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The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus
In-depth critical analysis of the forces shaping the Asia-Pacific...and the world.

The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 8, No. 2, February 24, 2014.

The San Francisco System: Past, Present, Future in U.S.-Japan-China Relations

John W. Dower

NOTE: This essay, written in January 2013, appears as the first section in a book co-authored by John W. Dower and Gavan McCormack and published in Japanese translation by NHK Shuppan Shinsho in January 2014 under the title Tenkanki no Nihon e: “Pakkusu Amerikana” ka—“Pakkusu Ajia” ka (“Japan at a Turning Point—Pax Americana? Pax Asia?”; the second section is an essay by McCormack on Japan’s client-state relationship with the United States focusing on the East China Sea “periphery,” and the book concludes with an exchange of views on current tensions in East Asia as seen in historical perspective). An abbreviated version of the Dower essay also will be included in a forthcoming volume on the San Francisco System and its legacies edited by Kimie Hara and published by Routledge.

As the endnotes reveal, many of the issues addressed here will be familiar to close followers of The Asia-Pacific Journal. The essay was written for a general audience rather than for specialists, with particular concern for calling attention to (1) the interwoven nature of contentious current issues, and (2) their historical genesis in the early years of the cold war, and in some cases earlier. Apart from a few very minor stylistic changes, the contents of the several texts of the essay are identical. No attempt has been made to incorporate developments since early 2013. Only this present version introduces illustrations.

Legacies of the past are never far from the surface when it comes to present-day controversies and tensions involving Japan, China, and the United States.

Take, for example, a single day in China: September 18, 2012. Demonstrators in scores of Chinese cities were protesting Japan’s claims to the tiny, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese—desecrating the Hi no Maru flag and forcing many China-based Japanese factories and businesses to temporarily shut down.

Simultaneously, Chinese leaders were accusing the United States and Japan of jointly pursuing a new “containment of China” policy—manifested, most recently, in the decision to build a new level of ballistic-missile defenses in Japan as part of the Obama administration’s strategic “pivot to Asia.”

And September 18 in particular? This, the Chinese were keen to point out, was the eighty-first anniversary of the Manchurian Incident of 1931—the staged event that the Japanese military used as a pretext for seizing the three northeastern provinces of China and turning them into the quasi-colony they renamed Manchukuo.

The disputed islands, the containment-of-China accusations, even the bitter “history issue” involving recollection of imperial Japan’s militarism all have toxic roots in the early years of the Cold War. Together with other present-day controversies, they trace back to the San Francisco System under which Japan re-entered the post-war world as a sovereign nation after being occupied by U.S. forces for over six years, from August 1945 to the end of April 1952.

***

The tensions of September escalated in the weeks and months that followed, and the alarm this generated was occasionally apocalyptic. Pundits spoke of “flash points”—in this case, the Senkaku/Diaoyu confrontation—that could lead to an “accidental war” in which U.S. forces supported Japan against China. This, it was observed, would be consistent with America’s obligations under the bilateral security treaty with Japan that lies at the heart of the San Francisco System.

That this worst-case scenario could be taken seriously in 2012 is both surprising and unsurprising. It is surprising because this was taking place forty years after both Japan and the United States belatedly normalized relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), dramatically abandoning the “containment” policy that had defined Cold War China policy prior to 1972. Over the course of those four decades, the economies of the three countries had become interdependent, seemingly creating a foundation for durable peace.

What makes the crisis of 2012 unsurprising, on the other hand, is the fact that China’s emergence as a major economic power has been followed by intense nationalistic pride coupled with resolute commitment to military modernization. This may have been predictable, but it nonetheless came as a shock to those who took the overwhelming military supremacy of the Pax Americana for granted.

The San Francisco System and this militarized Pax Americana go hand in hand. They have defined the strategic status quo in the Asia-Pacific area since the early 1950s. They have shaped (and distorted) the nature of the post-war Japanese state in ways beyond measure. They have involved both peace-keeping and war-making.

As the events of 2012 made much clearer, this system and these structures now stand at a turning point.

I. The Contorted Origins of the San Francisco System

The San Francisco System takes its name from two treaties signed in San Francisco on September 8, 1951, under which the terms for restoring independence to Japan were established. One was the multinational Treaty of Peace with Japan that forty-eight “allied” nations signed with their former World War II enemy. The second was the bilateral U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, under which Japan granted the United States the right to “maintain armed forces … in and about Japan,” and the United States supported and encouraged Japanese rearmament.


Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru signs the bilateral security treaty with the United States on September 8, 1951. Secretary of State Dean Acheson (right) and special ambassador John Foster Dulles stand directly behind him. The Japanese official on the left is Ikeda Hayato, who served as prime minister from 1960 to 1964.

Both treaties came into effect on April 28, 1952, the day the occupation ended and Japan regained sovereignty.

Two aspects of these agreements are notable. First is the timing. Japan was still occupied and under U.S. control when the treaties were signed, and the Cold War was at fever pitch. The Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb on August 29, 1949, triggering the nuclear arms race. The victorious Communists proclaimed the People’s Republic of China on October 1 of that same year, and a Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance was concluded on February 14, 1950. On June 25, 1950, war erupted on the divided Korean Peninsula, drawing in U.S.-led United Nations forces immediately. Four months later, in late October, Chinese forces entered the war to counter what China’s leaders perceived to be a U.S. threat to advance through North Korea up to—and possibly across—the border with China. The Korean War dragged on until July 1953, and the peace and security treaties of September 1951 were signed during a protracted stalemate in this conflict.1

Equally significant but less well remembered, the San Francisco settlement was a “separate peace.” The omissions from the list of nations that signed the peace treaty were striking. Neither Communist China nor the Chinese Nationalist regime that had fled to Taiwan were invited to the peace conference, despite the fact that China had borne the brunt of Japanese aggression and occupation beginning a full decade before Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into the war. Both South and North Korea were excluded, although the Korean people had suffered grievously under Japanese colonial rule and oppressive wartime recruitment policies between 1910 and 1945. The Soviet Union attended the peace conference but refused to sign the treaty on several grounds, including the exclusion of the PRC and Washington’s transparent plans to integrate Japan militarily into its Cold War policies.

Viewed from the perspective of the separate peace, the San Francisco settlement thus laid the groundwork for an exclusionary system that detached Japan from its closest

neighbors. In the months following the peace conference, the United States tightened the screws on this divisive policy by informing a dismayed and reluctant Japanese government that Congress would not ratify the peace treaty unless Japan signed a parallel treaty with the Chinese Nationalist government in Taiwan, thus effectively recognizing that regime as the legitimate government of China. Failing this, the U.S. occupation of Japan would be perpetuated indefinitely. Japan acquiesced to this ultimatum in the famous “Yoshida Letter,” dated December 24, 1951 (from the Japanese prime minister Yoshida Shigeru to John Foster Dulles, the U.S. emissary in charge of the peace settlement). The ensuing peace treaty between Japan and the “Republic of China” ensconced in Taipei was signed on April 28, 1952—the same day the peace and security treaties signed in San Francisco came into effect.

Although the Soviet Union and Japan established diplomatic relations in a joint declaration signed on October 19, 1956, they did not sign a formal peace treaty and left territorial issues regarding control of the disputed islands between Japan and the Soviet Union unresolved. Japan and South Korea did not normalize relations until June 22, 1965 (in a Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea). Diplomatic relations between Japan and the PRC were not restored until 1972 (in a joint communiqué issued on September 29), and it was only in 1978 that the two countries concluded a formal Treaty of Peace and Friendship (on August 12).

The corrosive long-term consequences of this post-occupation estrangement between Japan on the one hand and China and Korea on the other are incalculable. Unlike West Germany in post-war Europe, Japan was inhibited from moving effectively toward reconciliation and reintegration with its nearest Asian neighbors. Peace-making was delayed. The wounds and bitter legacies of imperialism, invasion, and exploitation were left to fester—unaddressed and largely unacknowledged in Japan. And ostensibly independent Japan was propelled into a posture of looking east across the Pacific to America for security and, indeed, for its very identity as a nation.

II. Eight Problematic Legacies

The conservative Yoshida government that negotiated Japan’s acceptance of the San Francisco System faced a fundamentally simple choice in 1951. In return for agreeing to Washington’s stipulation that a multinational peace treaty had to be coupled with Japanese rearmament, continued U.S. bases in Japan, and exclusion of the PRC from the peace conference, Japan gained independence plus assurance of U.S. military protection. In the real world of power politics, the alternative that Yoshida’s liberal and leftist domestic critics endorsed—namely, to insist on Japan’s disarmed neutrality in the Cold War and a non-exclusionary “overall” peace treaty—meant postponing the restoration of sovereignty and submitting to continued U.S. military occupation.

Even Yoshida’s staunchly pro-American and anti-communist supporters in Japan expressed anxiety about the price to be paid for agreeing to Washington’s demands. Acquiescing in the non-recognition and isolation of the PRC was unpopular, especially in business circles. The uncertain future scale and disposition of post-occupation U.S. bases throughout the nation was worrisome. And Washington’s demands that Japan rearm rapidly were deemed short-sighted and foolhardy. Precipitous remilitarization, Yoshida and others argued, would provoke major opposition both domestically and among the recent foreign victims of Japanese aggression.2

Despite such reservations, the government and most of the populace welcomed the 1951 treaties and ensuing restoration of sovereignty; and, by and large, this Cold War settlement continues to be applauded in mainstream Japanese and American circles. The reasons why are not far to seek. The peace treaty itself was non-punitive and generous to Japan. And the U.S.-Japan military relationship has remained the cornerstone of Japanese strategic and diplomatic policy to the present day. Under the San Francisco System, Japan has established itself as a democratic, prosperous, and peaceful nation.

Rather than viewing the San Francisco System as an unmitigated blessing, however, it is necessary to recognize the many specific ways in which it has become a straitjacket—a system that locked Japan into policies and attitudes that have become more rather than less problematic with the passage of time. The “blessing” and the “straitjacket” are not mutually exclusive. They coexist, and call attention to intractable contradictions that have been inherent in the system since its inception.

Eight of these problematic legacies deserve particular attention: (1) Okinawa and the “two Japans”; (2) unresolved territorial issues; (3) U.S. bases in Japan; (4) rearmament; (5) “history issues”; (6) the “nuclear umbrella”; (7) containment of China and Japan’s deflection from Asia; and (8) “subordinate independence.”



Left: U.S. Bases in Japan as of 2011. Right: Bases in Okinawa as of 2012.

1. Okinawa and the “Two Japans”

One of the tragic legacies of World War II and the early Cold War was the creation of divided countries—notably Korea, Vietnam, Germany, and China. In a perverse way, the San Francisco System made Japan another divided country by detaching Okinawa Prefecture, the southern part of the Ryukyu Islands chain, from the rest of the nation and turning it into a U.S. military bastion.

This was not a tragedy on the scale of the other divided countries. It was, moreover, a territorial partition that involved Tokyo’s close and even avid collusion with Washington. In American eyes, Okinawa became an indispensable “staging area” for U.S. forces in Asia from the moment the war ended—a policy that the Soviet atomic bomb, the Communist victory in China, and the outbreak of the Korean War all hardened beyond any possible challenge. To Japanese policy-makers, Okinawa and its residents were simply an expendable bargaining chip. Well before the San Francisco conference, planners in Tokyo began drawing up proposals to sacrifice Okinawa if this would hasten the restoration of sovereignty to the rest of Japan.3

The San Francisco settlement formalized this policy by excluding Okinawa from the “generous” peace terms. The prefecture remained under U.S. administration, with only “residual sovereignty” vested in Japan. During the Korean War, B-29 Superfortress bombers (which only a few years earlier had firebombed the cities of Japan) flew missions to Korea from Okinawa’s Kadena Air Force Base. Between 1965 and 1972, Okinawa was a key staging area for the devastating U.S. air war against North Vietnam as well as the secret bombing attacks on Cambodia and Laos. Although administration of Okinawa was restored to Japan in 1972, after twenty-seven years of direct U.S. control, this did not diminish the prefecture’s role as the centerpiece of America’s forward military posture in Asia.

The on-going impact of this “two-Japans” policy operates at many levels. Most obvious is the degradation inevitable in any such gargantuan military-base milieu, including GI crimes, noise pollution, and environmental destruction. Less visible is the institutionalized practice of non-transparency, duplicity, and hypocrisy by both the U.S. and Japanese governments—as seen in revelations of secret activities and agreements involving storage on Okinawan soil of both nuclear weapons and chemical weapons such as Agent Orange.4

Most pernicious of all, perhaps, is the shameful spectacle of a government that has consigned a specific portion of its land to extensive military use by a foreign power, and simultaneously treated its populace there as second-class citizens.

2. Unresolved Territorial Issues

Five territorial disputes that plague relations in the Asia-Pacific region today trace back to issues of sovereignty left unresolved in the San Francisco Peace Treaty. Nor was this ambiguity a matter of simple inadvertence or oversight. On the contrary, much of it was deliberately introduced in the final drafts of the peace treaty by the United States, in conformity with Washington’s overall strategy of thwarting communist influence in Asia.5

Unsurprisingly, these disputes mostly involve countries that did not participate in the separate peace: notably, the Soviet Union (now Russia), South Korea, and China. Three of the disputes involve Japan directly; all of them have become highly contentious issues in the decades following the San Francisco conference. National pride and strategic concerns naturally underlie these conflicting territorial claims, but in several cases their intensification in recent years also reflects the discovery of maritime resources such as undersea oil and natural gas deposits.


Japan’s territorial disputes with Russia, Korea, and China all trace back to the “separate peace” signed in San Francisco in 1951, which excluded China and Korea and was opposed by the Soviet Union.

