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US and Japan: An Opening for Europe?

Published on: March 8th 2008 13:57:03
US relations with Japan have made significant progress during the Bush Administration. More recently, however, some questions have arisen. These came to light during Secretary of Rice’s visit to Tokyo on February 27th-28th. The visit followed earlier visits to South Korea and China and was overshadowed by the arrests of US servicemen in Okinawa on rape charges. But the most pressing issue where US and Japanese views diverge is China. Both share the objective of seeing China emerge as a “responsible stakeholder” that plays by the rules of the existing international system. US officials discern, however, that Tokyo is concerned that Washington will increasingly regard Beijing as its main partner in Asia – to the disadvantage of Japan. A State Department official commented to us: “The Japanese sense of their own inferiority in relation to China is growing exponentially.” To overcome this, US officials anticipate that Japan will seek to expand its strategic relations with Europe. This may include military purchases. At present Japan needs to acquire a new fighter aircraft to replace its aging F-2 fleet. Its preferred model is the US-built F-22 but, as we have reported, it is unlikely that the US will sell this to Japan. A possible alternative is the European-built Eurofighter. This is immediately available and is cheaper than the F-22. As a Pentagon official told us: “A year ago, the Eurofighter was simply a bargaining chip. Now it is more serious.”

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