East Asia after the Pax Americana

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump at the White House, June 2018
June 7, 2018: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) is known as an adroit Trump handler, but U.S. retrenchment in East Asia has put him in a tight spot (source: dpa)
  • Since East Asia has no collective security system, Japan relies on the U.S. military
  • Tokyo must manage China’s rise, its own demographic decline and a wayward ally
  • Seizing its opportunity, Beijing is making overtures to pry Tokyo away from Washington

History weighs heavily on East Asia. Unlike France and Germany, China and Japan are still waiting for their historic postwar reconciliation. The cloud of Japanese war crimes during the country’s occupation of China hovers over relations between Beijing and Tokyo. Provocative visits by high-ranking Japanese politicians to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine regularly irritate the Chinese, and the two countries have yet to resolve a dispute over the Senkaku Islands (which are known as the Diaoyu Islands in China).

Russia and Japan never signed a peace treaty after World War II, and their dispute over the Kuril Islands continues to fester. Tensions also linger between Seoul and Tokyo, which have their own territorial dispute and the delicate issue of Korean “comfort women” who were forced into prostitution during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Finally, there is still no peace treaty between the two Koreas.

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