The territorial dispute with Russia involves what Japan calls the “Northern Territories” and Russia “the southern Kurile Islands”—focusing on four islands or island clusters north of Hokkaido. The issue hinges in considerable part on whether these islands are properly regarded as part of the Kurile chain or of Hokkaido, and it is complicated by the Soviet Union’s abrupt transformation from ally to enemy in American eyes during the course of 1945 to 1947. At the secret “big three” Yalta conference in February 1945, the United States and Britain agreed that the Kurile Islands would be “handed over” to the Soviet Union following Japan’s defeat. This was one of the inducements the Anglo powers used to persuade the USSR to enter the war against Japan; and when the war ended Soviet forces took over the Kuriles, including the now disputed islands. The United States reversed its position as the Cold War took hold and, by the time of the San Francisco conference, essentially viewed the contested islands as Japanese territory under Soviet military occupation. Although the 1951 peace treaty stated that Japan renounced “all right, title and claim to the Kurile Islands,” it neither assigned the Kuriles to the Soviet Union nor mentioned the names of the disputed islands.

The Cold War linkage between this territorial dispute and the “two Japans” policy, whereby the United States detached Okinawa from the rest of Japan, emerged in a revealing manner five years after the San Francisco conference. Prior to the finalization of the peace treaty, both U.S. and Japanese policy-makers gave serious consideration to the argument that the two southernmost of the four islands (Shikotan and the Habomais) were not part of the Kuriles, but that the other two islands (Etorofu and Kunashiri) might reasonably be regarded as such. When high-ranking Soviet and Japanese officials met to negotiate a projected peace treaty in 1956, the former proposed such a compromise “two island return” solution to the territorial dispute, which was initially supported by the Japanese foreign minister, Shigemitsu Mamoru. Such a trade-off was foiled when the U.S. secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, informed Shigemitsu that if Japan conceded sovereignty over the Kuriles to the USSR, the United States would regard itself as “equally entitled to full sovereignty over the Ryukyus.” Although the 1956 negotiations led to resumption of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Tokyo, this U.S. threat helped prevent conclusion of a formal peace treaty.6

Territorial confrontation with South Korea centers on small islets in the Sea of Japan called the Liancourt Rocks in English, Takeshima in Japanese, and Tokdo (also Dokdo) in Korean. Early U.S. drafts of the Treaty of Peace with Japan explicitly recognized Takeshima/Tokdo as part of Korea, but in December 1949—immediately following establishment of the PRC, but before the outbreak of the Korean War—U.S. treaty drafts reversed course and assigned the islands to Japan. U.S. drafts beginning in August 1950 became “simple” and made no specific mention of Takeshima. The final peace treaty vaguely mentioned Korean independence, but did not describe Japan’s territorial limits. In August 1951, a month before the San Francisco conference, the United States did inform the government of South Korea that it regarded Takeshima as Japanese.7

On January 18, 1952—three-plus months before the peace treaty went into effect—the president of South Korea, Rhee Syngman, issued a declaration defining his country’s maritime borders. He described the purpose of this “Rhee Line,” which encompassed Takeshima/Tokdo, as being to protect Korea’s maritime resources, referring in this case primarily to fisheries. On May 23, 1952—roughly a month after Japan regained sovereignty—an official of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed a parliamentary committee that the ministry had approved use of the disputed islands for bombing practice by U.S. forces, the assumption being that this would confirm Japanese sovereignty over the disputed islets. B-29s operating out of Okinawa had in fact used Takeshima/Tokdo as a target as early as 1948, but in practice South Korea succeeded in enforcing the Rhee Line by imposing control over the area with its coast guard. The restoration of relations between Japan and South Korea in 1965 did not resolve the sovereignty issue, although an accompanying fisheries agreement eliminated the Rhee Line, under which South Korea had seized hundreds of Japanese fishing vessels in the intervening years.8

The Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute involving China and Japan that erupted with alarming intensity in 2012 involves a small cluster of islets and rocks in the East China Sea, situated between Okinawa and Taiwan and often collectively described in the media as “barren rocks.” Here, the territorial issue is entangled not only with the “two Japans” legacy of the San Francisco settlement, but also with “history issues” that date back to the end of the nineteenth century. Japan first laid formal claim to these islands in 1895, following its crushing victory in the first Sino-Japanese War.

Taiwan was the great territorial prize extracted from defeated China in 1895. Although Japan acquired nearby Senkaku/Diaoyu that same year, it did not do so as part of its war spoils. Rather, after declaring these uninhabited rocks to be terra nullius, or “land belonging to no one,” Japan simply annexed them. They were treated thereafter as part of Okinawa Prefecture—and passed into U.S. hands as such after World War II. The Americans used them for occasional bombing practice. When the United States returned sovereignty over Okinawa to Japan in 1972, Senkaku/Diaoyu was included—albeit under protest from both the PRC and the Republic of China on Taiwan.

In late December 2012 a Chinese-language memorandum surfaced in Beijing that suggests the territorial issue might well have been resolved without great difficulty if the PRC had been able to participate in the peace settlement. Dated May 15, 1950—before the Korean War, and at a time when China apparently still anticipated being invited to the peace conference—this ten-page memorandum used the Japanese rather than Chinese name (that is, characters) for the islands and reflected ambiguity concerning their sovereignty. At one point the islands were explicitly identified as part of the Ryukyus, but elsewhere in the memo it was noted that their proximity to Taiwan required further examination.9

In theory, the Treaty of Peace with Japan that came into effect in 1952 restored all territories seized by Japan between 1895 and the end of World War II to the nations to whom they originally belonged. As the 1950 Chinese memo indicated, the point at issue is whether the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands are properly regarded as part of Okinawa or part of Taiwan—and in the 1970s, when Japan and the PRC established formal relations, it was tacitly acknowledged that this question was too complicated to be resolved at that time. In preparatory talks for reconciliation in 1972, Zhou Enlai told a Japanese politician, “There is no need to mention the Diaoyu Islands. It does not count [as] a problem of any sort compared to recovering normal relations.” Six years later, when the two countries signed a formal peace treaty, they reached a verbal agreement to postpone discussing the issue. Chinese records quote Deng Xiaoping, the PRC’s supreme leader, as telling Japan’s foreign minister that issues involving the Diaoyu Islands and continental shelf “can be set aside to be calmly discussed later and we can slowly reach a way that both sides can accept. If our generation cannot find a way, the next generation or the one after that will find a way.” In his extraordinarily successful October 1978 goodwill tour of Japan—the first such visit ever by a Chinese leader—Deng said the same thing in response to a journalist’s question at a huge press conference in Tokyo. The militant confrontations of 2012 made clear that such optimism was misplaced.10

The fourth “island” dispute, the greatest of all, pre-dates the San Francisco conference but was integral to the very essence of the separate peace—namely, the separation of Taiwan from the People’s Republic of China. This blunt Cold War intrusion into sovereign affairs can be dated precisely to June 27, 1950, two days after the outbreak of the Korean War, when the United States dispatched its Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait to prevent the Chinese Communists from consolidating their victory. The bilateral “treaty of Taipei,” which the United States forced Japan to conclude with the government on Taiwan on April 28, 1952, reinforced this intervention. In the eyes of the PRC, this amounted to perpetuating the dismemberment of Chinese territory: first, by Japan’s seizure of Taiwan among its spoils of war in 1895 and, now, by Japan and the United States collaborating to thwart Taiwan’s return to China.

Although the United States and Japan both recognized the government in Beijing as the sole government of “one China” when relations with the PRC were established in 1972, this did not alter a major premise of U.S.-Japan military planning under the San Francisco System. To the present day, Pentagon projections have consistently emphasized the threat of conflict between the PRC and Taiwan—and, conversely, China’s accelerated military modernization focuses strongly on deterring U.S. intervention should such conflict arise.

The fifth territorial dispute left unresolved at the 1951 peace conference in San Francisco involves the sparsely populated Spratly and Paracel islands (plus the Scarborough Shoal) in the South China Sea, a strategically situated area that in the late-1960s was discovered to be rich in oil and natural gas. Here, sovereignty claims by China were put forth in the late 1940s—first by the Nationalist government and then by the Communists—in the form of a sweeping “nine-dash-line” on a maritime map. This claim is challenged by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.

At the request of France, which still maintained a colonial presence in Vietnam, the peace treaty signed in San Francisco included a clause stating “Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Spratly Islands and to the Paracel Islands.” Although China’s claim was deliberately ignored, the treaty did not specify to whom the islands belonged. In the words of the leading historian of territorial disputes stemming from the San Francisco conference, this ambiguity left one more potential “wedge” against China, creating a source of future conflict that it was anticipated would “conveniently serve to contain communism” in Asia.11

3. U.S. Bases

The original professed rationale for maintaining an extensive network of U.S. military bases in Japan—as elsewhere throughout the world—was defense against a perceived threat of communist aggression directed by Moscow. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States vacated around sixty percent of its overseas bases. Following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, it constructed many hundreds of new facilities in the Middle East, before dismantling most of them as it prepared for withdrawal in the 2010s. Still, America’s worldwide “empire of bases” is today more extensive than ever before. U.S. military personnel are stationed in around 150 foreign countries, and reasonable estimates place the total number of overseas U.S. military sites at over 1,000—some of them enormous, some of them small, and increasing numbers of them secret and engaged in covert activities.12


Pyongyang, North Korea, following a U.S. air raid in the early stages of the Korean War in 1950. U.S. bombers operating mostly out of Japan dropped more tonnage of bombs on Korea than were dropped on Japan during the entire course of World War II.

In this famous September 1965 photograph, a mother and her children flee U.S. bombing of their village in South Vietnam. As in the Korean War, bases in Japan were crucial to the devastating U.S. bombing campaign in Vietnam that was later extended to Cambodia and Laos.

U.S. bases in Japan must be seen in this larger context. They are rooted in the occupation of Japan and the ensuing Cold War, with their ongoing presence being formalized in the 1951 security treaty and subsequent bilateral agreements. At the same time, they are but one small part of an American military empire that has taken on a new post-Cold War momentum. In current scenarios, China is a major projected enemy.

From the outset, maintaining a military presence in Japan has served three purposes in the eyes of American planners. First and foremost, it provides an offshore staging area close to continental Asia and Russia. Second, and little remembered today, this presence ensures control over Japan should the country ever be inclined to revert to a more autonomous and militaristic course. (This argument was often heard in the 1950s, when many Americans and other foreigners had reservations about Japan’s trustworthiness. It resurfaced in the early 1970s, when the United States normalized relations with China.) Third, and most popular among supporters of the bases, the stationing of U.S. forces in and around Japan contributes—as stated in Article 1 of the 1951 security treaty—“to the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East and to the security of Japan against armed attack from without.”

In the wake of the “3-11” disaster of 2011, when Japan’s Tōhoku region was stricken by an earthquake and tsunami, followed by nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, U.S. forces in Japan assumed a new and highly praised role by providing emergency aid and humanitarian relief. Codenamed “Operation Tomodachi” (Operation Friend), this involved input from bases situated throughout the country.

In practice, the most conspicuous use of the bases has been to support U.S. combat operations outside Japan. They were a major staging area for the air war against Korea, where U.S. warplanes dropped more tonnage of bombs than in the air raids that devastated Japan in 1945. (General Curtis Le May, who commanded the firebombing of Japan before moving on to Korea, later observed, “We burned down just about every city in North and South Korea both…. we killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million more from their homes, with the inevitable additional tragedies bound to ensue.”) Between 1965 and 1972, this use of bases in Japan for deadly combat elsewhere was repeated against Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos—where U.S. forces dropped more than seven million tons of bombs, well over twice the total tonnage dropped by U.S. and British forces in the European and Asian theaters combined in World War II. Bases in Japan, particularly in Okinawa, also have been used to support the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although not for launching bombing missions per se.13

Preserving the peace in Asia and the Pacific through multinational security agreements is obviously an essential endeavor, but past experience under the Pax Americana indicates how destructive this may become in actual practice. It is not plausible that Japan’s hypothetical enemies—the Soviet Union and China in the Cold War, China and North Korea today—have ever really posed a serious threat of unprovoked armed attack on Japan, as the rhetoric in the original security treaty implies. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that the continued presence of the bases ensures that in the future, as in the past, Japan will have no choice but to become a participant in America’s global military policies and practices, even where these may prove to be unwise and even reckless.

4. Rearmament

When the U.S.-Japan security treaty was signed in 1951, it was clear to both sides that Japan’s commitment to rearm was unconstitutional. In 1946, when the new “peace constitution” was being debated in the Diet, Prime Minister Yoshida responded to a question about Article 9 and the charter’s “no war” provisions by declaring that this prohibited any remilitarization whatsoever, even in the name of self-defense. As late as January 1950, Yoshida was still talking about “the right of self-defense without force of arms”—vividly evoking an old samurai image to clarify that this meant “self-defense which does not employ even two swords.”

The United States began pressuring Yoshida to begin rearming Japan even before the outbreak of the Korean War. When that conflict erupted on June 25, 1950, rearmament was in fact initiated. The United States envisioned deploying Japanese ground forces in Korea, and pushed for extremely rapid remilitarization. Yoshida’s policy, by contrast, was to go slow. When the bilateral security treaty endorsing Japanese rearmament was signed, it was with the understanding on both sides that this commitment to rearm was legally precarious and would require constitutional revision in the near future.14

Neither Washington nor the conservative government in Tokyo anticipated that popular support for the anti-militarist ideals embodied in Article 9 would block constitutional revision once Japan regained its independence, and would continue to do so for decades to come. The ensuing debate has rattled Japanese politics for over six decades. Failure to revise the constitution has not prevented the government from engaging in “revision by reinterpretation” and creating a technologically advanced military with a continually redefined mission. At the same time, the constitution has retained sufficient influence to place restraints on both the weaponry these “self-defense forces” can acquire and the missions in which they can participate (such as supporting the United States and United Nations militarily in overseas conflicts).

