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East Asia in the post-American world

Feb 5

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As China, North Korea and Russia adopt increasingly aggressive positions globally, some East Asian nations are gaining greater strategic significance for the United States. Confronting these security challenges, the U.S. has actively urged Japan to address historical disputes with its neighbor, South Korea. At the same time, the U.S. is working to improve cooperation among the three democracies to bolster their collective strength.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan explores the East Asian Rim and explains why, unlike other regions discussed in his series on a post-American world, the U.S. will remain engaged in this area for decades to come.

Excerpted from Peter’s Feb. 5 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

Today, we’re looking at another region that the U.S. will continue to keep tabs on – East Asia. This is one of those regions that will be plenty exciting in coming years, so let’s jump in.

Let’s start with the regional allies – Japan and Australia. Together with the U.S., these three countries have formed a trilateral alliance, which will help shape the power balance in the Pacific. Australia has been a close ally for decades and will continue to be just that. Japan is a more recent member of Washington’s inner circle and has joined for one big reason – China.

Japan, Australia and the U.S. partnership has struck a strategic balance of power with Russia and China. This region’s future will depend upon where other regional powers decide to place their allegiance. Given China’s internal challenges and Russia’s apparent problems, it could (will?) turn chaotic very quickly.

We’ll be watching the dynamics unfold in East Asia over the coming years, and I expect no shortage of excitement.

Access Peter’s other post-American world commentaries:

Hey everybody, Peter Zeihan. Here we are continuing our post American series about what the world will look like where the hotspots will be after the United States retrenches from its current position
coming to you from the Eagle’s Nest wilderness trips below Gore Lake and today we are going to discuss the East Asian rim. This one is a little bit of an anomalous issue considering the series, but whatever, in that this is an area that the Americans are gonna remain very engaged in part of it, it’s about managing the Chinese decline. But in part, it’s because the United States has a couple of very powerful, creative, capable allies that Americans appreciate. The first one is Australia, which is arguably the staunchest ally the United States has, and it has always, well, for the last 50 years at least, served as a bit of a
deputy for American interest in Southeast Asia, which is a region that the United States is interested in, but has never really had the time to give the amount of attention that it deserves. And that’s where the Australians come in. They’ve got excellent relations with most of the countries in the region, most notably Singapore and Indonesia. And then of course, you’ve got New Zealand there as a sidekick anyway.
Part of the reason that the United States has given nuclear powered submarines and a free trade deal to the Australians is because they’ve been so loyal. And so long in areas that are out of theater, they participated in Vietnam and Korea, they participate in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve always been there, because they know at the end of the day, if they don’t have a partnership with the Americans than they are on their own, and they can read a map and they realize they’re wildly outnumbered in the region. So it is a strategy that they’ve been following for decades. It’s a strategy that has borne a lot of fruit and is the strategy that will continue to serve them well into the future. The other country is more of a newcomer, and that’s Japan. Now, throughout the Cold War, the Japanese were a bit combination of seething and shell shocked, they had been defeated soundly in World War Two, they had been nuked twice, which was something that didn’t happen to Nazi Germany, and the post war settlements were if anything harsher on the Japanese than they were on the Germans. And so there’s always this lingering nationalist ideal in Japan that wanted to move beyond the American Alliance Network of the Cold War. But between the defeat the occupation, American military force and the Soviets and the Chinese right there, they never really had that choice. Well, over the last 15 years politics in Japan have evolved. It’s not that the nationalism is gone now. But the Chinese have become a much more clear and present danger than they thought the Chinese could ever be. And the Russians with their weakness in the Ukraine war, are showing themselves to be wobbly, which means that the Japanese have become very thoughtful about what their possibilities might become that some things may not be what they thought some might be harder, some might be easier. And in that sort of mindset, when you’re dealing with a demographic that is in terminal decline, you realize, you probably are not going to be able to go it alone. So it’s best to look for partners who are going to see the world through a similar lens. And that has led them willingly back to the United States. Over the course of the last 15 years, the Japanese have built a pair of very large carriers, not quite super carriers, but the aircraft that operate from them are the Joint Strike Fighter that is made in the United States. And the Japanese gotten closer and closer and closer and managed to strike a deal both with the Trump and with the Biden administration, on the future of bilateral relations. So it’s not that Japan is not capable. It’s the second most powerful navy in the world by most measures. It’s that Japan has chosen that rather than going to the loan, it’s opening the door on a protracted partnership with United States and with Australia. And that puts major American power three points of the Pacific bracketing nicely where the Russians are and where the Chinese are. So for the future of this region, it’s going to come down to how powers do or do not get along with the trilateral Alliance. Some, like the Chinese are destined to break not probably because of military confrontation, but because of their own internal issues, which means this is going to be a zone of chaos. Opportunity, carpetbagging, for those of you who bothered to learn Mandarin, something like that, it’s going to be impossible to put troops on the ground and stabilize something the size of China even if you want it to. So it’s probably just going to be a security black hole for a good long time. And then there’s other powers like Taiwan or Korea that get along pretty well with the United States and to a lesser degree, the Japanese, but they’re gonna have to decide just how hand in glove they want to work. This is one of those things that popped up earlier this year when the Biden administration had the Japanese and the Koreans did Camp David to basically hammer out a peace deal that dates back not to World War Two, but to 1905 when the Japanese occupied and colonized the Koreans.
If, if, if the Japanese and the Koreans can agree to get along, then we can have a mini globalization you
stage because Taiwan’s almost a rounding error at that point that also involves Southeast Asia. But if the Koreans decide to go a different direction, then there’s a very big security problem because the Japanese will never be secure, so long as the Koreans are a hostile power. So a lot of this remains a an act in progress. But we’re starting to see the outlines of a post Russia post Chinese Asia already, and it speaks with an Australian and a Japanese accent. Alright, that’s it. Bye

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