WASHINGTON – Japan could play a “very important role” in balancing the “cooperative rivalry” between the United States and China, renowned American scholar Joseph Nye said in a recent interview.
The Harvard University professor is skeptical about describing the current tensions between the world’s two largest economies as a new Cold War.
“The United States and China today have obviously a great deal of trade, and we also see … 300,000-plus Chinese students in the United States, as well as several million Chinese tourists,” Nye said. In contrast, “there was almost no trade between the United States and the Soviet Union, and almost no social contact.”
No country alone can solve such problems as climate change, pandemics and international financial issues, said Nye, who served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in the Clinton administration from 1994 to 1995.
“That’s why I say that, rather than talk about a new Cold War, we should talk about a cooperative rivalry,” he said.
Nye noted that Japan is the third-largest economy in the world and can play a “very important role” in helping the U.S.-China cooperative rivalry work well.
“When the United States and Japan cooperate, that’s a very significant counterbalance to Chinese economic strength,” he said.
“If you look at Japan’s role in areas like Africa or Southeast Asia or the Pacific islands, the role of JICA (the Japan International Cooperation Agency) is extremely important,” he said. “And in some ways, there are many areas where JICA is more welcomed than USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development).”
On U.S. dealings with Japan and other countries, Nye said President Donald Trump “has not placed the same emphasis on alliances” that his predecessors since World War II did.
“I note (in my forthcoming book) that every president until Trump has placed a great deal of emphasis on alliances and institutions of multilateralism. President Trump is the first president who has not placed the same high priority on alliances,” Nye said.
Meanwhile, there is “strong support” for the Japan-U.S. alliance in Congress and the American general public, he said.
“I think it would be difficult for the president to depart from the U.S.-Japan alliance. But I don’t know how to predict the mind of President Trump. That’s very different,” he said.
“In terms of trying to predict the future,” he added, “Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe has been very successful in managing President Trump. I think he should be given credit.”
Nye, known for his work on “soft power,” discussed Japan in this context as it struggles with a declining population and stagnant economy.
“Japan, I think, continues to have great potential for soft power,” he said. “When you go to Tokyo, it’s a very comfortable, well-managed city. You can breathe the air. It’s clean. It’s safe. So, one thing is that Japan is an attractive place.”
Nye also said: “Japan does see itself not in a way that threatens others but can help others. I mentioned earlier the importance of JICA and Japan’s role overseas as what you might call a nonmilitary superpower.”