Three Troubled Allies, One Superpower
There are three big unfolding stories for international politics and the global economy: The next stage of China’s rise, the continuing turmoil in the Middle East and the redesign of Europe. The three countries with the most to lose from these trends are, respectively, Japan, Israel and Britain. They also happen to be America’s most reliable allies in the world’s three most important regions. As 2013 unfolds, the special relationships that these countries enjoy with Washington won’t protect them from the worst effects of these sweeping changes. That is also bad news for U.S. foreign policy.
The further expansion of China’s political, economic and military power leaves Japan in an increasingly tough spot. The broadening and deepening of China’s consumer market creates critical opportunities for Japanese companies, but Beijing’s new assertiveness, particularly on territorial disputes involving Japan, is fueling nationalist anger inside both countries. The risk isn’t that the two countries will exchange fire but that emerging frictions will undermine the exchange of everything else, reversing the momentum in a commercial relationship that has become especially important for the buoyancy of Japan’s economy.
In September, the battle over a string of contested islands in the East China Sea rattled Japan’s economy. A move by Tokyo to assert ownership of the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands ignited anti-Japanese fury inside China, and Beijing let protests burn longer and hotter than usual. In the process, Chinese protesters destroyed Japanese stores and products in several cities and launched boycotts of Japanese companies. That month, Toyota and Honda’s year-on-year sales in China were down, respectively, 49% and 41%.