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Japan’s China Policy — Engagement, but for How Long?

Japan’s China Policy — Engagement, but for How Long?

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This policy brief looks at the relationship between Japan and China.
This policy brief looks at the relationship between Japan and China.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on May 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The “carrot andstick” approach between Japanand China may work for now,but Japan’s strategists mustnot delay in formulating alonger-term vision for Japan’srelationship with China.
Young Strategists Forum
Policy Brie 
 Japan’s China Policy —Engagement, but for How Long?
by Victoria Tuke
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 200091 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E ino@gmus.org
May 2012
Te relationship between Japan andChina has always been politically,economically, and diplomatically complex. Yet its importance or thestability o the region and wider globalsecurity structure necessitates coop-eration. As Asia’s military spendingis set to soon exceed that o Europe,
 avoiding tensions and conrontation isessential.At present, Japan is employing bothso and strong techniques to ensurethe relationship remains stable andprosperous. However, looking intothe uture, even just a decade or twoahead, Japan’s long-term strategy rays.It is here policymakers’ attention mustocus.
A Tilt Towards China?
Historically, Japan has taken thestrategic decision to align itsel withthe leading power o the day. AerJapan opened to external inuencesollowing the Meiji Restoration o 1868, alliances were made rst withBritain, then Germany, and nally theUnited States. Japan has proven itsel adept at adjusting to changing power
This prediction was made in March 2012 by theLondon-based International Institute for Strategic Studies(IISS) in their annual “Military Balance 2012” report.http://www.iiss.org/publications/military-balance/#
dynamics. Te question is, as China’seconomy continues to grow and U.S.inuence declines, will Japan join withthe next global hegemon?A hal-century rom now, this mightwell be the path okyo’s policymakersdecide to take but this is unlikely in the near-term. As pointed out by Dan wining in his article, “Chrysan-themum or Samurai,” Japan’s strategiclunges have always served to urtherdomestic objectives and have neverbeen merely a passive acceptance o okyo’s own limitations.
Japan is notsitting back idly. However, in a regionwhere dynamics are rapidly evolving,the need or okyo to show orward-thinking resolve is even more impor-tant.
Strings to Japan’s China Policy
Japan and China’s economies areclosely interlinked. No matter whichstrategy is pursued in the oreignpolicy realm, economic interests wieldsignicant inuence. According tothe latest Ministry o Foreign Aairs(MOFA) declaration between Beijingand okyo, the two governments
Daniel Twining, “Chrysanthemum or Samurai?”
Shadow Government, Foreign Policy,
March 9, 2010, http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/03/09/chrysan-themum_or_samurai
Policy Brief 
Young Strategists Forum
are seeking a “mutually benecial relationship based oncommon strategic interests.”
Tat said, to ensure China’sgrowth remains in check i not controlled, Japan hasollowed both engagement and containment policies.First, okyo has sought to engage with Beijing and promoteChinese membership in regional bodies that couldperhaps dilute Beijing’s inuence. Frameworks such as theJapan-China-U.S. trilateral are one example, as is supportor orums such as the East Asia Summit, which bringtogether a large number o players to discuss regional issues.Japan has also made concerted eorts, particularly since2005 when Sino-Japanese relations reached a nadir, todiversiy partners in the region. Japan now has ast-devel-oping relationships with Australia, India, and ASEANwhilst also pursuing links with Central Asian and MiddleEastern states.Japan’s handling o China’s rise has been inuenced by inter-national concern over Beijing’s power projection. Duringthe early years o the 21
century as China promoted “smilediplomacy” with Southeast Asian countries, made signi-cant investments in poor Arican states, and maintainedimpressive rates o growth and poverty alleviation at home,Japan’s concerns with belligerency accompanying China’srise ound less traction.In the past two years, however, several states in the regionhave shared Japan’s unease. And the concern has spreadurther, or example to Arican states who are becomingincreasingly uneasy with the conditions attached to Chineseinvestments. Vietnam and the Philippines have been amongthe most vocal in challenging China’s claims to vast swatheso the South China Sea. Te Indian Navy is also concernedwith Chinese maritime ambitions.
“Japan-China Relations’,”
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan,
February 2012, http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/china/index.html
Japan has made concerted effortsto diversify partners in the region.
At the moment, Japan’s policies are working relatively well.China has resisted exing its muscles disproportionately,appearing instead to desire the maintenance o the statusquo, particularly whilst Chinas leadership goes throughtransition. However, as this h generation o Chineseleadership rises to power, what steps, i any, is Japan takingto prepare or new challenges?
Lack of Political Will and Vision
