Publication of working papers for the SPF project “Shaping the Pragmatic and Effective Strategy Toward China”

 IINA (International Information Network Analysis) will upload the working papers written by U.S. and Japanese project members focusing on shaping a pragmatic and effective strategy toward China. We hope that this series will help IINA readers understand how experts from the U.S. and Japan see China and the U.S.-Japan joint efforts, which have the potential to determine the future world order.

Working paper for “Developing a Realistic Strategy to Counter China,” Sasakawa Peace Foundation September 2021.

1.The de Facto “Second Redefinition” of the U.S.-Japan Alliance as a “Counter-China Alliance”

The world today faces a serious problem that threatens to undermine the existing liberal rules-based international order. In recent years, the two major authoritarian states, China and Russia, have increasingly challenged this U.S.-led order, which has long served as the foundation for peace and prosperity in the international community.

Particularly problematic is the behavior of China, now the world’s second greatest power. Under the existing order, even the U.S., the world’s most powerful country, has exercised relative restraint in pressuring other countries through its power, and has acted with respect for international rules. With no central government to manage the international system, stronger states that use power to coerce and intimidate weaker ones pose a serious threat to peace. It is important, in this sense, that the U.S. has refrained from taking such a posture, and instead has led the rules-based international order. However, up to this point, at least, China has not shown such restraint about the use of its power. As seen in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, China’s intention to unilaterally change the status quo of the international order to advance its national interests by its own power becomes clearer as its power grows.

With this challenge from Beijing looming, the greatest strategic task for the U.S.-Japan alliance today is the protection of the liberal rules-based international order, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. This became one of the most important foreign policy priorities for Japan under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that took office at the end of 2012, leading to a greater emphasis on the bilateral alliance than ever before. The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that followed the Abe administration stuck to that position. The U.S. too has made clear its intention to defend the rules-based international order from China’s challenge, and the administration of President Joe Biden has placed unprecedented emphasis on cooperation with Japan.

The diplomatic stance of Japan and the U.S. as such has given rise to a major change in the bilateral alliance. The Japan-U.S. alliance, as it was redefined in 1996 after the Cold War, has long been regarded as a stabilizing mechanism in the Asia-Pacific region that is not aimed at any particular country. It was thought that there was no immediate security threat in the region that could compare to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, with China’s challenge to the liberal international order growing rapidly, the alliance appears to have once again come to be targeted at a specific country.

The March 2021 joint statement of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee (2+2) stated, “Amid growing geopolitical competition and challenges such as COVID-19, climate change, and revitalizing democracy, the United States and Japan renewed their commitment to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order.” The two countries expressed their intention to oppose China’s attempts to change the status quo an assert its national interests through force by saying that they are “committed to opposing coercion and destabilizing behavior toward others in the region, which undermines the rules-based international system[1].” The joint statement that followed the Biden-Suga summit in April said that the two leaders “shared their concerns over Chinese activities that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order,” that they “oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” and they “reaffirmed our strong shared interest in a free and open South China Sea.” The “importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” was mentioned for the first time in 52 years. The application of Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty to the Senkaku Islands was written in. Concerns about the human rights situations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang were also included[2].

Although the definition of the U.S.-Japan alliance has not been formally changed, these phrasings suggest that a “second redefinition” of the alliance as a “counter-China alliance” to protect the existing liberal rules-based international order is underway. Since the start of the Biden administration, both in Japan and the U.S. the view has spread that the two countries, as well as other liberal democracies, are engaged in a systemic competition with China over the future of the international order, and that bilateral cooperation in the alliance is the key to victory. This was evidenced by Biden’s statements at the joint press conference after his meeting with Suga, at which he said that Japan and the U.S. would “work together” to “take on the challenges from China” and “prove that democracies can still compete and win in the 21st century[3].”

Currently, at least when it comes to rhetoric, collaboration between Japan and the U.S. vis-a-vis China is unquestionably strong. But challenges remain for both allies.

