The Golden Age of the U.S.-China-Japan Triangle, 1972-1989 (Harvard East Asian Monographs) Review

The Golden Age of the U.S.-China-Japan Triangle,  1972-1989 (Harvard East Asian Monographs)
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The Golden Age of the U.S.-China-Japan Triangle, 1972-1989 (Harvard East Asian Monographs) ReviewRecent events in Northeast Asia have reinforced the importance and salience of US-China-Japan relations. These political relationships are generally described, analyzed and maintained from a bilateral perspective. However, as the title suggests, the editors of "The Golden Age of the US-China-Japan Triangle, 1972-1989" maintain that during this particular timeframe, the relationships of each country were not only amicable, but also connected to a degree in which they could be described as an economic and political "constructive triangle". It is often said that you can not know where you are going until you know where you have been. In that regard this book offers a detailed look at the historical evolution of US-Japan-China relations and gives a clue of what the future may hold.
The editors, respected scholars from Harvard, Peking and Tokyo Universities, have collected nine essays from academics of each country. These authors detail what conditions prompted this brief period of cooperation to blossom, what maintained it, and lastly, what factors brought the era to an end. Furthermore, they examine in minute detail the domestic and structural aspects which drove each state's bilateral relations during this timeframe.
Two important events provided the bookends for the period of 1972-1989; the first is Nixon's stunning rapprochement with China, the second is the Tiananmen Square incident. In addition, the unique strategic conditions of the Cold War provided the adhesive glue that kept the US-China-Japan trilateral relationship together. While the Tiananmen Square incident created a strain on US/China and Japan/China relations, it was ultimately the end of the shared Soviet threat that eroded the very raison d'etre of the strategic triangle.
The book was organized into four main sections. Part 1 detailed the domestic atmosphere that influenced the foreign policies of each respective country. Untied States foreign policy was dominated in the early part of this period by the realist influenced strategic thinking of Nixon and Kissinger. Later years became more nuanced as foreign policy became less dominated by the White House. As Congress took on a larger role, influence groups and the media became more influential in determining the direction of foreign policy. China's foreign policy, on the other hand, was continually marked by strong central rule, first by Mao and followed by Deng Xiaoping. Japan's foreign policy was to a certain extent largely subjugated to US foreign policy interests and goals. A prevailing theme throughout the book was Japan's role as a junior partner in this "constructive triangle".
Part 2 - 5 analyzed the bilateral relations of each country. This was done from the perspective of every country (i.e. US-China & China-US). The juxtaposition of the same account from different perspectives led itself to a very detailed and nuanced examination of each dyad. Because this was a historical study, there tended not to be any particular theoretical approach that the authors used to explain the narrative. However, within each chapter the respective author possessed their own distinct methods and bias for interpreting events.
The authors of the US-China relations section painted a scenario in which both countries were eager to form a strategic relationship to counter the perceived Soviet threat. However, due to the Watergate scandal and U.S. administrative changes, it took a number of years to achieve final normalization in 1979. The relationship was mostly stable throughout the 1980's, but had moments of tension due to U.S. support of Taiwan. US-Japan relations were well established prior to 1972, but suffered strain as a result of the so-called "Nixon Shock" of U.S. rapprochement of China without prior notification of Japanese officials. However, the US/Japan security alliance formed an unshakeable backbone on which United States-Japan relations rested on. While the relationship was fundamentally strong, numerous trade disputes and U.S. fear of Japan's economic growth created moments of acrimony during parts of the 1980's. Finally, the editors devoted the least amount of ink to China-Japan relations. Japan's close relationship with the U.S. precluded it from forming ties with China prior to 1972. However once the United States signaled its intention to normalize relations with China, Japan quickly followed suit. Japan felt that its relations with China were non-strategic and therefore was reluctant to sign the anti-hegemony clause, which the Chinese established as a precondition to formal relations. Japan felt that this clause targeted the Soviet Union. Japan signed the clause in 1978 at the urging of the United States but not before adding an addendum specifying that the clause does not refer to any particular third party. Japanese relations with China closely mirrored the ups and downs of U.S.-China relations. However, Japan was less willing to freeze relations or criticize Chinese authorities after the Tiananmen incident. As a result friendly China-Japan relations extended past 1989 and high points included the Japanese Emperor's visit to China and Jiang Zemin's visit to Japan in 1992.
This book provides an excellent historical examination of the U.S.-China-Japan security, political and economic triangle. Each chapter is richly detailed with information, insights and anecdotes into the foreign policy motivation and decision making process that resulted from each country's individual strategic goals and domestic pressures. Each chapter is a self-contained unit and written chronologically, making it a valuable reference source. However, the comprehensive nature of overlapping and dual/multiple perspectives also lent itself to redundancy. The reader often found himself reading accounts of certain key events from six separate authors. In addition, because each thematic chapter was authored by a different individual, there is no overarching thread in which to create a running narrative or a clear conclusion. Nonetheless, the book will prove invaluable to individuals wishing to obtain a deeper understanding and appreciation of U.S.-China-Japan relations. This book provides historical depth and it gives a solid base on which to interpret current bilateral relations.
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