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[ 19 ] roundtable • pursuing security in a dynamic northeast asia Future Visions of Asian Security: The Five Rings Michael J. Green The 16th century Japanese swordsman and strategist Musashi wrote in The Five Rings that all of power could be understood in the five elements (fire, earth, water, wind, and void). Musashi held that a successful strategy for warfare, politics, dueling, or even the tea ceremony depended on gaining control over these elements despite their fundamentally different and often incompatible qualities. Asian security at the beginning of the 21st Century is also being driven by five elements—the Japan-China rivalry, economic interdependence, nationalism, democracy, and proliferation. Each of these elements is unprecedented in the region’s history, seemingly incompatible with the others, and reinforcing of different competing theories of international relations. U.S. policy toward Asia cannot be premised on mastering only one of these elements, but must flow from an understanding of how all five intertwine. Viewed comprehensively in this way, two things become clear. First, despite strong trends toward sustained peace and stability, Asia’s future is far from written; second, the U.S. role will remain indispensable for decades to come. Japan-China Rivalry The first of these five elements is the unprecedented nature of the distribution of power in Asia. For the first time in history, Japan and China are at roughly comparable levels of national power. The last time this parity occurred was the brief intersection of national power trajectories in 1894 when Chinese power was rapidly descending and Japanese rapidly ascending. The result of this shift in balance of power was exactly what structural realists would have expected: war in 1894–95 and the humiliating defeat of China. This time Japan’s power trajectory is slowing but still on the ascent relative to other power centers outside of Asia, while China’s power trajectory is rapidly ascending. Japan and China tap different dimensions of national power. China has an independent nuclear deterrent while Japan relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Japan’s GDP is still four times China’s, but most economists expect the gap to close. China holds a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Michael J. Green is Senior Adviser and Japan Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Associate Professor of International Relations, Georgetown University. He has served as Special Assistant to the President of the United States for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. He is available at . [ 20 ] asia policy Council while Japan is a core member of the G-8 and OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). Although China’s soft power appears to be on the ascent in Asia while Japan’s has stalled, Japan is showing signs of compensating by emphasizing universal norms of free market economics and democratic development. Additionally, Japan is displaying a greater degree of national will with respect to security policy, from Iraq to North Korea. The Asian international order has been hierarchical throughout most of history and this pattern complicates the ability of Tokyo and Beijing to manage their new rivalry. Equally problematic is that neither side anticipated the current dynamic. While Japanese political leadership was divided between pro-Taiwan and pro-Beijing forces throughout the post-war period, the mainstream factions accepted Shigeru Yoshida’s strategic assumption that Japan would over time woo China away from the Soviet Union through commerce. The expectation in Tokyo was that Japan, with its more developed economy, would have levers to shape Beijing’s strategic choices. Chinese leaders, in contrast, assumed after normalization in 1972 that the post-war order—including the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals, Japanese reparations, and Japan’s pacifist constitution—would all provide Beijing with the levers needed to control Japanese strategic expansion. For many decades both sides’ levers worked, but beginning in the mid-1990s Japan found that its economic levers had no deterrent impact on Chinese decisions to test nuclear weapons and to bracket Taiwan with missiles, and China began finding that use of the history card only led to more blatant displays of nationalism in Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s early October visit to...


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