the Asia-Pacific region - to a large extent depends on how to better control and use its allies in the region. Japan is the US' most important ally in Asia, and to make good use of Japan is the direct goal of Obama's upcoming trip.

First of all, Obama is hoping to promote a reconciliation between Japan and the Republic of Korea in a bid to lay the foundation for the three countries to establish a multilateral diplomatic and defense cooperation mechanism. Over the past year, the statements and actions by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other conservatives around him on historical issues have not only complicated the security situation in East Asia, they have also had a negative impact on the US' strategic arrangement, as they have hindered the US' plan to establish a US-Japan-ROK trilateral defense mechanism.

Washington has not only been "disappointed" by Abe's words and deeds, it has been completely shocked. Without the first lady accompanying him, Obama's hurried schedule and low profile is in stark contrast to Tokyo's excited anticipation. Obama has to appear personally in order to press for better ties between Japan and the ROK. Under pressure from Washington, Abe finally promised that his government would not revise the Kono Statement concerning "comfort women", the Japanese military's sex slaves in World War II. So it is likely that Obama will try to further remove obstacles for the establishment of a US-led tripartite cooperation mechanism during his visit.

Second, Obama will make known his position on the US-Japan alliance in order to reassure Tokyo that the US' strategic return to Asia remains the top priority in its foreign and security strategy. Tokyo has demanded that the US directly state that the Diaoyu Islands of China, named the Senkaku Islands in Japanese, are subject to Article 5 of the treaty, but the US has refused to do so, as it believes that there is indeed a dispute concerning the sovereignty over the islands. In order to seek confirmation of the US position, the Japanese government might use the relaxation of conditions for the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as a bargaining chip. Doing so will present Obama with a very difficult situation, whereas Abe can take this opportunity to reject domestic anti-TPP groups.

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