Asia's Reckoning: China, Japan, And The Fate Of U.s. Power In The Pacific Century by Richard McGregorAsia's Reckoning: China, Japan, And The Fate Of U.s. Power In The Pacific Century by Richard McGregor

Asia's Reckoning: China, Japan, And The Fate Of U.s. Power In The Pacific Century

byRichard McGregor

Hardcover | September 5, 2017

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A Financial Times Best Book of 2017

“A shrewd and knowing book.” —Robert D. Kaplan, The Wall Street Journal


“A compelling and impressive read.” —The Economist

“Skillfully crafted and well-argued.” Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Financial Times

“An excellent modern history. . . . provides the context needed to make sense of the region’s present and future.” —Joyce Lau, South China Morning Post


A history of the combative military, diplomatic, and economic relations among China, Japan, and the United States since the 1970s—and the potential crisis that awaits them


Richard McGregor’s Asia’s Reckoning is a compelling account of the widening geopolitical cracks in a region that has flourished under an American security umbrella for more than half a century. The toxic rivalry between China and Japan, two Asian giants consumed with endless history wars and ruled by entrenched political dynasties, is threatening to upend the peace underwritten by Pax Americana since World War II. Combined with Donald Trump’s disdain for America’s old alliances and China's own regional ambitions, east Asia is entering a new era of instability and conflict. If the United States laid the postwar foundations for modern Asia, now the anchor of the global economy, Asia’s Reckoning reveals how that structure is falling apart.

With unrivaled access to archives in the United States and Asia, as well as to many of the major players in all three countries, Richard McGregor has written a tale that blends the tectonic shifts in diplomacy with bitter domestic politics and the personalities driving them. It is a story not only of an overstretched America, but also of the rise and fall and rise of the great powers of Asia. The about-turn of Japan—from a colossus seemingly poised for world domination to a nation in inexorable decline in the space of two decades—has few parallels in modern history, as does the rapid rise of China—a country whose military is now larger than those of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and southeast Asia's combined.

The confrontational course on which China and Japan are set is no simple spat between neighbors: the United States would be involved on the side of Japan in any military conflict between the two countries. The fallout would be an economic tsunami, affecting manufacturing centers, trade routes, and political capitals on every continent. Richard McGregor’s book takes us behind the headlines of his years reporting as the Financial Times’s Beijing and Washington bureau chief to show how American power will stand or fall on its ability to hold its ground in Asia.
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 BB...
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Title:Asia's Reckoning: China, Japan, And The Fate Of U.s. Power In The Pacific CenturyFormat:HardcoverDimensions:416 pages, 9.31 × 6.25 × 1.31 inPublished:September 5, 2017Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0399562672

