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Guest post by J. Scott Shaffer

Since the end of World War II, the United States has maintained a mutual cooperation treaty with Japan guaranteeing support for the defense of the island country. Throughout the last sixty years, the United States has maintained a large military presence on the island in support of those treaty obligations. A July 9, 1971 memorandum of conversation found in the Nixon Library archives, reflects a discussion between National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-lai on the rationale for American forces remaining in Japan.

Memorandum of Conversation by richardnixonfoundation on Scribd

Kissinger states, “The American forces on Japan are in this respect totally insignificant. They play no role compared to the potential power Japan represents.” In other words, the American presence enables Japan to invest in other areas of their economy and development outside of defense. Without the American presence and obligations for defense, Japan would work to rearm itself to compete in the Pacific. Thus: “A heavily rearmed Japan could easily repeat the policies of the 1930’s” by creating an arms race in the region between Japan and China.

Memorandum of Conversation, Page 5 by richardnixonfoundation on Scribd

The transcript highlights the relationship challenges between United States and China that exist today. Chou En-lai raises concerns about the American military presence throughout Asia to include Japan, the Philippines, and Korea. He specifically questions the cooperation efforts between Japan, South Korea, and the United States which have grown closer in recent years with the rapid growth of the Chinese military.

Memorandum of Conversation, Page 4 by richardnixonfoundation on Scribd

Memorandum of Conversation, Page 6 by richardnixonfoundation on Scribd

Further, the Prime Minister states: “The new China will not practice expansionism” and does not plan on moving aggressively against Vietnam, Burma, or Korea. However, the current expansion of Chinese claims in the South China Sea and Senkaku islands possibly contradict the notion of restraint.

In addressing his concerns, Kissinger asserts the position of the United States in ensuring regional security. In recent years, the Obama administration developed the strategy of “Pacific Pivot” to reaffirm to regional partners the commitment of the United States in ensuring stability. The conversation by Dr. Kissinger and Chou En-lai contributes to the current discussion about our relations with China and the surrounding challenges.