Fingar challenges geopolitical myths about East Asia, calls for greater cooperation

flickr uspacificfleet japansdf usexercise
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships travel in formation with the U.S.S. George Washington during a regularly scheduled exercise in the East China Sea. Flickr/U.S. Pacific Fleet


Perception can often trump facts in politics, and the topic of security in East Asia isn’t exempt from this reality, exemplified by the dominance of China’s “rise” and Japan’s  “ramped up” defense posture in current policy debates. Yet, those dynamics create a need as well as an opportunity for increased multilateral engagement, says Thomas Fingar, the Oksenberg-Rohlen Distinguished Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

“Developments in China and Japan should be viewed as creating new opportunities and imperatives to deepen multilateral co-operation,” Fingar writes in a Global Asia essay.

“It would be a mistake to view them only as the cause of eroding confidence in the co-operative mechanisms that remain critical to peace and prosperity in the region.”

China’s rise has actually been a result of policies supported by the United States and other countries, despite prevailing commentary that they are intended to “contain” China, he says. In fact, Beijing’s rise was achieved by working within the rules-based international system, not outside of it.

China’s actions and growing power, especially military power, are compelling other regional actors, notably Japan, to reconsider their strategic situation. The reinterpretation of defense policy guidelines proposed by the Abe government is a long-delayed response to China’s military buildup, not an effort to remilitarize as a popular narrative holds. Fingar says the proposed relaxation of self-imposed policy constraints on Japan’s military forces could help pave the way for a future collective security arrangement in Northeast Asia.

So, where does this leave the U.S.-South Korea relationship?

He says the two countries can maintain their bilateral commitments while also deepening partnerships with, and between China and Japan. Both the United States and South Korea can help push for improved ties on trade and regional security issues. 

“We need continued bilateral – and increased multilateral – co-operation,” he says, particularly, “to mange the challenges of a nuclear-armed North Korea.”

The full article can be viewed on the FSI website.