ISBN - 13:9780399562679

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There is no shortage of scenarios in which America’s postwar world comes under challenge and starts to crack. It could take the form of a draining showdown with Islamist radicals in the Middle East, a conflict with Russia that engulfs Europe, or a one-on-one superpower naval battle with China. Soon after his election, Donald Trump finished his first conversation as president-elect with Barack Obama at the White House fretting about the threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea.   In daily headlines, the jousting between China and Japan can’t compete with the medieval violence of ISIS or the outsize antics of Vladimir Putin or threats from tyrants like Kim Jong Un. The rivalry between the two countries has festered, by some measures, for centuries, giving it a quality that lets it slip on and off the radar. After all, China and Japan, according to the conventional wisdom, are at their core practical nations with pragmatic leaders.   The two countries, along with Taiwan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia, sit at the heart of the global economy. The iPhones, personal computers, and flat-screen televisions in electronic shops around the world; most of the mass-produced furniture and large amounts of the cheap clothing that fill shopping centers in the United States, Europe, and the United Kingdom; a vast array of industrial goods that consumers are scarcely aware of, from wires and valves to machine parts and the like—all of them, one way or another, are sourced through the supply chains anchored by Asia’s two giants. With so much at stake, how could they possibly come to blows?   China and Japan’s thriving commercial ties, one of the largest two-way trade relationships in the world, though, have failed to forge a closer political bond. In recent years, the relationship has taken on new and dangerous dimensions for both countries, and for the United States as well, an ally of Japan’s that it has signed a treaty to defend. Far from exorcising memories of the brutal war between them that began in the early 1930s and lasted more than a decade, Japan and China are caught in a downward spiral of distrust and ill will. There has been the occasional thawing of tension and the odd uptick in diplomacy in the seventy years since the end of the war. Men and women of goodwill in both countries have dedicated their careers to improving relations. Most of these efforts, however, have come to naught.   Asia’s version of the War of the Roses is being fought on multiple battlefields: on the high seas over disputed islands; in capitals around the world as each tries to convince partners and allies of the other’s infamy; and in the media, in the relentless, self-righteous, and scorching exchanges over the true account and legacy of the Pacific War. The clash between Japan and China on this issue echoes a conversation between two Allied prisoners of war in Richard Flanagan’s garlanded novel set on the Burma Railway in 1943, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. “Memory is the true justice, sir,” a soldier says to his superior officer, explaining why he wants to hold on to souvenirs of their time in a Japanese internment camp. “Or the creator of new horrors,” the officer replies.   In Europe, an acknowledgment of World War II’s calamities helped bring the Continent’s nations together in the aftermath of the conflict. In east Asia, by contrast, the war and its history have never been settled, politically, diplomatically, or emotionally. There has been little of the introspection and statesmanship that helped Europe to heal its wounds. Even the most basic of disagreements over history still percolate through day-to-day media coverage in Asia more than seventy years later, in baffling, insidious ways. Open a Japanese newspaper in 2017, and you might read of a heated debate about whether Japan invaded China, something that is only an issue because conservative Japanese still insist that their country was fighting a war of self-Defense in the 1930s and 1940s. Peruse the state-controlled press in China, and you will see the Communist Party drawing legitimacy from its heroic defeat of Japan, though in truth, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists carried the burden of fighting the invaders, while the Communists mostly preserved their strength in hinterland hideouts. Scant recognition is given to the United States, who fought the Japanese for years before ending the conflict with two atomic bombs.   Although the United States and Japan are for the moment firm allies, the trilateral relationship among Washington, Tokyo, and Beijing has been fraught and complex in ways that are little understood and appreciated, often even inside the countries themselves. Each of the three, China, Japan, and the United States, at different times has tried to use one of the others to gain an ascendancy in regional diplomacy in the last century. Each at different times has felt betrayed by the others. All have tried to leverage their relations with one of the others at the expense of the third. In that respect, the relationship is like a geopolitical version of the scene in the movie Reservoir Dogs in which a trio of antagonists all simultaneously point guns at one another, creating a circle of dangerous, cascading threats.   In the east Asian version of this scenario, the United States has its arsenal trained on China. China, in turn, menaces Japan and the United States. In ways that are rarely noticed, Japan completes the triangle with its hold over the United States. If Tokyo were to lose faith in Washington and downgrade its alliance or trigger a conflict with Beijing, the effect would be the same: to upend the postwar system. In this trilateral game of chicken, only one of the parties needs to fire its weapons for all three to be thrown into war. Put another way, if China is the key to Asia, then Japan is the key to China, and the United States the key to Japan.   I left Tokyo for Hong Kong and China in 1995 after a five-year posting as a newspaper correspondent, soon after Japan’s then prime minister issued a heartfelt apology for the war. At the time, I remember feeling relieved that the issue seemed to have finally been put to rest. The history wars, though, far from ending, were just getting started. Over the ensuing two decades, under pressure from the Chinese Communist Party and abetted by Japanese revisionists, the same old issues have remained stuck on the front lines of regional politics.   Like east Asia more generally, the story of Japan and China is one of stunning economic success and dangerous political failure. China in particular has a whiff of the Balkans, where many young people have a way of vividly remembering wars they never actually experienced. A sense of revenge, of unfinished business, lingers in the system.   It may not require a war, of course, to deliver the last rites for Pax Americana. Washington could simply turn its back on the world under an isolationist president, a president, in other words, who simply did what Donald Trump promised to do on the campaign trail. America could also slip into unruly decline, with a weaker economy resulting in bits of empire, no longer financially sustainable, dropping off here and there.   Alternatively, of course, Pax Americana in Asia could survive, with a resilient U.S. economy and refreshed alliances robust enough to hold off an indebted and internally focused China. Indeed, it is unlikely that the United States will leave the region quietly. As Michael Green, a former U.S. government official, notes, over more than a century in the Asia- Pacific, Washington has beaten back quests for regional dominance “from the European powers, Imperial Japan and Soviet Communism.”   The specter of a renewed Sinocentric order in Asia, though, is upending the regional status quo for good, whatever path the United States might take. Geopolitically, the three countries have increasingly become two, with Japan aligning itself more tightly with the United States than at any time in the seven decades–plus since the war. China, too, has changed. Once, Beijing begrudgingly accepted America’s Asian alliances as a tool to keep the Soviets at bay and stabilize the region. Since the end of the cold war, its attitude has shifted, from frustration with America’s enduring military footprint in Asia to outright rejection of the alliances as “cold war relics” that threaten China’s security. As its power has grown, China has begun building a new regional order, with Beijing at the center in place of Washington. The battle lines are clear. For decades, the United States has set its forward defensive line against rival hegemons in the region in different places before establishing it firmly along and around the Japanese archipelago, where it stands today.

Editorial Reviews

“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.” —The Economist   “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 “Tackles how the interplay of Chinese assertiveness with Trump’s dissolution of US power is fundamentally altering the balance of power in this vast region. . . . McGregor’s brilliant book is packed with insights, especially on the complex Sino-Japanese relationship, the gist of that being that past history should be our teacher rather than master. Will a more powerful China learn magnanimity, one wonders.” —Michael Burleigh, Evening Standard (Best Books of 2017 Selection) “[McGregor] has a sharp eye for personalities and policy factions, as well as a firm grasp of geopolitics. His fascinating narrative of the three countries’ relations over 50 years is filled with fresh anecdotes drawn from interviews and newly released archival documents. . . . Flinty realism has usually driven trilateral diplomacy, but in McGregor’s view, no factor has done more to sustain the shape of the triangle than Japan’s inability to allay Chinese resentment over the depredations of the 1930s and 1940s.” —Andrew J. Nathan, Foreign Affairs “Undoubtedly the best book I have read all year. . . . The main strength of McGregor’s account is that it shows how important history has become to relations in the region. . . . One of the themes of McGregor’s book is that Americans think China is much easier to read than Japan, where they find the corruptly byzantine politics and culture of indirection frustrating. . . . Whether, psychologically, the USA can cope with its relative decline and whether China can move to a more magnanimous understanding of its role are the questions on which peace and war in the region hinge.” —Michael Burleigh, Literary Review“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.”—Publishers Weekly“[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.” —Kirkus Reviews“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