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Streltsov Dmitry, Japan and the New Bipolarity in Asia Печать E-mail
23.12.2012 г.
Dmitry Streltsov, Head of the Association of Japanologists

A noteworthy trend of recent period is the formation of the paradigm of the new bipolarity East Asia. This paradigm has a dual nature. First, many processes in the region are taking place against the background of US.-China mutual opposition, which continues to worsen despite the profound economic interpenetration of the two countries. This bipolarity, which has an openly confrontational nature, takes a variety of forms: the growing naval arms race in the Pacific, the sharpening of territorial conflicts between China and the US allies in the region, the difficulties in achieving a common understanding on the seemingly obvious problems, for example, on the issue of inter-Korean settlement etc. Not least, this bipolarity reproduces the mental stereotypes of the cold war, are still strong in the foreign policy establishment of both China and the United States. Not only the military, but also diplomats, politicians, opinion leaders of both states continue to fervently believe in the image of enemy, any actions of which are subject to the logic of"zero-sum game "and therefore pose a threat to its own national interests.Fed by a rise of nationalism, this bipolarity has a clearly confrontational nature, leading to a disrupting effect towards many cooperation initiatives (like the split within the ASEAN between the pro-China and pro-US members).

Second, a form of "bipolarity" can be traced in the mutual opposition of the "Western" and "Asian" ways of development. The crisis of Western liberal values is seen in East Asia in the context of the global financial and economic crisis, which, as many people remember, originated from America, as well as in the context of Europe's inability to deal with its own internal problems. In the eyes of many East Asians, a dead-end of the "Western way" is in sharp contrast with the reassuring "Asian way". Asia demonstratesrelatively favourable economic indicators, its growth has slowed, though but still remains at a fairly high level. In this sense the bipolarity manifests itself in dualistic picture of the world, i.e. the "decaying" West, unable to overcome the impasse against"the active and dynamic" East. Besides, the demographic growth potential of Asia is not in comparison with an ageing West, facing the threat of collapse under the load of its own social problems.

The new paradigm of bipolarity has not only the mental, but also the institutional manifestation. Opposition to "the West" and "Not the West", in which the latter feels itself in an advantageous position, is reflected in the balance of power between the global political institutions. The most vivid testimony is the growing importance of the G20, in which a half of seats is reserved by Asian countries and which is referred to as the "World Government". This trend is especially vivid against the background of a relative weakening of the influence of the G8. It is worth recalling the phenomenon of BRICS, which is thought to be an antipode to the West. Against the background of the "new bipolarity", which has acquired clear contours, the general trend is that non-Western actors take the lead in shaping the global agenda, while the West-centered institutions that played a central role in the post-war period are losing their power. This form of bipolarity, in contrast to the first one, has a positive component, providing the East Asian nations with grounds for economic nationalism.

The new bipolarity exerts its effect on the economic agenda. The specific feature of the situation in East Asia is that complicated, sometimes confrontational security situation coexists with intense economic integration. In reality tension does not lead to fatal consequences - all actors concerned do not to cross a dangerous line, thereby threatening their vital economic interests.

Japan feels itself uneasy within the paradigm of these two bipolarities. As the pivotal US ally, Japan identifies itself in the anti-Chinese camp. On the other hand, Japan is a part of Asian World which opposes the US (West) in terms of economic and civilizational values. After the recent change of power, one of the main tasks of the new LDP cabinet will be to find an optimal balancing construction between Japan's adherence to the US-centered security arrangement in Asia and its Asia-centered economic interests. In other words, Japan will have to maneuver between its anti-China stance in the spheres of national security and its pro-Asian economic orientation. Will this duality provide for a schizophrenic split in the mentality of its political elites, resulting in the lack of coherence in its diplomatic strategy, or will it lead to a a sort of harmonious US-Asia "bridge"strategy?

One can recall that the negotiations in the format of the "Big Three" (China-Japan-South Korea) which did not stop even in moments of tension. Each country sees this as their own benefits. For example, Japan considers the Big Three (troika) to be a counter-balancer which can be used as a leverage in the diplomatic game with Washington on the question of the participation of Japan in the TPP, as well as the ability to push through a range of integration formats. In turn, for China it as a way of economically more closely bind to themselves and prevent the formation of Japan in the East Asian economic grouping without its participation.
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