By Eva Cheng
The drastically changed balance of forces and increasing contradictions between US and Japanese capitalism have cast a serious doubt on the future of the US-Japan Security Treaty. This pact has played a central part in the imperialist order in Asia since its signing in 1952.
Ending eight years of US occupation of Japan, the treaty formed a key plank of the US's strategy to continue plundering the resources of the region. The plan was to subjugate defeated Japan as a junior partner in the anti-communist pact.
Japan today remains a lesser partner militarily. But economically, it has long seriously rivalled the US.
The US spent beyond its means to consolidate its war machine in the belief that this was basic to its economic domination. Yet Japan revived as a highly efficient imperialist economy and has overtaken the US in many ways. Failing to defeat Japan by "free" competition, the US has resorted to threats and "trade wars" ever since the early 1970s.
Under the pretext of restricting Japan militarily, the treaty was from the start geared to serve US big capital. Insulating the region from communist influence and crushing the rebellions of Asian peoples were preconditions for capitalist domination.
The pact's true political purpose became clearer when it was revised in 1960, extending its coverage to the "Far East", a scope never properly defined by either partner. But Japan's prime minister at the time, Kishi Nobusuke, included in his definition the Hakomai and Shikotan islands north of Japan, the Jinmen and Matsu islands off China's coast and Korea "north of the 38th parallel".
The 1960 revision "relieved" the US from defending Japan at times of internal disturbances, but not in a "last resort" type of emergency . Both countries were "to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies", clearly signalling that Japan was to tailor its policy to fit the US's.
Japan's servile position was so blatant that the revision triggered massive protests in Japan, which led to the fall of the Kishi government.
The Okinawa bases reverted to Japan in 1972, with Japan continuing a "defensive" role while the US takes care of "offensive" operations. A 1978 modification stipulates that joint military operation is warranted when situations near Japan appear likely to affect its security.
Given that Japan imports 90% of its oil through or from south-east Asia, the sweeping provision covers nearly every situation in which the interests of Japanese big capital are endangered. In fact, as early as 1969, Japan made clear that a possible attack on South Korea would be sufficient to trigger an operation.
The bases in Okinawa provided the US with active and crucial services during the Korean War in the early 1950s and in the Vietnam War later. Japanese support protects the US's interests in the north-west Pacific, enabling it to concentrate on the rest of Asia.
But the world political landscape has changed dramatically since the treaty was drawn up. The so-called Cold War is over and Japan has stopped being a junior partner, at least economically.
The Chinese Revolution in 1949 significantly increased the US's need to build Japan into a capitalist stronghold in Asia. Japan's economy benefited enormously from the Korean and Vietnam wars, in which it provided the US with supplies.
By 1969, Japan was already manufacturing 97% of its own ammunition needs and 84% of its needs for aircraft, naval craft and other military equipment. Its technological lead in many areas was established during this period. It was already engaged in extensive research on nuclear energy and was the fourth country to launch a space satellite.
The US began to pressure Japan openly in 1978 to pass on certain military technology. Japan's lead in production technology was equally worrying. The Gibbons Report to a House of Representative committee in 1981 warned, "Japan is developing the world's most competitive automated industrial sector", enabling it to become a powerful low-cost producer, which would "further burden the US economy, making it more sluggish and inefficient".
Extensive exploitation of the resources of the Third World, which decisively lowered production costs, had given Japan's products a vital edge, so much so that already by 1969 Japan registered a US$1.5 billion trade surplus with the US. In 1970, while Japan was sending 33.7% of its exports to the US, the US was selling only 14.7% of its to Japan. Ironically, while 72% of Japan's sales to the US were heavy industrial and chemical products, 58% of US sales to Japan were foodstuffs and raw materials.
The US launched its first protectionist attack against Japan in 1971, pressing Japan into submission by holding out the return of the Okinawa military bases as a reward. The US forced the yen to appreciate 17% against the dollar in December 1971 to raise the prices of Japanese products.
But the US's overall position was not helped by the corresponding bigger penetration of Japanese capital into the US, made easier by a stronger yen. US capital penetration into Japan became harder. A similar process was repeated when the US forced the yen to appreciate drastically in 1985.
The recent US-Japan trade war on cars is yet another instance of intensifying contradictions between the two biggest imperialist powers which are increasingly threatening to rip the security treaty straitjacket.