Country Report: China (April 2024)


In early 2024, Chinese analysts carefully examined developments in the Indo-Pacific. They explored the differences between India and Japan as regional powers and the reasons for each country to align with the US Indo-Pacific Strategy. They also assessed the role of the Russia–Ukraine conflict in accelerating the US Indo–Pacific Strategy, and the impact of these developments on the world order, finding many reasons for pessimism. Other analysts studied Japanese foreign policy. One analyst evaluated Kishida’s “realism diplomacy for a new era,” which brings together elements of neorealism and Japanese realism and expands upon Abe’s “proactive pacifism.” Another analyst investigated the lasting impact of Abe’s efforts to move Japan beyond its “postwar” status and reposition it as a country that with war capabilities. A final essay argued that closer US–Japan–ROK trilateral cooperation harms Chinese interests but faces limitations that will prevent the emergence of a full-scale alliance. Throughout these analyses, a key theme was Chinese opposition to the division of the world into two “camps” led by the United States and China, respectively.

Indian and Japanese Support for US Geostrategy

In Guojia Guancha, 2024, no. 1, Tang Xiaosong and Zhang Haojie examine why regional powers choose to align with the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, focusing on the participation of India and Japan in the Quad. Tang and Zhang conceptualize the world as consisting of two global powers: the United States (which is also hegemonic) and China. Regional powers come in three varieties: the strongest regional power, regional sub-powers, and atypical regional powers. Tang and Zhang argue that the “anxiety of regional dominance” drives regional powers to follow US geostrategy, but that the nature of their anxiety varies according to the type of regional power.

Countries that are the strongest power in their region want to maintain their dominant position and are nervous about any decline in their power or intervention by outside powers. Since such a country will be unable to thwart intervention by a powerful outside state on its own, it will consider aligning with the United States to check and balance this extra-regional state. In such a case, the rapid rise of the powerful outside state also causes shifts in the global power structure, which motivates the United States to coordinate with the strongest regional power.

By contrast, regional sub-powers’ anxiety derives from opportunities to replace the dominant regional power, either because that dominant power declines or because global powers intervene to target that power. If regional sub-powers believe that the power of the dominant regional state is declining, they may seize the window of opportunity to assert their own regional dominance. Such a regional sub-power will want to coordinate with the United States to overcome the dominant regional power, but the United States has little incentive to cooperate and will limit its participation. On the other hand, if the United States intervenes because it views the dominant regional power as a threat, the regional sub-powers will cautiously take advantage of this opportunity to coordinate with the United States to contain the dominant regional power.

Finally, atypical powers—those that exist in a region with more than one equally powerful state—will experience anxiety only if a bipolar regional order emerges, leading two states to compete for regional dominance; if there are three or more atypical regional powers, the states will not experience regional dominance anxiety. If one atypical power in a bipolar regional order breaks the balance of power, the United States is likely to intervene to restore it.

Tang and Zhang argue that the United States uses minilateralism to attract regional powers. Minilateralism is attractive to regional powers because it gives them more influence than multilateral arrangements and eliminates some of the inefficiencies of multilateralism. The United States will initiate minilateralism when it lacks the power to act unilaterally or when it is eager to contain a challenger. Despite regional powers’ interest in minilateralism, they will not join US efforts if they fear that doing so will invite countermoves from a “challenging country” or when their goals are misaligned with those of the United States. Regional powers’ willingness to participate in minilateralism will depend on their confidence that US support for minilateralism will remain stable.

Adopting a neoclassical realist approach, Tang and Zhang argue that the United States will respond to the rise of a potential challenger at the global level by seeking to win over other regional powers through minilateralism, but regional powers are likely to take a “wait and see” approach if they do not feel their own sense of anxiety. When regional powers experience anxiety about regional dominance, they will seek to cautiously coordinate with US efforts to contain the challenger. When the United States feels a threat from a challenger and regional powers feel anxiety about their regional dominance, then regional powers will generally align with US geostrategic efforts to contain the challenger.

