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SPECIAL REPORT 37

"Trialogue": U.S.-Japan-China Relations and Asian-Pacific Stability

The New Agenda

The exchange of summits between the leaders of the People's Republic of China and the United States, the Asian financial crisis, and the decision by India and Pakistan to engage in nuclear testing have redirected the security agenda of the Asia-Pacific region. Such developments underscore the ongoing difficulties inherent in the transition from traditional approaches to security defined by the Cold War to a post-Cold War structure of international relations in the Asia-Pacific. To varying degrees, Japan, the PRC, and the United States are being forced to address a newly formed agenda based on the emerging priorities of the post-Cold War period, but they are unwilling to release their grasp on the familiar and comfortable old structure, including the historical grievances, dependencies, and nationalist rivalries that have defined relations in the past.

The major challenge is how to positively manage a transition to a stable and cooperative set of regional relationships while not inflaming the tensions of the past. One vehicle for addressing the problems of the future while confronting past legacies is a three-way dialogue among representatives from the United States, Japan, and China, the three countries with the greatest influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

The uncertainties of the present -- and the rapid changes resulting from the Asian financial crisis and other unexpected events -- constitute a difficult environment in which to develop long-term strategy. Yet the failure to articulate strategy increases ambivalence among specialists and policymakers in all three countries, creating greater potential for misperceptions that may lead to miscalculation or misunderstanding.

For instance, American analysts visualize China rising against the current formidable difficulties of economic reform and limited political expression. Chinese leaders recognize the imperative of improving relations with the United States, hoping to avoid the policy failures of Indonesia's political leadership while also looking over their shoulders at a Japan adrift; from Beijing's perspective, leadership in Tokyo is desperately needed, but would real leadership in Japan also lead to greater political and security independence that might challenge China's own future aspirations to regional leadership? And Japan's own economic muddle draws its political leaders inward just when neighbors are calling for decisive leadership to tug Asia's economies out of stagnation. To the extent that the respective political leaderships can shape policies rather than allow their choices to be lessened by external circumstances, uncertainty regarding intentions and aspirations may be lessened.

See the complete list of Institute reports. The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policies.

 


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