The new Japanese government will face the diplomatic dilemma of following the toughest line towards China set by the Biden Administration or maintaining its traditional low profile vis-à-vis its main trading partner, amid growing tensions in the Pacific.
Japan, which holds general elections this Sunday, is watching with concern the military boom in Beijing and its recent maneuvers around Taiwan and around the Japanese archipelago itself, but at the same time it has opted for years for a pragmatic approach towards the neighboring country to safeguard your financial interests.
This dilemma has increased with the arrival at the White House of Joe Biden, in favor of strengthening and expanding strategic alliances to counteract the Chinese strength, and it will be one of the most pressing issues that the Executive that conforms after the Japanese elections.
A more assertive Japan?
Fumio Kishida, prime minister of Japan for less than a month and who except for a capital surprise will revalidate his position in the elections, has given signs of wanting to be more firm in the face of China’s military advances.
Kishida, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense and who came to office with the support of the most conservative sectors of his party, has indicated that the country will prepare for “various scenarios”In the face of the worsening situation in the Pacific and reaffirmed the strategic security alliance with the United States.
The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) has also expressed his willingness to strengthen national defensive and dissuasive capacities, including the expansion of its anti-missile shields, in addition to increasing the country’s defense spending to a ratio higher than 2% of domestic product stupid.
Other parties, including the Buddhist (and pacifist) Komeito, current partner of the PLD government, propose to contain the country’s military spending or even revise the terms of the bilateral Defense agreement with the United States, proposals that seem difficult to prosper in the current situation. .
“There are many reasons for the PLD to be able to mobilize support for a stronger stance on Defense. Whenever there are regional tensions, the party benefits electorally, ”says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Japan.
Caution for convenience
Japan, unlike its main ally and other powers such as the European Union, has refrained from pressuring China about the human rights situation of the Uighur minority, a caution that it also showed when dealing with the military junta. of Burma after the coup, due to its economic ties with the Asian giant.
Tokyo has maintained that ambiguous diplomatic stance for most of the postwar period “and there is nothing to suggest that it will change it,” says Kingston.
The historian adds that Japan “will continue to leave Washington the task of building muscle against Beijing,” and at the same time will support the United States in its deployment in the region and will do everything possible to maintain the status quo in the area, including autonomy. from Taiwan.
Apart from its commercial interests, Japan maintains a territorial dispute with China for the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, administered by Tokyo but claimed by both Beijing and Taipei, and in whose waters there are constant incursions by Chinese ships, according to the Executive Committee. nippon.
The Japanese crossroads is complicated by the new impulse given by Biden to the Quad group, which together with the United States and Japan integrates Australia and India and conceived as a front to counteract the influence of China in Asia-Pacific, as well as the conformation of the AUKUS alliance (Australia, UK and USA).
These and other multilateral movements that include actors such as Germany and France also aimed at containing Beijing “show a clear structuring, and it will be difficult for the new government of Japan to resist this trend,” says the political scientist and professor at the University of Tokyo Yu Uchiyama.
Another important front will be that of the Progressive and Comprehensive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), created in its day also as a counterweight to China, but which Beijing now aspires to join, after the previous Donald Trump Administration decided to abandon the pact. of trade made up of 11 other countries.
Japan, the largest economy of those that make up the CPTPP, has expressed doubts about the Chinese accession candidacy while it has spoken more favorably towards Taiwan’s request to join the pact. All this, yes, without abandoning the characteristic Japanese diplomatic vagueness.
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