Four commercial planes were hijacked and deliberately crashed, including two in New York City skyscrapers, killing nearly 3,000 people, including 24 Japanese nationals. The September 11 attacks on hotspots in the United States 20 years ago marked the start of the war on terrorism.
The Bush administration attacked and overthrew the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which housed al-Qaeda, an international terrorist organization notorious for committing heinous acts of terror.
US troops were then forced into the longest war in US history until they pulled out in late August 2021, leaving Afghanistan in chaos.
It takes more than one battle
The 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks is an opportunity to reflect on the long war against terrorism.
In May 2011, terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in neighboring northern Pakistan, was killed by US special forces. It was possible to view this successful response against Al Qaeda as a victory in the war on terror.
However, continued nation-building efforts to establish a democratic state in Afghanistan were thwarted, following a pattern similar to that seen in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
The war on terrorism is about more than punishing individual perpetrators and attacking their bases. Ultimately, it is about eradicating poverty and resolving the discontent of those who have lost hope. This was also the aim of the attempt to build a democratic state.
Preparing for terrorism is a never-ending challenge for the international community, and each country is expected to make its contribution according to its area of expertise. In the case of Japan, it should focus on advancing its aid to developing countries by making the most of our past achievements.
China’s pursuit of hegemony
The 20-year milestone is also an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on how the world has changed in the shadow of the war on terror.
US President Joe Biden cited the need to focus on competing with China as one of the main reasons for his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. This is a concern that he has repeatedly underlined as a diplomatic and security priority.
His decision was not fundamentally wrong.
In the process of withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan at the end of August, the United States made a huge blunder by allowing the Taliban to launch a major offensive, abandoning many who wanted to leave the country.
Nonetheless, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was inevitable as it had to end the asymmetrical war between the state and terrorist groups and focus on major power competition with China.
China challenges the international order by expanding its influence through maritime expansion in violation of international rules, enforcing unfair trade practices, and buying influence on the basis of its economic strength.
Backed by the full force of its military might, China’s encroachment into the South China Sea has grown. Despite ongoing territorial disputes with countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam, he began to build military installations. Japan itself is under direct threat, given China’s attempts to capture the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.
China is offering developing countries assistance in building infrastructure such as ports and roads as part of its Belt and Road initiative, saying it is a strategy to establish a massive economic zone. But it sends aid recipients into a debt trap, which Beijing then redeems by taking control of the same key facilities.
Prepare to be an ally
China’s tough stance has deepened since the rise of the Xi Jinping administration when he was appointed general secretary of the Communist Party of China in 2012. However, it should be noted that former President Jiang Zemin declared the first two decades of the 21st century to be a “period of strategic opportunity” at the CPC National Congress in 2002.
China embarked on the pursuit of hegemony, predicting that the United States would be occupied by the war on terrorism for a long time.
America’s first attempt to refocus attention on China dates back to 2011 under the Obama administration, but failed because its rebalancing policy lacked substance. A major factor was that the concentration of resources and troops in the Asia-Pacific region had been based on the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the United States had not yet achieved this.
In a phone call with Xi Jinping on September 9, Biden underlined “lasting interest” of the United States “in peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and in the world”.
Since his inauguration, the US president has highlighted many issues regarding China, including unfair trade, human rights violations and cyber attacks, and has imposed sanctions and other strict measures. He also repeatedly mentioned the importance of peace and security in the Taiwan Strait.
Strengthening ties based on shared common values such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law between Japan and the United States and with Europe, as well as between the four members of the Quadー Japan, United States, Australia and India, as well as diplomatic overtures to ASEAN, are commendable. We can say that Washington has shown its determination to focus on China.
Now, the United States must effectively rebalance and win competition with China. Japan, at the same time, must deepen its alliance and be ready to help strengthen America.
(Read The Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese on this link.)
Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun