Japan's grand Asia-Pacific strategy

Updated: 2013-01-18 08:04

By Wu Huaizhong (China Daily)

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In the post-crisis era, though Japanese politicians and pundits acknowledge the world is moving toward multi-polarization, their belief in "hegemonic stability" is still deep-seated and they recognize and support the Pax Americana in the Asia-Pacific region. Or, taking a step back, Japan at least believes in maintaining an order dominated by Western developed democracies in the Asia-Pacific and the fundamental task of Japan's long-term foreign strategy is taking in emerging powers that are capable of challenging and revising this "order".

Therefore, besides the United States, Japan is so far the firmest supporter of the existing order. Japan's grand Asia-Pacific strategy is a strong pillar in sustaining US hegemony and the West-dominated order, which goes against the development trend and direction of the global situation in the post-crisis era, and is also against the diversification and multi-polarization of the regional pattern of evolving democratization in international relations.

Japan once actively pushed forward regional cooperation in East Asia. But on seeing China's fast economic growth, rising comprehensive strength and influence, Japan began to worry that China would take the leading role in promoting cooperation and constructing the regional order in East Asia. Thus, Japan began to advocate an expanded "East Asian Community", augmenting the "10+3", which comprises the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus China, Japan and South Korea, to "10+6", with the inclusion of India, Australia and New Zealand, and is now pulling in the US.

In the economic field, Japan turned to Asia-Pacific cooperation from East Asian cooperation and intends to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Japan's argument is that dealing with China's "gigantism" and restricting it needs a big system or system expansion. In other words, with China's development and growth in economic size, the regional framework and system restricting China should expand and extend correspondingly so as to dilute and counterbalance China's power and influence.

In reality Japan is deliberately diluting East Asia's geopolitical and geo-economic significance, lowering the US' wariness and pulling in the US.

Japan's actions have undermined or at least diluted the process of East Asian cooperation and become a negative factor in East Asian cooperation.

Since former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama suffered a setback in turning Japan's US-centric foreign policy to a more Asia-focused policy, Japan's Asia-Pacific strategic adjustment is focused on strengthening the Japan-US alliance and trying to woo India, Australia and other countries to guard against China's rise. In recent years, Japan has developed increasingly close relations with India and Australia, forming sort of quasi-alliances.

The unfolding of Japan's Asia-Pacific strategy is, to a large extent, centered on China and thus has an influence on China. In the economic field, Japan's regional cooperation policy (advocating an expanded East Asian Community and promoting the TPP negotiations) will dilute China's influence and make China face the pressure of an economic and trade hegemony led by the US and Japan. In a broad sense, this is a game scrambling for the leading role in East Asian cooperation.

Japan is trying to portray China as a revisionist country in the Asia Pacific, and intends to depict the competition between China and Japan as a battle between two forces, one that seeks to maintain the status quo, and one that seeks to challenge the existing order. In light of the Sino-Japanese disputes concerning maritime rights and interests and the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, Japanese politicians have not only called for the US to jointly contain China's "expansionist behavior", they also went to Europe to garner sympathy.

Meanwhile, Japan is making every effort to uphold the US' hegemony in the Asia-Pacific, and China faces increasing security and structural pressure from the Japan-US alliance. Japan's Asia-Pacific strategy has added to China's geopolitical difficulties and hindered China's rise in the region.

Moreover, Japan's military adjustment in a bid to match the US' strategic rebalancing toward Asia will have a remarkable impact on China's surrounding security environment. Japan is determined to develop a Dynamic Defense Force that can integrate its command, combat and intelligence with the those of US. Japan wants to ensure that it is capable of "island defense", including the Diaoyu Islands, using its own forces, namely the Japan Self-Defense Forces, while ensuring that it has the US' support should a conflict escalate.

The Self-Defense Forces will play a role in military surveillance, anti-submarine, air defense at sea, information sharing and become an important part within the framework of US-Japan alliance in response to China's military buildup and activities. The US and Japanese forces want to forge a linked unity to deal with China and blockade the Chinese navy and air force inside the island chain.

This means that for a long time to come, Japan's strategy toward China will feature systematic competition, multilateral containment, military prevention, diplomatic distraction and economic competition, which in turn means more uncertainties for Sino-Japanese relations in a complicated transition period.

The author is an associate researcher on Japanese studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The article is an excerpt from the Annual Report on Development of Asia-Pacific 2013.