George R. Packard


On his book Edwin O. Reischauer and the American Discovery of Japan

Cover Interview of October 12, 2010


There are eerie similarities between our attitudes toward Japan in the 1980’s and our attitudes toward China today.

The Chinese are heirs to a proud civilization that has been humiliated by the West for the last two centuries, and are now recovering their traditional role as the leading power (“central kingdom”) in East Asia. They are rapidly building up their military, and aggressively exporting products to our market at artificially low exchange rates.

Fortunately, we have learned some lessons from our dealings with Japan in the 1980’s. In the tradition of President Kennedy’s appointment of Reischauer as his ambassador to Tokyo, President Obama has wisely chosen Jon Huntsman, who speaks and understands Chinese, to be his ambassador to Beijing.

Still, we have inherited a role in the Chinese civil war through our support of Taiwan.  And some elements in the US military seem to think that the Western Pacific is and should be “an American lake.”

Containing China is no longer an option.  Finding ways to bring it peacefully into the international system is our best option.  In our policies toward China, we and the Japanese are not playing a zero sum game; both of us need to do everything possible to make that happen.

If Reischauer were alive today, he would advocate taking immediate steps to curb the current arms race with China, launch a massive program to educate a new generation of Chinese and American students about each other and our different histories and cultures, and schedule regular meetings at the highest levels between Chinese and American officials to sort out the issues that divide us.

Reischauer would find and proclaim “absurd” the journalists who predict an inevitable “clash for supremacy” in the Pacific.

© 2010 George Packard