The first is making actual collaboration commensurate with the current rhetoric. Verbal indicators are important in protecting the existing international order and deterring Beijing’s undesirable behavior, but words alone are not enough. Concrete coordination is needed. This requires actions from Japan and the U.S., and it is essential that the two countries develop the capabilities to carry out those actions.

Another issue is whether both Japan and the U.S. can consistently maintain the strategic orientation of the alliance to protect the existing international order from China’s challenges. It is often overlooked that this view, until relatively recently, was common in neither Japan nor the U.S.

At the 16th U.S.-Japan Security Seminar[4] held in January 2010 in Washington, DC, I gave a presentation about the alliance, which had marked its 50th anniversary, entitled, “Future Visions of the Alliance.” I argued that in the face of a rising China, the alliance should be redefined as an alliance to protect the “essential elements” of the existing international order that has been built by countries, including Japan, that share liberal values and principles under U.S. leadership — in other words as an alliance that would protect that “basic rules, norms, and principles” on which the order stands[5].

This was likely the earliest assertion that the U.S.-Japan alliance should be a tool to protect the existing liberal international order from the challenge of China. The presentation, however, met with a lukewarm reaction. Many U.S. attendees, in particular, said that it was inevitable that the existing international order would change now that China’s ascent was reality.

If such a resigned atmosphere prevails in Japan and the U.S., authoritarianism will automatically prevail over democracy in the competition described by Biden. The question is how far Japan and the U.S. will go in their determination to “oppose coercion and destabilizing behavior toward others in the region, which undermines the rules-based international system.”

In this working paper, I would like to consider what must be done and what should not be done in responding to these challenges.

2.Japan Must Not Trivialize the Current China Problem as a “U.S.-China Confrontation”

Japan and the U.S. must maintain the awareness that they are “fighting together” in the ongoing systemic competition vis-a-vis China as a prerequisite to both sustaining the strategic direction of the alliance as a mechanism to protect the existing international order from China’s challenge, and investing the necessary resources in a coordinated manner to achieve this. There is no doubt that the alliance is now stronger than ever in the past. After the sudden announcement of Suga’s resignation as prime minister on September 3, 2021, a White House spokesperson said, “The U.S.-Japan alliance is and will remain ironclad, not just between our governments, but our people[6].” With regard to the awareness of “fighting together” in the systemic competition with China, however, both Japan and the U.S. have their respective concerns.

To start, it is worrisome that not a few in Japan believe that the world has entered an era of “U.S.-China confrontation,” and the challenge for Japanese foreign policy is responding to that fact. Underlying this view is the recognition that Japan is separate from the confrontation between the U.S. and China. Based on this thinking, it is easy to argue that Japan should not become overly involved in the confrontation, and to avoid this it should distance itself from the U.S. and develop its own diplomatic policy toward China. The typical example of such an argument was presented in an editorial in Asahi Shimbun published just after the Suga-Biden summit in April that argued that Japan “should draw up its own, more autonomous strategy toward China, and based on that, should place top priority on preventing the escalation of the [U.S.-China] confrontation through joint efforts with the United States and other countries concerned[7].” The Japanese people tend to accept such arguments, because Japan, unlike the U.S. is geographically close to China and most Japanese therefore wish to avoid confrontation with China as much as possible.

However, it is not appropriate to think that only the U.S. is in confrontation with China, and Japan is separated from that confrontation. Japan, along with the U.S., is a major actor in the confrontation with China. Beijing’s challenge to the liberal rules-based international order is a critical matter for Japan’s own survival and prosperity. It is, in fact, dangerous to believe that the top priority of Japanese foreign policy should be “preventing the escalation of the confrontation” with China when in reality Beijing does not shy from using power and coercion in pursuit of its national interests, encroaches on Japan’s sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, and undermines the maritime order in the South China Sea, through which Japan’s vital sea lanes of communication pass. While hoping for friendly relations with China, Japan must ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific to protect its non-negotiable interests and maintain the rules-based international order. Tokyo must be ready to stand firm against China, if necessary, to achieve those goals. The Japan-U.S. alliance is an indispensable tool in enabling Japan to take this position.

