Posts Tagged ‘East Asia’

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Seventy-three years ago today marked the beginning of a new era in world history.

After what President Franklin Roosevelt called a “dastardly attack” on our naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, the United States went to war with Japan. For the next four years, young Americans fought some of the most brutal air, sea and land battles in the nation’s history against a hardened and vicious enemy. Young Americans had to push Japanese soldiers off of the islands they had occupied from Wake Island and Midway to the Philippines and Iwo Jima. In Okinawa alone, more than 50,000 Americans were killed and wounded. Japanese casualties were more than twice that.

Fast forward 73 years and the future of the American relationship with Japan is again entering a new era.

Once the war ended after the emperor’s surrender in August 1945, the enemies in war became allies in building a new East Asia. The Japanese recognized that their effort to dominate the region had failed, and they turned to the United States for assistance in rebuilding their country. Americans recognized that a vibrant and democratic Japan was crucial for world peace and the containment of communism, promoted by the Soviet Union.

Japan became the anchor for capitalism in Asia. American investments financed new factories for automobiles, electronics and computers. The American military ensured Japan’s security and its access to food and industrial materials mostly acquired from neighboring Asian countries. Oil and other energy resources came from all over including Texas, Indonesia and the Middle East.

By the 1970s and 1980s, Japan emerged as the first “Asian tiger.” Its citizens were highly educated, productive and peaceful. They exported more to the United States and Western Europe than they imported, and they used their balance of payments surplus to invest abroad. In fact in the 1980s, many Americans worried that Japan was buying too much New York real estate. There were also concerns that they were unfairly “dumping” their electronic products on the American market, undercutting U.S. companies such as Texas Instruments.

For all these economic tensions, however, American and Japanese citizens entered the new millennium as close partners, committed to joint prosperity through increased trade and cooperation.

That partnership has now changed radically.

With the opening of China to the international economy coupled with the precipitous decline of Japan, China has become the largest producer and consumer in all of Asia at breakneck speeds. Japan has fallen behind because of poor investment choices, corrupt government and population decline. Japan’s population is aging rapidly, and its closed immigration policies prevent the arrival of young and innovative people from abroad. Simply put, the center of Asian entrepreneurship has shifted to China.

Because of this, our relationship is markedly different from how it was during the decades after the Pearl Harbor attack. So what does the future hold?

Japan will remain a major producer of automobiles and high-end electronic items for the United States, and Japanese citizens will continue to purchase American products. But future growth for American businessmen is not in Japan. Nor does the security of Asia revolve around Japan. U.S. economic interests in China, along with India and Vietnam, will continue to grow, and Japan will get less American attention. The Japanese know this, and their government’s greater military assertiveness in recent years is an effort to become more self-reliant.

That does not mean the relations between the two former World War II adversaries will worsen. Americans will continue to trade with Japan and visit that country in large numbers, but more of these activities will include China and South Korea too. The special bilateral partnership between the United States and Japan will become a looser regional relationship with neighboring countries involved. There will be more independence, more compromise and tougher bargaining for all business and security deals between the U.S. and Japan.

If the 73 years of U.S.-Japanese relations since Pearl Harbor have been intensely close, the next few decades will be more distant and multilateral. That should still be good for business and democracy not only in Asia, but in the wider world.

 

 This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle on 7 December 2014.

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North Korea’s young and unknown dictator, Kim Jong-un, used a controversial rocket launch to assert leadership over his impoverished and isolated state. Defying sanctions and condemnations from around the world, Pyongyang promised that the rocket would allow North Korea to place its own satellite into space, “the Bright Shining Star,” affirming the success and strength of the country. The rocket launch also coincided with the 100th birthday celebrations for the founder of North Korea, Kim Il-sung. His grandson would prove his worthiness for power with a showing of how he could further the greatness of the nation in space.

This effort at symbolic assertion failed as the North Korean rocket exploded a minute after take-off, fragmented, and fell in pieces into the Yellow Sea. The new North Korean dictator had invested his prestige and about $1 billion of his cash-strapped country’s capital in this project. He had also paid a high price in lost foreign aid for defying international requests to refrain from provocation. He promised that his poor country could compete with the world’s strongest and most technologically advanced states. Now, however, he had proven just the opposite: North Korea is a degenerate regime, suffering from a dead-end economy and a disastrous dictatorship.

As all the promises about the rocket launch blew apart, the regime’s profound inadequacies became evident to everyone, especially its own citizens. Facts matter, and this failure was undeniable. North Koreans learned of it on television, as did much of the rest of the world. One must wonder how North Korean citizens can now retain a belief in their dictator’s infallibility. One must wonder how other North Korean elites, especially in the military, can justify continued subservience to the obviously naive and flawed Kim Jung-un.

 

Ozymandias

North Korea’s failed rocket test has an ironic quality that echoes Percy Bysshe Shelley’s reflections on the ruins of another bombastic dictator who over-reached:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert….
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

Kim Jung-un is Shelley’s Ozymandias. He inherited an apparent instinct for domination from his dictator dad and granddad, but he lacks the tools to keep this game going. North Korean technology, economy, and society suffer from the suffocating effects of prolonged repression. The country cannot compete internationally, it cannot feed its own citizens, and it is rapidly losing its ability to scare its neighbors with flamboyant shows of defiance.

North Korea has transitioned from a rogue state to a pathetic wasteland. It still has a capacity to do damage to nearby countries, especially South Korea and Japan. It still has some claim on world attention because of its small nuclear arsenal. Nonetheless, this regime is on a rapid path to collapse under the weight of its own self-defeating leadership.

 

U.S. Policy

The best policy for the United States and its allies is to prepare for this collapse by keeping a distance from this regime, ignoring it as much as possible. The United States, South Korea, Japan, and China should also begin preparations to contain the violence and migration that will surely accompany the last days. Political distance and physical containment are the most strategic ways to handle a fizzling nuisance.

How long will this process take? The historical record should warn against firm timetables. Failing regimes tend to linger longer than expected, and then collapse very quickly. The same pattern is likely in North Korea. My guess is that the lingering is almost over. We must contain the present regime and prepare for its imminent demise. We must not do anything that will give it a longer lease on life through excessive aid or unwise military provocations. With patience and preparation, time is indeed on the side of ending this terrible nightmare.

 

This post originally appeared at http://globalbrief.ca

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About Jeremi Suri
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Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a professor in the University's Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Professor Suri is the author and editor of nine books on contemporary politics and foreign policy. Professor Suri's research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America's "Top Young Innovators" in the Arts and Sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media. Professor Suri is also a frequent public lecturer and guest on radio and television programs.

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