ASIA'S RECKONING: The Struggle for Global Dominance
Author: Richard McGregor
Published by. Penguin Books, 2017, 396pp, $28.
The reference to 'global dominance' in the sub-tide is misleading: the focus of this book is squarely on the Asia--Pacific region and the triangular relationship between the United States, China and Japan. There is no better person to relate this than Australian journalist Richard McGregor, who has worked for global media outlets in Washington, Beijing and Tokyo. The solid research, engaging narrative and crisp analysis that won McGregor praise for an earlier book on the Chinese Communist Party (The Party, Penguin, 2010) are also the strengths of this latest work.
In Asia's Reckoning McGregor skilfully relates the relationship from each of its three corners. From the Chinese perspective, the communist victory in the civil war, the agonies of the Cultural Revolution and China's rise to great power status provide the backdrop to evolving relations with Japan and the United States. For Japan, the tale is one of post-war economy recovery under the US security umbrella, followed in recent years by economic stasis and increasing concern about China's strategic direction. And for the United States, the story centres on its efforts to maintain strategic primacy in the region, while dealing with two increasingly antagonistic regional players, Japan (a US ally) and China (increasingly a peer competitor).
McGregor highlights the twists, continuities and contradictions in the triangular relationship. He contrasts recent Sino-Japanese tensions with China's relatively benign attitude towards Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, when Mao turned a blind eye to Japan's wartime record and sought economic assistance. Japan's stellar economic growth at that time appealed to modernisers in China but alarmed US observers who feared 'Japan as number one'. Despite ups and downs in the relationship, particularly over trade, the United States has consistently seen its alliance with Japan as a strategic asset, first against the Soviet Union and more recently China. Indeed it is difficult to consider the US-China relationship today without taking account of Japan's increasingly active strategic role in support of the United States.
McGregor usefully explores the linkages between political dynasties and foreign policy in Japan, contrasting the nationalist views of the Kishi/Sato/Abe clan and the pro-China stance of the Hatoyama and Fukuda families. He...