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Japan’s China Strategy

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The balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region immediately gained a new dimension on 15 September 2021 with the establishment of the AUKUS (Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) defense alliance led by the US and the UK. This step, which is taken by the US, aimed to prevent the dominance of China in the Asia-Pacific; however, had the opposite effect, and the ally countries of the US, such as Japan and India had to confront the increasing danger of China. In other words, Canberra, which is a member of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), created a new alliance with AUKUS. However, Tokyo and New Delhi, which were the other members of QUAD, had to cope with the thread of Beijing.

On 25 September 2021, at the Quad-Four Leaders’ Summit in Washington, the leaders of the United States, Britain, India and Japan pledged to strengthen military-security-defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Nevertheless, Japan, which is dependent on the United States in terms of defense and security, sought to find new partners from Europe to expand the alliance. Because the AUKUS step taken by the United States and Britain has increased the risk of hot conflicts in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, Japan wants to reduce the risk of conflict in the region and ensure its own security after the dangerous AUKUS step by the United States. By reason of Tokyo is the closest to the “Chinese threat” among QUAD countries.

China’s initiatives in the Taiwan Strait are another factor that worries Japan. As a matter of fact, between 1-4 October 2021, Chinese fighter jets carried out more than 150 unauthorized flights into Taiwanese airspace. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has issued a warning, saying China, is preparing to invade the island, could soon close the Taiwan Strait. In case of a possible invasion of Taiwan by China and an attack on the ships of the allied states, the QUAD countries will have to retaliate. In this sense, it is very difficult for Japan to retaliate against China. This is because of Article 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits Japan from arming, going to war in any sense, and possessing an army.

In recent years, Japan has changed to amend this article of the Constitution, especially because of perceived threats from North Korea and China. With the change in 2016, Japan’s “use of force” is only permitted in a situation that endangers its national security and is permitted under self-defense measures that are inevitable to ensure the country’s survival and protect its citizens.[1] Therefore, Japan can only retaliate in terms of self-defense.

If Japan remains silent against China’s aggression, it will be difficult for the United States to stop the Chinese advance in the Asia-Pacific. Even if Japan does not defend Taiwan, it may retaliate against China to defend just itself. For this reason, the United States, together with its European allies, is increasing its exercises in the Indo-Pacific. In recent weeks, Britain has sent its aircraft carrier, the Queens Elizabeth, to the Philippine Sea, where the British Navy has conducted joint exercises with the United States, Japan, France and Australia. It is also the first time Japan has conducted a submarine exercise with Britain. More recently, the United States, Britain, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Canada conducted a military exercise off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, involving 17 ships and 4 fighter jets. On the other side, Germany has sent a warship to the South China Sea for the first time in 20 years. In brief, Japan wants to trust the aid from her Western allies, significantly the US; however, concerns about disappointment.

Despite all this information, developments in Afghanistan have once again shown that the United States is unreliable. In this sense, Washington could suddenly withdraw its forces in the South China Sea, pitting its allies against China. This could be part of the U.S. strategy to fight China. The United States could make its war against China less costly by suggesting allies such as India and Japan rather than fighting China itself. As a matter of fact, the Washington administration is trying to use Japan against China in the East China Sea, just as it is also trying to put forward India as a rebalancing against China in Kashmir.

Japan believes that China is improving its military technology and defense capabilities day by day, putting it ahead of the United States and its allies in this region. Thus China increases its defense budget even more every year. Beijing, which has a defense budget of $250 billion, it has announced a 6.8% increase next year. Hence, Tokyo can allocate an average of $50 billion to its defense. According to a study by “Military Direct”, China is the most powerful in the world in terms of military capacity. In fact, China gains the war against the USA, Russia or India with its 406 ships in naval warfare simulations.[2] Therefore, China’s military capability and technological superiority indicate that Japan will be defeated in a possible war.

In fact, the military technologies and intelligence capabilities of the states are more decisive in wars than their conventional capacities. For instance, Japan was defeated in the Battle of Midway against the United States for a significant intelligence deficit on the Pacific front of World War II. In these battles, the U.S. Army decoded the Japanese encryption system and defeated Tokyo’s largest naval fleet by predetermining where they would land.

Japan now perceives similar threats from China and the North Korea. If Tokyo does not receive adequate cooperation and support from the United States in the fields of intelligence and cybersecurity, it could lose against China. Therefore, without the U.S. intelligence network and satellite systems, it seems unlikely that Japan will prevail in a possible war against China.


[1] “Development of Legislation for Peace and Security”, Defence of Japan, 2015, https://warp.da.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/11591426/www.mod.go.jp/e/publ/w_paper/pdf/2015/DOJ2015_2-1-3_web.pdf, (Date of Accession: 08.10.2021).

[2] “China Beats US in Ultimate Military Strength Index While India Comes in Fourth”, Economic Times, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/china-beats-us-in-ultimate-military-strength-index-while-india-comes-in-fourth/china/slideshow/81632470.cms, (Date of Accession: 08.10.2021).

Cenk TAMER
ANKASAM Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı 2014 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olan Cenk TAMER, aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. 2016 yılında “1990 Sonrası İran’ın Irak Politikası” başlıklı teziyle master eğitimini tamamlayan Tamer, 2017 yılında ANKASAM’da Araştırma Asistanı olarak göreve başlamış ve aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Doktora Programı’na kabul edilmiştir. Uzmanlık alanları İran, Mezhepler, Tasavvuf, Mehdilik, Kimlik Siyaseti ve Asya-Pasifik olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen TAMER, Gazi Üniversitesindeki doktora eğitimine devam etmekte ve ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı olarak görev almaktadır.