Post-war Japan’s diplomatic and security policies are at a crucial turning point. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is attempting to choose a path of strengthening security agreements between the United States and Japan, while at the same time confronting China. It is a stance of finding an imaginary enemy by deliberately stressing the China threat.
However, in modern global society where all countries’ interests are blended together, can the simple diagram Abe has drawn of international relations go unnoticed? For Japan – which is right next to China – the best path is to refrain from uselessly ratcheting up tensions. Seventy years after the end of World War II, Japan should re-evaluate its position and establish its own diplomacy based on peace.
U.S. and China’s Strengthening Interdependence
In a press conference for Japan’s 70th anniversary statement on the end of World War II, Abe suggested that he wanted to develop friendly relations with China. However, the criticism toward China’s seaward advances continues in Japan in its resumed deliberations on a recent national security bill. The logic behind the revised bill is that Japan has no other alternative in protecting itself other than strengthening ties with the U.S. in the face of the China threat. Therefore, it is essential that Japan create new security laws. But can we just maintain an entrenched viewpoint featuring a U.S.-Japan vs. China match-up?
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs asks the U.S. every year to conduct a poll asking Americans: “Which is the most important partner [country] in Asia?” From 2010 to 2013, experts responding to the poll have answered that China is “the most important” – placing it in the top spot. The background for this result is the strong economic relationship the U.S. shares with China.
U.S.-China economic trade surpassed $500 billion in 2013. China is now the second largest trading partner with the U.S. after Canada. Import and export numbers are both far greater with China than with Japan. The United States’ real intentions are to continue a favorable relationship with China economically, while shutting out China’s rise militarily.
Prime Minister Abe is trying to play a role in restraining China. However, China is also Japan’s most important trading partner. If our relationship breaks down, the results will be obvious. The direction in which Prime Minister Abe is steering Japan cannot at all be viewed as contributing to Japanese national interests. The administration must look again at the realities of the U.S.-China relationship and the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Easing Tension through Diplomacy
So how should Japan engage an ever more powerful China? China has consistently sent government vessels into Japan’s waters ever since Japan nationalized the Senkaku Islands in 2012. China’s high-handed actions further stand out with its declared air defense identification zone over the East China Sea and development of oceanic gas fields, despite agreements between Japan and China barring such development.
China’s defense budget is second now only to the U.S., surpassing 26 trillion yen ($216.5 billion). That number is roughly five times larger than Japan’s defense budget. If we react to China’s military activity with military activity, stability in the region will only break down. The path that should be taken is one in which Japan marches in lockstep with other nations of the world that share a sense of wariness toward China and use diplomatic means to relax tensions.
Japan and China will forever be neighbors. We must search for a path of coexistence and restraint on both sides – not fan the flames through provocative behavior.
An Opportunity To Reconsider Relations
The Abe administration aims to establish powerful security laws that are legally questionable under the constitution by arguing the China threat. The doctrine of peace written into the present constitution has been the basis for post-war Japan’s security policy. But Abe’s proposed security bill – which unsettles this important basis – does nothing more than take cues from U.S. desires.
Realization of Japan’s right to exercise a collective self-defense was in no uncertain terms requested by the cohort of the U.S. deputy secretary of state in 2012 within the third Armitage Report.* The report also alluded specifically to mine-sweeping within the Straits of Hormuz – a fixation of Prime Minister Abe.
At the root of this is the idea to seek “paying a fair share” from Japan in order to reduce magnified U.S. war expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, Japan’s self-defense force has already shouldered its portion of U.S. military strategy, by transporting multinational forces within Iraq, for example. Japan cannot further damage the legacy of pacifism it chose after World War II in order to suit the United States.
After World War II and until the end of the Cold War, Japan played the role of the so-called bulwark against the Soviet Union for the United States. Now there is an attempt to pull Japan into U.S. strategy against China. Being surrounded by a nuclear Russia and China, Japan cannot refuse the current U.S. nuclear umbrella. That said, Japan should still set out to create a foreign policy that is not subservient to the United States.
The majority of Japanese citizens are clearly against the current proposed security bill. We must move toward rejecting the proposed legislation in Diet deliberations. Then, we must take the opportunity to reconsider our basic relations with the U.S. and China. Once all arguments have been made and heard, Japan can then return to a foreign policy free from outside influence.
*Editor’s note: The third Armitage Report refers to the third report on U.S.-Japan relations and U.S. strategy in Asia co-chaired by Richard L. Armitage, former deputy secretary of state, and Joseph S. Nye, of Harvard University.