It shouldn’t surprise China that Washington and its allies in Asia are tightening military ties given Beijing’s aggressive behavior toward many of its neighbors, the US ambassador to Japan said in an exclusive interview with CNN on Wednesday.
“You look at India, you look at the Philippines, you look at Australia, you look at the United States, Canada or Japan. They (China) have had a military or some kind of confrontation with every country in the past three months. And then they are shocked that countries are taking their own deterrents to protect themselves. What did they think they were going to do?” That is what ambassador Rahm Emanuel said in the interview at his residence in Tokyo.
The US envoy listed a series of what he said were aggressive military actions by China, including “attacks” against India along their shared border with the Himalayas, Chinese Coast Guard vessels aiming lasers at Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, the firing of missiles into Japan’s exclusive economic zone and the harassment of American, Canadian and Australian aircraft by ships and planes of the People’s Liberation Army.
Beijing has denied being an aggressor in any of those cases, accusing Washington of being the main instigator of heightened tensions in the region.
On Tuesday, China’s new foreign minister Qin Gang warned that “conflicts and confrontations” with the US are inevitable if Washington does not change course.
“The US claims to want to compete with China, but does not seek conflict. But in reality, the US’s so-called “competition” is all-encompassing containment and suppression, a zero-sum game of life and death,” he said in the new post at his first press conference.
“Containment and oppression will not make America great, and the US will not stop China’s rejuvenation,” Qin said.
Emanuel countered on Wednesday that military buildups and exercises by the US and its partners in the Indo-Pacific are not acts of containment, as Beijing claims, but deterrents against further — and potentially more dangerous — Chinese aggression.
“They have come together to realize that (Chinese aggression) cannot continue as it is, so each country takes steps both within an alliance(s) also in their own interest to create a comprehensive coalition of deterrence. That’s what’s going on,’ Emanuel said.
He praised Japan for doubling its defense budget and taking a leading role in the region, citing plans to conduct joint South China Sea patrols with the Philippines and its agreement with South Korea this week to settle grievances dating back to before the world war. II Concerning Japan’s Colonial Rule in Korea.
And he praised both Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for putting the future before history and taking a stance that has sparked domestic backlash in both Tokyo and Seoul.
“I really think both leaders have shown courage and audacity to look to the 21st century and make the most of it instead of being tied to the 20th century,” said Emanuel.
“For me, the test of leadership is to be idealistic enough to know why you do what you do. And then strong enough to pull it off,” he said, adding that both Kishida and Yoon passed that test.
The US ambassador also contrasted countries with which Japan cooperates, including South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, India and even the United Kingdom, with countries with which China cooperates, including Russia, North Korea and Iran.
“There’s an expression in America, you’re known for the company you keep,” Emanuel said.
Over the past 18 months, the Biden administration has also kept itself in good company, he said, pointing to its track record in uniting allies and partners.
Emanuel cited multilateral agreements such as the Quad – the informal alliance of the US, Japan, Australia and India – and the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine deal between the US, Australia and the UK, as well as other economic, diplomatic and military initiatives.
“I think this has given our allies, like Japan, the confidence to increase the defense budget, to be more active in the diplomatic arena and on the scene,” he said, crediting Tokyo for getting eight of the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) vote in a United Nations General Assembly vote on March 3 to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Countries around the world will respond to Japan, South Korea or the US for a simple reason China doesn’t understand: “the lure of freedom,” Emanuel said.
“A rule-based system that maintains both respect for the individual and in trying to uphold freedom has its own, I don’t know how else to put it, but alluring appeal.”