These DVDs issued in 2013 promote Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces, Maritime Self-Defense Forces, and Air Self-Defense Forces under the slogan “Understand well!”

The constitutional crisis is the most widely discussed outcome of Japan’s legally dubious rearmament, but it is not the only problematic legacy of this aspect of the San Francisco System. Rearmament has two additional ramifications. First, like the military bases in Japan, it locks Japan into U.S. tactical planning and strategic policy. Second, it goes hand in hand with downplaying, sanitizing, and denying what the Japanese military actually did in its earlier incarnation, when the emperor’s soldiers and sailors ran amok in Asia.

Supporters of revising the constitution to remove restrictions on rearmament argue that this will enable Japan to become a “normal nation,” to participate in international peace-keeping operations under the auspices of the United Nations, and to develop an autonomous capability to defend itself. In fact, the more Japan rearms, the more it will be placed under irresistible pressure to make ever more substantial contributions to America’s war-fighting activities.

5. “History Issues”


Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke with his grandson Abe Shinzō. Abe served as prime minister in 2006-7 and returned to the premiership in the closing days of 2012.

The link between rearming Japan and decontaminating the nation’s past becomes clear when we recall how little time elapsed between Japan’s defeat and the inauguration of the San Francisco System. Yesterday’s militaristic enemy was being rehabilitated as today’s peace-loving ally—while at the same time, yesterday’s World War II ally China was demonized as part of a “Red menace” that threatened world peace. Promoting rearmament dictated playing down Japan’s transgressions and China’s victimization—not only in Japan, but also in the United States and internationally.

This sanitization of imperial Japan’s conduct began before the San Francisco conference. The U.S.-led war crimes trials conducted in Tokyo between mid 1946 and the end of 1948, for example, suppressed atrocities that would poison relations between Japan and its Chinese and Korean neighbors when exposed decades later. One of these crimes was the murderous medical experiments conducted on prisoners by the imperial army’s “Unit 731” in Harbin. Another was the abduction of women, mostly Koreans, who were forced to provide sexual services as “comfort women” (ianfu) to the imperial forces. Once the Tokyo trials of high-ranking “Class A” defendants ended in November 1948, moreover, further investigation of war crimes and prosecution of accused high-level war criminals was terminated.

In an ideal world, the 1951 peace conference might have been an occasion for forthright historical summation and engagement with issues of war responsibility. Instead, the San Francisco settlement did not just exclude the two countries most deserving of apology and redress, China and Korea, but also became an occasion for spinning history and encouraging amnesia. In the favorite adjective of official Washington, the San Francisco treaty was to be a “generous” peace. When participating countries such as Britain and Canada recommended that the peace treaty include “some kind of war guilt clause,” the Americans opposed this idea.15


Korean press coverage of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s inflammatory May 2013 photo shoot in a jet fighter. The plane bears the same ID number as the Imperial Army’s notorious “Unit 731” that was based in Harbin and conducted lethal experiments on prisoners during the Asia-Pacific War.

The separate peace did not just endorse exclusion over overall reconciliation and leave the deepest wounds of imperialism and war unaddressed. In Japan, the San Francisco settlement also paved the way for the return of politicians and bureaucrats who had been purged for militarist activities during the occupation and in some cases even arrested for war crimes. By 1957, the prime minister was a former accused (but never indicted) war criminal, Kishi Nobusuke; when the U.S.-Japan security treaty came up for revision and renewal in 1960, it was Kishi who rammed this through the Diet in the face of massive popular protests. (In the final month of 2012, in the midst of the intensifying Senkaku/Diaoyu crisis, Kishi’s right-wing grandson Abe Shinzō assumed the premiership for a second time and immediately announced a renewed campaign to promote patriotism and challenge the alleged war crimes of his grandfather’s generation.)

Coupled with the many years that elapsed before Japan established formal relations with South Korea and China, the return to power in the 1950s of a largely unrepentant old guard ensured that troublesome history issues would be passed on to later generations. Still, the joint communiqué that restored diplomatic relations between Japan and the PRC in 1972 did state that “The Japanese side is keenly conscious of the responsibility for the serious damage that Japan caused in the past to the Chinese people through war, and deeply reproaches itself.” Twenty-six years later, in 1998, another Sino-Japanese declaration of friendship and cooperation similarly included a paragraph emphasizing the importance of “squarely facing the past and correctly understanding history,” in which, for the first time, the Japanese government endorsed characterization of Japan’s actions “during a certain period in the past” as “aggression.”16

The anomaly of the “history problem” that blights present-day relations between Japan on the one hand and Korea as well as China on the other is that uses and abuses of the recent past became hugely contentious only after diplomatic ties were belatedly established. Reconciliation and the cultivation of constructive relations went hand in hand with intensification, rather than dissolution, of strident nationalism on all sides. There have been many official Japanese apologies to China and Korea since the 1970s. These expressions of remorse, however, have been undercut with almost metronomic regularity by the whitewashing and outright denial by prominent politicians and influential individuals and organizations of imperial Japan’s overseas aggression and oppression.


Prime Minister Abe visiting Yasukuni Shrine on December 26, 2013.

The escalating Sino-Japanese clash over history issues unfolded in often jarringly tandem steps. Conclusion of a formal peace treaty between Japan and the PRC in 1978, for example, coincided with the secret enshrinement of fourteen Japanese convicted of Class A war crimes in Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the souls of those who fought on behalf of the emperor; they were entered in the shrine’s register as “martyrs of Shōwa” (Shōwa junnansha). Visits to Yasukuni by politicians first precipitated intense domestic as well as international controversy when Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro and members of his cabinet visited the shrine in an official capacity on the fortieth anniversary of the end of the war in 1985—which, as it happened, was the same year the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall opened in China. As time passed, Chinese fixation on Japan’s wartime aggression and atrocities grew exponentially at every level of expression, from museums to mass media to street protests—while conservative and right-wing denials of war crimes grew apace in Japan.


A January 2014 Chinese cartoon response to Prime Minister Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine

In part (but only part), “history” became more contested after Japan normalized relations with China and South Korea for a simple reason: interest in the recent past was rekindled on all sides, and historical resources became more accessible. The best scholarship on Japanese war crimes and war responsibility—concerning the Nanjing Massacre, criminal experiments of Unit 731, exploitation of non-Japanese ianfu, etc.—dates from the 1970s and after. This investigative work, much of it by Japanese scholars and journalists, was provocative by nature. It triggered patriotic rebuttals in Japan and rage outside Japan. It was tinder for nationalistic sentiments already on the rise on all sides—and grist, as well, for political leaders preoccupied primarily with domestic problems and audiences.

At the same time, it is hardly a coincidence that, in both Japan and China, burgeoning nationalism rode on the back of burgeoning economic growth. In Japan’s case, the pride and hubris that accompanied the so-called economic miracle of the 1970s and 1980s spilled over into patriotic campaigns to erase the stigma of the “Tokyo war crimes trial view of history” (a favorite right-wing pejorative phrase). In China, the turn to capitalism introduced by Deng Xiaoping beginning in 1978 displaced prior fixation on Marxism and Maoism and left an ideological gap filled with a new nationalism focusing on victimization by foreign powers, Japan foremost among them. In the several decades following establishment of the PRC in 1949, Communist propaganda had much to say about the military threat posed by the United States and Japan, but relatively little to say about historical grievances against Japan. That changed abruptly after the brief period of amity and goodwill that accompanied reconciliation in the 1970s.17

In both China and Japan, this convergence of history and nationalism has turned “memory” into propaganda and “history issues” into history wars that have no end in sight. Denunciation versus denial of Japanese war crimes has become a multi-directional and almost ritualistic cycle. In Japan, cleansing the past is integral to attempts to inflate a waning spirit of national pride. In China, manipulating history involves an even more convoluted domestic dynamic. Repetitious attacks on both Japan’s war crimes and its alleged post-war failure to show genuine contrition do more than just pump up patriotic ardor. These attacks also provide a distraction from domestic problems and grievances. At the same time, lambasting historical sanitization by the Japanese diverts attention from the PRC’s own top-down historical sanitization concerning crimes against the Chinese people inflicted after 1949 by the Chinese Communist Party itself.18

6. The “Nuclear Umbrella”

In becoming incorporated in the San Francisco System, Japan placed itself under the U.S. “nuclear umbrella.” This is a seductive euphemism—suggesting that in American hands nuclear weapons are purely defensive. By contrast, the Soviet Union’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, following its successful test of an atomic bomb in 1949,

was portrayed as provocative and threatening. The same perception was extended to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by China and North Korea (first tested in 1964 and 2006. respectively).

It is challenging to sort out the quirks and contradictions in this “umbrella” argument. The United States was, and remains, the only nation to use nuclear weapons in war; and after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan was in a unique position to bear testimony to the abomination of such weapons. When the San Francisco System was being assembled, however, there existed no significant anti-nuclear movement in Japan. Until 1949, U.S. occupation authorities had censored writings or visuals about the atomic-bomb experience, out of fear this could provoke anti-Americanism and public unrest. Only marginal public attention was given the subject thereafter, until the occupation ended. Astonishingly, the first serious selection of photographs published in Japan of the two stricken cities appeared in a magazine dated August 6, 1952—the seventh anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, and over three months after the peace treaty came into effect. Essentially, the Japanese government took shelter under the “nuclear umbrella” before the Japanese people had seriously confronted the horror of their own nuclear experience.19

At the same time, however, it was known well before the San Francisco conference that U.S. planners were considering using nuclear weapons in the Korean War. President Harry S. Truman caused an international uproar when he refused to rule out using atomic bombs in a press conference on November 30, 1950, following China’s all-out intervention in the conflict two days earlier. Subsequent fears (and premonitions of “World War III”) did not go away. We now know that nuclear scenarios were seriously discussed at various levels within the U.S. government and military from an early date. On July 24, 1950, almost exactly one month after the war began, for example, General Douglas MacArthur anticipated that Chinese intervention would create “a unique use for the atomic bomb.” Five months later, shortly after Truman’s inflammatory press conference, MacArthur actually submitted a plan to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that projected using thirty-four atomic bombs in Korea. By the end of March 1951, at the height of the conflict, atomic-bomb loading pits had been made operational at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, lacking only the nuclear cores for the bombs. The following month, in a significant departure from previous policy, the U.S. military temporarily transferred complete atomic weapons to Guam.20

The “Castle Bravo” U.S. thermonuclear test over Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954, that irradiated crew of the Japanese fishing boat “Lucky Dragon #5.”

The most harrowing contingency study involving bases in Japan took place in late September and early October of 1951, a few weeks after the peace conference in San Francisco. Codenamed “Operation Hudson Harbor,” this secret operation involved flights of B-29s operating out of Kadena and carrying out simulated nuclear attacks on targets in Korea. These trial flights, which did not actually carry atomic bombs, were coordinated from Yokota Air Base, near metropolitan Tokyo.21

Although the possibility that America might use nuclear weapons against its latest Asian enemies (China as well as North Korea) was alarming, anti-nuclear sentiment did not gain widespread support in Japan until almost two years after the country regained sovereignty. The catalyst for this popular opposition was the Bikini Incident, in which fallout from a U.S. thermonuclear (hydrogen bomb) test on the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands on March 1, 1954, irradiated over 7,000 square miles in the mid-Pacific. The destructive force of the Bikini explosion was roughly 1,000 times that of the bomb that devastated Hiroshima. Contrary to U.S. denials, radioactive fallout was extensive. And this fallout quickly took on an intimately human dimension when it became known that ashes from the explosion had rained down on the twenty-three-man crew of a Japanese tuna-fishing vessel named Daigo Fukuryūmaru (Lucky Dragon #5), which was outside the danger zone declared by the United States in advance of the test. The entire crew was hospitalized with symptoms of radiation sickness upon returning to Japan, and the ship’s radio operator died over half a year later, on September 23, 1954.

The Bikini Incident precipitated the greatest crisis in Japan-U.S. relations since World War II. Public concern over the plight of the fishermen was compounded by fear that fish caught in the Pacific were contaminated, and these concerns in turn spilled into outrage at dismissive or deceptive responses by U.S. officials. By mid 1955, a nationwide petition campaign to ban hydrogen bombs had garnered tens of millions of signatures, and a spectrum of grassroots organizations had coalesced to form Japan’s first anti-nuclear organization.22

The emergence of this anti-nuclear movement coincided with the secret intensification of U.S. nuclear deployments in the Asia-Pacific area. In December 1954, the United States introduced “complete nuclear weapons” in Okinawa for the first time, and simultaneously approved introducing “non-nuclear components” (bomb casings or assemblies capable of being quickly nuclearized) to bases elsewhere in Japan. In the years immediately following, military planners in Washington gave serious thought to using these nuclear weapons against China on at least three occasions: in September 1954, during the First Taiwan Strait Crisis; in the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, which erupted in August 1958; and during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when Mace nuclear missiles in Okinawa were placed on a fifteen-minute nuclear alert.23

Between 1954 and the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese administration in 1972, nineteen different types of nuclear weapons were stored there, mostly at Kadena Air Base and probably totaling close to 1,000 at any given time. At the request of the Japanese government, these were removed when reversion took place. The nuclear-ready “non-nuclear components” on bases elsewhere in Japan appear to have been removed in 1965, but this did not prevent the U.S. military from bringing nuclear weapons into Japan. In 1981, former ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer caused a commotion by acknowledging what he himself regarded as common knowledge: that nuclear-armed U.S. warships regularly entered Japanese waters and ports.24

In the aftermath of the Bikini Incident, supporters of the “nuclear umbrella” in and outside Japan lost no time in mounting a multi-front offensive. Then and thereafter, the anti-nuclear movement was both castigated as being manipulated by hardcore communists and belittled as reflecting a “pathologically sensitive” victim consciousness. This is when the pejorative term “nuclear allergy” became attached to the Japanese—as if loving the bomb were healthy, and fearing and deploring it a kind of sickness. At the same time, the United States launched an intense campaign to divert attention from the nuclear arms race by promoting the peaceful use of atomic energy throughout Japan. The success of this “atoms for peace” crusade became widely recognized over a half century later, when the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011 highlighted the country’s great dependence on nuclear energy. The Fukushima disaster also served as a reminder of the extent to which Japan’s advanced nuclear technology has made it a “paranuclear state” or “virtual nuclear weapons state,” with extensive stockpiles of separated plutonium that make it capable of transitioning to the development of nuclear weapons within a year or so should a decision be made to do so.25

From the 1950s on, Japan’s conservative leaders have been caught between a rock and a hard place where nuclear policy is concerned. Beginning in the 1960s, they responded to domestic opposition to nuclear weapons with several grand gestures designed to associate the government itself with the ideal of nuclear disarmament. These included the highly publicized “three non-nuclear principles” introduced by Prime Minister Satō Eisaku in 1967 and endorsed in a Diet resolution four years later (pledging not to possess or manufacture nuclear weapons, or permit their introduction into Japanese territory). Japan signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970 (ratifying it in 1976), and Satō shared the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-nuclear performances.

