The winter of 2023 saw Kishida Fumio make a celebrated visit to Washington, while clarifying the new security strategy of Japan in the face of dangers from China, North Korea, and Russia. Three questions rose to center stage: (1) How fully would Kishida support Biden’s agenda in the face of these threats? (2) What distinctive Japanese touches would be added to the agenda? And (3) would divisions become manifest within Japan toward the “Kishida Doctrine?” Making a splash as people searched for answers to such queries was the February 10 publication of Abe Shinzo’s memoires.
Organized chronologically, the book is heavily weighted to foreign policy. e.g., in 2018 the three main areas are US-North Korean talks, the Belt and Road Initiative, and negotiations over the Northern Territories. The overarching theme for 2014 is strengthening the Kantei, for 2015 it is the duality of historical consciousness and summitry, for 2016 it is an overall assessment of diplomacy, but for 2020 the focus is domestic, on the pandemic. While North and South Korea figure into the memoires, three great powers largely hold sway: the United States, China, and Russia.
On February 14 Yomiuri reported on the book and on Diet member questions about it. The main message was that Abe’s diplomacy, visiting 80 countries and areas, raised awareness of Japan’s existence. Particular attention is given to Abe’s success in turning Trump from criticisms of Japanese companies and slighting of the alliance with Japan by forging close relations and getting Trump to understand the importance of security policy. Praising the fundamental realism of Abe’s diplomacy, Yomiuri credits him with rallying states in security against China while in June 2017 agreeing to cooperate in economics on BRI. The article attributes the breakdown of talks with Russia on the Northern Territories to Russian distrust of the US, ignoring the internal Russian factors that Abe had misjudged. As for commentary at the Diet, some centered on purported contradictions between Kishida and Abe’s approaches, and one speaker credited Abe with correcting in his 2015 historical statement the Murayama statement’s apologies colonial control and invasions. Reporting on the Abe memoir on February 9, Yomiuri pointed to the significance of Abe’s changes in security law that made possible, in conditions of the Ukraine war and China’s military pressure, no shake-up to the alliance.
Ishida Tomonori in Gaiko, January and February, analyzed Japan-US-ROK cooperation on the Indo-Pacific region. Ishida points to the Phnom Penh statement of the three countries as a gamechanger, raising trilateral cooperation to an unprecedented level. While earlier they had struggled with varying success to coordinate on North Korea, in 2022 they greatly broadened the range of their cooperation. In May Yoon’s remarks paved the way, in June three-way talks at the NATO summit were meaningful, as were defense minister talks at Shangri-la that month.
At the July G20 foreign ministers’ meeting and again at the UN in September as well as their bilateral or trilateral talks almost monthly positive steps were taken, paving the way to the November statement. To be sure, bilateral strains remain over the forced labor and radar issues as well as public opinion skepticism. Yet, certain factors have boosted trilateral coordination: (1) the intensifying military threat of North Korea and the US integrated deterrence approach appealing to both; and (2) the framework of the Indo-Pacific strategy, which has drawn support from both. The renewal in the Japan Sea of anti-submarine exercises in the fall after five years drew criticism from Korean opposition parties as excessively pro-Japan defense. Moon Jae-in had belittled Japan as peripheral to his North-South diplomatic obsession and approached both the US and China in that context. The axis of Yoon’s diplomacy is the ROK-US alliance, and as an ally of the US, Japan is valued for its supplemental role. This has made it possible to widen the focus to the Indo-Pacific and to stress universal values, while Seoul is stepping up in assistance to ASEAN and the Pacific Islands. Where is this growing trilateralism leading, asked Ishida. On the military dimension, increased data-sharing and a closer GSOMIA can follow. On economic security, with South Korea in IPEF, cooperation is expected on supply chains, including semi-conductors, and in the development of advanced technology. Yoon’s Indo-Pacific strategy puts the stress on ASEAN, including assisting in military equipment. There are many possibilities here, readers are told, drawing on South Korea’s military industries. Ishida introduces some caveats: different approaches to the Indo-Pacific, different degrees of warmth to China, the ROK’s view that China’s help is needed with North Korea, and the difficulty for Japan in compromising on bilateral problems with South Korea. To date, the US has seen Japan as the country more supportive of trilateralism, but with Yoon in office its frustration may focus more on Japan. Ishida’s optimistic outlook is qualified by these final concerns about both countries.
