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U.S.-Japan-China Relations: With The Pentagon Making Policy

16/09/2013|Stephen Harner|Forbes
The office of U.S. ambassador to Japan is currently vacant, and will remain so until Thursday, when the U.S. Senate will confirm President Obama’s nominee, Caroline Kennedy, following a perfunctory hearing. Perfunctory or not, I will try to tune into the hearing–to be carried live–as I am sure thousands of others will, both in the U.S. and in Japan,
The sad truth, however, is that in U.S.-Japan relations the U.S. ambassador in Tokyo hardly matters. The same applies to the State Department. U.S. relations with Japan, and indeed with the Asian region as a whole, not excluding China, seem to be firmly in the hands of the Pentagon, with all other U.S. government agencies simply bit players and valets for Department of Defense (DoD) officials.
U.S.-Japan relations are dominated by U.S. defense interests, under the rubric of U.S.-Japan “alliance.” It is all about keeping the U.S. air force, navy, army, and Marine bases in place, collecting the JPY 200 billion ($2 billion) Japan pays the Pentagon annually, and nudging Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s conservative government to buy more U.S.-made weapons (to increase “interoperability”). The current push is to constitutionally legitimize “collective defense,” i.e., operational integration of Japanese forces with U.S. forces under certain scenarios.
But DoD dominance of U.S. Asian policy is not limited to countries with which we have alliances.  For better or worse–mostly worse–it has driven policy toward China.
The 2010 policy of a U.S. pivot to Asia, now rebranded as “rebalancing,” was overwhelmingly military in content and blatantly aimed at China. The only part of the explanation of the pivot that is understandable is the part about “strengthening alliances” and raising deployment levels of U.S. naval assets in Asia-Pacific from 50% to 60%.
It is debatable whether the post-WWII U.S.-Japan relationship has ever not been dominated by the Pentagon.  Economics and trade loomed large in the few years before and after the 1985 Plaza Accord, providing State and USTR a day in the sun.
After the bursting of the Japanese bubble in 1989, and spasm of hypocritical and arrogant U.S. bureaucratic harassment called the Structural Impediments Initiative (SII) led by State, USTR and Commerce–ostensibly a way to end Japan’s trade surplus with the U.S.–the scrapping of which in 1993 was one of the few sagacious acts of the Clinton administration, the civilian agencies retreated into passive irrelevancy and subordination to the priorities of DoD.
A key date in the Pentagon’s recapture of the Japan relationship is April 17, 1996, when President Clinton and Prime Minister Hashimoto signed the “Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security–Alliance for the 21st Century” at a ceremony on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C. The declaration confirmed that U.S. forward troop and base deployments in Japan would not be reduced in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Pentagon dominance has continued and been institutionalized in the 2+2 “Security Consultative Committee.”  At “2+2” meetings U.S. secretaries of state and defense and their staffs sit down with Japanese foreign and defense ministers and their staffs.  Meeting agendas–prepared by permanent secretariat–are substantive and detailed.  The topic is security, defined by the military establishments of both counties, with the Pentagon clearly driving everything. State’s role is largely ceremonial. It is fair to say that the “2+2” forum has become the center and essence of the U.S.-Japan relationship.
The flawed and counterproductively militarized “pivot to Asia” policy, reputedly authored by Kurt Campbell, deputy for Asia in Hillary Clinton’s State Department, can be seen as a product of the DoD dominated “2+2” mentality in U.S. relations with Asia. Like many senior State officials during the first Obama term–as well as during the G.W. Bush presidency–Richard Armitage being the best example–Campbell was a DoD careerist, selected to fill a vacuum in policy positions at State.
That DoD stepped into a policy leadership vacuum created by State’s abdication, and has been setting U.S. policy and strategy toward Asia, is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the recent spectacular revelations of offensive NSA cyber attacks on China.
As reported in the Washington Post on August 31, based on top-secret documents obtained from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, U.S. intelligence agencies have been conducting offensive cyber war against foreign targets–with China among the top priorities–for years.  The attacks place into target computer systems “covert implants” of malware that remain undetectable until activated to disable the target systems.
Cyber espionage was on agenda of the Obama-Xi June 7-8 “Sunnylands Summit”  (but Obama reportedly only wanted to talk about commercial secrets security). Cyber attacks occupied a larger part of the discussion between Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chinese Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan at the Pentagon on August 19.
At the press conference following the meeting, Chang made the point that if the result of “rebalance” is greater imbalance, then the policy will be self-defeating. More pointedly, Chang said that constructive relations between the China and the U.S. were incompatible with U.S. actions aimed at “weakening” China. Chang was clearly talking about the offensive cyber attacks conducted by NSA.
The implications of the no doubt DoD-driven decision to engage in (and we believe to initiate) offensive cyber operations against China are enormous. Particularly, placing “covert implants” in Chinese systems has created a massive, possibly insuperable obstacle to any kind of “trust building,” and ensured continuous counter-attacks, placing whole sections of the U.S. and Chinese military establishments in condition of active battle.  It is like constantly placing land mines and time bombs in another country.
Why would we do this? Why is this the U.S. interest? Is this something required by the U.S.-Japan alliance?
Caroline Kennedy will not be asked these questions by the bloviating Senators on Thursday. They are not being asked, or answered, by anyone in Washington. But they should be.
何思文(Stephen Harner),在日本、中国金融机构工作过多年的独立金融人士,曾服务于美国国务院、花旗银行。2006年-2010年任中国平安银行首席风险官和副总裁。现在常居于日本,工作于独立投资咨询机构杨子世纪。2010年至今福布斯撰写专栏。


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