The Japanese government needs to step up its efforts to enlighten the public to prevent the misperception that Japan is separate from the U.S.-China confrontation from jeopardizing the strategic direction of the alliance as a mechanism to protect the existing international order in the face of China’s challenge.

3.The U.S. Must Avoid Unilateralism in Its Strategy toward China

The U.S., too, must be conscious of the fact that it and Japan are “fighting together” in systemic competition with China. The U.S. today does not have the power to face China alone. Cooperation with allies and partners has become an integral part of the U.S. strategy toward China. The Biden administration, well aware of this, sees Japan as an “ally-in-chief[8]” “in China’s shadow.”

If Washington believes this to be the case, the U.S. must avoid unilateralism in crafting its strategy toward China. The U.S. needs to fully consult with allies and partner countries, especially Japan, when making important decisions or major policy changes. This is true both in its direct policy toward China and in broader decisions about the Indo-Pacific, which has become the core of the U.S. China strategy. Washington needs to ensure that its allies and partners do not feel alienated or distrustful after being “left out of the loop” or “betrayed.”

The Biden administration criticized former President Donald Trump’s unilateral foreign policy and announced a return to multilateralism in U.S. diplomacy, but from the start many foreign observers suspected that Biden would practice a “limited” multilateralism. This, in part, stems from the fact that Biden made a “foreign policy for the middle class” a top priority. In a March 2021 essay, I wrote the following: “Isn't there a risk that the foreign policy position derived from the argument that US foreign engagement should be more ‘judicious’ and ‘selective’ and that the criterion of choice should be whether it benefits the American middle class, will eventually become similar to Trump's America First-ism?[9]” And a European expert on international affairs wrote in June 2021, “the early months of Biden’s presidency have also shown that his approach to multilateralism is shaped by his administration’s core priorities, which impose clear limits on his readiness to cooperate with America’s closest allies,” adding that those priorities are “to show that U.S. foreign policy can provide tangible benefits to ordinary Americans[10].”

Recent conspicuous U.S. actions would seem to indicate these views were not far off the mark. This is cause for concern as to whether Japan and the U.S. will be able to confront China’s challenges together.

One example is the U.S. position taken just before the fall of Kabul. There was no shortage of criticism in the international community, especially in Europe, that the U.S. acted unilaterally and without sufficient consultation with allies in the final phase of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and that it damaged relations with allies. In Japan too, an international affairs expert criticized the Biden administration, saying, “For the Biden administration, withdrawing from Afghanistan is really the practice of ‘middle class diplomacy[11].’”

The manner in which AUKUS, the new security framework of the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, was announced is of even greater significance for the Japan-U.S. alliance. The announcement came out of nowhere for many U.S. allies, and it could be perceived as a unilateral action on the part of the U.S. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, “This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do[12],” and the European Union member countries reportedly supported France’s position at an informal meeting of foreign ministers on September 20[13]. At press conference, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Josep Borrell said, “This announcement runs counter to [the U.S.] call for greater cooperation with the European Union in the Indo-Pacific,” and “more cooperation, more coordination, less fragmentation. This is what is needed to achieve a stable and peaceful environment in the Indo-Pacific region[14].”

The statements from Drian and Borrell show the U.S.’ actions regarding AUKUS have created distrust and fissures between the U.S. and it European allies and partners over Indo-Pacific strategy, the most important elements in the U.S.’ confrontation with China.

In the case of Japan, the U.S. apparently explained the AUKUS arrangement to the government ahead of time. In this sense, the U.S. treated Japan better than France. However, the explanation apparently came one day ahead of the official announcement. As a result, the news seems to have come as a major surprise to the Japanese government. This is hardly sufficient communication with a country that has become an indispensable ally in the U.S. strategy for China. Although Japan has welcomed the arrival of AUKUS, one must think that the development may have had some impact on Japan’s confidence in the U.S.

