China reacts after U.S. and Japan challenge it in five regions and Washington pledges to defend Japan with nuclear weapons
Yesterday U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met at the White House to hold a joint press conference reaffirming and expanding bilateral relations between the two nations. A statement was released after the press event which has raised the ire of China.
Both the press conference and the statement addressed a multitude of issues from economic to security to environmental to cyber concerns, but what caught the attention of many, especially Chinese, observers is this sentence: “The United States restated its unwavering support for Japan’s defense under the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, using its full range of capabilities, including nuclear.” The treaty marks its seventieth anniversary this year, first having been signed during the height of the Cold War, as the war in Korea raged, in 1951.
The statement, titled U.S.-Japan Global Partnership for a New Era – also reaffirmed the two nations’ understanding that Article 5 of that pact – “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes” – would apply to China and Japan’s dispute over what Japan and the U.S. refer to as the Senkaku Islands, but China knows as the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. (Japan is also embroiled in a dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands, which Japan, and occasionally the U.S. State Department, refer to as Japan’s Northern Territories.) The two leaders pledged to intensify military cooperation “across all domains, including cyber and space, and to bolster extended deterrence.”
At yesterday’s press conference Biden said: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US/Japanese Alliance, and for our shared security. We [are] committed to working together to take on the challenges from China and issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as North Korea.”
Suga spoke in the same vein: “We also had serious talks on China’s influence over the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific and the world at large. We agreed to oppose any attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion in the East and South China Seas and intimidation of others in the region.”
In all, the two heads of state criticized China for its behavior in and toward five regions: the East China Sea, the South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. China considers the last three as its territory as it does the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Yesterday is the first time since 1969 that U.S. and Japanese leaders have jointly criticized China over Taiwan.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington said that Biden’s and Suga’s statements went “far beyond the scope of normal development of bilateral relations.”
The Chinese government-supported Global Times today spoke even more bluntly to the issue in an unsigned editorial:
“Has Japan forgotten how many times it inflicted devastation on China? Has China ever truly harmed Japan and can Japan cite an example? The tiny Diaoyu Islands are just a territorial dispute between China and Japan, and in Asia there are many similar disputes. But Japan takes the dispute as a strategic level issue and hypes it up every day. What’s the point of it?
“The US-Japan alliance could evolve into an axis that can bring fatal disruption to Asia-Pacific peace, just like the Germany-Italy-Japan axis alliance before and during the WWII. The core intention of the US is to maintain its hegemony and contain China’s development through violating international laws and rules. The arbitrary act of the US could eventually end the peace in Asia-Pacific. And Japan is positioning itself as the top Asian accomplice of the US’ vicious policy.”
The editorial mentioned the use of what is now the official byword of the U.S. and its allies around the world, especially NATO – rules-based international order – saying that interstate relations should be governed by norms established by the United Nations “rather than those defined by the US and Japan.” It also returned to the World War II analogy, reminding Japan that it should be more careful in building military alliances with powers outside the region after its ill-fated experience with the Germany-Italy-Japan Tripartite Pact of eighty years ago.
The newly-installed administration of Joe Biden has the dangerous distinction of being the first since that of Lyndon Johnson to pursue Cold War-style confrontation toward China and Russia at the same time.