How should Japan and the United States respond to China as it advances militarily and economically? This issue was discussed during the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (two-plus-two) talks held recently for the first time under the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
The joint statement following the meeting between the countries' foreign and defense ministers expressed concern for challenges presented by China's ongoing efforts to undermine the rules-based international order, and stated that the U.S. and Japan had resolved to "work together to deter and, if necessary, respond to destabilizing activities in the region."
In addition to China's threatening offshore activities in the East China Sea including Okinawa Prefecture's Senkaku Islands, as well as in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, human rights oppressions are continuing in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Hong Kong. Tokyo and Washington cited these issues, and expressed their strong opposition and concern.
The U.S. cannot oppose China on its own. It is working to strengthen its partnerships with allies and friendly countries that share the same values on human rights, the rule of law and other issues.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is expending its energy on domestic affairs, and it has minimal extra resources to advance foreign policy. In the discussions, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emphasized his expectations of an increased role for the Japan Self-Defense Forces.
With the acquisition of capabilities to attack enemy bases in mind, Japan is described in the joint statement as having "expressed its resolve to examine all options necessary for national defense including capabilities to counter missile threats."
But given Japan's exclusively defense-oriented policy principle, the issue should be considered with circumspection. Japan must not erode this principle and go ahead without public understanding.
An agreement to increase Japan's financial burden for stationing U.S troops in the country was signed after the two-plus-two meeting. While there is a need to improve defensive capabilities, it is essential for diplomatic efforts to be made at the same time with a long-term view aimed at stabilizing relations with China.
Although both governments hailed their strengthened alliance, there is an issue at hand that could compromise this stance: coronavirus group infections at U.S. military bases in Japan. During discussions, Tokyo repeatedly sought consideration of strict measures including limits on outings for U.S. military personnel and others. But Washington did not promise a specific response. This does nothing to dispel Japanese people's distrust.
The Biden administration is progressing with reviews of its National Security Strategy, which lays down fundamental U.S. diplomatic and security policy, its National Defense Strategy and other plans. The Kishida administration, too, intends to revise Japan's National Security Strategy, its National Defense Program Guidelines and other policies by the end of 2022.
Japan and the United States' analysis of the situation needs to be close-knit. While working to reduce rising tensions with China, a strategy that leads to stability in the region should be drawn up now.