On December 15 Yomiuri covered the 18th Tokyo-Beijing forum, an on-line meeting of about 100 opinion leaders and media figures discussing security, economic cooperation, and exchanges. Japanese and Chinese participants appeared to talk past each other. The former called on China to cooperate in maintaining and reforming the international order and asked for a suitable attitude toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which could not proceed if China were to withdraw its support for Russia. In contrast, Chinese argued that the Japan-US alliance is a threat to China with US flights from bases in Japan patrolling close to its borders, while both politicians and media are arousing images of a “China threat.” They added that RCEP and BRI offer an opportunity to expand shared interests, a chance Japan should grab. While the overall theme centered on increasing mutual trust, in line with the November Kishida-Xi summit appeal for exchanges to that end, it was difficult to find any sign in the article of that possibility.
On December 18 Yomiuri reported on Chinese media planting misinformation to try to drive a wedge between Taiwan and the US. They sought to unsettle Taiwan with the claim that TSMC was being pushed to leave Taiwan altogether, taking advantage of the plans for TSMC to build a semi-conductor plant in Arizona. Some in Taiwan were already skeptical of the investment due to concern it was a political decision not based on cost analysis. In October in US media there was talk of evacuating engineers from Taiwan should there be a Taiwan incident. This became a basis of criticism in Taiwan by opposition parties. In fact, the plan is to transfer just 4% of TMSC production.
As archives for 1991 were partially opened, Japanese learned of foreign ministry warnings against the emperor visiting China in 1992 as involving him in politics, according to Yomiuri on December 22. When Prime Minister Kaifu met Premier Li Peng in August 1991, proving China right that Japan was the weakest link in the West’s sanctions after June 1989, China pressed Japan to arrange a visit by the emperor. Kaifu enjoyed weak LDP support and giving his okay could have spelled its downfall. In November, however, the new Miyazawa cabinet approved, and the visit took place in October 1992.
In Toa, No. 1, Masuo Chisako wrote about Xi Jinping’s divisive approach to the international order in opposing supposed threats both internal and external. Xi focuses on developing states, strengthening security cooperation outside of the West. His moves heighten the prospect of divisions between democracies and autocracies. Xi stresses civil-military fusion and maritime great power as keywords. Much emphasis is placed on diverse forms of security from energy to food to supply chains along with criticism of protectionism by others. Xi arouses a strong sense of danger, appealing to the SCO for sole Chinese leadership, not shared leadership with Russia. Using the template of “anti-terror” broadly, China strives to forge a shared outlook in the SCO. A key year was 2014 for Xi’s security consciousness, reacting to demonstrations in Taiwan and Hong Kong, a terrorist attack in Xinjiang, the imposition of sanctions against Russia over Crimea, and tightening relations with Russia with an anti-West worldview. The Eurasian heartland saw further efforts in the following years with extension to the Middle East, relying on autocracies. In 2022 satellite navigation links to Russia were enhanced with a new joint committee. Critical in recent years has been the appeal of Chinese-style domestic security technology.
Sankei argued on January 26 that if China attacks US bases in Japan in the event of a Taiwan contingency the war will automatically widen to Japan. It will be in Poland’s position in the Ukraine war, but would it act with Poland’s determination to assist the state attacked? If not, that could doom the Japan-US alliance.
