Opinion / Wang Hui

Abe trying to paper over the cracks in US' regional alliance system

By Wang Hui (China Daily) Updated: 2017-01-18 07:11

Abe trying to paper over the cracks in US' regional alliance system

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gestures during a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 21, 2016. [Agencies]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's just-concluded four-nation tour in the Asia-Pacific region is full of political calculation: He is trying to show Japan remains loyal to the US global alliance system and working hard to strengthen it despite its obvious decline in recent years.

The first leg of his trip took him to the Philippines last week where he pledged an aid package of $8.66 billion, including government aid and private investments, over the next five years. Abe said in a joint news conference with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that the purpose is to "leverage Japanese technology and knowhow to the fullest extent to positively cooperate for the improvement of infrastructure in Metro Manila and the whole of the Philippines".

Yet for those familiar with Manila's abrupt change of attitude towards the United States since Duterte took office in July, the aid package is a sweetener aimed at serving Tokyo's political purposes. Abemade no bones about this: urging the Philippines to remain committed to the US alliance in a bid to counter so-called growing assertiveness of China in the region.

In fact, Duterte's policy of estrangement from the United States, a major event last year, which is poised to shake up geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific region, has aroused a lot of concern among the US' allies, Japan included. As the US' closest ally in the region, Japan apparently refuses to accept that Duterte's change of approach to that of his predecessor is a setback for the US alliance system, and still hoping to draw the Philippines back into the fold with money diplomacy.

Yet, Abe's calculation is doomed to fail as both the trend of the times and the political uncertainty in the US after Donald Trump's election as the new US president show the US-led alliance network will continue to decline instead of strengthen.

As a legacy of the World War II, the US alliance system no longer conforms to the trend of the times which favors win-win cooperation and peaceful settlement of disputes while opposing power politics and a zero-sum mentality.

The multifaceted security woes the world is facing today, the rising non-traditional security risks, such as terrorism, in particular, indicate traditional security concepts which view nation-to-nation relations as a zero-sum game are not only banal but counterproductive in practice. The fact is the world is becoming increasingly unsafe under the influence of this traditional security perception and there is growing disillusionment with global leadership and the US alliance system.

To acerbate this gloomy picture, remarks by Trump on the US' global alliance system, have also raised alarm among its allies. Trump has stubbornly insisted US allies must pay their "fair share" of the world's national security expenses, and questioned the relevance of NATO.

As such, Abe's ambition to enhance US alliance in the Asia-Pacific region will prove to be an uphill struggle.

The reason that Duterte distanced his country from the US alliance is because he is fully aware of the negative impact the US' strategic pivot to Asia has had on regional peace and stability.

In recent years, Japan, under the leadership of Abe and with the support of the US, has resorted to a provocative policy in its dispute with China in the East China Sea and also tried to interfere in the South China Sea disputes.

Under such circumstances, it is hoped countries in the region, the Philippines included, will have little difficulty in seeing through Abe's plan to use themas pawns to stir up trouble.

The author is deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pacific. jasmine@chinadailyhk.com

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