Tang and Zhang then illustrate this framework using India (an example of a dominant regional power) and Japan (an example of an atypical power that became a regional sub-power); the two countries’ coordination with the Quad serves as a proxy for their alignment with US geostrategy. Tang and Zhang trace India’s support for the Quad through three phases. During the “wait and see” phase (2004–7), India participated in tsunami relief efforts but resisted efforts to shift the focus of cooperation toward containing China. Although the United States encouraged minilateral cooperation through the Quad, India was not concerned about losing its regional dominance in South Asia to China and consequently was not very interested. However, between 2008–17, India began to actively pursue cooperation through the Quad. The rapid rise of China inspired the United States to promote the Quad and encourage stronger bilateral and trilateral relations among the United States, Japan, India, and Australia. Meanwhile, India became anxious that China was threatening India’s historic regional dominance in South Asia as the volume of China’s trade with South Asian states significantly surpassed that of India, China’s implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) increased China’s regional soft power, and the Chinese navy increasingly moved into the Indian Ocean. Since 2017 when the Quad officially restarted, India has been a strong supporter. US support for minilateralism has increased as its anxiety about China’s rise has grown. At the same time, India’s increasing concern about growing Chinese regional influence through “pandemic diplomacy” and over border disputes (elevated by the Galwan Valley conflict) led India to abandon its ambiguous approach to the Quad in favor of clear, strong support.

Tang and Zhang next evaluate Japan’s approach toward the Quad, arguing that Japan shifted from an atypical regional power to a regional sub-power in 2013, when China became a global power. Prior to 2013, Japan was eager to cooperate with the United States to contain China because of Japan’s anxiety about regional dominance, specifically that it was losing regional economic and political dominance to China. Viewing bilateral relations with the United States as inadequate to respond to China’s rise, Japan sought to promote mini-lateral cooperation and, during Abe’s first term in office, advocated for the creation of a Quad. After 2013, when, Tang and Zhang assert, China’s emergence as a global power made Japan a regional sub-power, Japan closely aligned itself with US geostrategy and actively promoted the resumption of the Quad, driven by Japan’s growing anxiety over China’s economic, political, and military rise.

Tang and Zhang conclude that understanding regional powers’ motivations for supporting US geostrategy is important for developing Chinese regional policy and advancing Chinese initiatives like the BRI. They anticipate that the United States will continue to promote its Indo-Pacific strategy to preserve US hegemony and that regional powers like India and Japan, acting out of regional dominance anxiety, will continue to support this US approach. Consequently, they argue that China should continue to vigorously push back against US and regional powers’ efforts to contain China, while also seeking to understand why regional powers find cooperation with the United States to be so attractive. Tang and Zhang encourage China to expand bilateral cooperation into minilateralism in some issue areas to meet the demand for that.

The Impact of the Russia–Ukraine Conflict on the US Indo-Pacific Strategy

In Eluosi Dongou Zhongya Yanjiu, 2024, no. 1, Wei Zongyou and Tang Jie argue that the Russia–Ukraine conflict indicates the end of the post-Cold War era and the shift of the international order from great power cooperation to great power competition. They argue that the conflict has significantly worsened US pessimism about the global order. Specifically, they contend that the United States perceives Russia’s “special military action against Ukraine” as a rejection of US hegemony and the US-led world order, marking an end to the post-Cold War era in which the United States projected economic and military power abroad to promote democratic values and combat terrorism in the Middle East. Wei and Tang point to the significance of the Russia–Ukraine conflict as the “first large-scale military action not launched by the United States” in the post-Cold War era, which demonstrates that the United States is no longer the only major power that can and will use large-scale military force (their unstated focus seems to be on international conflicts involving major powers, as there have been other large-scale conflicts in the post-Cold War era that do not involve the United States). Furthermore, the United States has become increasingly concerned about warming relations between China and Russia, the countries it sees as the main authoritarian threat to the US-led world order. Wei and Tang highlight US concerns about China–Russia economic and trade ties (which the United States blames for undermining the Western sanctions regime) and the potential for China to support Russia diplomatically and by providing military support. Finally, the United States worries that the Russia–Ukraine conflict might motivate China to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

Wei and Tang contend that by elevating US concerns about the world order, the Russia–Ukraine conflict has accelerated US efforts to implement an Indo-Pacific Strategy aimed at China. They assert that the “security core” of this strategy is to avoid conflict in the Taiwan Strait by publicly affirming the US security commitment to Taiwan, increasing military assistance to Taiwan to make a mainland attack more costly, and making agreements with countries such as Australia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea to create a more distributed forward deployment of US military forces. In addition, the United States seeks to expand US-centered mini-lateral security networks, such as the Quad, AUKUS, and several trilateral security agreements (namely, US–Japan–South Korea; US–Japan–Australia; and US–Japan–Philippines). Furthermore, Wei and Tang argue, the United States has promoted NATO involvement in the Indo-Pacific to counter the possibility of China–Russia cooperation on Taiwan by supporting the expansion of NATO’s strategic concept to encompass the Indo-Pacific and supporting relations between NATO and Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Singapore. A final manifestation of US concern is its efforts to limit Chinese technology with military applications and increase supply chain security. To this end, the United States has strengthened export controls on certain technologies, limited high-tech investment in China (and Chinese investment in the United States), and sought to increase supply chain security by reducing US dependence on China.