The February issue of Sekai focused on the path to coexistence with Xi Jinping’s China. In one article former prime minister Fukuda Yasuo argued for closer relations, complaining about the horrible image conveyed in Japanese media and accepted by the public, in contrast to the more positive Chinese image of Japan—as victims of Japan have faded from the scene. What changed was remarks from the 1980s by Japanese politicians and visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a symbol of militarism. Japanese have forgot their war responsibility, raising concern among Chinese, and do not think about the great harm Japan inflicted. There is virtually no Japanese who studies the number of Chinese who were killed. The historical question can be a flash point, unlike in France-Germany ties, where plentiful exchanges have quieted any concern. Japan is just following the United States, which is afraid of an economic competitor and whose attitude shifted sharply in 2015 over the South China Sea. In contrast to those who disseminate “China threat theory,” China avoids conflict with other countries. It has an identity centered on national unification. After the Cultural Revolution, when China had lost touch with some of its tradition, it looked to Japan to revive it, since both start from the same cultural roots. Japan tries to stick to a “one China policy,” but the US is increasingly vague and, possibly, could draw Japan and the world into a great war. Is it not Japan’s role to strive to prevent that, Fukuda asks. At the time of the Ukraine war, Japan should not be reexamining national security. That should happen at a quieter time. The war was a failure of diplomacy. Japan and China need increased exchanges. Japan-US relations are important but should not lead to Japan’s relations with another country worsening. Japan should avoid awakening China’s historical memories. It needs to redouble diplomacy with China.
A second article in Sekai by Okada Takashi opposed a two-China policy, showing concern over the December 16 white papers and the decision to boost defense spending to 2% as well as the fanfare over a “Taiwan contingency.” Okabe warns against following US strategy and traces the history of joint Japan-China statements viewed as treating Taiwan as an internal matter of China. In contrast, he finds troublesome recent statements by Biden on Taiwan, on democracy versus autocracy, and on reorganizing alliances to prevent China from catching up and ending the US role as the only global leader. He likewise finds provocative Tsai Ing-wen’s statements. Japanese opinion is 80 percent unfriendly to China and 75 percent friendly to Taiwan, Okada notes. A crisis could be manufactured, and Japan would follow the US into it. Instead, Japan should stop vilifying China and renew summitry with it, while not supporting Taiwan independence. Tensions could be eased by repeating Biden’s November words to Xi of no support for 2 China’s or 1 China, 1 Taiwan.
On February 2 Yomiuri said that the replacement of Arai Masayoshi, as executive secretary, was treated as a blow to Japan’s G7 leadership since international society opposes discrimination. In Arai’s remarks, he revealed a low consciousness of human rights, which could reverberate on the other seven countries, where the rights of minorities are protected. Gender equality was a theme of the most recent G7 in Germany. Of the seven only Japan does not recognize same sex marriages and partnerships. Kishida had no choice but to replace Arai.
On February 23 in Sankei Hakamada Shigeki wrote on the change of consciousness in Japan. There is a sense that events in Europe are not distant affairs. Of the G7, Japan is the only country whose land is illegally occupied by Russia. It is aware that the same kind of event could occur in Asia. Japanese consciousness of security and defense has changed.
In the January-February issue of Gaiko, Tsuruoka Michito explored NATO’s interest in the Indo-Pacific. Citing the discussion of China at the June 2022 Madrid summit and the presence of the AP4 there (Japan, Australia, South Korea, and New Zealand), he finds NATO sending a message that despite its preoccupation with the Russia-Ukraine war the Indo-Pacific region is important too, and China poses a challenge to interests, security, and values. It is tightening ties to Russia and controls supply chains, Yet Japan should not have excessive expectations for what NATO at this stage would do concerning China. The debate about China has changed, and since the late 2010s thinking about China has sharply deteriorated with values issues and Taiwan at the center. Warships are being dispatched to the Indo-Pacific as joint exercises proceed. Chinese specialists debate whether NATO’s Article 5 applies just as far as the US West coast or extends to Guam and Hawaii, but it does not have such limits. Tsuruoka has asked persons involved with NATO if it intends to defer China and has yet to hear a forward-looking response.
On February 2 Yomiuri reported that Japan could not join the military alliance of Europe and America, but it was keenly conscious of deepening security cooperation. In meeting with the head of NATO, Kishida recognized plans to strengthen security linkages. A joint statement named China, calling for greater transparency and stressing the importance of peace and security in the Taiwan Strait. The statement strongly criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and raised concern about joint Sino-Russian military activities. Disregarding the geographical space between Europe and Asia, it raised cyber and space as areas of concrete cooperation. If an incident should arise in Asia, Japan will count on assistance for Asia; it is thus important to build relations of trust with Europe by doubling down on assistance to Ukraine, Yomiuri editorialized.