The U.S. must recognize anew that cooperation with other countries cannot be achieved through its own unilateral desires. Only if both the U.S. and its partner country trust each other and want to work together to achieve common objectives will a partnership be fully effective. The same is true of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

In this sense, the U.S. needs to draw lessons from the reactions of other countries to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the announcement of AUKUS. In a Sept. 21 speech at the UN General Assembly, Biden called the Indo-Pacific the “most important” region for the world today and in the future, and he stressed the U.S.’s determination to work with its allies and partners on this priority[15]. The world, including Japan, is watching closely to see if such resolve is genuine.

4.Investing to Prepare the Necessary Capabilities

If Japan and the U.S. are indeed willing to face the challenges coming from China in a coordinated manner, the next step is developing the capabilities to do so and investing sufficiently in that development. The novel coronavirus pandemic is likely put pressure on both Japan and the U.S. to cut spending on defense and diplomacy, but both countries must keep in mind that China’s challenge to the liberal rules-based international order has not weakened, but rather strengthened during the pandemic. Even as the virus, which originated in China, has made the world suffer, the increase in challenges from Beijing can be observed typically in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait.

First, Japan must steadily implement the current National Defense Program Guidelines to ensure the measures on U.S.-Japan cooperation described in the 2015 Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation become reality.

This will inevitably result in greater defense spending. Japan’s current defense spending is far too low in light of its diplomatic and security objectives, such as “proactive contributions to peace” and a free and open Indo-Pacific. Most notably, Tokyo will find it difficult to defend the existing international order from China’s challenge with the current level of defense spending.

After Shinzo Abe returned to power in 2012, his administration reversed the trend of falling defense spending that had continued since the later years of the administration of Junichiro Koizumi. However, on the basis of initial budgets, Japan’s defense spending as a percentage of gross domestic product still remains below 1%. This is notably lower than the 3.7% in the U.S., 1.7% in China, and 2.8% in South Korea (all in 2020[16]), as well as the 2% spending target set by NATO countries.

Japan’s security policy and the U.S.-Japan alliance are considered to have entered a new phase with the formulation of the Guidelines in 2015 and the enactment of the Peace and Security Legislation in the following year. This is because Japan is now able to engage in various activities for its own security and the peace of the international community, including the limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense, which it had refrained from doing previously. This is a desirable change that will help Japan and the U.S. face China together. But what about the funding for the Self-Defense Forces’ (SDF) new activities? A U.S. security expert described the current state of Japan’s defense spending as if the “ghost of the 1% GDP cap on defense spending,” which was abolished more than thirty years ago, is still wandering around, and that Japan-U.S. defense cooperation may not proceed adequately at this rate[17].

It is encouraging that the Japanese government is taking steps to overcome this situation. Japan’s proposed defense budget for fiscal 2022 is expected to be the largest ever, even amid the coronavirus pandemic, with a record request for the research and development of advanced technologies[18].

However, one must be careful with the phrase “the largest ever.” Because of the drop in defense spending between the later years of the Koizumi administration and the inauguration of the second Abe administration, the increase in spending, while a record, is not significant. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's database, Japan's military spending increased only about 4.5% between 2001 and 2020. As a result, the military spending gap between China and Japan has continued to widen. In 2001, Japan’s spending was about the same as China’s, but as of 2020 Japan’s spending was less than one-fifth that of Chin[19].

The U.S. must also devote sufficient resources to dealing with the China problem. In this sense, it is a positive development that the U.S. government has begun to promote the Pacific Deterrence Initiative. In his speech to the American people explaining the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden said that the “fundamental obligation of a President” is to “defend and protect America — not against threats of 2001, but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow.” He noted that China and Russia pose particularly serious challenges, and that the U.S. needs to “to shore up America’s competitive[ness] to meet these new challenges in the competition for the 21st century[20].” In Japan, some have welcomed this as a sign that the Biden administration intends to redirect resources that had been invested in Afghanistan to addressing China and the Indo-Pacific region[21].

