January 19, 2020, marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of an agreement with the wordy title of “Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States of America and Japan”. Incidentally, Nobusuke Kishi (the maternal grandfather of current Prime Minister Shinzō Abe) penned his signature on the document on behalf of Japan.
At present, there are 54,000 servicemen in the United States Forces Japan (USFJ) and three quarters of them are stationed at 14 military bases in Okinawa. The USFJ headquarters is at an Air Base situated near Tokyo.
The aforementioned agreement remains a crucial part of the Indo-Pacific political landscape, which has been undergoing a constant process of transformation recently. Whenever an occasion presented itself, both signatories of the 1960 Treaty referred to the agreement as nothing less than the cornerstone of their bilateral relationship.
Still, the sheer scale of the transformation process has, for some time now, resulted in the introduction of important elements to the overall picture of goings-on in the Indo-Pacific, and to the aforementioned bilateral relationship. It would suffice to mention just one of them, i.e. the fact that China is becoming the second most powerful nation in the world and is taking the same position in the Global Chess Game (GCG) once occupied by the USSR during the Cold War. The 1960 Treaty was first and foremost aimed at deterring the threat posed by the Soviet Union.
In addition, it is worth noting that the way motives correlate with one another at the current stage of the GCG has changed substantially. Nowadays, trade and economics have become no less (or perhaps even more) important than political and ideological as well as military and strategic driving forces (which were crucial during the Cold War). In fact, the PRC has transformed into the second most powerful player in the world, and Japan and Germany have returned to the Global Chess Game as some of its main participants on account of these nations’ economic prowess.
Trade and commerce are now central not only to the issues plaguing the Japan–United States relations in the past 2 years, but also to the reasons behind the lowering (even if quite tentative for now) of tensions in the relationship between Tokyo and Beijing. And a change in the nature of the China–Japan ties can, in fact, become one of the most significant developments in regional and global politics. So the scheduled visit of Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, to Japan may just turn out to be a real game-changer.
Hence, although the 1960 Treaty between the United States and Japan continues to play a role in the regional game, it has become one of many significant factors that affect the way it (the game) is evolving. The author will not be too surprised if the agreement turns into Dinosaur #2 in the future. NATO, undoubtedly, is one such relic of the past, and its key member states surely understand how useless and pointlessly expensive it is.
It would appear that underlying fears about such a future even had an effect on the nature of the celebrations that marked the 60-year anniversary of the singing of the aforementioned document. Although the leaders of the two nations (President Donald Trump from Washington DC and Prime Minister Shinzō Abe from Tokyo) made banal statements about the Treaty being the cornerstone of the bilateral relations, important finer points were also noticeable in their rhetoric (especially in the US leader’s words).
Of course this time around, the American President refrained from saying anything similar to his remarks the previous year (when he stated that if the USA were to be attacked by its enemies, the Japanese would simply watch the developments on their Sony TVs). Still, during this (seemingly) festive occasion, Donald Trump did not hesitate to mention his favorite topic: the “one-sided” relationship the United Stated had with its military and political allies (for instance, with Japan and Europe). After all, Americans ended up bearing most of the responsibility for fulfilling associated obligations and providing necessary funding and resources.
In Tokyo, the anniversary was simply marked by the ceremonial breaking of a barrel of sake using wooden mallets during the commemorative reception. The participants included Prime Minister Shinzō Abe; key members of the Cabinet; distant offspring of US President Dwight Eisenhower (who had signed the 1960 Treaty on behalf of the United States); US Ambassador to Japan, and, of course, Commander of the USFJ. It is unclear what happened next, after the sake barrel ceremony.
And the fact that the very next day after the 60th anniversary, an Australian woman (who more or less permanently resides in Tokyo) appeared on the political stage (more specifically, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan) does not bode well for the future of the 1960 Agreement. The pleasant lady in question told the officials that, in 2002, she had been sexually assaulted by one of the servicemen from the USFJ. She was unable to add any details about the incident (including the culprit’s name).
And on that day, the woman’s primary concern was with the political aspects of her case, or more specifically the flaws in the sections of the 1960 Treaty that deal with the rules of conduct for USFJ troops stationed on Japanese soil, and with the rights and obligations of the parties. In the opinion of the victim, the unfortunate incident was a direct consequence of the agreement’s shortcomings.
The lady then shared her thoughts on the issue (and most likely her constructive proposals as to how to remedy these “flaws”) with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ North American Affairs Bureau. The photograph depicting the moment the Australian officially handed over her request for a revision to the 1960 Treaty to a Japanese public servant can be found in the following article. It was not reported whether a copy of this document was passed onto the US Department of State or not.
It seems as if the frequency with which serious issues, that arise over the course of the Big Chess Game, turn into a charade and buffoonery has increased recently. Only a year ago it was impossible to imagine that the US President and Secretary of the Treasury would engage in a public debate about problems associated with climate change with an autistic girl from Sweden with a tendency to skip secondary school, and that this would happen at the World Economic Forum in Davos (which is no laughing matter).
However, it is becoming harder and harder to laugh about the aforementioned as well as similar matters. After all, a lot has happened: various human (and animal) rights initiatives have led to, for instance, the legalization of same sex marriages; snitching on your family members or neighbors has become the norm, and people are being turned into idiots by modern “pop” culture, the education system and the media.
The world is growing crazier at an increasing pace. Could this be the reason why Coronavirus is on the loose among us?
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on issues relating to the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”