Japan-US relations

US President Joe Biden and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a joint news conference after their bilateral meeting at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Japan, 23 May 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The US is winning at building relationships with China's neighbours

Academic Zhu Ying notes that the war in Ukraine has brought the US, Japan and South Korea closer together on issues such as Taiwan and the nuclear threat from North Korea, thus strengthening the US’s strategy of working with alliances. In exchange for the US’s support in forms such as a nuclear umbrella, Japan and South Korea will align with the US in its competition with China.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo shows Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida a souvenir following their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Bogor, Indonesia, 29 April 2022. (Muchlis Jr./Indonesia's Presidential Palace/Handout via Reuters)

Kishida’s charm diplomacy in Southeast Asia: Moral suasion does the trick

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visits to Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand have burnished Japan’s regional credentials, particularly on contentious issues such as the war in Ukraine, the South China Sea disputes and the evolving order in the Indo-Pacific.
Staff members work near the emblem for Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics displayed at the Shanghai Sports Museum in Shanghai, China, 8 December 2021. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Why Japan did not impose a 'diplomatic boycott' of the Beijing Winter Olympics

Last month, Japan announced that no ministers would be attending the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, but did not term it a "diplomatic boycott". Nonetheless, Japan has made it clear that it believes in universal values like human rights and the rule of law. Japanese academic Shin Kawashima notes that Japan has taken an independent decision that shows its stand while not explicitly straining Japan-China relations.
A Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Northern Army Type-90 tank participates in a live tank firing competition at the Hokkaido Great Maneuvering Ground in Eniwa, Hokkaido prefecture on 7 December 2021. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP)

Japan's increased funding for US forces in Japan: A true alliance in the making?

Japan recently agreed to increase its five-year budget for hosting US troops in Japan to 1.05 trillion yen, but this is not the usual "sympathy budget" the Japanese set aside for this purpose. This time round, it has made sure that a greater proportion of the funding will go towards enhancing its Self-Defence Forces and overall Japan-US security cooperation.
A pedestrian walks on a street near Hamamatsu station in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, on 6 October 2021. (Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg)

Is the ‘rise of China’ to blame for shifting China-Japan relations?

It is easy to see persistent Japan-China tensions as an effect of the rise of China and a tilt in the balance of strength between both countries. But Toh Lam Seng reminds us that from the time of the Meiji Restoration of 1868 onwards, Japan had been coveting mainland China and the Korean Peninsula, and thus Japan and China were never on amicable terms. While Japanese politicians and the media like to play up the China rise factor, China-Japan relations really worsened in the late 1990s when the US and Japan redefined the US-Japan Security Treaty. Is the hawkishness we’re seeing today but an upgraded version of those readjustments?
People walk in a street at night in Tokyo on 3 November 2021. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

It's complicated: Chinese and Japanese public sentiments towards each other

A Japan-China public opinion poll shows that negative impressions of Japan have risen among the Chinese, while there was little change in sentiment among the Japanese towards China. Japanese academic Shin Kawashima offers some reasons for the increased negativity in China, including the lack of interaction among the people and leaders of both countries, as well as issues of nationalism and skewed domestic propaganda, especially in China.
In this photo taken on 6 August 2021, police officers walk beside the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, as it was known before 1945 and now called the Atomic Bomb Dome, as the city marks the 76th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP)

The real reason why Japan is following the US’s lead

Academic Toh Lam Seng traces Japan’s long-held foreign policy stance of “following the US’s lead”. Circumstances of history led to this default pattern, even though Japan did try to break out of this straitjacket. Domestic opposition aside, under the US's watchful eye, Japan has not been able to possess nuclear weaponry or have a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. But with the changing situation of a rising China, might Japan move closer to getting what it has always wanted?
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is also the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, holds up a placard reading "Corona disease countermeasures, New Capitalism. Diplomacy and security" at a debate session with other leaders of Japan's main political parties ahead of the 31 October 2021 lower house election, at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Japan, 18 October 2021. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

How Japan's political stance is becoming increasingly hawkish and conservative

Academic Toh Lam Seng traces the history of Japanese politics from its “1955 system” of clear policy difference between the conservatives and reformists to the more recent potato-potahto matches between conservative parties born out of LDP factionalism or splintering. Seen in this light, is the Japanese population really growing more conservative and politicians are merely tapping into this trend, or are the political parties themselves perpetuating an endless cycle of conservatism?
Japan's new prime minister Fumio Kishida delivers his first policy speech at parliament in Tokyo, Japan, 8 October 2021. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

No concrete vision for future Japan-China relations despite telephone talks between Xi Jinping and Fumio Kishida

University of Tokyo's Shin Kawashima notes the significance of the phone conversation between Japan's newly installed Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping. He says that while there are solid reasons why China wants to maintain a good relationship with Japan, many aspects of future Japan-China relations remain unclear. This is especially interesting to watch as the Chinese Communist Party's 20th Party Congress will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the normalisation of relations between the two countries next year.