However, some in Japan remain concerned. Progressives in the Democratic Party are believed to be strongly pressuring the Biden administration to cut defense spending. Many in Japan also believe that the Biden administration’s “foreign policy for the middle class” will also exert downward pressure on defense budgets. They are concerned that the American middle class has become more inward-looking because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading some to question whether the resources that were previously invested in Afghanistan will really be redirected toward China and the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, in light of the U.S.’ unilateral approach to the Afghanistan withdrawal and the launch of AUKUS, some believe that there is a possibility that the “pivot” from Afghanistan to the Indo-Pacific may, for some reason, be redirected to something else without sufficient consideration of Japan’s intentions.

Japan and the U.S. both need to make the necessary investments in a way that will dispel the other’s concerns, both for their strategies in dealing with China and for the strategies in the Indo-Pacific.

5.“Limiting” the Objectives of China Policies

At the same time, Japan and the U.S. must recognize that the resources available to addressing China are limited, and the two countries must avoid setting unattainable goals.

Based on this, Japan and the U.S. should limit their goals in competing with China to winning the systemic competition over the shape of the future international order. Japan and the U.S. should not aim for regime change in China, but instead work to ensure that the future international order will be shaped by liberal democratic actors, led by Japan and the U.S., and not authoritarian actors led by China.

This does not mean that Japan and the U.S. should be silent on the issues of human rights and democracy in China. For example, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 confirmed that human rights are a universal value and a legitimate concern of the international community, and stated that “Democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing[22].” In light of this, the suppression of human rights and democracy in China cannot be overlooked as a domestic issue.

However, this does not mean that Japan and the U.S. would be wise to set regime change in China as a policy goal. It is clear that Japan and the U.S. do not have the resources to externally change the regime of a massive country like China, even if they were to join forces with other liberal democracies. The China policies of the U.S. and Japan must be based on this reality. If China is allowed to take external actions that undermine the existing international rules and order, the international environment that is comfortable for Japan and the U.S. will be lost. Japan and the U.S., therefore, should not hesitate to counter China to prevent this. However, regime change is not essential to make China respect the existing international rules and order. Accordingly, as long as China does not act in a way that damages the existing international rules and order beyond the tolerable limits of Japan and the U.S., realistically Tokyo and Washington should refrain from aiming at transforming China into a liberal democracy.

6.Self-Definition as a “Status Quo Force”

While Japan and the U.S. should limit the objective of their strategy toward China to winning the systemic competition over the future shape of the international order, they should at the same time make clear that their goal in this competition is basically to maintain the existing liberal rules-based international order both in the Indo-Pacific and globally. In other words, Japan and the U.S. should make clear that they are “status quo forces” in the international order.

This “status quo line” is justified by the fact that the free, open, rules-based international order led by the U.S. has over the past several decades served as the foundation for peace and prosperity in Asia and globally. It has also greatly benefited not only Japan and the U.S., but other members of the international community as well. One should not forget that China has also been a beneficiary of this order. The fact that China has overtaken Japan to become the world’s second largest economy under this order proves the point.

The assertion that Japan and the U.S. should declare themselves to be “status quo forces” in the international order does not mean that they should accept new “status quo” created by China’s recent attempts to alter the international order through unjust methods. Tokyo and Washington must continue to resolutely oppose China’s attempts to “change the status quo by force,” and continue to demand a return to the “original state” before China’s unilateral changes to the status quo, such as unjustified territorial claims and the reclamation of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

7.Working to Draw Other Nations to the Japan-U.S. Side

Cooperation between Japan and the U.S. is essential to implementing the strategy toward China described above. However, even the combined strength of these two countries is not sufficient to shape the future international order in the face of the rising power of China. Japan and the U.S. must encourage other countries to cooperate with their policy of maintaining the liberal, rules-based international order, rather than supporting China’s policy of changing the status quo of the international order.

