It may well be that some of the readers (perhaps even most of them) will be surprised by the title of this article. Since the data from this space’s content adds to the idea that “Japan is not actually searching for anything in the international arena, having given its foreign policy to the capable hands of Big Brother USA,” This is roughly how the general public perceives Germany’s current position on the world stage—that is, as Japan’s ally during World War II.
It is impossible to claim that these perceptions are completely subjective. Furthermore, they are strikingly similar to reality. But it doesn’t completely fulfill it. Furthermore, there are increasing signs that the level of “autonomy” in Tokyo’s (and Berlin’s) positioning on the international stage will only increase further. Particularly when the same Big Brother’s participation in international disputes eventually decreases. A much-needed one, by the way.
At the same time, the presence of US Forces Japan (USFJ) on Japanese soil is still required, by Tokyo. And the fact that it was there nearly 80 years ago during a very tragic event for Japan is irrelevant in the current structure of bilateral relations.
For a long time to come, the United States and Japan will pursue similar paths in the realm of politics. From which both countries benefit, but increasingly each to its own. And the fact that one of the two countries’ actions corresponds to the interests of the other at the moment (let us emphasize this) does not necessarily imply that its adoption is conditioned by the “pressure” of the other.
At the end of June, a significant, albeit modest, event took place. US President Joe Biden made another public gaffe during the already-launched election campaign, claiming that Japan’s recent decision to gradually boost defense spending over the next five years was taken owing to his pressure.
However, following a particular demarche by one of the current Japanese Cabinet Joe Biden rectified himself, stating that the decision was made “independently,” of course. From the author’s perspective, the very existence of this “amendment” reveals the true state of affairs in US-Japanese relationships. Furthermore, there were most likely preliminary discussions (more than once) on this matter between Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
However, the current Japanese administration regards the aforementioned choice as extremely important. Let us leave it to the Japanese, in the literal sense of the phrase, to determine if it is correct or incorrect in this case. It appears, that they will soon have a suitable opportunity to accomplish.
Kishida himself uses recently established memes to explain the motives behind dramatically increasing the country’s military potential. For example, such as this: “Russian aggression to become an example for China regarding Taiwan”. Or… “China’s Threat to Freedom of Navigation in the Indo-Pacific Region”
The same memes can be found explaining what is likely Japan’s most significant tendency in recent foreign policy: the endeavor to establish close defense connections with a number of European countries and NATO as a whole. This is again in line, for the time being, with the interests of Japan’s primary ally, the United States.
In this regard, expectations were high in Tokyo following Japan’s invitation (along with Australia, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea) to the next NATO summit held July 11-12 in Vilnius. Additionally, the broader process of moving the focus of international operations to the Indo-Pacific Region is highlighted by the invitation of several Indo-Pacific nations to the main event of the North Atlantic military-political alliance for the second time.
This time, special emphasis was paid to the state of affairs in the Indo-Pacific Region in general and relations with the PRC in particular, in addition to the situation in the region for which this alliance is directly responsible. It is important to note that the lengthy (90-point) joint Communiqué that was adopted at the conclusion of the Vilnius summit gives at least as much attention to the different “threats” coming from Beijing as it does to everything else going on in the Euro-Atlantic region.
The openly contemptuous attitude toward the president of this nation who arrived in Vilnius was an indication that more and more members of the alliance of Western nations were beginning to support the need to somehow end the conflict in Ukraine and focus on affairs in the Indo-Pacific region.
Generally speaking, the greatest military-political organization in the world’s positioning trend is in line with Japan’s stated intention to increase defense cooperation with the Europeans. Because, again, Tokyo has had a recorded and official partnership with Washington for almost 70 years.
However, back in May of this year, Fumio Kishida stated that his government had no intention to join NATO. Nonetheless, the adoption in Vilnius of the initiative discussed over the last month to open the respective official representations of NATO in Tokyo and Japan in Brussels would be a significant step toward improving Japan-European defense ties.
However, even before the start of the discussed summit, there was information about Germany’s “reserved attitude” to the said project. And, indeed, the joint document entitled “Individually Tailored Partnership Programme” for the next three years (which is more of a “Declaration of Intent”) adopted as a result of the talks between Fumio Kishida and the NATO leadership held in Vilnius does not contain a paragraph on the opening of these offices.
According to a study of this document, one of Japan’s top newspapers, the Mainichi Shimbun evaluated the extent to which NATO might have ties to Japan as “still of a symbolic nature.”
In this regard, it is worth noting that a special document of the German government devoted to the possibilities of relations with China appeared almost simultaneously with the event mentioned in Vilnius, which is rather contradicting. That is, the aim to adhere to the (American) idea of “de-risking” in trade and commercial connections with Beijing is clearly confirmed, as is the course for further growth of bilateral relations in general. And support for the process of a certain formalization of European relations with Japan in the security field would certainly contradict this second component of German policy toward China.
It should be pointed out, however, that Tokyo is by no means cutting off the channels of various ties with Beijing. In concrete terms, the statements of the new chairman of the Japan-China Parliamentary Friendship Association, Toshihiro Nikai, i.e., not the last figure among the highest Japanese lawmakers, garnered notice at the end of April. In 2017, while serving as secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, he was sent by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Beijing to establish working relationships with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
In early July, the second person in charge of China’s foreign policy, Wang Yi, held talks in Beijing with an equally important representative of Japanese politicians, Yohei Kono (incidentally, the father of Japan’s current defense minister).
For decades, Tokyo has increased its focus on those countries adjacent to the critical sea route that connects Japan to the Persian Gulf area. These include Southeast Asian countries, India, Iran and a group of Arab countries. Fumio Kishida last visited India as recently as March this year, and he was going to visit three countries of the Persian Gulf zone (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar) during another three-day trip abroad, which was scheduled for July 16-19.
In general, Japan is in the process of determining its own best foreign policy plan. Its formation occurs under the influence of a number of uncertainties caused by the transitional state of the world order.
As a result, it is too soon to predict where the aforementioned “search” will take one of the few nations that is steadily exerting its significant presence at the “Big World Game” table.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.