Politicians in all countries are notoriously poor at long-termplanning, instead justiying (at least privately) the retentiono ofce over goals they are unlikely to see through. Japanscurrent politicians show little strategic oresight regardinghow their country should, could, and would respond to aregion in which China’s dominance is unquestioned or atleast one where U.S. primacy is signicantly reduced.Japan’s politicians are hesitant to clariy which route they would take once Chinas hegemony in the region is securedor when U.S. power has declined to the extent that Japan’sown security cannot be assured. Would Japan concludethat its interests are better served by working closely withChina? Or would it perhaps continue to work with middlepowers such as Australia and South Korea to balanceChinese inuence? Alternatively, are regional institutionsthe answer or stability?Te bilateral relationship between China and Japan hasalways been more than purely economic and shaped inpart by the respective domestic political climate. Initially there were mixed eelings in Beijing over the DemocraticParty o Japan (DPJ)victory. Observers oresaw a tilt towardChina when the DPJ became the ruling party in 2009 andpromised to renegotiate the terms o the 60-year U.S.-Japan alliance. DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa took 143parliamentarians and hundreds o businessmen to Beijingin an almost “tributary” mission, signalling his diplomaticpreerence. However, whilst he remains in the shadows, hestruggles to clear his name rom corruption charges, andhis political attention has been ocused on the consump-tion tax increase rather than oreign policy. In the near-term, he is unlikely to play much o a role in promotingpro-China actions within the DPJ. Unortunately, no otherJapanese politician has been so explicit in how Japan shouldapproach China.
Policy Brief 
Young Strategists Forum
The Japanese people, whilst stillanti-war, appear to have greateracceptance of the need for anindependent defense strategy.
For many years, Japan has suered rom not just a scal,but leadership decit. Te swi succession o prime minis-ters, particularly ollowing the end o Koizumis term in2006, has diluted Japan’s ability to maintain continuity andormulate a bold and lasting China policy. Each year, Japanushers in a new prime minister keen to dierentiate himsel rom his predecessor, which creates an impossible domesticpolitical environment or sustaining long-term policies.Bickering between the two dominant parties (LDP andDPJ), as well as inghting within political parties preventspolicies rom passing through the legislature. Until the Dietbecomes an eective decision-making body, which willrequire urther reorms, strategic direction will be minimal.Whilst bureaucrats are relied upon to manage the day-to-day operations o China policy, politicians — particularly the prime minister — are expected to concentrate on poten-tially controversial issues and new initiatives. When the DPJentered government, they took a populist position towardsthe bureaucracy, sidelining its role. Tis created riction,and impaired the ability o the political and bureaucraticwings o Japan’s system to work smoothly together. In orderto eectively use the decades-old expertise o both the“China school” within MOFA and other actions, greatercooperation is now being sought.
Greater Condence in the Ministry of Defense
While politicians may lack a long-term strategy, mili-tary planners are expected to prepare or the unexpected.Diplomats and military ofcials oen identiy the handlingo China’s rise as their oreign policy priority, and indeedJapan’s Ministry o Deense (MOD) appears the most awareo the pressing need to orm a coherent plan to respond topotential aggression.Gradual steps have been taken in the past decade toaugment the mandate o Japan’s Sel Deense Forces (SDF).Te watershed moment came in July 2003 when PrimeMinister Koizumi decided to allow Japanese military personnel into Iraq. In 2007, Japan’s Deense Agency wasupgraded to ministry status, and by 2010 identied itsmission as one o “dynamic deense” in Japan’s NationalDeense Program Guidelines.Te 2010 Guidelines were also explicit in the reallocation o resources rom the north, where they were spent counteringRussian inuence, to the south, where Chinese maritimepresence is growing. So although Japans military budgetremains capped at 1 percent o GDP, through this careulredirection o manpower and equipment, Japan has madeclear its concerns with the increasingly condent People’sLiberation Army and Navy. In December 2011, Japan alsoannounced a partial relaxation in its sel-imposed ban onarms exports, which was unthinkable even hal a decadeago.In the early 1990s when Japan rst announced peacekeepingoperations (PKO) plans, domestic and oreign media voicedconcern that Japan was rekindling its militaristic past. Butrecent rumors that the MOD seeks to urther amend thePKO law to allow the SDF to jointly deend encampmentsshared with oreign orces have ailed to trigger a similarresponse.
Japan’s military has astutely recognized theopportunity that China’s opaque military modernizationprovides — a chance to augment Japan’s own orces. And asa result, Japan’s MOD is little concerned with reactionary media responses to adjustments in its role.Te Japanese people, whilst still anti-war, appear to havegreater acceptance o the need or an independent deensestrategy. Te SDF’s prole amongst the Japanese public hasgrown due to its rapid response ollowing the earthquakeand tsunami o March 2011. As provocations rom NorthKorea continue, most recently with the ailed rocket launchto mark the centenary o Kim Il Sung’s birth, the need toimprove Japan’s capability to deend itsel is gaining support.
“SDF right to jointly defend military camps eyed for PKO legal revision’,”
 Japan Times,
March 26, 2012, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120326a1.html

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