At the same time, however, living under the nuclear umbrella has engendered secrecy, duplicity, and unflagging Japanese subservience to U.S. nuclear policy. In the wake of the Bikini Incident, and for years thereafter, Japanese officials accompanied the government’s public expressions of concern over U.S. thermonuclear tests with private assurances to their American counterparts that these should be understood as merely “a sop to the opposition parties in the Diet and … primarily for domestic consumption.” Their public protests, they explained confidentially, were just “going through the motions.”26

When the mutual security treaty was renewed under Prime Minister Kishi in 1960, a secret addendum (dating from 1959) referred to consultation between the two governments concerning “the introduction into Japan of nuclear weapons including intermediate and long-range missiles, as well as the construction of bases for such weapons.”27 Similarly, the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty in 1972 was accompanied by a prior secret agreement between Satō and President Richard Nixon (in November 1969), stating that the United States could reintroduce nuclear weapons in Okinawa in case of emergency, and also sanctioning “the standby retention and activation in time of great emergency of existing nuclear storage locations in Okinawa: Kadena, Naha, Henoko and Nike Hercules units.”28

On various occasions during and after the Cold War, influential Japanese politicians and officials have made clear—sometimes privately and frequently publicly—that they themselves do not suffer any “nuclear allergy.” In May 1957, for example, Prime Minister Kishi told a parliamentary committee that the constitution did not bar possession of nuclear weapons “for defensive purposes.” Four years later, in a November 1961 meeting with the U.S. secretary of state, Kishi’s successor Ikeda Hayato wondered out loud whether Japan should possess its own nuclear arsenal. (He was told that the United States opposed nuclear proliferation.) In December 1964, two months after China tested its first atomic bomb, Prime Minister Satō informed the U.S. ambassador in Tokyo that Japan might develop nuclear weapons. A month later, Satō told the U.S. secretary of state that if war broke out with China, Japan expected the United States to retaliate immediately with nuclear weapons. Despite having signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, moreover, Japanese politicians and planners have secretly examined the feasibility of Japan acquiring tactical nuclear weapons. Over the course of recent decades, various conservative politicians and officials have publicly stated that this would be constitutionally permissible and strategically desirable.29

Lost in these charades—and probably lost forever—has been the opportunity for Japan to build on its own tragic nuclear experience and move beyond rhetoric and token “motions” to take a vigorous leading role in promoting nuclear arms control and ultimate abolition.

Lost, too, is any apparent concern that what American and Japanese supporters of the nuclear umbrella present as “deterrence” is, in the eyes of the targets of this arsenal, threatening and provocative.

7. Containment of China and Japan’s Deflection from Asia

It is perhaps inevitable that, nearly seventy years after World War II, Japan and China have still failed to establish what might be called, idealistically, deep peace. Beginning with the intrusion of the Western powers into East Asia in the mid-nineteenth century, the respective experiences of the two nations could hardly have been more different. To contemporary Chinese, the narrative of their nation’s modern times is in great part a story of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers. In each and every retelling, moreover, it is made clear exactly when this began: in 1840, with the country’s shattering defeat in the First Opium War and the subsequent imposition of unequal treaties by Great Britain and other Western imperialist powers.

Japan’s response to the Western challenge, by contrast, was in the terms of the times a resounding success, in which rapid “Westernization” was carried out under such provocative slogans as “throwing off Asia.” The signal event in this putative success took place in 1895, when Japan joined the imperialist camp by crushing China in the first Sino-Japanese War, imposing its own unequal treaty on the defeated foe and acquiring Taiwan as its first colony. (Korea was annexed in 1910.) In the larger global arena, the spoils of war for Japan included being treated as a great power. Imperial Japan’s subsequent depredations in China up to 1945 rested on this 1895 base. In theory, the 1951 San Francisco peace settlement took 1895 as its chronological demarcation point for stripping Japan of an ill-begotten empire and restoring its parts to their rightful sovereigns.30

The humiliation of being defeated, dismembered, invaded, and occupied by Japan between 1895 and 1945 has not been expunged in China, and never will be. Nor, on the other hand, has the arrogance of a one-time conqueror (and erstwhile pre-war successful Westernizer as well as post-war economic superpower) been dispelled from Japan. Deeply discordant historical narratives, kept alive by the potent machinery of manipulated memory, thus blight contemporary Sino-Japanese relations in especially harmful ways. At the same time, it should be kept in mind that the historical humiliation that fuels contemporary Chinese nationalism extends beyond Japan to include the Western powers.

The piling up of historical grievance did not, of course, end for China with Japan’s defeat in World War II or the Communist victory in 1949. Rather, it was compounded by the exclusion of the PRC from the 1951 peace conference and Japan’s subsequent incorporation in the policy of non-recognition and “containment” mandated by Washington. For two decades, ending only in 1972, Japan was deflected from the Asian continent and wrapped in the embrace of its new American partner. The Cold War mindset welcomed and encouraged protracted hostility between Japan and China. Reconciliation and healing were thwarted, while trends detrimental to the process of coming to terms with the past were given time and space to take root.

The proclaimed premise of Washington’s containment policy was elemental. An America-led “free world” confronted a monolithic communist bloc directed by Moscow. China was but a puppet or satellite of the Soviet Union. And Japan, with its potential to become again the “workshop” of Asia (like West Germany in Europe), could tip the global balance of power if allowed to interact closely with the communist side of this bipolar divide.31

Less openly acknowledged, another premise behind detaching Japan from China was racist, and entailed exploiting the old “throwing off Asia” mentality. John Foster Dulles, who choreographed the drafting of the peace and security treaties (before later becoming secretary of state), conveyed this in a confidential conversation with a British diplomat in Tokyo in January 1951, in which he called attention to how “the Japanese people have felt a certain superiority as against the Asiatic mainland masses,” and consequently “would like to feel that they belong to, or are accepted by, the Western nations.” (The two Anglo diplomats also referred to affiliation with “an elite Anglo-Saxon Club.”) Less than six years after the end of an atrocious war, Japan’s recent enemy was envisioning a partnership based on a fusion of Caucasian supremacy with Japan’s warped envy of the West and contempt for other Asians.32

For largely practical reasons, many Japanese conservatives disagreed with the Manichaean outlook that set Japan against China; where Japan was concerned, the containment policy was never watertight. Between 1952 and 1972, a modest level of trade took place between the two nations, as well as exchanges involving non-governmental or semi-official political, cultural, business, and labor delegations. At the same time, Japan was inhibited from restoring diplomatic relations with Beijing or recognizing the Communist government as the sole government of China.

President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, orchestrated by his national security adviser Henry Kissinger, caught Japan and the rest of the world by surprise and ended the containment policy that had been one bedrock of U.S. cold war policy.

This changed dramatically in July 1971, when President Richard Nixon unexpectedly announced that the United States was abandoning containment and that he would soon visit the PRC. America’s volte-face shocked the world and caused particular bitterness in Japan, where the government was informed of the new policy fifteen minutes in advance of Nixon’s announcement. Such public humiliation replicated the cavalier manner in which Japan had been forced to participate in the containment of China two decades earlier—only now the spin was in the opposite direction. Nixon’s rapprochement with China paved the way for restoration of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations in 1972.

The full significance of this abandonment of the containment policy lay in its confluence with other developments. These included not only the winding down of the Vietnam War and restoration of Okinawa to Japanese administration, but also early harbingers of Japan’s “economic miracle” and the uncertain effect this might have on Japanese remilitarization. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who laid the groundwork for rapprochement in top-secret talks with Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in 1971, informed Nixon that “fear of revived Japanese militarism was a major theme throughout our discussions.” This same theme carried over to the president’s own conversations with Zhou in Beijing the following year. Had Japan’s leaders been privy to these exchanges, the mortification they experienced upon being given only a few minutes’ advance notice that Nixon would visit China would have seemed negligible by comparison.33

In the course of his long conversations with Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, Henry Kissinger spoke disparagingly about Japan’s untrustworthiness and nationalistic inclinations.

As conveyed by Zhou, the PRC feared that Japan’s economic boom was bound to lead to expansion abroad, which in turn would inevitably be accompanied by military expansion—especially given “their tradition of militaristic thinking.” At one point, Zhou referred to Japan as a “wild horse,” making clear that the PRC was particularly apprehensive that Japanese military forces might in the near future be dispatched to Taiwan and South Korea. What China wished to see was abrogation of the U.S.-Japan security treaty and Japan’s reversion to a position of unarmed neutrality.

Kissinger and Nixon rejected this unrealistic scenario not by dismissing fears of a resurgent Japanese militarism as irrational, but rather by arguing that (in Kissinger’s words) “paradoxically, the presence of US troops on Japan helped to restrain the Japanese rather than the reverse.” As Nixon put it, continuing the U.S.-Japan defense relationship “can restrain Japan from following a course which the Prime Minister correctly pointed out could happen, of economic expansion being followed by military expansion…. If we don’t have that close relationship they aren’t going to pay any attention to us.”

Such frank acknowledgment that a basic rationale for U.S. bases in Japan was to exercise control over the Japanese was embellished with other statements that would also have made Japan’s faithful pro-American leaders cringe. Kissinger argued that Japanese neutralism “would probably take a virulent nationalist form,” while Nixon agreed that, without the U.S. defense partnership, the Japanese as a people, given their “drive and a history of expansionism,” would be “susceptible to the demands of the militarists.” At one point, in responding to Zhou’s expressed concerns, Kissinger delivered an extended indictment of the Japanese national character. He observed that “China’s philosophical view had been generally global while Japan’s had been traditionally tribal,” described Japan as a nation “subject to sudden explosive changes,” and declared that the Americans “had no illusions about Japanese impulses and the imperatives of their economic expansion.” When Zhou opined that the U.S. nuclear umbrella tended to make Japan more aggressive toward others, Kissinger declared that the alternative was “much more dangerous. There was no question that if we withdrew our umbrella they would very rapidly build nuclear weapons.” Absent the restraint of the bilateral security treaty and U.S. bases in Japan, there was no way of predicting what Japan might do beyond near certainty that it would be destabilizing.

Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong meet with Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei in Beijing in September 1972, following U.S. abandonment of the containment policy.

The Americans won this argument hands down, to the extent that the PRC subsequently ceased to criticize the U.S.-Japan security relationship. Even as America’s highest officials were endorsing Chinese mistrust of Japan, Japan and the PRC were separately working out their own joint declaration of reconciliation. In this honeymoon period of U.S.-Japan-PRC rapprochement, shared strategic preoccupation with the Soviet Union helped persuade the three nations to submerge their prior antagonism.34

Formally, the reconciliation of Japan and China was affirmed in four joint documents between 1972 and 2008. These pronouncements created and reinforced a bilateral relationship under which mutually beneficial exchanges flourished across the board, with particularly spectacular results in areas such as business, commerce, and technology transfer. Despite these declarations of friendship and concrete manifestations of bilateral integration, however, reconciliation remained fragile and deep peace elusive. The ratcheting up of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute that took place beginning in September 2012 was the most alarming example of this fragility, but this simply exposed tensions and fissures that had already become apparent in the 1980s, soon after the normalization of relations.35

The parallel but contradictory trajectories of genuine Sino-Japanese reconciliation after 1972 on the one hand and, on the other hand, intensified tensions that trace back to creation of the San Francisco System are both dramatic and disturbing. The Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is but one example of this. Taiwan is another example. For four decades after Washington and Tokyo recognized “one China” under the sole government of the PRC, Taiwan remains a source of discord and distrust, as the Chinese perceive that neither the United States nor Japan actually desires reunification. On the contrary, much U.S.-Japan joint military planning remains predicated on responding to a crisis in the Taiwan Strait.36 “Containment of China” is yet another reminder of the linkage between early post-war policy and present-day affairs. In the second decade of the twenty-first century—six decades after the Cold War containment policy was introduced, and four decades after it was ostensibly repudiated as an “abnormal state of affairs”—the air is blue with American and Japanese strategists and pundits warning about a new China threat and calling for a new policy of military containment.