On February 5 Yomiuri reviewed Kishida’s January 11 summit with Rishi Sunak, arguing that relations with Great Britain are rapidly advancing. It cited the 2020 signing of an EPA, the 2021 visit to Japan of a British aircraft carrier, and the similar situations of the two islands at opposite edges of a great continent as well as democratic values with symbolic monarchies. Parallels are drawn with the 1902 alliance also in the face of threats from Russia. The article emphasizes shared threat perceptions today of two US allies, leading to a “quasi-alliance.”
On December 17 Yomiuri summarized Japan’s new security documents, observing that the security environment was the worst it has been since 1945, that Japan must strengthen its own defenses, and that through linkages with the US a balance of forces could be reached against China. China poses a threat to Okinawa, the Senkakus, the South China Sea, and Taiwan, while North Korea and Russia pose additional threats. Looking back to the 2008 joint statement with China that neither is a threat to the other, the article stresses what has changed, warning that the regional power balance has tilted toward China and that a new equilibrium is necessary. On a worrisome note, the paper also raises questions about how to finance the boost in defense spending, calling on the government and ruling parties to discuss the needed tax increases.
The three strategic documents issues at the end of 2022 drew praise from Hosoya Yuichi in Yomiuri on January 22, who argued that as host of the G7 in 2023 Japan has a big role in what is a “year of diplomacy,” serving also in 2023-24 as a member of the Security Council. Kishida must try to restore the international order, as it did, argues Hosoya, as a victor after WWI. He quotes Abe’s 70th anniversary statement in criticizing Japan’s role of challenger of the new international order, leading to war. Now Japan should reflect on its history and defend the order, as Kishida is correctly doing from far away from the battlefield. In Washington on January 13, Kishida stressed Japan’s role as the only Asian member of the G7. Of its tools, diplomacy is first in defense of the rules-based order and peace. Indeed, Japan could lead with it to bring peace in Ukraine despite the great difficulty.
In Gaiko, January-February, Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasu exchanged views on the one-year anniversary of the war with Nakanishi Hiroshi. Nakanishi drew attention to the December 16 three new, Japanese security documents. Hayashi noted the strange coincidence of the end of the Cold War coming as the Heisei era began and this new era coinciding with the beginning of the Reiwa era. The shift continues in 2023, and Japan must meet it with support for the free and open, rules-based international order, strengthening its alliance with the US and ties to other like-minded partners, and boosting its defense spending by 2027 to 2% of GDP. Hayashi added that ODA is very important to Japan, but it trails Germany, France, and Great Britain in the percent of GDP given to it. On China, Hayashi pointed to the Kishida-Xi summit in November and the joint call for constructive and stable relations, while adding that Japan would tell China of its support for universal values as its strove to persuade it. Asked about decoupling from China, Hayashi said it was impossible, but unjust economic pressure would be countered, as is intended with the May 2022 economic security law. Looking ahead to the Hiroshima G7 in May, Hayashi its timeliness in the face of unprecedented dangers and the need to strengthen ties to developing countries. As a member of the Security Council, Japan would strive to renew the role of the UN and seek reform to make the organization more effective.
Mifune Emi in Toa, No. 2, wrote about the impact of the three new security documents on Sino-Japanese relations. As Japan reaches one of three persons over 65 around 2030, the financial and military impact will be great, making it necessary to alter China’s military intentions. Despite Japan’s new posture and warnings of Chinese threats, Chinese media has taken a relatively restrained tone, not wanting to damage bilateral relations at a time when it is facing economic challenges. Another factor leading to restraint is concern about Japan joining the US semiconductor and high-tech restrictions. China seeks to reopen high-level economic talks with Japan, which will follow the November Bangkok agreement where Japan explained itself.
