Both American and Japanese officials constantly tell their Chinese counterparts that they support a "one China" policy and that their alliance does not target China or any specific country, but instead aims to maintain stability in the region. They also tell Beijing that the guidelines are not about geography, but functions. The problem is that neither Tokyo nor Washington is explicitly willing to exclude Taiwan from potential areas of conflict covered by the alliance. Instead, both have adopted a posture of calculated ambiguity. While this is prudent for Japan and the United States, it is a major source of anxiety for China and, consequently, a source of tension in Sino-American and Sino-Japanese relations.
All sorts of dialogues and consultative councils are being proposed to remedy the situation. While talking is better than not talking, the reality is that as long as there is tension between China and Taiwan over Taipei's status, this will remain a sore point. Neither the U.S. nor Japan has any interest in clarifying ambiguity when it helps deter irresponsible acts by Taiwan and Beijing. But it is a strong argument for encouraging Beijing and Taipei to improve cross-strait relations.
Has the new defense agreement truly prepared the U.S.-Japan alliance for the 21st century? Or does it merely deal with the of Korea and Taiwan?
Until the North Korean threat disappears and Korea is reunified--probably sometime in the next decade--it is unwise to change the basic security arrangements in Northeast Asia. But the "strategic shock" of a unified Korea will fundamentally change the geopolitics of the region. What then will be the role for U.S. troops in Korea?
In the longer term, the challenge for Asian security is for China and Japan to come to terms with each other. Europe endured wars for more than three centuries until France and Germany settled their scores in 1945. Only then was NATO and the European Common Market possible. The question is whether Asia must suffer through similar turmoil before China and Japan reconcile and different security arrangements become feasible. Meantime, the strengthened U.S.-Japan security partnership remains the best bet as the insurance policy for the Asia Pacific.