Perhaps the most corrosive deep legacy of mistrust lies in the contention over “war history” that became so bitter after normalization of relations. Where China is concerned, anti-foreign nationalism was promoted to compensate for the waning of Marxist ideology, as market-oriented reforms gained traction beginning in the 1980s. That Japan became the prime villain in a historical narrative of victimization and humiliation was unsurprising, given its predatory activities in China beginning with the first Sino-Japanese War. This demonization, however, has been abetted in ways beyond measure by the postwar eruption of right-wing nationalism in Japan, in which denial of imperial Japan’s aggression and war crimes plays a central role.

In a convoluted way, Japanese neo-nationalists are driven by much the same mixture of pride and humiliation that propels their Chinese counterparts: pride at throwing off adversity and becoming a post-war superpower, and humiliation, in this case, from seeing their erstwhile holy war turned into a criminal and atrocious undertaking. Much of the conservative retelling of Japan’s war history reflects an attempt to eradicate, or at least diminish, this stain on Japan’s national honor. And much of this revisionism is directed at domestic audiences and a domestic electorate, with scant regard for how negatively it is seen by outsiders.

The onus of defeat, coupled with accusations of criminality, weighs heavily indeed in these circles—more rather than less so as time passes—and this has inflicted Japan with a debilitating malaise. Sanitizing the war years and repeatedly undercutting official apologies and expressions of remorse is widely perceived by others—including not just foreigners, but also many thoughtful Japanese—to be not only dishonest, but also appallingly insensitive to the victims of imperial Japan’s expansion and aggression. Certainly among Chinese and Koreans, this conveys the impression of an utter lack of empathy, identity, responsibility, guilt, or repentance. It suggests that Japan is once again “throwing off Asia.”

No matter how often and how sincerely Japan and China have pledged to work together for the peace and progress of Asia from the 1970s on—and no matter how great their interactions and economic interdependence have become—what matters most decisively to Japan’s leaders in the final analysis is continuity of the intimate U.S.-Japan relationship.

8. “Subordinate Independence”

Strategically, materially, and psychologically, Japan’s current status in Asia—and in the world more generally—is riddled with ambiguity. In considerable part this reflects China’s emergence as a major economic power, coupled with the countervailing spectacle of Japan’s relative decline since the 1990s. The labels that were attached to Japan in the 1970s and 1980s—“economic superpower,” “miracle,” “Japan as number one,” and so on—have evaporated where Japan is concerned, but they have not disappeared. They have been more or less transposed to China.

There is a great deal of exaggeration in this role-reversing and relabeling, of course: Japan remains a major power, and China faces daunting economic, political, social, demographic, and environmental challenges. Still, there has been a tectonic shift in stature and influence since the early years of the Cold War, when Americans referred to the Pacific as an “American lake” and Japan was projected as the great workshop of Asia. All eyes now focus on China as the mesmerizing rising nation-state in the Asia-Pacific region, and on the uncertain configuration of power politics this portends—especially where the “triangle” of the United States, China, and Japan is concerned.

This is a lopsided triangle, however, for it is comprised of two indisputably autonomous nations (the United States and China) and a third, Japan, which still lacks genuine independence. This may be the most intractable legacy of the San Francisco System, and it is especially ironic when one considers the original premise of the Cold War containment policy. Global communism was monolithic, it was argued then, and the newly established People’s Republic of China but a puppet or satellite of Moscow. China’s independence has been clear for all to see since the Sino-Soviet split erupted in the early1960s, and no one today could possibly question its autonomy. The same cannot be said of Washington’s “free world” ally Japan.

Japan’s circumscribed autonomy is inherent in the nature of the U.S.-Japan military relationship. Although the two countries have been at odds on many issues since the San Francisco System was created, especially during the heyday of Japanese economic expansion that began in the 1970s, even the most acrimonious trade disputes were never allowed to disturb the security alliance. With few exceptions, Washington’s basic strategic and foreign policies go unchallenged in Tokyo. Even staunch supporters of the alliance acknowledge that it is “inherently and unavoidably asymmetrical.” Harsher appraisals employ the language of subordination and subservience, arguing that since the end of the Cold War Japan has become an American “client state” in ever deepening, rather than diminishing, ways.37

It can be argued that this unbalanced relationship has brought phenomenal benefits to Japan in the form of peace and prosperity. At the same time, however, it can also be argued that post-war Japan never actually faced a serious external threat from the Soviet Union or so-called Communist bloc, and that the nation’s prosperity derives far more from Japanese efforts than from American patronage. Be that as it may, peace and prosperity for Japan has come at the cost of being a cog in an American war machine that has indeed kept the peace at various times and in various places—but that also has squandered resources, precipitated arms races, flirted with “first use” of nuclear weapons, committed atrocities (like targeting civilians and practicing torture), and inflicted enormous destruction and suffering in Korea, Indochina, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Client-state status has also required giving generally unstinting support to less overtly militarized U.S. foreign policies that are often shortsighted and counterproductive. It has inhibited geopolitical flexibility and stifled any real possibility of innovative statesmanship on Japan’s part.

To more than a few Japanese, ranging across the full political spectrum, this protracted patron-client relationship is as “abnormal” as the state of affairs Japan and China repudiated when they restored relations in 1972. To some, this poses basic foreign-policy questions about Japan’s orientation and identity, particularly as an “Asian” power. To others, the root issue is national pride. In conservative and right-wing circles, agitation to become a “normal” nation focuses on revising the constitution and throwing off constraints on remilitarization. But the notion that accelerated militarization is a path toward more bona fide independence or autonomy is delusory. Japan cannot escape the U.S. military embrace. In fact, the United States desires a more militarized partner, free of constitutional restraints, to support its evolving strategic visions not only in Asia, but globally.

Asymmetry is not exceptional in relations between the United States and its allies. On the contrary, hierarchy is integral to the hegemonic nature of the post-war Pax Americana. Notwithstanding this, it can be argued that no other bilateral relationship between Washington and its allies is more conspicuous and commented-upon in its structural imbalance than the U.S.-Japan relationship. Even among Japanese who accept the fact that wisdom and restraint have often been wanting in post-war U.S. war and peace policies, it is customary to hear the argument that going along with the dictates of Washington is a small price to pay for maintaining the precious friendship that has been forged between the two countries.

Obviously, especially when one recalls the hatreds and horrors of the Pacific War, that friendship is indeed precious. The price paid for this under the San Francisco System, however, has been higher than is usually acknowledged—whether measured by the humiliation of being regarded as a client state, or by Japan’s inability to speak with a truly independent and persuasive voice about matters of war and peace. This is an unfortunate legacy to carry into the second decade of the twenty-first century, when power politics are in flux and talk about an impending “Asian century” is more compelling than ever before.

III. Present Uncertainties

It is generally acknowledged that the U.S. restoration of relations with China in 1972—coupled with the winding down of the Vietnam War—ushered in almost four decades of uncontested U.S. strategic supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region. In return for Washington recognizing its legitimacy, the Communist government in Beijing dropped its criticism of the U.S.-Japan security alliance and refrained from criticizing or challenging America’s overwhelming military superiority. Shared enmity toward the Soviet Union helped cement this Sino-U.S. agreement. So did U.S. assurances to China that Japan would not, and indeed could not, re-emerge as a major military power so long as the bilateral security treaty was maintained.38

This tacit understanding amounted to China’s leaders accepting a gross imbalance of power vis-à-vis the United States in the Pacific until their country became more prosperous—and prosperity arrived more quickly than anticipated.39 Beginning in 1978, reforms introducing capitalist market principles led to annual growth rates averaging around ten percent. In 2008, China surpassed Japan as the biggest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury securities and became the largest creditor nation in the world. Two years later, the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) surpassed Japan’s, making China under “state capitalism” the second largest economy in the world after the United States. Predictions of when China’s GDP would surpass America’s usually look to a mere two decades or so hence—that is, to around 2030.

One outcome of this stupendous growth was increasing interdependence between China and the rest of the world, including the United States and European Union, not just China’s Asian neighbors. China became the world’s biggest recipient of direct foreign investment, as well as its biggest trader. The PRC soon emerged as Japan’s largest trading partner in both exports and imports, while the United States became China’s major export market and its second largest overall trading partner (after the European Union). China’s integration into the global economy seemed to signal a materialization of converging interests that could and would become a sound foundation for future peaceful relations.

By the second decade of the twenty-first century, such shared interests seemed imperiled. Economic globalization was accompanied by China asserting its status as a great power more generally—and these great-power aspirations extended to overturning the modus vivendi negotiated forty years earlier and challenging the military status quo. This is the milieu in which so many of the problematic legacies of the San Francisco System resurfaced in disquieting ways—including not just territorial disputes and contested history issues, but also accelerated Japanese remilitarization. The U.S. response to this unsettled and fluid situation has been to engage in new levels of strategic planning aimed at maintaining an unchallenged Pax Americana in the Pacific.

Given the enormous domestic challenges China will face for many decades to come, the goal of its military transformation is not to achieve strategic parity with the United States. That is not feasible. Rather, the primary objective is to create armed forces capable of blunting or deterring America’s projection of power into China’s offshore waters—to develop, that is, a military strong enough to dispel what Henry Kissinger has called China’s “nightmare of military encirclement.”40 In military jargon, this mission is referred to as China’s pursuit of “anti-access/area denial” (A2/AD) capabilities, and the area of particular strategic concern lies within what Chinese (and others) refer to as the “first island chain” or “inner island chain,” which includes the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea. Central to this area-denial strategy is developing “asymmetric capabilities” that will enable Chinese forces to offset America’s ability to intervene militarily should, for example, a conflict over Taiwan arise.

This accelerated militarization on China’s part reflects more than rising economic clout and assertive nationalism. It is also driven by technological imperatives that escalated to new realms of sophistication when the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 essentially coincided with the takeoff of digital technology and the revolutionary transformation of precision-guided warfare. The so-called asymmetric capabilities under development in China cover a broad range of weaponry: nuclear warheads; 41 short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles, including a “carrier-killing” anti-ship ballistic missile (the Dong Feng 21D); long-range cruise missiles; “fourth generation” jet aircraft as well as a “fifth generation” stealth fighter (the Chengdu J-20); missile-carrying submarines, warships, and aircraft; an envisioned albeit still far-distant fleet of aircraft carriers; fiber-optic command and control centers; advanced laser and radar systems; satellite surveillance systems; anti-satellite and cyberwar capabilities; and so on. Should conflict with U.S. forces arise, China’s response presumably would include missile attacks on U.S. bases in Guam and Okinawa (notably Kadena Air Force Base).42

Such an agenda of military modernization by a late-arriving power in a new world of high-tech warfare is predictable. Also predictable is the alarm it has provoked among those who take America’s overwhelming military superiority for granted, especially in the United States and Japan. Rhetorically, the American response to the rise of China often calls to mind the early years of the Cold War. Anti-communism no longer defines this rhetoric. What remains relatively unchanged is an assumption of fundamentally adversarial rather than convergent American and Chinese values, interests, and agendas. In 2012 alone, Americans were bombarded with headlines and book titles about “The China Threat,” a new “Cold War with China,” an impending “Struggle for Mastery in Asia.” “Containment of China” was resuscitated as geopolitical wisdom from an earlier generation. More detached commentators called attention to a pervasive “China-bashing syndrome.”43

“China-bashing” itself carries distorted echoes from a more recent past, notably the 1970s and 1980s when Japan was still being mythologized as a superpower and “Japan-bashing” was all the vogue in America. There is, however, no real comparison. Japan-bashing focused exclusively on economic issues, and Japan’s moment in the sun was ephemeral. No one believes China’s rise to be a passing phenomenon. This poses an unfamiliar challenge to the United States: the notion of exercising power in the Pacific from a position of other than overwhelming superiority. There is no post-war precedent for this.

In U.S. strategic planning circles, the most widely publicized concept aimed at countering “emerging anti-access/area denial challenges” is called Air-Sea Battle (ASB). First mentioned publicly by the secretary of defense in 2009, this calls for integrated air, sea, space, and cyberspace forces capable of overcoming the “asymmetric capabilities” of adversaries. An Air-Sea Battle Office (ASBO) was established in the Pentagon in August 2011, and an acronym-heavy release from the ASBO explains, in formulaic language repeated in other official statements, that “The Air-Sea Battle Concept centers on networked, integrated, attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat (NIA-D3) A2/AD threats.” Another official report typically notes that the goal is “to preserve U.S. and allied air-sea-space superiority.”44


In published reports, China is the primary focus of the Air-Sea Battle concept.

U.S. officials usually take care to declare that ASB does not specifically target China and is a general and still rudimentary projection. In fact, the concept dates from war games initiated around a decade and a half earlier that identify the PRC as the major projected adversary (with Iran a distant second). These scenarios make clear that disrupting, destroying, and defeating China’s anti-access/area denial capabilities may involve operations such as destroying surveillance systems and missile defenses located deep inside the country, followed up by “larger air and naval assault.” 45

The Air-Sea Battle projections have provoked criticism in U.S. strategic planning circles concerning costs, risks, and implications for existing U.S. bases and operations in Asia. Much of this debate, however, involves inter-service turf battles and efforts to reconcile ASB with an alphabet soup of other current strategic formulations. These include the Pentagon’s overarching JOAC (Joint Operational Access Concept); Army and Marine Corps projections such as the GMAC (Gain and Maintain Access Concept) and JCEO (Joint Concept for Entry Operations); and the Navy’s MDBS (Mutually Denied Battlespace Strategy). As summarized by a strategic analyst in Asia, the Army-Marines JCEO strategy focuses on “amphibious, airborne and air assault operations to gain and maintain inland access to the adversary’s territory,” while the Navy’s MDBS plan would “rely on U.S. maritime superiority to deny access to Chinese warships in their own waters and [Chinese] commercial shipping in the surrounding oceans.” Consistent with these projections, in 2012 the United States announced plans to shift long-range B-1 and B-52 bombers as well as a fleet of high-altitude surveillance drones from the Middle East to the Pacific.46


The “A2/AD” (anti-access & area denial”) concept lies at the core of U.S. strategic planning vis-à-vis China.