To this end, Japan and the U.S. need to advance their strategy toward China in a way that accounts for the rest of the world. For now, I would like to note the following points:

1) Liberal Democracies

Japan and the U.S. must first secure and strengthen ties with liberal democracies that share basic values, such as freedom and the rule of law. In doing so, the following should be noted:

A) The Quad

Tokyo and Washington have recently placed particular emphasis on the Quad as an important element of their strategy toward China. Cooperation among the four countries has steadily grown, with the first in-person leaders’ summit occurring in September 2021. However, Japan and the U.S. should bear in mind that among the Quad nations, there is uncertainty regarding India’s attitude. If the U.S., Japan, and Australia want India to play a role in security cooperation in the Pacific in anticipation of Chinese activity, the three countries must seriously explore how they can show that they can contribute to fulfilling India’s security requirements in the Indian Ocean.

B) European Nations

With the newly invigorated Quad now a reality, the idea of a “Quad Plus,” which seeks to extend cooperation to other countries sympathetic to maintaining the existing international order, has become increasingly realistic. The most promising future members of the “Quad Plus” are the liberal democracies of Europe. Europeans have recently become increasingly wary of China as a “systemic rival” that is “promoting alternative models of governance[23].” Beijing’s “wolf warrior diplomacy” and “mask diplomacy” during the COVID-19 pandemic have made Europeans even more wary of China. In this context, interest in the Indo-Pacific and the future of the international order there has been growing rapidly. In September 2021, the EU released the “Joint communication on the Indo-Pacific.” The possibility of cooperation with regard to China policy is growing and rapidly becoming realistic among European nations and Japan, the U.S. and the Quad.

Due to differences in geographic and historical circumstances, however, there is a difference in the level of vigilance the U.S. and Japan hold toward China and that held by European countries. Tokyo and Washington must take this into account when envisioning partnerships.

For example, for the Quad nations, the Indo-Pacific region is the forefront of systemic competition with China. For European nations, however, while there is a growing recognition of the importance of the Indo-Pacific, Africa is perceived to be a more important theater of competition. A senior official at the Japanese Foreign Ministry told this author that European countries feel a “sense of urgency akin to frustration” regarding the spread of Chinese influence in Africa[24]. To strengthen cooperation with European countries in addressing China and to induce European nations to collaborate with them in the Quad Plus in the Indo-Pacific, Japan and the U.S. must also develop their own cooperation with European countries in dealing with China in Africa.

2) Developing Countries

If Japan and the U.S., and not China, are to shape the future international order, they need to increase the number of countries that are sympathetic to their thinking. Simply warning of the dangers of Chinese authoritarianism will not be enough to sway developing countries, which tend to be attracted by China’s economic development, to the side of Japan and the U.S. If Japan, the U.S., and other liberal democracies do not provide an alternative to the economic and technological opportunities offered by China, developing countries will have no choice but to deepen their dependence on China and Beijing’s influence over them will inevitably increase.

Japan and the U.S. must also refrain from excessively imposing liberal democratic values on developing countries. Many developing countries are not sufficiently liberal or democratic. Imposing liberal democratic values on such countries risks driving them toward China, which is neither liberal nor democratic but is enjoying remarkable economic development. Tokyo and Washington need to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of countries that respect international rules and take a restrained stance on domestic human rights suppression, thereby preventing them from joining authoritarian China.

While taking these factors into consideration, Japan and the U.S. should advocate the virtue of the existing international order for developing countries by pointing out that because it is based on rules, rather than force, it can help to curb the high-handedness of powerful nations and benefit small and medium-sized countries in an international society that lacks a central government.

