China should not be surprised Washington and its allies in Asia are deepening military ties given Beijing’s aggressive behavior toward many of its neighbors, the US ambassador to Japan said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with CNN.
"You look at countries like India, the Philippines, Australia, the United States, Canada, or Japan. In the past three months alone, China has engaged in military or other types of conflict with every nation. They are then astonished to learn that nations are taking their own precautions for self-defense and deterrence. What did they intend to do, exactly? remarked Ambassador Rahm Emanuel during the interview at his Tokyo home.
The US envoy listed a string of what he said were aggressive military actions by China, including "attacks" against India along their shared Himalayan border, Chinese coast guard ships aiming lasers at Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, the firing of missiles into Japan's exclusive economic zone and the harassment of US, Canadian and Australian aircraft by People's Liberation Army ships and planes.
Beijing has denied being the aggressor in each of those situations and has charged Washington with being the main driver of the region's rising tensions.
On Tuesday, China’s new Foreign Minister Qin Gang warned that “conflict and confrontation” with the US is inevitable if Washington does not change course.
"The US maintains it intends to compete with China but does not seek conflict. But in actuality, the US's 'competition' is a zero-sum game of life and death, all-encompassing containment, and suppression, he stated at his first press conference after being appointed to the position.
Containment and repression won't make America great, and the US won't block China's renaissance, according to Qin.
Emanuel responded on Wednesday, saying that the US and its allies' military exercises and buildups in the Indo-Pacific region are not acts of containment as Beijing claims, but rather are intended to deter future - and perhaps more destructive - Chinese aggression.
“They’ve come together to realize that (Chinese aggression) can’t continue as is, so every country is taking steps, both within an alliance (and) also within their own self-interest of creating a comprehensive coalition of deterrence. That’s what’s going on,” Emanuel said.
He highlighted Japan's plans to conduct joint South China Sea patrols with the Philippines and its agreement with South Korea just this week to resolve grievances relating to Japan's colonial rule in Korea that date back to before World War II as examples of how Japan has increased its defence spending and assumed a leadership role in the region.
And he commended South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for putting the future before history and adopting a posture that has caused domestic unrest in both Tokyo and Seoul.
“I do think that both leaders showed a braveness and a boldness to look to the 21st century and make the most of that rather than being tied by 20th century,” Emanuel said.
"To me, being idealistic enough to understand why you're doing the way you are is a test of leadership. Both Kishida and Yoon had passed that test, he continued, adding that they had also been tough enough to complete it.
The US ambassador also compared the nations that China cooperates with, such as Russia, North Korea, and Iran, to those that Japan cooperates with, such as South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, India, and even the United Kingdom.
You're recognised in America by the company you keep, Emanuel remarked.
Over the past 18 months, the Biden administration has been keeping good company, too, he said, noting its record in uniting allies and partners.
Emanuel cited multilateral agreements like the Quad – the informal alliance of the US, Japan, Australia and India – and the AUKUS deal for nuclear-powered submarines between the US, Australia and the UK as well as other economic, diplomatic and military initiatives.
He credited Tokyo for persuading eight out of the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members to vote in favour of denouncing Russia's invasion of Ukraine in a United Nations General Assembly vote on March 3. "I think that has given our allies confidence, like Japan, to increase the defence budget, to be more active on the diplomatic arena and stage," he said.
For a straightforward reason that China cannot comprehend, "the gravitational pull of freedom," nations will respond to Japan, South Korea, or the US.
“A rules-based system that upholds respect both for the individual and in trying to uphold freedom has its own, I don’t know how else to say it, but seductive gravitational pull.”