The United States between China and Japan

The United States between China and Japan

Editors:       Caroline Rose, Victor Teo

ISBN:           10: 1443842338

Publisher:  Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Year:           2013

Price:          $101.99


Reviewed by Lianying Shan, Assistant Professor, Gustavus Adolphus College, U.S.A.

Based on a workshop at the University of Hong Kong in 2012, The United States Between China and Japan is a thick volume of nineteen chapters that provides a comprehensive overview of the importance of the United States for Sino-Japanese relations.  It aims to examine “the role the United States has played in Asia through her engagement with China and Japan, and the implications this has for Sino-Japanese relations as a whole” (p. 4). To this end, the editors and the contributors did an excellent job in providing a theoretical and historical framework as well as great insight into the major issues and complexities of the China-Japan-U.S. relationships.

The publication of this volume is a timely one, considering the current growing tensions in this region resulting from a series of events, including the rise of nationalism across the region, the intensification of territorial disputes and security conflicts between China and Japan, China’s increasing diplomatic assertiveness and its declaration of ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) along its eastern coast, and the strengthened U.S.-Japan security alliance in reaction to China’s economic and military rise.  It is clear that the Sino-Japanese relation has now come to a critical junction with tensions at their highest level since the normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations in 1972. It is also obvious that the policies and actions of the U.S. will have a big impact on the security future of Northeast Asia as well as the direction that Sino-Japanese relations will move into.

Although the volume does not cover the aforementioned most recent developments, the first few chapters do a good job in contextualizing the present challenges by interrogating the roots of the problems. For example, the introduction locates the historical origins of the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands disputes in the controversial postwar settlement surrounding the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco, as well as the 1952 U.S.-Japan security treaty (amended in 1960). The introduction and a few other chapters all eloquently address the effects of the postwar institutions created under the Cold War by the U.S. on the unfolding of historical animosity and territorial disputes between China and Japan.

Contributors of this volume are prominent scholars in the field, and together, they have provided a lucid overview of the fundamental issues facing the trilateral relationships.  As a whole, the volume reveals two fundamental contradictions in the trilateral relations among China, Japan and the U.S..  First, China and Japan’s economic integration is in conflict with a deep distrust between the two countries. The second conflict lies in the fact that the deepened U.S.-Japan security alliance has alienated China, and thus hindered both countries’ cooperation with China as well as the development of regional security and integration in East Asian. The editors describe the dilemma facing the trilateral relations in the following way: “rather than working with the Chinese to ensure that any form of regionalization does not exclude the United States, the United States encourages the Japanese to take on a leadership role and supports Japan to vie with China in casting its vision for U.S.-Japan alliance” (pp.18-9).

They also note: “A true-blue Sino-U.S. alliance might actually help to alleviate the global burden that the United States is shouldering if the Americans were less bent on promoting the importance of the U.S-Japan security treaty in the Asia-pacific at the expense of Chinese national interests” (p.19).

A prominent theme that the book focuses on is how strong bilateralism between Japan and the U.S. has hindered the development of multilateralism in this region.

The nineteen chapters of the volume are loosely organized around three main issues, namely, historical disputes, such as the issue of Japanese Prime Ministers’ repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, the Taiwan issue and the U.S.-Japan security alliance. The first seven chapters address the issue of historical disputes. A few important recognitions are made in these chapters: the U.S. has leaned toward Japan in dealing with the historical disputes between China and Japan; the historical legacy has influenced Sino-Japanese diplomacy negatively; the Japan-China contestation over historical issues has ironically contributed to the leadership role of the U.S. in the region.  The next four chapters examine the effects of the U.S.-Japan bilateral security treaty on Sino-Japanese relationship. In this part, all the contributors are Chinese scholars based in China.  These chapters thus explore Japan’s political development and the role of the U.S. in Sino-Japanese relationship from the Chinese perspective. The authors demonstrate that the dominance of U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship has hindered the development of multilateral relations and regionalism in this region.

The following five chapters (chapter 12-16) are devoted to a pivotal issue in the trilateral relationship—the Taiwan issue.  This section examines the effects of the Japanese colonial legacy in Taiwan on cross-strait relations, as well as the role of Taiwan in the power competition between China and Japan. It also discusses the impact of President Ma Ying-jeou’s reconciliatory mainland policy on the quadrilateral relations among the U.S., Japan, China and Taiwan.

The last three chapters deal with issues that do not fit squarely into the three main topics.  One chapter examines the Sino-Japanese maritime disputes and the two countries’ different attitudes toward the use of international judicial mechanisms.  Another chapter deals with the nature of U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration and its role in establishing a new regional order in Northeast Asia.  The final chapter explores the relationships between East Asia multilateralism (APT and EAS) and Asia-Pacific multilateralism (APEC and ARF).

The scope of this volume is impressive, and all the chapters are of high quality.  The shortcoming of this volume lies in its poor organization.  A thick book like this should have been organized into a few distinct sections, with a short introduction for each section summarizing the main issues and making connections among chapters. Although the book is well edited and proofread in general, it still has a few typos and inconsistent fonts. As a whole, however, the editors and the authors are very knowledgeable on the subject, and together, have made important contributions to the understanding of the convoluted trilateral relationships among the U.S., China and Japan and to the field of International Relations and Asian Studies.

Suggested Citation:

Shan, Lianying (2014). Review of “The United States between China and Japan”, by Caroline Rose and Victor Teo, East Asian Integration Studies, Vol. 7, no.18, Internet file: