A defense planner in Beijing observes Barack Obama’s journey this week starting in Japan with
some anxiety. Obama and his Japanese hosts go through the motions of “reassurance” and productive partnership.
China needs this more than anyone. The Americans want China’s reassurance on economic, especially monetary, policy.
But the real reassurance is the one China needs from the U.S. vis à vis Japan. For if the United States ever has an
“East of Suez” moment—that is, like the British loss of will and resources to sustain its commitments in
Asia—it will be the moment that Japan becomes a “normal” world power in name as well as deed. In other words,
a nuclear weapons state with a “normal” nuclear defense posture. How long would it take to be operational? Said
one Japanese official, after insisting the notion was pure fantasy: “183 days.”