U.S. strategy in Asia Clinton visit: Sound relations with Japan essential for dealing with China.

April 17, 1996

CHINESE BELLIGERENCY in the Taiwan Strait, North Korean provocation at the 38th Parallel and Okinawan rebellion against an outsized presence of American troops may have knocked some sense into the governments of Japan and the United States. Coincident with President Clinton's meeting with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto is a long-overdo emphasis on the central importance of the U.S.-Japan military alliance.

Years of acrimonious trade disputes take their toll. The populations of the two countries still regard one another with suspicion bordering on dislike. But with Chinese ascendancy an unstoppable force in the Asia Pacific and North Korea's decline a source of menacing instability, American-Japanese military cooperation remains the keystone of U.S. strategy.

Thus, the Clinton-Hashimoto friendship ritual unfolding this week. But what does it mean? How will other Asian nations regard it?

Their joint decision to transfer thousands of U.S. troops from Okinawa to the Japanese mainland is strictly a palliative to calm the outrage generated by the rape of an Okinawan school girl by three U.S. servicemen. Japanese cities due to receive more American G.I.s are already protesting. And amendments to the Mutual Security Treaty to permit more Japanese logistical assistance to U.S. forces in peacetime merely illuminate the ambiguities beclouding the Japanese role in time of conflict.

Nevertheless, the American-Japanese alliance is the anchor of stability in the Asia Pacific for reasons that go beyond the military. The combined economic strength of these two countries provides leverage to promote a peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula and to draw China into a situation where it will be less threatening to its neighbors. President Clinton's proposed joint U.S.-Chinese mediation in the Korean conflict is a promising move toward multi-lateralism. Perhaps Russia and Japan should also sit at the table.

If the U.S. learns one thing from its Japan experience, it should be that the China-bashing so fashionable among American liberals (because of human rights violations) and among American conservatives (out of loyalty to Taiwan) can have consequences, mostly negative.

Washington is right to insist that China adhere to international standards in commerce if it wishes to join the World Trade Organization. But that is a long way from denying it normal trading rights for reasons having nothing to do with trade. Such attempts at punishment are not the way to treat a country destined for full superpower status in the 21st century.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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