3) ASEAN Countries

ASEAN countries have made it a top priority to maintain the centrality of ASEAN, and they greatly dislike being “forced to choose” between the liberal democracies, including Japan and the U.S., or China. Regarding their position on the international order, they tend to avoid expressing clear support for Japan and the U.S., which favor maintaining the existing order. Tokyo and Washington must explain that for ASEAN, which far lags China in terms of power, to exercise its centrality and play a leading role in shaping the future order in the Indo-Pacific region, the existing rules-based international order must be maintained. Japan and the U.S. need to persuade the ASEAN countries that they should clearly develop a cooperative stance aimed at keeping that order in place.

8.Determination not to Let China Use Cooperation and Coordination as a Political Tool

All countries, including Japan and the U.S., naturally desire economic cooperation with the world’s second largest power. Gaining China’s cooperation on global issues like COVID-19 and climate change will also have a significant impact on the outcome of those efforts.

Japan and the U.S. should therefore not close off opportunities for dialogue with China when it comes to addressing issues of global interest. There is, however, one important caveat:

When China tries to use cooperation on such issues as a tool to extract political concessions from Japan, the U.S., and other liberal democracies on the nature of the international order, those democracies must have the courage to refuse. Japan and the U.S. must refrain from compromising on issues like security, human rights, democracy, or the nature of the international system in an attempt to elicit China’s support.

9.Need for Consistent Policy toward China

Finally, Japan and the U.S. need to adopt a consistent policy toward China that is based on the principles described above.

Japan has long harbored doubts and concerns about the consistency of U.S. policy toward China. In the past, the U.S. position on China has frequently fluctuated between confrontation and cooperation. U.S. diplomacy with China during the Obama administration was typical of this from Japan’s perspective[25]. More recently, the Trump administration’s diplomacy has damaged the trust of allies and partners whether “deals struck with one U.S. administration will survive the transition to the next or that basic alliance structures that have endured for decades are still a given[26].” The U.S. must conduct diplomacy with China in a manner that does not rekindle such concerns in Japan, and, as mentioned earlier, the announcement of AUKUS was not without problems in this regard.

But the question of maintaining consistency in China policy is more serious for Japan at this point. In the past several years, Japan has made clear its intention to join the U.S. in the systemic competition with China, and it has not hesitated to turn the Japan-U.S. alliance into an alliance that is de facto aimed at China. This stance was an extension of the Abe administration’s foreign policy, which clearly positioned Japan as a defender of the liberal international order and pursued an active diplomacy. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has also kept Japan’s position on China consistent, continuing to follow the Abe administration’s policy. However, there is uncertainty about Japan’s position on China under Suga’s successor, Fumio Kishida.

The question now is whether both Japan and the U.S. can keep the strategic orientation of the alliance consistent in protecting the existing international order from China’s challenges. China, more than any other country, will be watching closely to discern the answer.