These strategic guidelines, all easily accessible in declassified form, entered the public domain virtually hand in hand with widely quoted official pronouncements that the U.S. would “pivot to Asia” or “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region” as it withdraws from its misbegotten wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The “pivot” term emerged during President Obama’s trip to Asia in November 2011, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed with an article on “America’s Pacific Century” that same month. This rhetorical offensive was widely interpreted as indicating that the hegemonic Pax Americana would be maintained in the face of proposals to work toward attaining some sort of less confrontational and more balanced multinational power sharing.47

The pivot to the Pacific involves two distinct levels of projected integration. One, embodied in the Air-Sea Battle concept, focuses on joint U.S. military operations that optimize cutting-edge weaponry and technology. The other involves promoting greater strategic integration with Asian allies like Japan and South Korea. Although all parties speak with apparent sincerity about restoring the spirit of cooperation and interdependence with China that was initiated in the 1970s, the inherently confrontational and hierarchical aspects of the San Francisco System still define this evolving recalibration of power.

Where Japan is concerned, the concurrence of North Korea’s traumatizing development of nuclear weapons and mounting tensions with China has given new direction to the two bedrock policies that date back to inauguration of the San Francisco System: taking shelter under the U.S. military shield and promoting incremental militarization under the still unrevised “peace constitution.” Pyongyang’s test of a ballistic missile in 1998 triggered a series of policy decisions in Tokyo that prioritized establishing a multi-layered missile defense system in close collaboration with the United States. (Among other things, this involved revising earlier Japanese restrictions on arms exports plus lifting a ban on the military use of space.) Virtually in tandem with this, new “National Defense Program Guidelines” issued in 2004 expressed concern over China’s military modernization for the first time.48

Revised guidelines issued in December 2010 reaffirm Japan’s peaceful goals of defense and deterrence under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, but take note of a “global shift in the balance of power … along with the relative change of influence of the United States.” While acknowledging that Japan faces no serious threat of being invaded, the guidelines call renewed attention to disputes and confrontations that must be prevented from escalating into war. These “gray zone” areas of concern include the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Strait, and the spectacle of China “widely and rapidly modernizing its military force” and intensifying its maritime activities in surrounding waters. Essentially, the 2004 and 2010 guidelines reflect the shift in Japanese security focus away from Cold War preoccupation with the Soviet Union toward heightened concern about Korea, China, and the seas and islands to the south. They also reflect the same technological imperatives that drive war planning by the United States and China.


Air-Sea Battle projections have already entered the realm of popular war gaming.

The breakthrough concept in the 2010 guidelines is creation of a “dynamic defense force” (dōteki bōeiryoku) capable of “immediate and seamless response to contingencies.” This envisioned force, which replaces prior focus on a more static “basic defense force” (kibanteki bōeiryoku), will “possess readiness, mobility, flexibility, sustainability, and versatility … reinforced by advanced technology based on the trends of levels of military technology and intelligence capabilities.” Attaining these capabilities will “further deepen” the security alliance with the United States in areas such as contingency planning, joint training and operations, information gathering (extending to capabilities in outer space and cyberspace), and “technology cooperation,” with particular attention to ballistic missile defense. At the same time, the new emphasis on “dynamic deterrence” points to a conspicuously more proactive defense posture on Japan’s part.49

In November 2011, almost a year after the guidelines were issued, the Japanese government announced that it was loosening restrictions on arms exports that had been introduced in 1967 and reformulated in 1976 as a general ban “regardless of the destinations.” One early result of this, it was anticipated, would be selling submarines to countries like the Philippines and perhaps Vietnam—another example of the strategic regional integration envisioned under the “pivot” to Asia. In September 2012, Japan announced that it would host a second U.S. advanced anti-ballistic-missile radar system. Although ostensibly directed against North Korea’s nuclear provocations, this was denounced by Beijing as another step toward the containment of China. In December 2012, the Wall Street Journal praised Japan for now possessing “the most sophisticated missile-defense system outside the U.S.,” describing this as “a system poised for export to other nations.”50

Sixty years later, containment of China has clearly evolved into something radically different and more complex and contradictory than when this policy was first introduced under the San Francisco System.

IV. Fears and Hopes

The thrust of these developments is disturbing. The rise of China challenges the Pax Americana that has prevailed in the Asia-Pacific area since the 1950s. A stepped-up arms race looms—now pitting the United States and Japan against China rather than the Soviet Union, and driven by the impact of the digital revolution on precision warfare and cyberwar. We have entered a new era of strategic escalation without leaving reliance on brute force behind, and without any reason to believe that advanced hardware and software has produced a wiser generation of leaders.

All participants in this arms race naturally claim to champion peace: their militarization is bubble-wrapped in the rhetoric of “defense” and “deterrence.” On all sides, however, strategizing shades into paranoia. Chauvinism burns ever more feverishly. The structures of goodwill and interdependence between China and the rest of the world that were painstakingly built up beginning in the 1970s appear brittle. Warnings of “accidental war” hang in the air.

There is no reason to believe that the problematic legacies of the San Francisco System will disappear soon, or that new threats to stability can be held in check easily. Rival nationalisms are here to stay, manipulated by jingoists in and out of public office and passed on to younger generations. History wars will go on unabated, hand in hand with the cynical cultivation of historical amnesia for domestic audiences and agendas. Territorial disputes that were embedded in the peace treaty signed in San Francisco and aimed at thwarting “communism” in Asia will fester for years to come. The American empire of bases will keep contracting and expanding like a shape-shifting monster, as it has done since the end of the Cold War; but the disgrace of Okinawa and the “two Japans” will not change drastically in the foreseeable future. Japan’s incremental but now “dynamic” remilitarization under the nuclear umbrella will continue to accelerate—even more dynamically if the constitution is revised, but never to the point of eliminating the material and psychological constraints of subordinate independence under the eagle’s wing.

“Asymmetry” is a central concept in commentary on the rise of China and the U.S. “pivot” to Asia. The term has numerous connotations. It calls attention to the patron-client nature of the U.S.-Japan relationship, for example, and also characterizes China’s present and projected military capabilities vis-à-vis the prodigious arsenal of the United States. As America’s experience in post-World War II conflicts makes clear, however, asymmetrical capabilities can stymie overwhelming superiority in weaponry. This was the (unlearned) lesson of the Vietnam War, repeated in the U.S. debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. China’s military modernization rests on recognizing the potential effectiveness of materially inferior forces in deterring what American strategists hubristically refer to as “full spectrum dominance.” The U.S. response, epitomized in concepts like “Air-Sea Battle” and jargon about “A2/AD” threats and “NIA-3D” in-depth attacks, guarantees that strategists and weapons manufacturers on all sides will never break out of this vicious circle.

There is also asymmetry of a political nature in China’s challenge to continued domination of the San Francisco System: the PRC is an authoritarian state, whereas democratic principles underlie governance in the United States and Japan. This is a critical difference. At the same time, it should not obscure the fact that powerful dysfunctional influences are in play in all three states. Transparency is blatantly absent in the PRC, but secrecy and non-accountability are not peculiar to China. Beginning with the onset of the Cold War—and with almost exponential acceleration after September 11, 2001, when terrorism entered the picture as an obsessive security concern—the United States has become a national-security state of unprecedented bloat and clandestine activity. Special interests influence and pervert policy-making in all three nations. So does corruption, and so do delusion and wishful thinking. Time and again, pathologies rather than rational policies and practices influence the course of events.

Where, then, do hopes for a more stable and constructive future lie? They do not lie in fixation on military confrontation, although this is where political resources and media attention tend to be directed. Nothing hopeful can come from perpetuating hateful nationalisms, although this has become addictive in China, Japan, and Korea through ceaseless rekindling of the history wars. Nor can stability be secured by postulating a zero-sum struggle between China and the old Pax Americana for domination over the Asia-Pacific area. The United States is no longer the sole great power in the region, but it maintains an awesome military juggernaut coupled with a sprawling network of alliances consolidated in the early years of the Cold War. China’s long-delayed re-emergence as a great power is irresistible—unlike imperial Japan’s doomed aggression in the early twentieth century and post-war Japan’s short interval as a putative superpower in the 1970s and 1980s—but both domestic and external factors militate against China imposing hegemonic influence over the area.

Future hope lies in returning to the visions of peaceful integration that accompanied the normalization of relations with the PRC beginning in the 1970s, and in strengthening the many concrete areas of cooperation and economic interdependence that gave substance to these optimistic projections. As regional tensions heated up in 2012, “power-sharing” became the phrase of choice for postulating a less confrontational new order. This found expression in formulations such as a “Concert of Asia” or “Pacific Community” or “Pax Pacifica” (as opposed to the Pax Americana).51

This is more easily imagined than realized, of course, especially when territorial disputes and military expansion have been elevated to issues of national honor as well as security. “Asia-Pacific” regional organizations have been active since the 1990s and provide an object lesson in the unwieldiness of multinational forums, as well as their potential for promoting constructive engagement.52 Ultimately, however, the success of power sharing depends on expanding the non-governmental civilian networks that lie at the core of genuine interdependence and mutual understanding. These crisscrossing personal and corporate connections run the gamut from NGOs and multinational corporations to cultural and educational exchanges to tourism and pop culture. They are the bedrock of grassroots collaboration and integration—and, as such, the antidote to ultranationalism and bellicose confrontation.

These networks are already substantial. The questions that demand attention are: Why have they failed to decisively tip the balance against voices of extremism and unreason? Can they do so? And if so, how?

John W. Dower is emeritus professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His books include Empire and Aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese Experience, 1878-1954 (1979); War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986); Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (1999); Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq (2010); and two collections of essays: Japan in War and Peace: Selected Essays (1994), and Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering: Japan in the Modern World (2012).

Recommended Citation: John W. Dower, The San Francisco System: Past, Present, Future in U.S.-Japan-China Relations, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 8, No. 2, February 24, 2014.

Notes

1 Great Britain, which formally recognized the People’s Republic of China in January 1950, supported PRC participation in the peace conference before bowing to U.S. pressure in July 1951. The ostensible reason for excluding Korea was that, as a Japanese colony, it had not been a belligerent party against Japan in World War II. On August 16, 1951, Zhou Enlai, serving simultaneously as foreign minister and prime minister of the PRC, released a statement criticizing the treaty and conference. South Korea also expressed outrage when informed it was being excluded. For China and Korea, see John Price, Orienting Canada: Race, Empire, and the Transpacific (University of British Columbia Press, 2011), 245-48.

2 The third distinguishing feature of the San Francisco settlement (alongside the Cold War setting and “separate peace”) was the “unequal treaty” nature of the bilateral U.S.-Japan security treaty. As Secretary of State Christian Herter told a Senate committee when the treaty came up for revision in 1960, “There were a number of provisions in the 1951-1952 Security Treaty that were pretty extreme from the point of view of an agreement between two sovereign nations”; U.S. Senate, Committee of Foreign Relations, Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with Japan, 86th Congress, 2nd Session (June 7, 1960), esp. 11-12, 27, 30-31. This gross inequality provoked considerable tension between Tokyo and Washington in the 1950s, prompting revision and not just renewal of the treaty in 1960. Various backstage exchanges and commentaries on this issue are included in Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960. Japan; Korea, vol. 18; see 23-29 for a representative expression by the U.S. ambassador in Tokyo of U.S. apprehension concerning “the stigmas and disadvantages now associated in Japan with the present Security Treaty.”

3 Nishimura Kumao, who played a leading role in Japanese planning for the restoration of sovereignty, details the evolution of post-war strategic projections, including Okinawa, in his illuminating San Furanshisuko Heiwa Jōyaku, vol. 27 in Kajima Kenkyūjo, ed., Nihon Gaikō Shi (Kajima Kenkyūjo, 1971). As early as September 1947, a letter from Emperor Hirohito himself was delivered to General Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of Allied occupation forces, proposing that Okinawa be leased to the United States for twenty-five or fifty years, or “even longer,” to support the struggle against communism and hasten the end of the occupation. The letter was uncovered by Professor Shindō Eiichi and reported in “Bunkatsusareta Ryōdo,” Sekai, April 1979, 31-51 (esp. 45-50).

4 The major investigative work on Agent Orange and other toxins in Okinawa has been conducted by Jon Mitchell. See his “US Military Defoliants on Okinawa: Agent Orange” and “Agent Orange on Okinawa—New Evidence,” both in volume 9 of the The Asia-Pacific Journal (September 12, 2011, and November 28, 2011, respectively); these are accessible here. See also Mitchell’s articles in Japan Times: “Agent Orange ‘tested in Okinawa’” (May 17, 2012); “25,000 barrels of Agent Orange kept on Okinawa, U.S. Army document says” (August 7, 2012); and “U.S. Agent Orange activist brings message of solidarity to Okinawa” (September 15, 2012). Secret agreements on nuclear issues are discussed and annotated below under “The ‘Nuclear Umbrella’.” The most detailed and incisive critical commentary on Okinawa in English appears in various publications by Gavan McCormack, including most recently his co-authored (with Satoko Oka Norimatsu) Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012).

5 The major scholarly study of the origins of these territorial issues is Kimie Hara, Cold War Frontiers in the Asia-Pacific: Divided Territories in the San Francisco System (Routledge, 2007, 2012), which devotes separate chapters to each of the disputes. Hara reiterates the thesis of deliberate ambiguity in the San Francisco peace treaty concisely in various essays. See, for example, “50 Years from San Francisco: Re-examining the Peace Treaty and Japan’s Territorial Problems,” Pacific Affairs (Fall 2001) and “Cold War Frontiers in the Asia-Pacific: The Troubling Legacy of the San Francisco Treaty,” The Asia-Pacific Journal (September 2006). For another densely annotated treatment, see Seokwoo Lee’s online article, “The 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan and the Territorial Disputes in East Asia,” from Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal, 2002.

