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China, Japan, and Trump’s America

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10.10.2018

By Joseph S. Nye

The key strategic issue in East Asia is the rise of Chinese power. Some analysts believe that China will seek a form of hegemony in East Asia that will lead to conflict. Unlike Europe, East Asia never fully came to terms with the 1930s, and Cold War divisions subsequently limited reconciliation.

Now US President Donald Trump has launched a trade war with China and negotiations with Japan that take aim at Japan’s trade surplus with the United States. While the recent announcement of bilateral talks postpones Trump’s threat of auto tariffs against Japan, critics worry that Trump may push Japan closer to China, whose president, Xi Jinping, is scheduled to hold a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this month.

The balance of power between Japan and China has shifted markedly in recent decades. In 2010, China’s GDP surpassed Japan’s as measured in dollars (though it remains far behind Japan in per capita terms). It is difficult to remember that a little over two decades ago, many Americans feared being overtaken by Japan, not China. Books predicted a Japanese-led Pacific bloc that would exclude the US, and even an eventual war with Japan. Instead, during President Bill Clinton’s administration, the US reaffirmed its security alliance with Japan at the same time that it accepted the rise of China and supported its admission to the World Trade Organization.

In the early 1990s, many observers believed that the US-Japan alliance would be discarded as a Cold War relic. Trade tensions........

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