- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

HARBIN, China — The Sino-American meet- ing was droning on about economic development in this northeastern corner of China when a Chinese scholar suddenly inter-jected a pointed question that, in effect, accused the United States of encouraging Japan to become an aggressive military power once again.

The scholar at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, Wang Xiliang, began into a tirade asserting that Japan — with U.S. approval — had shed its postwar pacifist foreign policy to resume the aggressive posture it had from 1931 to 1945.

Referring to the deployment of Japanese contingents to Iraq, Mr. Wang said: “Japan should not send troops outside of Japan.”

His outburst was directed at the commander of U.S. forces in Asia and the Pacific, Adm. William J. Fallon, who listened intently, then replied: “We welcome Japan’s engagement in peacekeeping operations.”

He said the Japanese “are trying to do things that are helpful, and they are not trying to do anything that is militarily aggressive.”

Adm. Fallon told the Chinese, who often berate Japan for its brutal 15-year invasion of China, that he is more interested in the future than in the past.

He told Mr. Wang and the dozen Chinese scholars and military officers around the table: “It’s not helpful to keep pointing to history.”

The admiral, on his third visit to China in the past year, was in Harbin recently to expand contacts with China, particularly its People’s Liberation Army. The United States has been trying to convince China that American intentions are peaceful, while exposing them to U.S. military capabilities to avert any miscalculation.

Adm. Fallon was successful in at least one respect: making fresh contacts. Maj. Gen. Kou Tie, China’s military commander in this region, told Adm. Fallon just before hosting a banquet that he was the first American he had met.

Mr. Wang’s condemnation of Japan reflected a downward spiral in relations between Beijing and Tokyo in the past five years. To assess those relations, the Center for Naval Analyses, the National Defense University and the Institute for Defense Analyses, all Washington-area think tanks, have joined the Pacific Forum of Honolulu in a six-month study.

The 30 participating political scientists, economists, retired military officers, government officials and diplomats agreed that the deterioration does not serve U.S. interests.

They noted that Washington has been seeking improved relations with China while also pursuing a stronger alliance with Japan.

Beyond that, however, there was no unanimity on the causes of the slide or what should be done about it, except for treading carefully. To encourage candor, conference rules preclude identifying the participants.

Some specialists said China and Japan are caught up in a rivalry for leadership in Asia. A preliminary conference report said others argued that “competition for leadership is more a symptom than a cause of tensions.” Still others suggested that the competition came from China, noting that “Japan is not much interested in leadership.”

Several Japanese said much the same in interviews in Tokyo in May. They summed up their nation’s ambitions as continued prosperity, security in alliance with the United States, political recognition as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and a desire “not to be bullied by China.”

In economics, another conference report said, “Experts were split on whether there is a genuine rivalry between China and Japan for economic dominance in Asia.

“Economic data suggest that a rivalry does not exist, given that the Chinese and Japanese economies are complementary, not competitive.”

Militarily, Japan is no match for China, thus its need for alliance with the United States. Japan has 239,000 people under arms, and China has 2.3 million.

China has nuclear weapons and long-range bombers, and is building a blue-water navy. Japan has no nuclear weapons and no long-range bombers, and a modest blue-water navy. China spends $90 billion a year on its military forces, twice what Japan spends.

For Washington, a report said, “The forces of nationalism and domestic politics in both countries make this situation particularly resistant to third-party intervention.”

Even so, the United States is involved because, the report said, territorial claims in the East China Sea “could lead to war.”

The United States, with its security treaty with Japan, could be dragged into the dispute.

“The U.S. has to be clear about policy objectives,” the report concluded.

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