Taken together, Wei and Tang assert, the major power competition brought to the fore by the Russia–Ukraine conflict and US strategic concerns about China has very negatively impacted the international order. Both issues have led to the formation of “camps” or “blocs.” In the context of the Russia–Ukraine conflict, the West supports sanctions against Russia while many countries in the Global South do not. Regarding China, the United States has convinced the EU, NATO, Australia, and South Korea to align with the United States in a competition between “democracy and authoritarianism,” while most ASEAN, African Union, Gulf, and Latin American states reject this binary and refuse to pick sides. The United States has tried to persuade countries in the Global South to align with the United States and attempted to alienate other countries in the Global South from China.

A second negative impact, Wei and Tang contend, is to fragment and securitize the international economic order as Western economic nationalism and trade protectionism increase. Wei and Tang charge that the United States, once the chief global promoter of free trade, now espouses “fair trade,” “reciprocal trade,” “economic security,” and “national security” instead, while its sanctions against Russia and its export controls and supply chain security initiatives aimed at China contribute to the fragmentation of global trade. Furthermore, they contend that the Russia–Ukraine conflict and the US Indo-Pacific strategy have threatened the security of global supply chains by worsening the global energy and food security crises and by heightening the risk of decoupling in global supply chains, such as in high-tech industries. The negative impact, they argue, has been most dire for countries in the Global South, exacerbating global economic inequality and the development gap between the Global North and the Global South.

Finally, Wei and Tang argue, the Russia–Ukraine conflict and the acceleration of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy have propelled military expansion in Europe and the Asia-Pacific. Defense spending has increased significantly in countries such as Germany, the UK, Japan, and South Korea.

Wei and Tang conclude by advocating for international cooperation to overcome these trends. They argue for a political solution to the Russia–Ukraine conflict (although they do not offer a specific proposal). They also advocate for more robust high-level dialogues and strategic communication between China and the United States to prevent a “new Cold War.” Furthermore, they oppose the formation of camps and the securitization of economic relations, rejecting the US narrative of a battle between democracy and authoritarianism, the concepts of decoupling and “friendshoring,” and suspicion toward Chinese high-tech companies. To counter these trends, they ask the United States to act like a responsible great power by treating the countries of the Global South, represented by China, as equal partners in creating a peaceful international order; advocating for a peaceful political solution to the Russia–Ukraine conflict; and rejecting ideological polarization, trade protectionism, and the formation of security blocs. Instead, Wei and Tang promote the Chinese concept of a new model of major power relations. While Wei and Tang conclude by putting the onus on the United States to adhere to the Chinese vision of great power relations, overall, the tone of their analysis is notably less nationalistic than that of many other articles and the authors focus more on understanding the implications of the Russia–Ukraine conflict and the US Indo-Pacific Strategy than on apportioning blame.

Japanese Foreign Policy

In Riben Xuekan, 2023, no. 6, Lyu Yaodong assesses Kishida’s “realism diplomacy for a new era,” which he views as an outgrowth of Abe’s “proactive pacifism.” Abe’s proactive pacifism argued that Japan should adopt increasingly assertive measures to advance values like peace and security. Kishida has continued this policy approach by articulating the Kishida Vision for Peace and emphasizing the interplay of values, power, and interests. Facing domestic pressure from more conservative factions of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who want to amend the constitution and expand Japan’s defense capabilities, Kishida has sought to portray his approach as “realist” to fend off charges that he is too dovish. Lyu argues that Kishida’s “realism diplomacy for a new era” continues Japan’s efforts to expand its regional (and possibly global) political and military power, and he downplays Japan’s perception of increasing national security threats as an “excuse.”

