Book Review: The Perils of Proximity - China/Japan Security Relations
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Book Review: The Perils of Proximity - China/Japan Security Relations


(The following is a guest book review from Paul S. Giarra)

Richard Bush’s The Perils of Proximity: China-Japan Security Relations

(Brookings Institution Press, 2010) is a stark reminder of how the rise of China has turned the geostrategic tables on the traditional security order in the Asia-Pacific.  Some will read this work as a study of Chinese military and political-military developments;  others will see it as a review of current Japanese self-defense issues under new circumstances.  That Richard Bush has succeeded in combining the two is a testimony to his ability to see the interplay between different events. This is particularly refreshing given the strong tradition of specialization among Asia security scholars, who have tended to study countries in virtual isolation.

This latter point is a reflection upon the increasingly unsatisfactory conventional American conceptual view of hub-and-spoke security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific, with the United States at the center and other nations conceptually isolated at the end of their individual U.S.-bilateral spokes.  This deeply inculcated model was sufficient while the United States was the dominant military, political, and economic power in the region.  During the Cold War it was sufficient to exclude the Soviet Union from the calculus:  the U.S.-Soviet relationship was a separate, globally overarching case.  Whatever the achievements of the “Russia School” in the Japanese Foreign Ministry, for instance, for all practical purposes they were irrelevant to American strategy and policy.

Richard Bush has demonstrated in great detail how this hub-and-spoke model is no longer useful in this period of Chinese emergence.  In The Perils of Proximity, Sino-Japanese relations are not only consequential, they are problematic and essential.  Most notable is that, while during the Cold War it was Japan’s lot to deal with the alternatives of American entanglement or abandonment, now Washington has had to adjust to the realities of entanglement and abandonment with regard to Tokyo.  The Perils of Proximity lays out the particular implications of a Japanese clash with China over contested territories;  Chinese intrusion into Japanese territorial waters;  resource disputes in overlapping exclusive economic zones;  and the accrual of serious animosities stemming from the collision of interests between an assertive emerging power and an offshore nation fixed in the zone of expanding Chinese influence and power.

It is impossible to overlook the intimate details of the Sino-Japanese relationship described in The Perils of Proximity.  This bilateral connection runs deep on so many levels while at the same time remaining so opportune and antagonistic that its own ineluctable dynamic will play out not only because of the strategic posture of the United States in the Asia-Pacific, but in spite of it.  This is uncharted territory for the three protagonists, and Richard Bush has begun to map it.

Maps are useful things, figuratively and literally.  Reflecting on the implications of the Sino-Japanese relationship amid increasing tensions is a useful exercise for strategic planners.  The potential for a military clash between China and Japan is more than theoretical:  issues of territorial sovereignty have become hot button issues in both capitals as Beijing has staked out an ever-expanding sphere. More importantly, they represent the implicit strategic challenge to Japan and the other littoral states in what is turning out to be a less than pacific Chinese debut.  Including those of other nations, these competing Chinese claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea define the initial competition space – what may become the battle space — of China’s emergence.  They happen to overlap with the long-espoused Chinese aspirations for dominance of the “first island chain,” a region loosely defined by a line formed by the Aleutians, the Kuriles, Japan’s archipelago, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Borneo, and explicitly containing the East China Sea and the South China Sea.  For the time being, this is where lie the strategic stakes.  Given recurring Chinese pronouncements of Beijing’s strategic intention to dominate in the first island chain, recent Chinese provocations amount to further strategic warning.  Japanese responses to Beijing across the board – unilateral multilateral, and within the U.S.-Japan alliance — will have strategic implications for the United States

While Richard Bush has done a superb job of laying out the stakes and details of the contemporary Sino-Japanese strategic relationship, The Perils of Proximity suffers on three accounts.  First, it is founded on international relations theory.  Bush attributes the budding Sino-Japanese rivalry to the strategic dilemma, therefore leaving both parties blameless for their actions.  Certainly it would not be difficult to attribute fault – malfeasance as opposed to misfeasance – to Beijing.  In fact, the historical review of the Anglo-German run-up to World War I that Professor John Maurer at the U.S. Naval War College presents is heartbreaking in its similarities to the current situation in the Asia-Pacific:  a liberal, status quo government focused on internal domestic social and political issues;  confronted by an irresponsible, aggressive, and increasingly militarized emerging power, determined to challenge the existing order;  and oblivious to the impending civilizational disaster about to descend on its head.

Second, it has already been overtaken by events since its 2010 release as China has accelerated its campaign of protecting self-declared rights. This has propelled American and Japanese friends to increasingly come together bilaterally and in multilateral fora and led the U.S. government to reassert its own interests and commitments in a way that it would not had China emerged benignly.  In Japan, the specific results are contained in two important Ministry of Defense reports. The overarching 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines addressed the overall shift in self-defense emphasis toward the challenges posed by Beijing, including a renewed emphasis on Japanese defense of its southwest sovereignty claims.  The Mid-Term Defense Program enumerated specific Self-Defense Force capability enhancements, including an expanded submarine force and possibly additional airborne surveillance platforms for more effective reconnaissance in the waters surrounding Japan.

Finally, implicit in these overall strategic and political-military changes is the importance of Taiwan, at the same time diminished and amplified.  Regarding the former, clearly Taiwan no longer is the exclusive rationale for Chinese military actions or Japanese and American plans and capabilities.  There is far more afoot than China’s insistence upon suzerainty over Taiwan, although that certainly remains an important issue.  Regarding Taiwan’s amplified importance, get out that map again.  It is a key salient, no matter who controls it.

