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Asia's Reckoning: China, Japan, and the Fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century Hardcover – September 5, 2017
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“McGregor is perfectly placed to analyze the crucial three-sided relationship that defines the balance of power in the Pacific.”
—Gideon Rachman, Financial Times (Best Books of 2017)
“McGregor has written a shrewd and knowing book about the relationship between China, Japan and America over the past half-century. Among much else, he shows how the world’s top three economies are now imprisoned by increasingly unstable dynamics, and not only in the military realm. Though Mr. McGregor has pored over archives to put together a hard-to-surpass narrative history of high diplomacy in Asia, the strength of his book is its old-fashioned journalism, in which empathy and explanation outweigh mere exposé. Indeed, Asia’s Reckoning has the aura of a ‘tour-ender,’ the kind of conspectus that foreign correspondents of a generation ago and further back would put together after they had finished a multiyear stint in some far-flung place. Here are insightful, detail-rich profiles of everyone from Zhou Enlai and Henry Kissinger to Kakuei Tanaka and Jiang Zemin.”
—Robert D. Kaplan, The Wall Street Journal
“A well-documented account of the post-war triangular relations between China, Japan and America. . . . McGregor [has] access to a range of archives and memoirs beyond the reach and nuanced comprehension of most other scholars. His narrative of relations and contacts between the leading politicians and policy-makers in both [China and Japan], and of America’s interplay with the two, makes for a compelling and impressive read. One notable feature is how often the Americans, from Henry Kissinger to Barack Obama, seem to find their close Japanese allies more irritating and harder to understand than their Chinese counterparts, even as a rising China is coming to be seen as America’s greatest 21st-century challenger.”
“Sometimes a crisis hits that reminds us of the need to think in terms of the interplay between multiple centers of power, and of the value of books that do not confine themselves to bilateral relations. The current furor over North Korea is one such crisis, and Richard McGregor’s skillfully crafted and well-argued Asia’s Reckoning is a good example of the sort of book I have in mind. . . . The great strength of Asia’s Reckoning, indeed, is that it encourages the reader to look for continuities amid apparent dramatic change, as well as subtle changes amid apparent continuity. McGregor helps us appreciate the areas where leaders of the US, Japan and China find it easiest and hardest to find common ground. He also sensitizes us to the complex ways in which the ratcheting up or loosening of tensions between Washington and Tokyo or Beijing inevitably affects the strategies of leaders based in the other east Asian capital. . . . An engaging, timely book that provides a nice complement to important recent studies focusing on two points of the US-China-Japan triangle.”
—Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Financial Times
“McGregor warns against underestimating the historic tensions between China and Japan. Trade and tourism may run smoothly between the two pragmatic, business-minded nations, but deep, mutual dislike simmers under the surface. McGregor says it would not take much of a trigger to disrupt the region’s tentative peace. . . . An excellent modern history book that explains the roots of the complex political, business and military ties between major superpowers. In an age of rocky global politics, Asia’s Reckoning provides the context needed to make sense of the region’s present and future.”
—Joyce Lau, South China Morning Post
“McGregor deploys interviews with heavy hitters from all three countries and cites extensive archival research to provide readers with a comprehensive look at this often misunderstood trilateral relationship. Whether it’s Chinese Communist Party founder Mao Zedong thanking Tokyo for its invasion of his country, or Japan’s fears of being replaced by China as America’s top partner in Asia, or Henry Kissinger’s intense distaste for Tokyo’s droll diplomats, McGregor mixes in one little-known anecdote after another to pull readers through his narrative. . . . Balanced and insightful, the book goes the extra mile to delve into the minutiae of the relationships, taking readers beyond mere Japanese peculiarities, Chinese propaganda and American stereotypes. . . . This is an astute take on the three nations’ modern ties, serving up a much-needed and often overlooked helping of the context necessary for making sense of Asia complexities.”
—Jesse Johnson, Japan Times
“In Asia’s Reckoning McGregor provides a cogent and superbly researched guide to the deep forces that undergird China’s geo-political strategy and the attempts of two other great powers in the region, the United States and Japan, to deal with it.”
—Peter Tasker, The Mekong Review
“McGregor, an absorbing storyteller, [takes] the reader behind the curtains to witness how the history of China’s ties with Japan and the US unfolded after World War II. . . . [His] precise observations and incisive analyses of the dynamics in the China-Japan-United States relationship are valuable.”