Lyu argues that “realism diplomacy for a new era” brings together longstanding elements of “Japanese realism” with concepts from Western neorealism. From offensive realism, Kishida’s realism diplomacy borrows the idea that other major powers (namely, China) are potential threats and Japan must therefore develop its “counterattack capabilities.” Realism diplomacy also adopts the idea that states can use alliances to balance against external threats; Japan seeks to strengthen the Japan–US alliance to contain China. Finally, Kishida’s realism diplomacy reflects defensive realists’ observation that countries that adopt aggressive foreign policies do so for domestic reasons. Consequently, Lyu argues, Japan has exaggerated the threat from China to legitimize longstanding calls by Japanese conservatives for greater military capabilities. These elements of neorealism combine with aspects of “Japanese realism,” such as values diplomacy and proactive pacifism.

Lyu asserts that Kishida’s “realism diplomacy” echoes Japanese political scientist Kōsaka Masataka’s view that international politics reflects the interplay of the “power system, interest system, and value system.” First, Lyu asserts that Japan’s effort to construct a “power system” emphasizes expanding Japanese defense capabilities and strengthening its relationships with allies and quasi-allies. Lyu argues that Japan exaggerates the threat posed by China to legitimize its efforts to expand its defense capabilities. He charges that Japan has tried to “Asianize” the Ukraine crisis by drawing parallels between Ukraine and Taiwan, hoping to gain support from the United States and Western Europe for its efforts to contain China. Three December 2022 strategic documents explicitly state Japan’s intention to develop counterstrike capabilities and increase defense spending—efforts Lyu sees as promoting offensive capabilities and leading to greater Japanese aggression. Furthermore, Lyu argues that Japan’s efforts to take a more active military role within the US–Japan alliance and expand the scope of the alliance to include economic security undermine regional peace and stability. Lyu even argues that some Japanese politicians want to pursue nuclear power, pointing to Abe’s February 2022 trial balloon about “nuclear sharing,” although Lyu recognizes that Kishida has rejected such a step. Lyu also asserts that Japan seeks to develop a more independent diplomacy on the world stage by developing “quasi-alliance” relationships with Australia and NATO member states and building closer relationships with Southeast Asian states to promote a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”

In addition, Lyu contends, Japan is building an “interest system” through its promotion of economic security and its efforts to decouple from China. Japan has shifted from “economic diplomacy” to “economic security,” as evident in the May 2022 Economic Security Promotion Act, which highlights the importance of security supply chains and infrastructure. Japan has also increased its cooperation with the United States to ensure supply chain security (an effort Lyu views as aimed against China) and sanction Russia. Furthermore, Japan has increased its investments and aid to Africa in response to China’s BRI, in an effort to counter China’s growing political influence and gain African support for Japanese policy. In addition, Japan has promoted multilateral mechanisms that strengthen economic and security cooperation, such as the Quad, and sought stronger strategic partnerships with regional actors, the EU and ASEAN, and countries like Australia and India.

Finally, Lyu argues, Japan seeks to establish a “value system” through its values diplomacy and promotion of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Kishida emphasizes “universal” values, including human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, promoted through institutions such as the US–Japan security alliance and the Quad. Lyu castigates Japan for its critique of China’s treatment of Uyghurs and for demanding that countries choose sides in the aftermath of the “Ukraine crisis.” Lyu alleges that Japan has unthinkingly aligned itself with Ukraine and Western values without recognizing the security interests that led Russia to invade. Furthermore, Lyu contends that Japan has exploited the Ukraine crisis by drawing comparisons to the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Taiwan Strait, which legitimizes Japan’s pursuit of more extensive military capabilities and encourages Western support for Japan’s efforts to create a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” designed to contain China. By exaggerating the “China threat” linked to Western values and the global order, Japan gains support for its remilitarization and efforts to seek a stronger global role. Lyu concludes that the central logic of Kishida’s “realism diplomacy in the new era” is to integrate power, interests, and values in ways that are profoundly detrimental to Chinese objectives.

