Now that Hillary Clinton is back as the frontrunner, I thought that it would be worth my while to reread her Foreign Affairs article.
Hillary Clinton’s contribution in the Foreign Affairs series of “If elected I would” essays by the presidential candidates* caused considerable distress within the Japanese establishment because it said that “[o]ur relationship with China will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century”, while mentioning Japan only in passing. Part of the dismay is rooted in the widely held belief among these people that, generally speaking, the alliance has gone smoother when Republicans have been in charge**. More specifically, the Clinton administration put on a full-court charm offensive on China, while Japan-U.S. relations languished under an uncommon level of animosity over trade issues.
So is this guilt by association? No. Not when Mrs. Clinton’s top foreign policy advisors, Madeline K. Albright and Richard Holbrooke, as well as much of the rest of her team also figured prominently in the Clinton administration. No. Not when she lists her eight years in the White House on her résumé under Experience. But…
First of all, in foreign affairs, top billing is often a mixed blessing, or worse. For China’s name first comes up in the list of “unprecedented array of challenges in the twenty-first century, threats from states, nonstate actors, and nature itself”. It would be hard to derive even a twisted sense of satisfaction from being mentioned in the same breath as “two wars, a long-term campaign against global terrorist networks, and growing tension with Iran as it seeks to acquire nuclear weapons[;] … a resurgent Russia whose future orientation is uncertain[;]… a rapidly growing China that must be integrated into the international system (my italics)[;]… an unpredictable and dangerous situation in the Middle East that threatens Israel and could potentially bring down the global economy by disrupting oil supplies[;]… and the looming long-term threats of climate change and a new wave of global health epidemics.” And you know what happened the last time we really challenged the United States***.
Mrs. Clinton goes on to explain her position on these challenges one-by-one, and it is in this context that “the most important bilateral relationship” must be understood. Indeed, Japan is first mentioned here as part of the solution, as she writes, “The United States should undertake a joint program with China and Japan to develop new clean-energy sources, promote greater energy efficiency, and combat climate change.”
“Strengthening Alliances” － in an obvious contrast to her protrayal of the Bush administration’s unilateralism － is a cornerstone of her strategy in meeting such challenges. Here, there is somewhat more reason for concern. The other corner of the old Trilateral, Europe, is given top billing where “Strengthening Alliances” is concerned, while in Asia, Japan is lumped together with India and Australia, as she says that “[w]e must find additional ways for Australia, India, Japan, and the United States to cooperate on issues of mutual concern, including combating terrorism, cooperating on global climate control, protecting global energy supplies, and deepening global economic development.” She claims, “When America and Europe work together, global objectives are within our means”, uplifting thoughts indeed. And the star of Asia is India, which “has a special significance both as an emerging power and as the world's most populous democracy. As co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, I recognize the tremendous opportunity presented by India's rise and the need to give the country an augmented voice in regional and international institutions, such as the UN.”
But we must be careful not to read too much into this seeming imbalance. Europe comes up in the context of the need “to reassure our allies.” Specifically, she says, “We must reestablish our traditional relationship of confidence and trust with Europe.” And India remains an “opportunity”, albeit “tremendous”. So you can look at it this way: From Senator Clinton’s point of view, its relationship with Japan is a mature, stable relationship (contrast India) that requires no healing (contrast Europe). To put it another way, we’re that quiet boy who used to be in your class, the kid who always did his homework and otherwise never made any trouble for the teachers.
Now is that such a bad thing to be? Especially since the Japanese public is not looking for more?
* Bill Richardson shares the Jan/Feb edition with Michael D. Huckabee, while Chris Dodd and Joe Biden dropped out before they got the chance. Fed Thompson will surely have his day if he stays in, but you wonder if FA will ever let Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich have their say.
** Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican; Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Democrat. Case closed. Kidding.
*** See footnote **