On February 5 in Yomiuri Kitaoka Shinichi wrote about the extended pattern of relaxing limits on the export of armaments. In the 1950s it was decided that the SDF would not be sent abroad, the SDF would be defensive and for offense it would rely on the US, and the defense budget would stay below 1%. Opposition parties and the media demanded as much. The first principle was weakened in 1992, following criticisms in the Gulf War, when peacekeeping forces were dispatched. In the 21st century as other countries in civilian firms and universities pursued military research Japan was left behind, notably in civil-military fusion. Unable to export arms, Japan’s defense industries were stymied, in comparison to Korean ones. As for the 1% limit, in light of the high cost of importing US arms, there was much Japan could not purchase as its equipment aged. In Abe’s second term much changed, e.g., the establishment of the National Security Secretariat and then a security law in 2015. Finally, if US ships were attacked, Japan could respond. Offensive weapons continued to be prohibited, however, and proposals in 2018 were not approved. Finally, the three security documents of December 2022 were issued with broad support and under the influence of the Ukraine war. The war has changed a lot, such as awareness that to receive sympathy and support a country must fight for itself. Restrictions on arms exports should now be further relaxed and limits on defense research changed. If the opposition parties would give up their anti-military thinking, they could win support and be on equal footing with the LDP. The three new documents offer these parties a great opportunity.
Koizumi Yu on January 12 in Yomiuri when asked how he would grade Japan’s performance in response to the Ukraine war said he would not give it a 100, but it had passed. Its sanctions were the strictest in Asia. Although it is limited in providing military assistance, this year at the G7 as the chair it must play a leading role in economic assistance and in establishing Japan’s presence. Coincidentally, the opening of 1991 archives revealed more details about how Japan had dealt with aid to the Soviet Union and support for the Gulf War. On December 22, this same paper had noted the turnabout in August 1991 from opposing assistance at the London summit in July—following Gorbachev’s visit to Tokyo in April without agreement on recognition of the 1956 Japan-Soviet treaty calling for the return of two islands—in response to the failed coup that month. Sensitive to criticism for not doing enough, Japan appears confident in this new war it is drawing ample praise for doing as much as it is.
On the one-year anniversary of the Ukraine war, newspapers editorialized about Japan’s response. Sankei called for strengthening ties to Ukraine and for Kishida to visit there. It blamed the war on Putin’s imperialist ambitions. To end the war Russia must unconditionally withdraw its army from all of Ukraine. If Russia wins, it will be an invitation to China to attack Taiwan. In Yomiuri the importance of tightening ties among the US, Europe, and Japan was highlighted. It praised Biden’s trip to Kyiv and the close link of the G7 and NATO. Yet, it noted alarm about rising dissatisfaction from the burden of a long war in energy and financial costs and stressed avoiding a nuclear war and a world war. A framework is needed to satisfy the Ukrainian people and to prevent another invasion. Also noted was the need to consider the Global South, such as their stability and interests and their suffering from high prices. Yomiuri called on Japan to work with the UN in assisting developing states and broadening the frame of cooperation with them. Asahi put more emphasis on the Global South and its fragmentation over criticizing Russia, warning against double standards in developed country. Asahi added that it is time to focus on collective security, pointing to the diversity of international society and arguing that Biden’s division of the world into democracies and autocracies only deepens the world’s divide.
On January 29 Daily Shincho reported on criticism by Suzuki Muneo of Zelenskyy and on former prime minister Mori Yoshiro’s pro-Russian leanings, following his father’s legacy in cultural exchanges and burial in Russia, where Mori, as prime minister, visited in April 2000—a year before he and Putin agreed on a joint statement in Irkutsk and visited the grave together. Mori today too is falling into Putin’s trap, the article adds. Japan distanced itself from NATO with autonomous diplomacy through pipes to Russia. Now Japan has fallen behind Germany, which had made a sharp turnabout, even offering tanks. There is no room from autonomous diplomacy today. On the same day Josei Jishin commented on the wave of criticism against Suzuki Muneo for his remarks in support of Russia. On January 26, Suzuki had blogged that Kishida should lead the way to a ceasefire and recognize that Russia cannot be defeated, while asking for Japan which is more important Ukraine or Russia.