—Cheong Suk-Wai, The Straits Times
“A must read for anyone who wants to understand our future. Asia’s Reckoning provides a detailed picture of the slow military, diplomatic and economic waltz between China, Japan and the United States that determined the shape of the past half-century. . . . The framework that previously determined the contours of our international engagement is changing. McGregor [is] dealing with a subject that’s crucial—China’s place in the world—but does so in an intimate manner, bulging with insightful interviews with the players behind the scenes.”
—Nicholas Stuart, Brisbane Times
“A compelling account of the post-war relationship between China, Japan and America [that] brings to life one of the world’s most complicated love-hate triangles.”
—Clifford Coonan, The Irish Times
“McGregor shows that U.S. diplomats and military strategists have deftly played the Sino-Japanese rivalry in the Pax Americana period since the end of the Cold War. However, he is concerned that the tightrope is becoming frayed and that if it breaks, all three performers could be in for a terrible fall. . . . [Asia’s Reckoning] has anecdotes and insights that will delight policy wonks interested in the region.”
—Gary Anderson, The Washington Times
“For journalists taking up new posts in China, the first book I always suggest is Richard McGregor’s The Party. I will now add McGregor’s new book, Asia’s Reckoning, to my list for those headed to the Far East.”
—Melissa Chan, Los Angeles Review of Books
“In spite of the recent crisis with North Korea, the critical relationship for Asian peace and stability in the 21st century will be the trilateral balance between China, Japan, and the United States. In spite of the economic interdependence of these nations, their domestic politics and foreign policies often clash with their trade interests, and the rise of China as both an economic and military power now threatens to upend the entire East Asia security structure. . . . This book is an essential primer for anyone seeking to understand the complicated brew of history, politics, and prejudices that make this area of the globe one of the most likely flashpoints of the 21st century.”
—Jeremy Lenaburg, New York Journal of Books
“McGregor anatomizes the dynamic, often strained trilateral relationship between China, Japan, and the U.S. since WWII. His informed volume comes at a time when, in his opinion, East Asia sits at the heart of the global economy and China’s aggressive foreign policy is upsetting the region’s stability. . . . Often critical of Washington’s ‘combination of idealism and arrogance,’ McGregor offers detailed, vivid descriptions of America’s Asian diplomacy. . . . Reviewing East Asia's toxic rivalries with balance and insight, McGregor’s survey concludes ominously with President Trump’s lack of familiarity with regional issues and disdain for old alliances, portending further tensions in East Asia’s future.”
“[A] wide-ranging study of China’s re-emergence as a regional power in Asia after a long hiatus, thwarting the designs of other powers, including the United States and Russia. . . . The U.S. [finds itself] firmly ensnared in the so-called Thucydides trap, ‘the principle that it is dangerous to build an empire but even more dangerous to let it go.’ So it is, and the current leadership appears to be at a loss about what to do or to formulate other aspects of any coherent policy in and toward Asia. . . . Geopolitics wonks will want to give attention to this urgent but nonsensationalized argument.”
“The United States, China, and Japan form the power triangle that will shape much of the international politics in the 21st century. Richard McGregor’s masterful The Party illuminated one corner of that triangle—China. In this important book he describes how the other two corners have interacted with China since World War II. Lucid, insightful and ominous, as the author describes big trouble ahead.”
—Eliot Cohen, author of Supreme Command
“Richard McGregor’s new book is essential reading for anyone worried about the most fraught relationship in Asia—between China and Japan. With extensive experience in and knowledge of both China, Japan, and the United States, McGregor is in a unique position to unpack the relationship and sort through the extensive propaganda and myth-making on all sides. A great read!”
—John Pomfret, author of The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom
“McGregor distills years of meetings with high officials in China and Japan to give a vivid nuanced picture of their relations in the 21st century.”
—Ezra Vogel, author of Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China
“An in-depth depiction of radical changes and challenges in Japan-China relations in the post-war period, thoroughly researched and rich in storytelling. In the course of tumultuous relations with China, Japan has had to trail blaze in the face of the rise of China. Japan’s naked exposure to the unfolding Realpolitik with China at its core is for the first time comprehensively reviewed.”
—Yoichi Funabashi, former Editor-in-Chief, Asahi Shimbun
About the Author
Richard McGregor is a journalist and an author with extensive experience in reporting from east Asia and Washington. A 2015 fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., his work has appeared in the International Herald Tribune and Foreign Policy and he has appeared on the Charlie Rose show, the BBC, and NPR. His previous book, The Party, won numerous awards, including the 2011 Asia Society book of the year and the Asian book of the year prize from Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun.
