SPEAKING FREELY Japan and Europe toward the exit from history
By Emanuele Scimia
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have
Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Japan and Europe seem to share a common destiny. One time, during the Cold War,
they were both geopolitical cornerstones of the United States, now economic
setbacks are pushing them on a declining trajectory. To regain ground, Tokyo
and Brussels have no option but to look at Beijing’s wealth: not a good
perspective for US President Barack Obama and his plans for the South China Sea
A sovereign debt to cut down. A lingering economic slowdown
sliding toward recession. A demographic depression that make increasingly
unmanageable their national welfare system. And, accordingly, a foreign policy
that does not bite. Japan and Europe (European Union - EU) have a great deal in
common and seem to be running parallel to their "exit from history". At least
as regards their supposed role as great powers.
Up until 1991, the Land of the Rising Sun and the Old Continent were the United
States' bulwarks at the eastern and western rims of Eurasia’s landmass: the
first line of containment against the Soviet Union along the Pacific and
Atlantic Oceans. Now, despite the diplomatic acrobatics staged by US officials,
the status of Japan and Europe as cornerstones - in their respective regions -
of the American security system is questioned.
Washington's confidence in Tokyo is at an all-time low. Not least of all, this
is due to the Japanese political instability (with premiers changing nearly
every year since 2006), the age-old dispute on the relocation of the American
air base of Futenma on Okinawa and the wavering attitude of the Japanese
government about adhering to the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
(the TPP is a project of free trade association that involves nine Pacific
countries, including the US, whose broad outlines were agreed last November 12,
on the fringe of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hawaii).
In the Far East, the impending necessity for the US is to find a geostrategic
formula either to contain or balance China's relative power growth without
endangering the consolidated economic and financial interconnections between
the two countries.
Such a result could not be achieved counting only on a weakened Japan. There
are a couple of important clues about where Washington is heading to shore up
its framework of defense in Asia: the US-South Korea free-trade agreement -
which needs ratification by the South Korean National Assembly before it takes
effect - and the US-India nuclear deal signed in 2008.
As regards Europe, during president George W Bush's tenure trans-Atlantic
relations already saw a downgrading. That was because of the European
reluctance to provide adequate military assistance to American forces in
Afghanistan and Iraq. To date, the EU is criticized by the Obama administration
for its inability to promptly devise a common and credible policy to tackle the
crisis of sovereign debt affecting several European countries.
At the White House there are obvious fears that the European crisis could have
negative spillover effects on the American economic recovery.
In light of this, and in the face of Europe's internal divisions, the only
solution at hand for the US is to rely on the axis of Germany and France in
place of the EU as a whole. This would be substantially the recognition of a
de-facto situation where the "inter-governmental" method ushered in
unofficially within the EU by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French
President Nicholas Sarkozy, to deal with the European sovereign debt crisis,
also goes for trans-Atlantic relations.
The inter-governmental approach (Berlin-Paris directorate) has recently been
criticized by the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Durao
Barroso. In his state of the European Union address 2011 on September 28,
Barroso advocated the necessity to rekindle the "community approach" to
overcome the euro's crisis.
Washington wants the EU to bolster the European Financial Stability Facility
(EFSF), the eurozone's bailout fund. The EFSF (which Japan has so far funded by
purchasing over 3 billion euros (US$4.1 billion) of its bonds issued) should
serve as an insurance against the potential default of debt-ridden EU state
members, first of all of Greece.
The bad news for the White House is that Merkel and Sarkozy do not seem to be
always in tune. More in general, both are accused of scant readiness in coping
with the crisis. Then, it is noteworthy that the "Merkozy entente" split last
February on the opportunity to launch military intervention against the
now-defunct Muammar Gaddafi' regime in Libya, with Germany choosing not to join
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led operation. Cooperation between
Germany and France also fell apart last October 31, when Palestinians won
membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization. Indeed, Paris voted in favor of it, while Berlin voted against.
Japan and Europe are experiencing similar problems in their own relations with
China. Because of their embattled economies, both countries are increasingly
dependent on the Red Dragon. Beijing is indeed the major trading partner of
Tokyo and Brussels.
For instance, as reported on May 19 by Yoichi Funabashi in the Asahi Shimbun,
Japanese companies could be forced to increase their business and export base
in China to make up for the collapse of production at home in the aftermath of
March's earthquake and following nuclear crisis.
On the other hand, Europe is turning to China for investments in the EFSF,
which is expected to be enhanced to 1 trillion euros from the current 440
billion. Klaus Regling, chief executive of the EFSF, on October 28 in Beijing
underscored that China had already purchased EFSF bonds without revealing
details on the amount. This dependence on China could circumscribe the
strategic horizon of Japan and the EU, since it is reasonable that Chinese will
want something in return for their help.
Faced with a batch of structural economic and political constraints, at which
could be added the heritage of wealth and stable socio-political systems built
under the comfortable American military umbrella after World War II, Japan is
encountering difficulties in recalibrating its diplomatic course, while the EU
is still not able to craft a semblance of common foreign policy.
In other words, the diplomatic strategy of Tokyo and Brussels appears to be a
vacuum to fill at a time when the balance of global power is changing toward
emerging countries and pressing regional challenges, as the maritime border
disputes in the South China Sea for Japan and the Arab revolts for Europe, are
rocking their near-abroad.
Emanuele Scimia is a journalist and geopolitical analyst based in Rome.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to
have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles
submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do
not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's