6 For the U.S. response to the 1956 Japan-Soviet negotiations, see Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-57. Japan, vol. 23, part 1:202-5, 207-13. See Hara, Cold War Frontiers, 71-99 on the 1945-1951 background, and 96 (and accompanying citations) on the thwarted compromise of 1956.

7 Hara, Cold War Frontiers, 14-49, esp. 31-35, 47.

8 The densely annotated entry on “Liancourt Rocks dispute” on Wikipedia includes many references to Korean-language sources. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) also declares the islands to be Korean territory.

9 The May 15, 1950, memorandum was reported by Japanese journalists affiliated with the Jiji Press news agency in Beijing; see the December 27, 2012, Beijing Jiji dispatch “‘Senkaku wa Ryūkyū no Ichibu’” online, as well as coverage in the Asahi Shimbun on December 27 and 28.

10 For Zhou and Deng, see Yinan He, The Search for Reconciliation: Sino-Japanese and German-Polish Relations since World War II (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 194; M. Taylor Fravel, “Something to Talk About in the East China Sea,” The Diplomat, September 28, 2012; and Ezra F. Vogel, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (Harvard University Press, 2011), 303-4. Speculation about potential oil and gas resources in the East China Sea dates from the late 1960s, and obviously influenced both China’s and Japan’s perceptions of the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. The increasingly intransigent Chinese position that developed after Zhou and Deng’s downplaying of the dispute in the 1970s is that there is a deep historical record showing that the islands have traditionally been regarded as part of China. The U.S. position is that it is agnostic on the sovereignty issue, but obliged to side with Japan militarily if Sino-Japanese tensions over the Senkakus lead to conflict. For an almost elegiac essay on the early history of the islands between China and Okinawa, see “Narrative of an Empty Space: Behind the Row over a Bunch of Pacific Rocks Lies the Sad, Magical History of Okinawa,” The Economist, December 22, 2012.

11 Hara, Cold War Frontiers, 157.

12 The concept of an American “empire of bases” was introduced by the late Chalmers Johnson in The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (Metropolitan Books, 2004). For an informative recent overview, see David Vine, “The Lily-Pad Strategy: How the Pentagon Is Quietly Transforming Its Overseas Base Empire and Creating a Dangerous New Way of War,” posted online in July 2012 at Tom Dispatch.

13 See Curtis E. LeMay with MacKinlay Kantor, Mission with LeMay: My Story (Doubleday, 1965), 382. LeMay spoke similarly in an April 1966 interview for the J. F. Dulles Papers archive at Princeton University; cited in Bruce Cumings, The Korean War: A History (Modern Library, 2010), 151-52. He was not taking pride in this devastation, but rather arguing that immediate and massive bombing of key cities in North Korea might have been more effective and less costly in human terms than the devastation wreaked in the protracted air war. The cities in South Korea were bombed when they were occupied by North Korean or Chinese forces. On the air war in Korea in general, see Cumings, Korean War, 147-61; Callum A. MacDonald, Korea: The War Before Vietnam (Free Press, 1986), 226-48, 259-60; and Taewoo Kim’s two-part treatment: “War against an Ambiguous Enemy: U.S. Air Force Bombing of South Korean Civilian Areas, June-September 1950,” Critical Asian Studies 44, no. 2 (June 2012) and “Limited War, Unlimited Targets: U.S. Air Force Bombing of North Korea during the Korean War, 1950-1953,” Critical Asian Studies 44, no. 3 (September 2012). Bombing tonnage varies depending on the source. Cumings (Korean War, 159) calculates that the United States dropped 635,000 tons of bombs (plus 32,557 tons of napalm) in Korea, compared to 503,000 tons in the entire Pacific theater in World War II. Marilyn Young puts the volume of bombs dropped in the Korean War at 386,037 tons (and 32,357 tons of napalm), with a total of 698,000 tons when all types of airborne ordnance are included; “Bombing Civilians: An American Tradition,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, April 19, 2009, accessible online. At the peak of the bombing in Korea, U.S. planes were dropping around a quarter-million pounds (125 tons) of napalm per day—with napalm tanks initially manufactured in Japan; see the “Napalm in War” entry here, and also Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Incendiary Weapons (MIT Press, 1975), 43. The total tonnage of bombs dropped by the British and U.S. air forces combined in World War II was slightly over two million tons, of which 656,400 tons were dropped in the Pacific theater. In the U.S. air war that devastated over sixty Japanese cities, the total tonnage dropped was 160,800 tons (24 percent of the Pacific theater total); see United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report (Pacific War), July 1, 1946, 16. In the air war against Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the volume of bombs dropped by U.S. forces escalated to over seven million tons.

14 Yoshida’s early arguments in defense of Article 9, and the later shift in policy, are annotated in J. W. Dower, Empire and Aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese Experience, 1878-1954 (Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1979), 369-400.

15 See, for example, Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1951. Asia and the Pacific, vol. 6, part 1:831. In the end, Article 11 of the peace treaty simply stipulated that “Japan accepts the judgments of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and of other Allied War Crimes Courts both within and outside Japan”—a proviso that required the Japanese government to obtain permission of the foreign governments involved in these trials before altering individual sentences that had been imposed.

16 The translations from 1972 and 1998 are from the English renderings released by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The full apologetic phrasing of the 1998 “Joint Declaration on Building a Partnership of Friendship and Cooperation for Peace and Development” reads as follows: “The Japanese side is keenly conscious of the responsibility for the serious distress and damage that Japan caused to the Chinese people through its aggression against China during a certain period in the past and expressed deep remorse for this.” The 1998 declaration was issued during a state visit to Japan by China’s president Jiang Zemin, and accompanied by acrimonious public exchanges over Japan’s war responsibility that are not reflected in the text of the declaration itself. See Kazuo Sato, “The Japan-China Summit and Joint Declaration of 1998: A Watershed for Japan-China Relations in the 21st Century?”, CNAPS Working Paper Series, Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, Brookings Institute, 2000-2001; accessible here.

17 The escalating acrimony from the 1980s of “war history” issues on both the Chinese and Japanese sides, including the politics propelling this, is a major theme in He, The Search for Reconciliation.

18 The devastating famine that resulted from the Great Leap Forward of 1958-1961, the destructive Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, for example, are all taboo subjects in China—ignored in textbooks, censored on the Internet, and brushed over in historical exhibitions such as at the recently renovated National Museum of China in Tiananmen Square.

19 On censorship of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, see John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (Norton & The New Press, 1999), 413-15, 620-21. The first major collection of photographs appeared in the August 6, 1952 edition of Asahi Gurafu.

20 For U.S. considerations concerning the use of nuclear weapons in the Korean War, see Bruce Cumings, “Korea: Forgotten Nuclear Threats,” Le Monde Diplomatique, December 8, 2004, accessible here and reproduced as “Nuclear Threats Against North Korea: Consequences of the ‘Forgotten’ War,” available here; also Cumings, “Why Did Truman Really Fire MacArthur? The Obscure History of Nuclear Weapons and the Korean War Provides an Answer,” History News Network (George Mason University), January 10, 2005, accessible here. See also Malcolm MacMillan Craig, “The Truman Administration and Non-use of the Atomic Bomb during the Korean War, June 1950 to January 1953” (M.A. thesis, Victoria University, New Zealand, 2009), accessible online.

21 Operation Hudson Harbor is discussed in Craig, “The Truman Administration and Non-use of the Atomic Bomb,” 119-21.

22 The literature on the impact of the Bikini Incident is enormous. For a descriptive overview that places Japanese anti-nuclear protests in a global context, see Lawrence S. Wittner, Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954-1970 (Stanford University Press, 1997), vol. 2 of The Struggle against the Bomb, esp. 8-10, 42-43, 241-46, 321-24. Wittner also describes the high-level U.S. response to the Bikini Incident, which included identifying the Lucky Dragon as a “Red spy outfit” and the ship’s captain as being “in the employ of the Russians” (this by the head of the Atomic Energy Commission), denying that the fishing boat had been outside the officially announced danger zone, emphasizing the “high degree of safety” of American nuclear tests in general, and asserting that the vessel’s radio operator had died of hepatitis rather than “radiation sickness,” as the Japanese government itself reported. In a cable to Washington, the U.S. ambassador to Tokyo described the popular outrage in Japan as “a period of uncontrolled masochism” as the nation “seemed to revel in [its] fancied martyrdom.” See ibid., 146-48, 153-54.

23 Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin, and William Burr, “Where They Were,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 55, no. 6 (November/December 1999), 26-35. On mobilization during the Cuban Missile Crisis, see Jon Mitchell, “‘Seconds Away from Midnight’: U.S. Nuclear Missile Pioneers on Okinawa Break Fifty Year Silence on a Hidden Nuclear Crisis of 1962,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, July 20, 2012; accessible online.

24 Norris, Arkin and Burr, “Where They Were.” Reischauer’s statement came in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun on May 18, 1981; for an English summary, see “Nuclear ‘Lie’ Strains U.S. Ties,” Time, June 8, 1981. Reischauer threatened to resign as ambassador in 1967 when he “discovered that there was a craft at Iwakuni, the Marine base on the Inland Sea, which held a store of nuclear weapons.” In his view, this was entirely different from the legitimate transit of nuclear-armed ships through Japanese waters, and violated understandings with the Japanese government. He regarded the uproar that greeted his 1981 acknowledgement of the latter as a “fiasco”; see his memoir My Life between Japan and America (Harper & Row, 1986), 249-51, 276-77, 280, 299, 346-47.

25 See, for example, Yuki Tanaka and Peter Kuznick, “Japan, the Atomic Bomb, and the ‘Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Power’,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, May 2, 2011; accessible here. The “paranuclear state” language appears in a lengthy treatment of nuclear development in Japan titled “Nuclear Weapons Program,” accessible here. As of late 2012, it was calculated that Japan’s stockpiles of separated plutonium totaled more than nine metric tons, enough to make “more than 1,000 nuclear warheads”; “Rokkasho and a Hard Place: Japan’s Nuclear Future,” The Economist, November 10, 2012. See also Frank N. von Hippel and Masafumi Takubo, “Japan’s Nuclear Mistake,” New York Times, November 28, 2012. The easy conversion from civilian nuclear programs to weapons projects is addressed in Matthew Fuhrmann, Atomic Assistance: How “Atoms for Peace” Programs Cause Nuclear Insecurity (Cornell University Press, 2012); see 221-25 on Japan.

26 The two quotations are from internal Department of State memoranda, both dated May 4, 1956 (DOS file number 711.5611/5-456), but many similar diplomatic notes and exchanges took place beginning in the mid 1950s. See Wittner, Resisting the Bomb, 109, 116-17, 166-67, 388, 505n69, 514n17. For an accessible sample of these apologies (and the patronizing U.S. “understanding” they prompted), see Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-57. Japan, vol. 23, part 1:495-98, reporting on a September 1957 meeting in Washington between Secretary of State Dulles and Foreign Minister Fujiyama Aiichirō, who had just delivered a speech at the United Nations calling for an end to nuclear testing. Fujiyama took the occasion of this meeting with Dulles to essentially dismiss what he had said to the United Nations. His apology, as the State Department summarized it, ran as follows: “The Japanese people, old and young, are very sensitive on this question. It is not merely a question of communists. The Japanese Government was placed in a position where it had to lodge a protest. The handling of this matter is vital for the conservative government. The psychological situation in Japan compels the Government to stand for disarmament, the abolition of war, and the establishment of peace, and against the manufacture and use of all nuclear weapons.” Dulles replied that he understood that “the Japanese Government has a special problem that is more emotional than reasonable. The American people perhaps reason about this, while the Japanese view the problem emotionally, and the Japanese Government must take that into account.”

27 Eric Johnson, “Nuclear Pact Ensured Smooth Okinawa Reversion,” Japan Times, May 15, 2002, quoting from a declassified U.S. document dated June 20, 1959.

28 Many declassified English-language documents pertaining to the 1960 and 1969 secret agreements have been assembled by Robert A. Wampler and made available in two widely separated releases by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. See (1) “Revelations in Newly Released Documents about U.S. Nuclear Weapons and Okinawa Fuel NHK Documentary,” May 14, 1997, covering thirteen documents and accessible online; (2) “Nuclear Noh Drama: Tokyo, Washington and the Case of the Missing Nuclear Arrangements,” October 13, 2009, covering eleven documents and accessible here. (3) The November 1969 secret agreement between Satō and Nixon is discussed in Kei Wakaizumi, The Best Course Available: A Personal Account of the Secret US-Japan Okinawa Reversion Negotiations (University of Hawaii Press, 2002); Wakaizumi was an aide to Satō, and his book originally appeared in Japanese in 1994. An online copy of the agreement is accessible here. Satō’s copy of the secret agreement was made available by his son in 2009 and reproduced in Asahi Shimbun, December 24, 2009. (4) See also Shinichi Kitaoka, “The Secret Japan-US Pacts,” in Research Group on the Japan-US Alliance, In Search of a New Consensus: The Japan-US Alliance toward 2010 (Institute for International Policy Studies, December 2010), 15-27. Kitaoka, who headed a Foreign Ministry committee investigating the secret agreements, at one point refers to the Japanese government’s “intentional avoidance of clarification.” He also quotes Satō stating, in October 1969, that “the three non-nuclear principles were a mistake.” The full Institute for International Policy Studies publication is accessible online. (5) Henry Kissinger discusses the Nixon-Satō agreement (without calling it secret) in The White House Years (Little, Brown, and Company,1979), 325-36, 1483.

