Japan, U.S. must strengthen alliance to counter China’s military buildup

Conventional measures may not be sufficient to stop China’s attempts to change the status quo by force. Japan must improve its own capacity to deal with the situation while also strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance.

A meeting was held in Tokyo of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee — known as the 2-plus-2 security talks — comprising the foreign and defense chiefs of both countries. The fact that the meeting took place just two months after the inauguration of the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden highlights how much importance Washington places on the Japan-U.S. alliance.

In a joint statement, the two countries pointed out that China’s behavior was “inconsistent with the existing international order.” It also stated that the ministers “expressed serious concerns” about the enforcement of the China Coast Guard law, and stressed that the two countries are opposed to Beijing’s unilateral actions around the Senkaku Islands.

It is unusual for China to be named and criticized at the security talks. The ministers also reaffirmed that Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which stipulates U.S. defense obligations to Japan, applies to the islands.

Japan and the United States must continue to send the message that they will not tolerate China’s self-righteous behavior.

Former President Donald Trump clearly showed disregard for the alliance in his words and actions. It is significant that the Biden administration has expressed its willingness to be actively involved in a “free and open Indo-Pacific” with Japan.

It is important to establish a rules-based international order in cooperation with Australia, India and countries in Southeast Asia.

The Biden administration has heightened its sense of crisis by describing China as “the only competitor” that could “mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.”

The chief of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command told Congress that U.S. deterrence is collapsing due to China’s military buildup. He also said the risk of China attempting to change the status quo by force in the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere is likely to increase.

Any military imbalance in the Indo-Pacific region will have a serious impact on Japan. There have already been repeated intrusions into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. The government must seriously consider practical ways to strengthen the deterrent capacity of the alliance, including sorting out the roles between Japan and the United States.

Measures that Japan should take to deal with a crisis need to be discussed at the National Security Council, assuming various contingencies in areas surrounding Japan. A series of joint exercises of Japanese and U.S. forces, and Self-Defense Forces protecting U.S. warships and aircraft, will serve as a deterrent to China.

Prior to his resignation, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that a government policy on “missile interception” would be considered. It is hoped that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will move forward with discussions on the issue.

Suga will visit the United States next month as the first foreign leader Biden welcomes to the White House. The two governments should work together to strengthen the alliance with a sense of urgency, eyeing a successful summit meeting.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 17, 2021.