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McGregor’s comment: “Tracking Chinese politics is sometimes akin to the work of an archaeologist who must painstakingly piece together ancient artifacts, gathering a shard of information here and there over an extended period of time until the murky outlines of a past event gradually come into view.”
He does the same for Japanese and American politics a brilliant piece of journalistic research showing the turbulent and dangerous interplay of world powers with shifting strengths and weaknesses up to the current cast of Xi Jinping, Shinzō Abe, and Donald J. Trump.
One of the silliest 'confrontations' we've embarked on is with China. China will become the dominant power in the Pacific - no matter what we do; it clearly is one of the top items on their agenda. We very much need their help with North Korea and Kim Jong Un. Further, our alliances with Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea allow them to provide cover for sometimes rash acts of their own - eg. involving disputed islands in the Pacific, residual anger over WWII and prior. Overall, it would be easy for China, Japan, and the U.S. to come to blows - at the same time. Author McGregor details those possibilities at length in 'Asia's Reckoning,' starting with the Post WWI Era, and then each subsequent decade.
The Chinese have a sense of their past greatness, recent humiliation, and future supremacy. After the Obama administration announced its pivot to Asia, Hu Jintao's chief foreign policy advisor asked Hillary 'Why don't you pivot out of here?' Since 1990, the U.S. economy has tripled in nominal terms, China's output has increased nearly 34X, and Japan's has grown 23%. If China surpasses the U.S. economy in size (projected about 2025), it will be the first time since the early 19th century that the world's largest economy will be non-English speaking, non-Western, and nondemocratic.
A single shot in anger could trigger a global economic catastrophe. Despite the commonly-held belief that trade reduces the risk of war, McGregor contends that China and Taiwan have drifted further apart, and the Sino-Japanese rivalry overflows with mistrust - despite a business relationship that is one of the world's most valuable.
The U.S. formally committed to defend Japan in 1960 and was given military bases and ports in return. Considerable resentment against the U.S. has built in Japan - built from our having dropped two atomic bombs on the, and hectoring about making its economy for like that of the U.S. China harbors considerable dislike for Japan - given its history of atrocities and land seizures within China.
After the 6/4/1989 uprisings in China, Deng later stated that his biggest mistake was failing to prescribe a political education to anchor the disruptions of the market economy - inadvertently stoking antiparty sentiment. Thus, the masses had become ignorant of their nation's history of what China was like in the old days. After the uprisings, the party also opened a vast new political front to ensure such protests never got off the ground again. Universities, which had driven the upheaval, come under greater control, supervision of the courts was tightened, police riot squads were created and trained, and those who had supported or participated in the protests were purged from the party (if members) and/or jailed.
Memorials to those killed by the Japanese were erected, dates marking unpleasant events not previously heralded by the state got more attention and political pomp from the authorities. China's government also created an impenetrable wall around frank examination of its own record - eg. the millions who starved during the Great Leap Forward, families and institutions destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, the deaths of civilians at the hands of the army on 6/4/1989, etc. Those wanting to play those issues up became referred to as 'scum.'
Public attention then turned toward complaining about China's failure to that point to seek neither reparations nor a formal apology from Japan for WWII and prior atrocities. Authorities neither encouraged nor supported such protests - the architects at the time had been Mao and Zhou Enlai, who had chosen to instead favor economic cooperation with Japan.
In 1994, the U.S. became concerned over N.K.'s nuclear program. Japan was silent, aggravating the U.S. Why - Japan was concerned about potential China reaction, and there were thoughts about a Japan-China alliance - freezing the U.S. out. This then shifted the U.S. vision of Japan to a security ally, with concern over it being a trade foe fading.
For example, in the book, the author explained in vivid details the dynamism of some of the realities such as this: "Not only was Tokyo battling Beijing and segments of the U.S. government, but it was also facing an increasingly agitated South Korea."
In the era of President Donald Trump, this books provides guidance on how to read the tea-leafs in the shadows of the contemporary Sino-Japan relationship and how to filter the noise from Washington D.C. involving that relationship, which is more important than ever in the calculus of maintaining peace, stability and continued prosperity in the greater Asia (and the rest of the world). While the book is densely packed with historical facts, the author gave life to those historical facts, making it "easier" to slough through the superbly written book.
This book provides context for the current events that are unfolding in China, Japan and the United States of America's involvement in those two neighboring countries.