Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has sent an envoy, Natsuo Yamaguchi, to meet with China’s new leader, Xi Jinping. to defuse tensions over the disputed Senkakus. If it’s the same message another Abe advisor delivered on Sunday, Tokyo is wasting its time – or is this a one-two punch designed to mollify Japanese conservatives? – That should be a relief to the United States.
The United States is bound by treaty to come to the assistance of Japan or the Philippines if either country is attacked by a third party, so any armed clash between Chinese and Japanese or Filipino forces could trigger American military intervention. With so much of the world’s trade focused on Asia, and the American, Chinese, and Japanese economies tied so closely together in ways too essential to ignore, a clash of almost any sort in these vital waterways might paralyze international commerce and trigger a global recession (or worse).
Can such a crisis be averted? Yes, if the leaders of China, Japan, and the United States, the key countries involved, take steps to defuse the belligerent and ultra-nationalistic pronouncements now holding sway and begin talking with one another about practical steps to resolve the disputes. Similarly, an emotional and unexpected gesture – Prime Minister Abe, for instance, pulling a Nixon and paying a surprise goodwill visit to China – might carry the day and change the atmosphere. Should these minor disputes in the Pacific get out of hand, however, not just those directly involved but the whole planet will look with sadness and horror on the failure of everyone involved.
Yamaguchi is leader of the left-leaning Clean Government party, or Komeito.
Read all of Klare’s article for a good summary of many issues in this region where the US plans to redeploy its forces.