In Riben Xuekan, 2023, no. 6, Liu Jianping assesses the impact of “Abe diplomacy” on East Asian geopolitics in the “post-Abe era,” arguing that Abe’s success in breaking through Japan’s post-Second World War military limitations and his alliance-based containment of China persist under Kishida. Throughout both terms in office, Abe’s objective was to overcome the postwar system and restore Japanese power and influence. Adopting a nationalistic and conservative perspective, Abe both rejected Japan’s ongoing culpability for its wartime aggression and sought to overcome the limits on Japan’s military capabilities and use of force established by its postwar constitution. The “territorial nationalism” that arose in 2012 over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands gave Abe cover to push the boundaries of Japan’s postwar limitations by supporting 2015 security legislation that allows Japan’s military to participate in collective self-defense. This move allowed for greater military integration between Japan and the United States, reshaping the nature of the US–Japan alliance.

A second aspect of Abe’s efforts to end the “postwar era” was to pursue final resolutions to Japan’s territorial and historical disputes with other countries. In 2015–6, Japan made progress in resolving the “comfort women” issue with South Korea and negotiating a peace treaty with Russia, and Obama and Abe made ceremonial trips to Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor, respectively. Yet while Japan and the United States were able to achieve a “true” reconciliation, Japan and South Korea did not. Efforts by the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea to reach a final resolution on the issue of “comfort women” in 2015 disintegrated over the following years. Meanwhile, Abe sought a final postwar settlement with Russia, agreeing to relinquish some of the Kuril Islands as part of an eventual peace treaty (following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, peace talks fell apart, and Japan reversed its stance on the southern Kurils), while rejecting such a settlement with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

A final legacy of Abe’s diplomacy is his effort to use “values diplomacy” to contain China in the context of a “new Cold War.” Abe justified his efforts to restore Japan’s military capabilities as necessary to strengthen the US–Japan security alliance and check China. Consequently, Liu argues that the “essence” of this “new Cold War” is not the division of the world into two camps, but rather Japan’s effort to use the US–Japan security alliance to directly counter the geopolitical and military threat it perceives from China. Liu argues that this “new Cold War” has progressed through three stages: an initial phase in the 1990s in which the United States sought a new geostrategy in East Asia; an era of Japanese historical revisionism associated with Abe’s first term in office, during which Abe piloted the concept of “values diplomacy” to compensate for Japan’s regional isolation over historical issues; and a period dominated by Japanese territorial nationalism, associated with Abe’s return to power and Japan’s efforts to occupy the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Liu asserts that the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute, ostensibly between China and Japan, actually reflects the ambiguous US position on the competing sovereignty claims and the role these islands play in justifying the continued US presence in Okinawa. Liu contends that Abe sought a peace treaty with Russia as part of a strategy to contain China, but this effort was thwarted by the United States. Despite resigning in 2020, Liu argues, Abe continued to influence Japan’s policy, influencing its stronger support for Taiwan. A legacy of Abe’s strategy is that Japan has traded a promise to intervene in support of Taiwan for a US promise to defend Japan’s control over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands; the Japan–US alliance is now committed to both.

Liu concludes that the Suga and Kishida cabinets’ intervention in the Taiwan issue, assertions that Japan is a country that can go to war, and restoration of Japan from its “postwar” status all reflect the legacy of Abe’s efforts to use “values diplomacy” as a geostrategy to contain China, while passing legislation that establishes a right to collective self-defense. Liu also hypothesizes that the United States may one day trade a Chinese promise not to use force in the Taiwan Strait for a US promise not to allow Japan to occupy the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. In short, Liu argues that Japan’s decision to end its “postwar” status has generated the conditions for the “new Cold War,” which legitimizes the presence of US troops. Liu closes by cautioning that Abe has laid the conditions for Japan to go to war.

US–Japan–ROK Trilateral Cooperation

In Dangdai Meiguo Luntan, 2023, no. 4, Ling Shengli assesses the implications of closer US–Japan–ROK trilateral cooperationfor East Asian relations. Ling argues that since the beginning of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration, cooperation has grown between the United States, Japan, and South Korea in several key areas. Frequent trilateral and bilateral high-level leadership meetings—including the resumption of “shuttle diplomacy” between Japanese and South Korean leaders after a long pause—promote closer relations and indicate the priority the three countries place on this relationship. Closer strategic coordination is evident in the three countries’ recognition of stronger trilateral relations as a key element in their Indo-Pacific strategies, as well as their shared responses to North Korea, the “Ukrainian crisis,” and matters related to China. Ling charges that the increased frequency of “US–Japan+” and “US–South Korea+” cooperation has advanced “NATO Asia-Pacific-ization” by strengthening the role of NATO in the region. In addition, Ling contends, the three countries have used the North Korean nuclear crisis as an excuse to strengthen their security cooperation though high-level meetings of defense officials, joint military exercises, intelligence sharing, and shared deterrence. While economic cooperation remains stronger bilaterally (namely between the United States and Japan and between the United States and South Korea), Ling argues that the three countries are trying to build trilateral cooperation in the context of regional and global frameworks, such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and that the United States is seeking to persuade Japan and South Korea to join its export control framework. Finally, Ling asserts, the institutionalization of cooperation mechanisms has deepened across many issue areas, including a high-level meeting mechanism (formalized at Camp David in August 2023) and security, economic, technology, and cultural exchanges.

