The Rising East


Sunday, September 30, 2001

Sept. 11 aftershocks may
register in U.S. relations
with China and Japan

While the eyes of America are riveted on Afghani-stan, a quarter of the way around the world in China and Japan are two consequences of the war on terror that most likely will have profound implications for the long-term security of the United States.

One, with China, is discouraging. Two influential military officers who reflect widely-held views among the leaders of the People's Liberation Army have concluded: "The day Sept. 11, 2001, very likely is the beginning of the decline of the United States as a superpower."

Another, with Japan, is encouraging. After being wrapped in a passive and pacifist cocoon for five decades, the Japanese are showing signs that they are willing to step up. As Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said last week: "We Japanese are ready to stand by the United States to fight terrorism."

The greatest danger confronting the United States from China is miscalculation. Like the Japanese before Pearl Harbor, many influential Chinese military officers, political leaders and scholars believe that the Americans are soft, weak and unwilling to spill blood to defend the vital national interests of the United States. They see the successful assault by terrorists but ignore the resilient response by Americans.

Senior Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, the authors of the 1999 text "Unrestricted Warfare," told a Communist newspaper in Hong Kong recently: "The attacks demonstrated the United States' fragility and weakness and showed that essentially it is unable to stand attacks." In their study, they contended that a weaker nation could defeat a stronger nation with terror, cyber disruptions, guerrilla operations and psychological warfare.

The colonels told the newspaper Ta Kung Pao: "The United States, a giant tiger, has been dealing with mice; unexpectedly, this time it was bitten by mice. What has been making the United States particularly indignant is that it has been wielding a large hammer but has been unable to find the flea."

Qiao and Wang acknowledged that the downturn in the American economy following the attacks could hamper Chinese economic growth, since the United States is by far China's largest export market, at $100 billion in 2000. "From a long-term viewpoint," they contended, "they [the attacks] could be favorable to China." They suggested the United States would make an "adjustment to its foreign policy," meaning giving in to China's demands.

Officially, President Jiang Zemin of China has called President Bush to express condolences over the death toll on Sept. 11 and to utter platitudes about eradicating terror, but to offer little more. Specialists on Central Asia say the Chinese fear that a successful campaign against terrorists in Afghanistan will leave the United States in a more powerful position on China's western border.

In contrast, Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan, standing next to President Bush at the White House, said: "I believe there are many ways to cooperate." He suggested financial assistance, diplomatic means, medical aid, helping refugees and transporting supplies.

The issue of military action is politically and constitutionally sensitive in Japan, which is still gun-shy from its devastating defeat in World War II and has taken to heart Article IX of the constitution, which prohibits the use of military force to settle disputes. Under a mutual security treaty, Japan depends on the United States for much of its defense.

Overcoming reluctance in Japan will not be easy. The Asahi Shimbun, a leading newspaper, has editorialized: "Japan must avoid the folly of rushing to provide military cooperation to the United States out of conscience for having failed to contribute personnel during the Persian Gulf War." Japan, which is dependent on oil from that region, ponied up a hefty $13 billion to help pay for that war but sent no forces until the shooting was over.

Whether Japan will send military forces to provide logistic and intelligence support to the American war on terror is uncertain as there are conflicting reports from Tokyo. Koizumi seems ready to dispatch those forces but his fellow politicians of all stripes and the public may not be. Curiously, China and the two Koreas, which regularly contend that Japan is on the verge of a military buildup, have so far been mostly silent on this issue.

In the past, the Japanese have dithered but this time they might just press on.

Richard Halloran is editorial director of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

E-mail to Editorial Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin