JAPAN MUST STRATEGICALLY SUPPORT THE US
Marking his first year in office, President Joe Biden held a news conference at the White House on January 19. The 79-year-old Biden spoke close to two hours without taking a seat.
In light of the escalating US-China conflict, the fate of the world rests effectively on Biden’s shoulders. Heavily dependent on its only ally, the US, for security under the constraints of its “peace” constitution, Japan is particularly concerned with how Biden will implement his world strategy.
In his address last Wednesday, Biden chose to concentrate on the Wuhan virus (which he called COVID-19) and America’s worsening inflation.
As regards the former, Biden spoke proudly of what his administration has accomplished to date: “We went from 2 million people being vaccinated, at the moment I was sworn in, to 210 million Americans having been fully vaccinated today…We have the tools, vaccines, boosters, masks, tests, pills, to save lives and keep businesses and schools open.” He had this to say about the inflation: “I’ve laid out a three-part plan just to do that,” which included the Build Back Better bill. In his opening address he failed to refer to China, Russia, or North Korea, with no mention whatsoever of matters relating to America’s foreign relations and security, which was rather surprising despite the fact that America has always been viewed as an inward-looking superpower. In the question period that followed, however, reporters asked penetrating questions regarding these and other matters, including the Ukrainian crisis.
Biden tends to speak verbosely, his remarks often rambling and intentions unclear. Reporters asked him a rapid series of tough questions critical of his administration, including:
“Inflation is up…COVID-19 is still taking the lives of 1,500 Americans every day and the nation’s divisions are just as raw as they were a year ago. Did you over-promise to the American public what you could achieve in your first year in office?”
Biden unflinchingly answered questions from reporters who cast doubt about his ability as president and that of the entire Democratic administration. He told the first reporter:
“Look, I didn’t over-promise and I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen. The fact of the matter is that we’re in a situation where we have made enormous progress. You mentioned the number of deaths from COVID, well, it was three times as much, not long ago, it’s coming down…everything is changing.” Confidently referring to the clumsily executed withdrawal from Afghanistan which disappointed the Free World, Biden assertively remarked: “I make no apologies for what I did.”
Another reporter asked: “Why is it, during your three-and-a-half-hour virtual summit in November with the Chinese president, you didn’t press for transparency? And also, (I’d like to ask) whether that has anything to do with your son’s involvement in an investment firm controlled by Chinese state-owned entities?” Biden’s reply was roundabout.
“I did raise the question of transparency. I spent a lot of time with him. And he—the fact is that they’re just not—they’re just not being transparent.”
“Is there a reason your press staff was unaware of that? And what did you say to the Chinese President?” asked the reporter.
Biden replied: “They weren’t with me the entire time. Look, I made it clear that I thought that China had an obligation to be more forthcoming on exactly what the source of the virus was and where it came from.”
Did Biden mean to say his staff left him alone with Xi for a certain period of time during the summit? That could never have happened.
The assertions Biden made regarding the danger of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were also unclear to say the least: “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, etc. It is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine, and our allies and partners are ready to impose severe cost and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy. (Despite) the cost of going into Ukraine in terms of physical loss of life for the Russians, they will be able to prevail over time, but it’s going to be heavy. It’s going to be real. It’s going to be consequential.”
Was it proper for a US President to say that Russia “will be able to prevail” despite huge sacrifices? It was only natural that a Reuters reporter asked: “Are you effectively giving Putin permission to make a small incursion into the country?” Biden’s answer was difficult to comprehend.
“Big nations can’t bluff…one of Putin’s objectives is to weaken NATO (which) would be a big mistake…The serious imposition of sanctions relative to dollar transactions and other things are things that are going to have a negative impact on the US…and on the economies of Europe as well, a devastating impact on Russia. I think we will if there’s something that is—that—whether it’s Russian forces crossing the border, killing Ukrainian fighters, etc., I think that changes everything. But it depends on what he (Putin) does as (inaudible) to what extent, we’re going to be able to get total unity on Russia—on the NATO front.”
Biden spoke in often inarticulate sentences and frequently made slips of the tongue. Because he kept correcting himself time and again, it became even more difficult to comprehend what he ultimately meant to say. What does this tell us?
A reporter with Newsmax, citing a poll by Politico Morning Consult which found 49% of registered voters disagreeing with the statement that “Joe Biden is mentally fit,” asked: “Why do you suppose such large segments of the American electorate have come to harbor such profound concerns about your cognitive fitness?”
“I have no idea,” replied Biden, who later in the news conference declared he doesn’t “believe the polls.” Such rude questions from the press are dropping up because Biden’s ratings have fallen significantly.
China: House of Cards
The important thing for Japan to do is figure out the way to address this situation realistically. At this juncture, we must recognize the importance of making earnest efforts to make up for what our Pacific ally lacks in terms of strategic resources. For that reason, we must put aside Biden’s defects and take note of America’s capabilities and intentions. Despite having lost its relative clout, America undoubtedly is still the superpower of the world and our only ally, no less. It falls in line with our national interests to back the US wholeheartedly in a joint effort to bolster deterrence against China and Russia by readily supporting the US with our utmost efforts and at maximum speed.
The threat of China is indeed serious, but we should also be aware that the China’s power will likely be relatively short-lived. The overextended Chinese economy is expected to crumble under its own weight—first through a rapid decrease in its population. China has a total fertility rate (the average number of children a woman would have if she survives all her childbearing years) of 1.3, which is lower than Japan’s 1.34, the average 1.5 for European nations, and the 1.7 for the US. Incidentally, the number for South Korea is 0.84.
Reliable statistics show that China’s work-age population (those aged 15-64) is expected to drop by 70 million by 2030, with that of those over 65 increasing by 100 million. Being the world’s most populous nation, China will at some point in the not too distant future pass the US in GDP and become the world’s largest economic power. The year 2033 was initially expected to be that turning point. But that estimation was later advanced to 2028 in view of China’s rapidly expanding economy but has now again been pushed back to 2033. Although the US will be overtaken by China at some point, it will then bounce back to be the world’s biggest economy within this century.
Due to the failure on the part of the Chinese Communist Party to provide decent social welfare and medical insurance systems, members of China’s super-aging society are growing more discontent, with no guarantee of stable governance expected anytime soon. Although Chinese authorities have managed to tighten the noose around its people by means of the 200 million surveillance cameras installed on street corners across China, peaceful and stable governance can hardly be guaranteed.
China is detested by virtually all sensible people across the world for its merciless atrocities committed against Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Mongolians. It has no real friends anywhere. Because people cannot be made happy through power built primarily on military strength, China is like a house of cards that will inevitably collapse.
Until that time comes, which may be, say, 10 years from now, we Japanese would be wise to do our utmost to bolster our national resilience and cooperate closely with like-minded peoples in the US, Europe, India, Australia, and other Asia-Pacific nations. In short, Japan must become stronger.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 985 in the February 3, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)