Ling argues that several domestic and international factors have motivated the three countries to expand their cooperation. Both Kishida and Yoon have relatively weak domestic political power and believe that emphasizing their countries’ close ties with the United States can solidify their hold on power. Moreover, both leaders have decided that leaning toward the United States in the ongoing competition between the United States and China will best advance their countries’ national interests. Simultaneously, the United States has increased the strategic pressure on Japan and South Korea by further institutionalizing alliance relations, emphasizing shared values, and making specific requests. Ling contends that the United States sees strengthening cooperation with South Korea and Japan as crucial to its effort to advance its Indo-Pacific strategy through minilateralism. Yoon’s warmer policy toward Japan has rapidly improved South Korea–Japan relations, long the weakest link, allowing trilateral cooperation to proceed. Meanwhile, China’s relations with both Japan and South Korea have worsened, with limited high-level exchanges, declining trade, and increasing negative perceptions.

Ling views closer US–Japan–ROK trilateral cooperation as harmful to Chinese interests, intensifying the formation of “blocs” in Northeast Asia, charging that the three countries are moving toward forming a “quasi-alliance” against a perceived “China threat” and pushing Russia and North Korea closer to each other. Moreover, Ling believes that stronger US–Japan–ROK trilateral cooperation is contributing to the loss of momentum for continued economic integration between China, Japan, and South Korea, as both Japan and South Korea adopt decoupling strategies. Furthermore, Ling is pessimistic about the prospects for peace on the Korean Peninsula, arguing that that peace and stability have historically relied on coordination between major powers like the United States, China, and Russia and on policy cooperation between North and South Korea—both dynamics which Ling believes stronger trilateral relations have interrupted. Finally, Ling argues that the likelihood of external intervention in Taiwan has increased; the United States and Japan see the defense of Taiwan as a key aspect of containing China, and the Yoon administration has come to believe that vocal support for Taiwan is a key way to demonstrate South Korea’s support for the US–South Korea alliance.

Despite what Ling views as negative trends, he argues that there are some limitations to efforts to increase trilateral cooperation. For example, implementing military coordination and information sharing is challenging, and decoupling from China is not in the economic interests of Japan or South Korea. Furthermore, the three countries have differences in their approaches to regional affairs. Each country views the “China threat” differently: the United States sees China as the major challenger to US hegemony, while South Korea and Japan resist framing China as a competitor. The three countries also have different views on North Korea. The United States focuses on non-proliferation and the implications of North Korean nuclearization for the US alliance system. Japan, motivated by nuclear and missile threats and the hostage situation, will cooperate with the United States only as long as it believes that doing so is effective. Meanwhile, South Korea faces divergent domestic perspectives as it tries to respond to nuclear and missile threats while also preventing the crisis from escalating into a military conflict. In addition, the three countries have differences in their understanding of an “Indo-Pacific strategy.” Ling views the US Indo-Pacific strategy as the most aggressive toward China, while Japan seeks to contain China and balance Japanese economic and security interests and South Korea does not want to exclude China. Adding to the complexity are domestic political trends in each country. Changes in the leadership or in the dominant party in any of the three countries could send the trilateral relationship in a different direction. Along these lines, the future of the Japan–South Korea relationship remains uncertain, with South Korean conservatives like Yoon supporting warmer Japan–South Korea relations and South Korean progressives advocating for Japan to take greater responsibility for its wartime behavior.

Ling concludes that although trilateral US–Japan–ROK cooperation will strengthen, the continuing weakness of the South Korea–Japan link will prevent the three countries from developing a full-scale alliance. He advises Chinese leaders to recognize the differences in the China policies of the three countries and manage China’s relations with South Korea and Japan accordingly to prevent the development of a unified anti-China bloc.

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