【現実的な対中戦略構築事業 ワーキングペーパー Vol.2】「対中同盟」としての日米同盟 − 何がなされるべきか、何を避けねばならないか −


  1. 1 “Joint Statement of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee (2+2),” March 16, 2021.(Accessed March 17, 2021)
  2. 2 “U.S.-Japan Joint Leaders’ Statement: ‘U.S.-Japan Global Partnership for a New Era,” April 2016.(Accessed on April 17, 2021)
  3. 3 “Remarks by President Biden and Prime Minister Suga of Japan at Press Conference,” April 16, 2021.(Accessed August 19, 2021)
  4. 4 The U.S.-Japan Security Seminar is an annual conference held by the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) under the auspices of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is considered the most prestigious Track 2 meeting on U.S.-Japan security relations.
  5. 5 Matake Kamiya, "Future Visions of the Alliance," Brad Glosserman, rapporteur., Celebrate or Separate?: The Japan-US Security Treaty at 50 (Honolulu: The Pacific Forum CSIS, 2010) [presentation at "The 16th Annual Japan-U.S. Security Seminar," Washington, D.C., January 15-16, 2010](Accessed August 19, 2021)
  6. 6 Jesse Johnson, “U.S.-Japan alliance to take hit from Suga’s decision to step down,” The Japan Times, September 6, 2021.(Accessed September 7, 2021)
  7. 7 “EDITORIAL: Japan must not just follow U.S. lead in dealing with China,” Asahi Shimbun, April 19, 2021.(Accessed October 12, 2021)
  8. 8 Bill Powell, “Joe Biden Sees Japan's Yoshihide Suga as New 'Ally in Chief' as China Tensions Rise,” Newsweek, April 18, 2021.(Accessed April 20, 2021)
  9. 9 Matake Kamiya, “Can the Biden Administration Restore America as a Global Leader? - What is ‘A Foreign Policy for the Middle Class?’ –,” Security Studies, Kajima Institute of International Peace, Society of Security and Diplomatic Policy Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, March 2021. (Also available at:
  10. 10 Anthony Dworkin, “Americans before allies: Biden’s limited multilateralism,” European Council of Foreign Relations, June 9, 2021.(Accessed August 19, 2021)
  11. 11 Toshihiro Nakayama, “The Fall of Afghanistan: Biden’s ‘America First’ Forced a Reset of the ‘Longest War,’” Foresight, August 21, 2021.(Japanese, accessed September 1, 2021)
  12. 12 John Irish and Michel Rose, Tim Hepher, “France says Biden acted like Trump to sink Australia defence deal,” Reuters, September 17, 2021.(Accessed September 18, 2021)
  13. 13 Michelle Nichols, “EU backs France in submarine dispute, asking: Is America back?” Reuters, September 21, 2021.(Accessed September 21, 2021)
  14. 14 “Informal EU Foreign Ministers meeting: Remarks by the High Representative Josep Borrell at the press conference,” New York, September 20, 2021, EEAS.(Accessed September 21, 2021)
  15. 15 “Remarks by President Biden Before the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly,” September 21, 2021.(Accessed September 22, 2021)
  16. 16 “Military expenditure by country as percentage of gross domestic product, 1988-2020,” SIPRI Military Expenditure Database.(Accessed August 3, 2021)
  17. 17 A statement made by a senior U.S. defense official to the author on condition of anonymity.
  18. 18 “Ministry of Defense to Make Record Budget Request: 5.479 trillion yen for research and development,” Jiji Press, August 31, 2021.(Accessed September 2, 2021; Japanese)
  19. 19 “Military expenditure by country, in constant (2019) US$ m., 1988-2020,” SIPRI Military Expenditure Database.(Accessed August 3, 2021)
  20. 20 “Remarks by President Biden on the End of the War in Afghanistan,” August 31, 2021.(Accessed September 5, 2021)
  21. 21 This precedes Biden’s August 31 speech, but is representative of the Japanese desire for a “pivot” to the Indo-Pacific from Afghanistan. Hiroyuki Akita, “China’s Neighbors Hope Afghanistan Pullout Means Pivot to Indo-Pacific,” Foreign Policy, August 19, 2021.(Accessed August 25, 2021)
  22. 22 “Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action,” adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna on 25 June 1993.(Accessed July 13, 2021)
  23. 23 “EU-China Strategic Outlook: Commission and HR/VP contribution to the European Council (21-22 March 2019),” March 12, 2019, p. 1. (Accessed April 9, 2020)
  24. 24 Statement by an anonymous official at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  25. 25 For example, Matake Kamiya, “Japanese View on the Obama Administration's Security Policy,” paper presented at the 20th Annual Japan-U.S. Security Seminar, Washington, D.C., March 21-22, 2014.
  26. 26 Salman Ahmed (co-editor), Rozlyn Engel (co-editor), Wendy Cutler, David Gordon, Jennifer Harris, Douglas Lute, Daniel M. Price, Christopher Smart, Jake Sullivan, Ashley J. Tellis, Tom Wyler, Making U.S. Foreign Policy Work Better for the Middle Class (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2020). Particular attention to pp.6, 67-69.(Accessed December 1, 2020)