Reconstructing Japan’s diplomatic strategy

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to the media after a telephone discussion with US President Donald Trump, Tokyo, Japan, 21 December 2019 (Photo: Reuters/The Yomiuri Shimbun)

Author: Hitoshi Tanaka, JCIE

Intensifying US–China rivalry is forcing Japan to reconsider its strategy to secure peace and prosperity in the region. This offers Japan an opportunity to use its diplomatic, economic and security advantages to shape China into a constructive regional stakeholder. But the question is how best to manage US–China rivalry to prevent fatal instability in the region.

Japan has been expanding its security role since the end of the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US–Japan alliance was reaffirmed through the 1996 US–Japan Joint Security Declaration. To support US regional engagement, Japan established new legal frameworks and expanded the roles and missions of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF). Japan is also expanding its security cooperation with US allies and partners like Australia, India and ASEAN nations.

Japan and the United States have also deepened their cooperation in regional multilateral forums. For Japan, ASEAN+3 was insufficient to mitigate regional uncertainty as Japan and South Korea were the only economically advanced democracies in the grouping. Japan moved to expand participation to the ASEAN+6, and the current ASEAN+8 grouping that includes Australia, New Zealand, India, and the United States and Russia as well as China, Japan and South Korea.

Yet in just over three years, US President Donald Trump has damaged 25 years of progress on regional cooperation. The Trump administration has retreated from multilateralism, undermining the credibility of the United States as a leader. It even withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the United States championed as a pillar of its rebalance to Asia and a mechanism for building a rules-based order.

The Trump administration has also failed to articulate alternative strategies for regional cooperation, undermining US alliance relationships due to Trump’s misunderstanding of the US forward deployment strategy. He considers a US military presence to be a favour to …continue reading