29 For Kishi, see Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957. Japan, vol. 23, part 1:285; Kishi was following up on a similar statement by the head of the Defense Agency the previous month. For Ikeda, see Jon Mitchell, “Okinawa, Nuclear Weapons and ‘Japan’s Special Psychological Problem’,” Japan Times, July 8, 2010. For Satō as well as others on Japan possessing nuclear weapons, see “Nuclear Weapons Program,” op. cit., here. Satō’s bellicose statement about attacking China with nuclear weapons is cited in “The U.S. Nuclear Umbrella, Past and Future,” a December 27, 2008, editorial by Hiroshima Peace Media Center, accessible online; their source is a declassified Foreign Ministry document. Beginning in the late 1950s, U.S. diplomats and planners sometimes anticipated that Japan might acquire nuclear weapons in the near future. See, for example, Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957. Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, vol. 20:276-77 (minutes of a January 1956 meeting involving the Joint Chiefs of Staff); also Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960. Japan; Korea, vol. 18:27 (an April 1958 dispatch from U.S. ambassador to Tokyo Douglas MacArthur II).

30 The “throwing off Asia” (datsu-A) phrase comes from a famous 1885 essay attributed to Fukuzawa Yukichi. For an extended image-driven treatment covering Meiji Westernization, the Sino-Japanese War, and the Russo-Japanese War, see the three-part online treatment “Throwing Off Asia” at visualizingcultures.mit.edu.

31 For the pivotal role assigned to Japan by U.S. Cold War planners, see John W. Dower, “The Superdomino in Postwar Asia: Japan In and Out of the Pentagon Papers,” in Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn (ed.), The Pentagon Papers: The Senator Gravel Edition, vol. 5 (Beacon Press, 1972), 101-42.

32 Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1951. Asia and the Pacific, vol. 6, part 1:825-26. The fuller statement by Dulles explains that the Japanese “have felt that the Western civilization represented by Britain, more latterly the United States … represents a certain triumph of mind over mass which gives us a social standing in the world better than what is being achieved in terms of the mainland human masses of Asia, and … they think that they have also achieved somewhat the similar superiority of mind over mass and would like to feel that they belong to, or are accepted by, the Western nations. And I think that anything we can do to encourage that feeling will set up an attraction which is calculated to hold the Japanese in friendly association with us despite the fact that the mainland is in possession of the economic means of setting up an attraction which we, perhaps, in those particular terms of economy cannot match.”

33 For basic documents covering Nixon’s talks with Zhou in February 1972 and declassified for the National Security Archive, see William Burr, “Nixon’s Trip to China,” posted December 11, 2003 and accessible here; two long reports from Kissinger to Nixon summarizing his talks with Zhou in July and October 1971 can be accessed through note 4 here. Although these declassified documents are only lightly sanitized, some lines and passages pertaining to Japan have been excised.

34 The strategic considerations underlying the rapprochement are summarized in He, The Search for Reconciliation, 182-89. The honeymoon wording is hers.

35 The four key bilateral documents are as follows: (1) The landmark “Joint Communiqué of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China,” issued on September 29, 1972, announced termination of “the abnormal state of affairs” and established the basic terms reiterated in subsequent statements. Japan recognized the “Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China,” and expressed understanding and respect for the PRC’s position that “Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China.” The two nations declared commitment to peaceful coexistence as embodied in the charter of the United Nations, and pledged to “refrain from the use or threat of force” in any disputes that might arise between them. Japan expressed regret for “serious damage” inflicted on the Chinese people in the past, and China in turn renounced its demands for war reparations. Reparations had also been renounced by the Republic of China in 1952 and by South Korea in 1965. (2) The “Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People’s Republic of China” that followed six years later, on August 12, 1978, was exceedingly brief, consisting of an introduction declaring continued adherence to the principles enunciated in the 1972 communiqué, followed by five platitudinous articles.

(3) On November 26, 1998—twenty years after the peace treaty was signed, and seven years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War—the two countries issued a lengthy “Japan-China Joint Declaration on Building a Partnership of Friendship and Cooperation for Peace and Development,” accompanied by a list itemizing thirty-three specific areas of proposed collaboration. In addition to apologizing for Japanese aggression in the past, this declaration opposed nuclear testing and proliferation, and called for “the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons.” (4) The fourth joint statement—issued ten years later, on May 7, 2008, and bearing the lengthy heading “Joint Statement between the Government of Japan and Government of the People’s Republic of China on Comprehensive Promotion of a ‘Mutually Beneficial Relationship Based on Common Strategic Interests’”—took care to emphasize that the two nations “are partners who cooperate together and are not threats to each other.”

36 See, for example, Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Naval Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress (Congressional Research Service, October 17, 2012); also Jianwei Wang, “Confidence-Building Measures and China-Japan Relations,” February 2000 report to the Stimson Center (Washington, D.C.), accessible here.

37 For the asymmetry quotation, see Gerald L. Curtis, “U.S. Policy toward Japan from Nixon to Clinton: An Assessment,” in Curtis (ed.), New Perspectives on U.S.-Japan Relations (Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange, 2000), 39-40; this forty-three-page overview of U.S.-Japan relations after 1972 is accessible online. Gavan McCormack develops the client-state argument in detail in two books: Client State: Japan in the American Embrace (Verso, 2007) and, with Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Resistant Islands. For a capsule summary, see McCormack, “The Travails of a Client State: An Okinawan Angle on the 50th Anniversary of the US-Japan Security Treaty,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, March 8, 2010; accessible here.

38 The power-shift argument has been advanced by Hugh White of Australian National University, among others. For a concise presentation, see his “Power Shift: Rethinking Australia’s Place in the Asian Century,” Australian Journal of International Affairs 65, no.1 (February 2011), 81-93, esp. 82. For an extended analysis, see his The China Choice: Why America Should Share Power (Australia: Black Inc., 2012). White’s arguments have generated considerable online discussion and controversy.

39 In 1991, Deng Xiaoping advised colleagues to maintain good relations with the United Sates while building up China’s strength; see Andrew J. Nathan, “What China Wants: Bargaining with Beijing,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2011, 154.

40 Henry A. Kissinger, “The Future of U.S.-Chinese Relations,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012; this essay was adapted from the afterword to a paperback edition of Kissinger’s book On China (Penguin Press, 2011).

41 In December 2012, the newly appointed Chinese leader Xi Jinping took care to make one of his first public events a meeting with the nuclear unit in charge of ballistic and cruise missiles (the Second Artillery Corps), praising it as “the core force of our country’s strategic deterrent …. a strategic pillar of our great power status, and an important bedrock for protecting our national security”; Jane Perlez, “New Chinese Leader Meets Military Nuclear Officers,” New York Times, December 5, 2012.

42 For an overview of the revolution in precision warfare plus analysis of China’s projected “A2/AD” capabilities, see Andrew F. Krepinevich, Why AirSea Battle? (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2010). Fear that China’s growing sophistication in ballistic missiles threatens America’s hitherto “virtually invincible” Pacific fleet of carriers is typically expressed in a widely circulated Associated Press article: Eric Talmadge, “Dong Feng 21D, Chinese Missile, Could Shift Pacific Power Balance,” Huffington Post, August 5, 2010. For a concise sampling of current military jargon, see “China’s Military Rise,” The Economist, April 7, 2012.

43 Much of this bellicose rhetoric focuses on economic and financial issues. Its ubiquity can be gleaned by online searches under phrases such as “China threat,” “containment of China,” and “Cold War with China.” Certain books also trigger extended online commentary. See, for example, Aaron L. Friedberg, A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia (Norton, 2011); Peter Navarro, The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought and How They Can be Won (FT [Financial Times] Press, 2006; revised and enlarged in 2008); and Peter Navarro and Greg Autry, Death by China: Confronting the Dragon—A Global Call to Action (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011). Death by China became the basis of a full-length documentary film with the same title. China-bashing intensified during the 2012 presidential election, as noted in “The China-bashing Syndrome,” The Economist, July 14, 2012. The New York Times published a selection of opinions under the headline “Are We Headed for a Cold War with China?” on May 2, 2012.

44 See press releases from the Air-Sea Battle Office (ASBO) dated November 9 and 10, 2011, and titled respectively “Multi-Service Office to Advance Air-Sea Battle Concept” and “The Air-Sea Battle Concept Summary.” For another concise summary of the ASB mission by two officers affiliated with this office, Navy Captain Philip Dupree and Air Force Colonel Jordan Thomas, see “Air-Sea Battle: Clearing the Fog,” Armed Forces Journal, May 2012; accessible here. The Defense Department’s Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, issued in January 2012, refers to “asymmetric challenges” by states such as China and Iran, and italicizes its mission in this area as follows: “Accordingly the U.S. military will invest as required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) environments.

45 China was targeted as a rising problem by the incoming administration of President George W. Bush in 2001, but this was put aside after the September 11 terrorist attacks and ensuing fixation on the “war on terror.” The ASB concept, with primary focus on China, is attributed to Andrew Marshall, the influential long-time head of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment. Its articulation is now strongly associated with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a Pentagon-supported think tank; see Greg Jaffe, “U.S. Model for a Future War Fans Tensions with China and inside Pentagon,” Washington Post, August 1, 2012; this includes a map of the “inner” and “outer” island chains where “A2/AD” access is contested. For CSBA reports, see Krepinevich, Why AirSea Battle?; also Jan van Tol et al., “AirSea Battle: A Point-of-Departure Operational Concept,” May 18, 2010, accessible online. Krepinevich includes chapters on China and Iran, while emphasizing that the former is by far the greater threat to U.S. power projection; he also includes a map of the “first” and “second” island chains. Air-Sea Battle represents a departure from “Air-Land Battle” concepts introduced after the Vietnam War for countering the Soviet threat.

46 Department of Defense, Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), Version 1.0, January 17, 2012. Army Capabilities Integration Center, U.S. Army & Marine Corps Combat Development Command, U.S. Marine Corps, Gaining and Maintaining Access: An Army-Marine Corps Concept, March 2012. For a brief summary, see Michael Raska, “Air-Sea Battle Debate: Operational Consequences and Allied Concerns,” Defense News, October 30, 2012; accessible online and other sites. Raska is affiliated with the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. On the transfer of long-range bombers as well as Global Hawk drones to the Asia-Pacific area, see Thom Shanker, “Panetta Set to Discuss U.S. Shift in Asia Trip,” New York Times, September 13, 2012.

47 President Obama himself never used the term “pivot” during his Asia trip, although it was used by his spokespeople. For official presentations, see “Remarks by President Obama to the Australian Parliament,” November 17, 2011, accessible at the White House web site; Hillary Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century,” Foreign Policy, November 2011; and Department of Defense, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, January 2012. For independent in-depth analyses, see Kenneth Lieberthal, “The American Pivot to Asia: Why President Obama’s Turn to the East Is Easier Said than Done,” Foreign Policy, December 21, 2011; Mark E. Manyin et al., Pivot to the Pacific? The Obama Administration’s “Rebalancing” Toward Asia, Congressional Research Service, March 2012; David J. Berteau and Michael J. Green, U.S. Force Posture in the Asia Pacific Region: An Independent Assessment, Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 2012; and Michael D. Swaine et al., China’s Military & the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 2013.

48 Masaki Toki, “Missile Defense in Japan,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 16, 2009. The reference to China in the guidelines issued in 2004 reads: “China, which has a major impact on regional security, continues to modernize its nuclear forces and missile capabilities as well as its naval and air forces. China is also expanding its area of operation at sea. We will have to remain attentive to its future actions”; Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Defense Program Guideline, FY 2005~, December 14, 2004. The Japanese government has also released very slightly different translations of this document. The “Basic Space Law” was revised in August 2008 to permit using space for defense purposes.

49 National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2011 and Beyond, approved by the Cabinet and Security Council on December 17, 2010. The official English translation can be found here.

50 For the 1967 and 1976 policies restricting arms exports, see the report submitted by Japan to the United Nations in 1996 under the title Japan’s Policies on the Control of Arms Exports; this is accessible on the U.N. website and Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. As noted in this report, in 1983 exceptions were made for transferring military technologies to the United States, leading to cooperation in the production of fighter aircraft and missile defense systems. For other exceptions involving small arms and dual-use goods, see Robin Ballantyne, “Japan’s Hidden Arms Trade,” Asia Times, December 1, 2005. On the missile-defense system announced in 2012, see Thom Shanker and Ian Johnson, “U.S. Accord with Japan over Missile Defense Draws Criticism in China,” New York Times, September 17, 2012; Chester Dawson, “Japan Shows Off Its Missile-Defense System,” Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2012.

51 “Concert of Asia” is the concept advanced by Hugh White in widely quoted commentaries following publication of his 2012 book The China Choice. For “Pacific Community,” see Kissinger, “The Future of U.S.-China Relations.” The “Pax Pacifica” concept was promoted in 2012 by commentators like Kevin Rudd, the foreign minister of Australia; see, for example, “Rudd: Asia Needs ‘Pax Pacifica’ as China Rises,” summarizing a talk at the Asia Society of New York, January 13, 2012.

52 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) dates from modest regional beginnings in 1967; became ASEAN Plus Three in 1997 with the addition of Japan, the PRC, and South Korea, bringing total membership to thirteen; and in 2010 expanded to ASEAN Plus Eight by adding Australia, India, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States. APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), which presently has twenty-one Pacific Rim “member economies,” was established in 1989 and held its first summit in 1993. The East Asia Summit (EAS), dating from 2005, added Russia and the United States in 2011; total membership numbers eighteen nations, including Japan, the PRC, and India.

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Authors: For all articles by the author, click on author's name.   John W. Dower