Paul S. Giarra is the president of Global Strategies & Transformation, a national defense and strategic planning consultancy.

August 9, 2012 at 18:23

And thé prc has nô excusé for duplicating thèm

August 9, 2012 at 03:28

John Chan is a fallacy
I can do it too!

John Chan
August 8, 2012 at 14:07

What did you see in the mirror? KARMA will not be fooled by your self righteous proclaims.

John Chan
August 8, 2012 at 13:52

You are just as busy here too, so I can ask you the same question, how much did you greedy neocon bosses pay for you to demonize innocent victims endlessly?
Censorship in the West is pervasive, they called it manufacturing consent using techniques like commercialize propaganda, selective reporting, one sided narrative, twisting facts, normalize doublethink, rationalize fallacy, legitimize moral hypocrisy, voluntarily compliance press code of conduct, media guidelines, media conglomerate, …

John Chan
August 8, 2012 at 13:22

1. Insisting the West’s words must be taken as given truth is a fallacy.
2. Insisting only the West can have opinion is a fallacy.
3. Insisting an ex Axis power possessing firing power for aggression purposes as SDF and complying a pacifist constitution is a fallacy.
4. Insisting an ex Axis power occupying an independent nation RyuKyu Kingdom and encroaching China’s land as pacifist nation is a fallacy.
5. Insisting the USA has the sole jurisdiction on Potsdam Declaration is a fallacy.
6. Insisting USA has the divine right to carry out predicatory imperialist atrocity in the name of siding the weak is a fallacy.
ACT, you need to read real history, so that you won’t post comments full of fallacies.

August 7, 2012 at 14:41

@chen: chinas is being aggresive nowadays especially at south china sea without propoer consultations on the national laws. they are even afraid to go international court and what do they have, their ships to harass and entering near econimic zones of other countries. they can do it anything they want for now but there is also the word "KARMA"

August 6, 2012 at 00:38

How much did your commie bosses pay for that line of blabbing? My advice is take whatever money you get and defect to the nearest free country before you get any more caught up. You could actually write anything you want in our country. No govt. censors here. 

August 5, 2012 at 00:43

@John Chan
i would advise you to choose your words carefully, and to get your history straight; the government that runs Japan today is very different from its imperial predecessor. Note the outcry amonst Japanese citizens when the SDF was sent abroad for the first time since WWII in order to assist America in Iraq, as well as how quickly those same forces were pulled back when they started taking casualites. That's hardly the mark of the agressive nation that you make Japan out to be. Furthermore, the SDF is primarily a US construction, created precisely to defend Japan and her allies against threats such as–you guessed it–invasion from the PRC or other Soviet satellite states.
Furthermore, the Potsdam treaty was overwritten by the terms of Japanese surrender, and–later on–the events in Korea. In fact, had the People's Volunteer Army ( which was, in reality, the elite of the PLA's divisions) not invaded the Koreas–something that Mao had been planning since well before US forces got close to the Yalu river–i suspect that the Japanese SDF would not be as "provoking" as it is today. Then again, it's not been the one doing the provoking; after all, it's a Chinese paramilitary fishing boat that rammed a MSDF coast guard boat, and its Chinese paramilitary ships that have been violating Japanese territorial waters, not the other way around. I suspect, Chan, that your–and thus the PRC's–primary concern with Okinawa (what you call the Ryuku Kingdom) is that it's the closest location of large numbers of US forces who could respond quickly to any military attempt by the PRC to complete its domination of the first island chain.
for the rest of you, for a good look at what the PRC has been doing, i suggest you read this article:,1
Entitled "Salami Slicing in the South China Sea", author Robert Haddick suggests that in order to complete its end goals (the domination of the first island chain and the securing of SCS oil supplies [estimated to be able to fuel the PRC for the next 60 years]) the PRC has been resorting to small actions that are deliberately tailored to make small steps towards regional dominion while not seeming like overt agression and thus not giving the PRC's opponents a causus belli

John Chan
August 3, 2012 at 20:21

Based on the review on Richard Bush’s “The Perils of Proximity China-Japan Security Relations” one can tell the book is nothing more than another propaganda of “China Threat.”
Japan is the aggressor in Asia-Pacific because it is still breaking the Potsdam Declaration (the Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender) by occupying Ryukyu Kingdom and encroaching China’s Diaoyu Islands, because the Potsdam Declaration specified “Japanese sovereignty is limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku.” Yet the book described Japan as a liberal, status quo government focused on internal domestic social and political issues.
If Richard Bush is any close to refreshing analysis of Asia security, then he will not ignore Japanese aggressive use of its armed forces in disputes with Korea, China and Russia, its expanding military foot prints in the Philippines and Vietnam, the contradiction between its strongest armed forces in Asia and its pacifist constitution, or its vocal and bellicose politicians who are inciting militarism non-stop.
While China is a nation focusing on peaceful rise, increasing trades with its neighbours as well as all over the world, and maintaining its sovereignty integrity; but Richard Bush smeared China as irresponsible, and aggressive, the usual imperialistic terms embedded in the USA security circle since WWII.
Unless USA abandons its outdated hub-and-spoke mentality and reins in aggressiveness of its pit bull, Japan, books like this one and John Maurer only try to point the fingers to the others like all other American aggressions; it is always the victim’s fault.

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