Rising sun rising

WASHINGTON — The land of the rising sun is rising again, and this time not as an enemy, but as one of America’s strongest and most reliable allies. And the catalyst is China.

Japan is key to the administration’s strategy as a counterweight to China. Japan is an economic power and with U.S. encouragement and assistance, it will soon become a military power to be reckoned with as well. It is the only country in the Far East with the money, history, and population to credibly check China’s expansionism in the East and South China Seas where China is staking claims to islands a half-dozen other nations are contesting.

Among those complainants are the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and Vietnam, countries without the wherewithal to take on China in a way that only Japan can do as a rival economic and soon to be military rival.

Over the last few years, China has methodically sought out piles of rocks in the East and South China Seas that can only charitably be called islands. They have built out these rocks to create military air strips even as they deny any military intentions – and they are getting away with it.

China has become unduly provocative with their planes and ships coming too close to the U.S. Seventh Fleet as its ships sail through the contested seas on Freedom of Navigation exercises.

As an island nation, Japan is dependent on sea lanes for survival, and the Japanese cannot allow the Chinese to succeed in gobbling up one of the world’s busiest lanes, which is also Japan’s most important lane.

There hasn’t been an incident, but the lack of muscle on the U.S. side demands a better response, and that is where Japan comes in. Japan’s leaders understand that the nation controlling the land surrounding the water controls the water, and for an island nation, that means control over their very survival.

Japan’s newly elected prime minister, Fumio Kashida, the country’s former foreign minister and a trusted figure in Washington where policymakers view him as a good fit for the Biden administration’s increased emphasis on Asia and its efforts to reign in China’s global ambitions. The value the administration places on the U.S.-Japan relationship is evident in President Biden naming Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago and a tough political operative, as ambassador in this time of high-stakes global maneuvering.

So, the expectation is that China’s free ride may soon be over. If the Biden administration’s wish is fulfilled, Japan will become the Germany of Asia, the bulwark of an Asian-U.S. alliance that will be to that part of the world what NATO has been for so long to Western Europe.

This is a remarkable turnabout for those who remember World War II, but we no longer fear Japan as we no longer fear Germany. Both have become reliable democracies and economic powerhouses. Both have strong military roots, and these are poised to be used as viable, rising, and beneficial deterrents.

-Douglas Cohn is a columnist for U.S. News Syndiate Inc.

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