Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Facing China: Need for a grand strategy amid US-China rivalry for the international order
KAWASAKI Tsuyoshi / Associate Professor, Simon Fraser University

February 20, 2020
How should we face fast-rising China in the world? As a nation sandwiched between the US and China, what kind of grand strategy should Japan conceive for itself?
Strengthening national power is a part of grand strategy, which should start with a rigorous assessment of the status quo. Let me venture to say at the risk of being misunderstood that Japan is but a small power in contrast to the US and China.
In terms of military power, which is the ultimate coercive power, the defense expenditures of the US and China are 13-14 times and 5 times that of Japan respectively. Japan’s total tonnage of naval vessels is only about one fifth that of China. Needless to say, Japan has foresworn nuclear weapons.
What about economic power, which is the source of national power in the long term? At present, the gap between Japan on the one hand and the US and China on the other is not as great as is the case with military power, but will probably widen further in the long term. The fundamental reason for this is Japan’s perennial demographic decline. What is necessary is to delay the widening of the gap through not only demographic policies, but also a strategy on industrial competitiveness focused on areas of new technologies as well as a long-term strategy for human resources development.
There are two aspects to the external policies that “Small Power Japan” should adopt. One is to counter China, which seeks to break the status quo, realistically by working together with the US and other countries of the Western camp to maintain the “balance of power”. Another is to adopt steps to strengthen the unity of the Western camp and to refrain from taking measures that might induce splits within the camp.
The long-term objective is to “look ahead to the Post-Xi Jinping era and hold out until such time as China’s external expansionism comes to a halt”.
China’s strength is growing militarily, but its overall strength is still behind that of the US. Thus China is adopting the grey zone strategy of utilizing economic power and a variety of other means. This includes effecting changes in territories and spheres of influence through accumulation of established facts, weakening the Western alliance, using “sharp power” to imprint China’s influence on the politics and public opinion of other countries, challenging the liberal democratic ideology, and relativizing the international systems built by the US. Short of giving the US an excuse for the use of military power, China is seeking to erode and emasculate the liberal international order. It is necessary to counter these moves with agility and maintain and strengthen the “balance of power” vis-à-vis China. This is the urgent task that Japan faces.

Firstly, in the diplomatic and military domain, the deterrence under the Japan-alliance should be thoroughly strengthened.
Secondly, in economic policies, what is indispensable is the concept of economic statecraft, designed to lead Japan to a position of advantage in terms of power politics. It means reducing the vulnerability of the Japanese economy toward China while maintaining trade relations and, at the same time, enhancing the sectors in which China will have no choice but to depend on Japan.
In science and technology, artificial intelligence and cyber capability will be the key. Increasing Japan’s power in these areas will be a determining factor of Japan’s fate, naturally from the viewpoint of strengthening its national power but also in terms of strengthening its deterrence capability.
The Western camp needs to be on the lookout for opportunities to drive a wedge between China and Russia and, at the same time, guard against a wedge being driven into its own camp.
From this perspective, the Abe Administration’s diplomacy toward its own camp earns a passing score. It has strengthened the Japan-US alliance and endeavored to strengthen the relations among Japan, the US, Australia and India. The slogan “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” can be evaluated highly as a part of the soft power strategy toward China.
As the next step, it is desirable to establish a forum in which allies in the region such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand get together with the US. Full use should be made of multilateral systems comprising friendly countries. If pitted alone against the US bilaterally, Japan may be overwhelmed. But a multilateral framework can dilute the US influence and present opportunities for Japan to strengthen its negotiating position if it acts in concert with other countries.
It should be noted that we might be double crossed by the US. Whether it is the Trump Administration or not, there is always the possibility that the US would go back to isolationism. The US might come to some kind of policy agreement, for example on the Korean Peninsula, disregarding Japan’s interests. In order to keep such probabilities at a minimum, it is desirable to continue the operation to “rope in” the US through intimate contacts with the US leadership, economic relations and strengthened ties between the Japan Self Defense Forces and the US military. Further, it is essential to work together with other US allies including those in Western Europe.
The Abe Administration’s recent policies toward China and Russia are fraught with risks. Having pursued the policy of conciliation with Russia, Japan has been forced to step backward as symbolized by the Northern Territories dispute.
Meanwhile, in China, the Chinese Communist Party is implementing policies that go against liberal democracy. Externally as well, it preaches the gospel of the Chinese model of governance. Japan should be cautious about welcoming Xi Jinping, who is the supreme commander of all this, as state guest at this point in time. We do not hear strong voices from the Abe Administration defending freedom and human rights with respect to Hong Kong and Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region。
If these rash conciliatory policies are pursued, Japan may consign itself to the position of the “weak link in the chain” of the Western camp. Japan is not in a position to execute the policy of sowing division between China and Russia. That apart, Japan should not end up giving China and Russia the opportunity to drive a wedge into the Western camp.

The battle for order between the US and China will continue for some time yet. Wisdom and foresight based on a broad perspective are essential for Japan, with weaker national strength, to live with resilience and tenacity amidst this rivalry of the big powers. This what a grand strategy is all about.

Tsuyoshi Kawasaki is Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada. This is a summary of the article that appeared in the February 11 edition of Nihon Keizai Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

中国とどう向き合う 米中秩序戦見据え大戦略を
川崎 剛 / サイモン・フレーザー大学准教授

2020年 2月 20日


















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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Facing China: Need for a grand strategy amid US-China rivalry for the international order