Sankei on January 29, 2023, observed that Russia had refused talks on the safe operation of Japanese fishing boats and called Japan an unfriendly country. Since 1998 Japan has paid Russia for fishing rights close to the Northern Territories and annually discussed the conditions. Now Russia is applying pressure in order to get Japan to reconsider its assistance to Ukraine. Earlier, on December 19 Yomiuri had reported a huge spike in sales to Russia of used Japanese cars, citing a jump of 3-4 times in exports from Toyama prefecture in January to October. Exports are on target to reach 100,000 for the year, its figures suggest. About 60 percent of such exports go from Toyama, requiring 14 ferries a month to Vladivostok. Big Japanese firms avoid business with Russia, but others do not. Japan restricts high-end cars worth more than 6 million yen.
The Global South
In Yomiuri on December 16 there was a discussion of the EU-ASEAN summit in Brussels. Some in Southeast Asia sought support from the EU for territorial infringements by China. Vietnam and the Philippines were in this group, seeking closer security ties to the US too. However, most hated the idea of leaning to the West, preferring to maintain relations with China and Russia or to avoid being at the forefront of great power conflict. Vietnam also depends on Russia for 80% of its arms. On the vote to expel Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, Vietnam and Laos voted “no” and Thailand and Cambodia were among six ASEAN countries abstaining. ASEAN is largely agreed on keeping its distance from great power divisions over supply chain stability and security, the article concludes.
On December 22, Yomiuri focused on a tripartite world of the Europe-the US, China-Russia, and the Global South. Vague about Japan, it stresses ASEAN, while acknowledging its risk hedging and relations with China and Russia. Citing various articles, the piece recognizes India with its shared thinking about security and China as well as high hopes for Japan, despite refusing to criticize Russia for its invasion. The task for Japanese diplomacy is avoid insisting on a choice between democracy and autocracy, while in security emphasizing ties to the US and in economics and culture taking a soft line with varied nuances.
On December 25 Yomiuri reported on a meeting in Tokyo with the five Central Asian foreign ministers. The aim was to reduce their dependency on Russia and China and to help these states achieve balanced diplomacy. They expressed their commitment to sovereignty and territorial integrity. They seek ways of bypassing Russia with trade across the Caspian Sea. As workers are returning to these states from Russia, Japan is easing entry for them to work in Japan and expanding training of personnel.
In Toa, No. 1, BRI in Indonesia was scrutinized. After the first rush of Chinese investment, concern rose over “debt traps.” One of the signature projects is a high-speed railroad connecting Jakarta and Bandung. It has resulted in a minus image financially and technically as well as for delays. At the end of September Xi Jinping cancelled a planned trip with Jokowi on the line during his visit to the G20 in Bali. In 2015, the struggle between Japan and China for this project peaked. In vague circumstances, China won, as pro-Chinese officials pressed its cause, acceding to China’s strength and insisting it would get the job done quickly. Japan had sought a feasibility study, and Suga was angered by the decision. Instead of completion in 2019, repeated problems arose. Now it is planned to complete 80% of it by June 2023. Indonesia is seeking new loans from China. Meanwhile, estimates of the number of passengers per day has been cut in half.
FOIP is described as Japan’s concept, which extends on a global scale to the liberal international order based on universal values, but the focus ahead is seen as the Global South, transcending the West. The key for Japan is ASEAN, which is alarmed by the Sino-US confrontation and hates Chinese pressure. Japan must strengthen ties, respecting their initiative and understanding their security thinking and histories, argued Watanabe Yoshikazu in Gunji Kenkyu, No. 2.
On January 15 Yomiuri focused on US expectations for Japanese technological cooperation, as in space and AI. Also noted in competing with China was deepening cooperation with India and Australia on new technologies. Another January 15 Yomiuri article treated war memories and ASEAN, focusing on linkages to the Philippines to restrain China. Mention was made of ties to the Philippine navy, stationed in Subic Bay, and to the pro-Japan sympathies in that country as well as much of ASEAN. Yet, memories persist of the war, even in very pro-Japan Thailand. On this 50th anniversary year of cooperation with ASEAN, as the international order is shaken, Japan’s ties there are extremely important. ODA has helped overcome strong war memories and accusations of an economic invasion from Japan. Japanese, readers are told, must not forget the lingering memories there.
