The China Threat, Part Two?

Lost in the debates about whether the European Union should lift its arms export embargo on China is a much broader and more pressing question: does the Bush administration once again see China as a strategic competitor, as it did in the early days of the Bush presidency, before the war on terror forced Bush to seek cooperation with China’s rulers? That Japan has joined the United States in standing alongside Taiwan in opposing an end to the EU’s arms embargo on China suggests that this is so.

Never before has Japan’s government joined a US administration so closely on the Taiwan issue. When the two countries upgraded their alliance relationship in 1996, Japan’s military operational sphere was expanded far from the Japanese main island. But the government remained deliberately vague about its responsibilities, and refused to clarify the geographic boundaries of Japan Defense Force activities.

Nearly ten years later, Japan is ready for strategic clarity. Shinzo Abe, the acting secretary-general of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a leading candidate to succeed Junichiro Koizumi as Japanese prime minister next year, put it bluntly: it would be wrong for Japan to send a signal to China that the US and Japan will watch and tolerate a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan.

Monitoring this development and tracking its context, China’s government appears deeply disturbed. China’s foreign ministry condemned the US-Japanese move as interference in Chinese internal affairs and expressed resolute opposition to Abe’s statement.