Traditionally pacifist Japan has begun charting a new, more confident course on regional security, particularly China’s ambitions in Taiwan, as US President Joe Biden rallies Asian allies amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Tokyo has tended towards a more proactive defensive stance for years. But the postponement has taken on new meaning in the wake of Moscow’s “special military operation” against neighboring Ukraine, a conflict with international repercussions, including in the Asia-Pacific region. Like Ukraine, Japan borders Russia on a series of disputed islands, but it’s the prospect of escalating tensions with an even more influential China, a country with its own regional plans, that has fueled a transformation in Tokyo.
“The situation in Ukraine has affected the psyche of people in East Asia, including Japan, regarding the possibility of an emergency in this region,” a Japanese official said news week. “That’s how clear the cross-strait problem is becoming more and more prominent in the minds of the Japanese people, and this is also reflected in the question of the Japanese media.”
International media focused on Biden’s remarks at a press conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio on Monday, which hinted at an apparent US commitment to defending Taiwan. The White House was quick to dismiss those comments, but the controversy served to overshadow a significant comment by Fumio on the same issue, made in response to an opening question from Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi.
When asked about his position on Japan’s response in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, Kishida said he and Biden “underlined the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, which is an indispensable element for the security and prosperity of the international community, and called for peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues.”
“In the region, the security-related environment is becoming increasingly strict,” he warned. “Unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force, like this time Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, should never be tolerated in the Indo-Pacific. In East Asia in particular, it is imperative to further strengthen the Japan-US alliance.”
Regarding Japan’s priorities, Kishida said the priority task is to “fundamentally strengthen Japan’s defense capability,” including by developing an “enemy base fighting capability.” He reiterated that “all options will be there” and it is important “not to rule out any of them” when it comes to Japan’s defence.
The term “ability to attack enemy bases,” sometimes referred to simply as “responsiveness,” denotes the use of offensive systems long considered taboo in the once-tight limitations on Japanese military capabilities, rooted in a constitution governed by the U.S -Crew was developed after World War II.
But in response to rising regional tensions, Japanese lawmakers have reinterpreted the armed forces’ role over the past decade, and as the nation prepares another planned overhaul of its defense doctrine, Japanese officials are with whom news week said that “this kind of diversity of terminology also shows the kind of development of debate and thought, and this will surely merit and entail a very deep discussion within Japan.”
This shift in Japanese thinking has caught China’s attention, particularly when the nuclear issue is raised. Responding to the US-Japan joint statement in which Biden and Kishida “reaffirmed the importance of stepping up bilateral talks on enhanced deterrence,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin warned against a nuclear weapons-sharing deal between the two countries the two allies, an agreement that he said would violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
“Rather than reflecting deeply on its history of aggression, Japan, as a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT, has long portrayed itself as a victim of nuclear weapons and has been vocal about nuclear disarmament and anti-proliferation,” Wang said. “But in practice it sits comfortably under the US nuclear umbrella, resisting and thwarting US attempts to abandon its first-use nuclear weapons policy.”
The US is the only country in the world to have used nuclear war in combat, and Japan is the only country to have fallen victim to such mass destruction. So the prospect of US nuclear weapons on Japanese soil is particularly thorny.
Still, the idea has garnered a number of supporters, including former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who has called for a more proactive Japanese stance on regional issues and has been reported by Taiwanese media as even planning a visit to the disputed island. Abe has gone so far as to call for a revision of Japan’s three principles of non-possession, non-production and non-deployment of nuclear weapons.
Wang called Japan’s nuclear considerations “hypocritical” and noting the omission of the three non-nuclear principles from Japan’s latest report to the NPT Review Conference, saying “such negative steps by Japan warrant the international community’s high alert.”
China and Japan have their own territorial dispute centered around the Pinnacle Islands, known to Japan as the Senkaku Islands and to China as the Diaoyu Islands. Taiwan has also staked claims on the islands as part of its broader challenge to the People’s Republic’s legitimacy as China’s representative, but most disputes over the uninhabited land in the East China Sea have been between Chinese ships passing near the islands and Japanese sea patrols, sent to repel them.
The feud bears some resemblance to the northern Japan islands dispute, except that unlike Russian-controlled territory, Japan exercises effective rule over the East China Sea islands despite Chinese protests. Both Spats are the product of World War II-era land grabs, and both land groups still play a role in Pacific maritime theater strategy today as part of a “first island chain” that includes Taiwan.
As Biden and Kishida sought to emphasize their nations’ alliance as well as their coordination with Australia and India during the quadripartite security dialogue earlier this week, Beijing and Moscow also made clear on Tuesday their strategic partnership in the form of a joint air patrol of the Sea of Japan and East China sea, prompting Japan to arm jets in response.
But as the combined efforts of the US and its allies against Russia have met challenges amid Europe’s dependence on Russian oil, Japan’s challenge to China presents a task that could be even more daunting. For one thing, China remains Japan’s number one trading partner, and Beijing’s strong position in the international community makes it almost impossible to isolate it on a number of issues, even if its approaches are viewed as undesirable.
“Japan wants China to behave as a responsible power, consistent with its power and status,” the Japanese official said. “So China can no longer be a free rider on some global issues, such as the free trade regime or climate change, and the international society expects China to contribute as a responsible power to solving these global problems.”
Despite their tensions, China and Japan generally value their relationship very highly, a dynamic seen last week when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met virtually with his Japanese counterpart Hayashi Yoshimasa to mark the 50th anniversary of the normalization of relations between their nations to commit. While both men mentioned the difficult trajectory of those relationships today, they stressed the need to get them back on track.
The Japanese official with whom news week said that “a stable relationship with China is indispensable not only for Japan and China, but also for international society as a whole.”
“So Japan, along with the US,” added the official, “hopes that China will exercise its responsibilities based on the international rules and respond to the world’s expectations.”
https://www.newsweek.com/japan-emboldened-biden-wary-over-ukraine-gets-tough-china-1710198 Japan, encouraged by Biden and wary of Ukraine, is getting tough on China