On January 16 Yomiuri covered the accelerated departure from China of companies, noting India and Vietnam as destinations for iPhone production. The exodus from China began around 2010 as wages rose and strikes occurred, it continued with Trump’s trade war, and accelerated with zero-COVID restrictions. This offered India a good opportunity.
As Okabe Noboru wrote in Sekai, No. 1, that the third pole of about 100 countries is essential for restoring the international order. Mostly, these states have avoided criticism of Russia, not imposing economic sanctions or excluding it from APEC and the G20. As the forerunner in the development of Asia, Japan advocates for the spread of universal values and focuses on getting India to do so, notably where the message does not get across due to a gap with Western values. As the only member of the G7 in Asia, Japan can be a bridge between Europe, the U.S., and these states, starting with India, to broaden the liberal international order. The “Global South,” notably ASEAN, given its obsession with balance, is leaning toward this identity and Japan should connect there in the economic and cultural dimensions, sticking to the US on security, Okabe insisted.
On December 16 in Yomiuri the results of a biannual joint Japan-US opinion survey were posted. On the question of whether China would launch a military attack on Taiwan, 61% of Japanese respondents and 56% of Americans answered yes. If so, should the US defend Taiwan, 72% of Japanese approved of doing so in comparison to 48% of Americans. On whether China should be trusted, 90% of Japanese and 83% of Americans answered “no.” On your country’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 49% of Japanese and 47% of Americans held a positive view. On one’s approval of Japan’s strengthening defense power, 68% of Japanese and 65% of Americans were positive. On which country posed a threat, the Japanese figure for Russia had risen to 82% after hovering at 40-60 percent since 2006. The figure for North Korea was the same and that for China trailed slightly at 81%. For the US, the Russian figure topped the list at 79%, trailed by China at 77% and North Korea at 70%. The differences between the responses in Japan and the US were not large, except on the US need to defend Taiwan.
The Kishida-Biden summit drew superlative coverage as a transformative event in which Japan was not a passive follower but an active leader. Kishida’s tour of other G7 capitals en route to the US showcased Japan’s G7 leadership in 2023 in preparation for the May Hiroshima summit. Bolstered by three new security documents and a pledge to boost defense spending to 2% of GDP, Japan drew recognition as a force in containing China. Not highlighted but very much on the agenda was new trilateral security cooperation with South Korea, solidified in early March with the announced breakthrough in talks over the forced labor issue. Huge for Japan was the decision by Yoon to issue an Indo-Pacific strategy in December, opening the door to trilateral cooperation on a wider scale. Resolving the forced labor issue was foreseen in January as the gamechanger to robust trilateralism, in which Japan would lead at the G7. Yomiuri editorialized on January 15 also on its role in expanding assistance to Ukraine and strengthening sanctions on Russia.
One theme of the Kishida-Biden summit noted on January 13 in Yomiuri was the considerable expansion of Japanese forces on the southwestern islands leading to more joint exercises with the US. Yet, alliance ties would not be limited to the US, cooperation was being smoothed with Great Britain along with Australia, and European countries were extending their involvement in the Indo-Pacific. This editorial made clear that Japan should avidly advance such cooperation.
On January 26 Kaneharu Nobukatsu reminded Yomiuri readers of Japan’s FOIP concept, another sign of its leadership. He added that ASEAN, whose economy is 70% of Japan’s, is the key to determining if the Global South will accept it. Countries there hate China’s pressure, but national interests vary. Pointing to the Japan-US alliance as the lynchpin of the global order. Ahead in 2023 was expected to be a third, Chinese BRI forum and in 2024 Chinese pressure in response to presidential elections in Taiwan, warned Yomiuri on January 3. It editorialized that day that international society stood on a great turning point, and cooperation had to tightened by those defending freedom. Sasae Kenichiro on January 15 stressed the importance of a unified security strategy and treated it as a great challenge for the forthcoming G7 summit and Japan’s leadership on the foundation of the Kishida-Biden summit just concluded.
A February 1 Yomiuri article on Japan-NATO relations stressed the urgency in preparation for a Taiwan contingency, where Japan will be on the frontlines, of deepening cooperation. If the contingency lasts a long time, assistance will be needed. In June at the NATO summit the AP4 became part of a new framework, including Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.