Japan’s foreign and security policy under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has begun in earnest, marked by two key events: the Japan-Australia leaders’ summit on Jan. 6, followed the next day by the two-plus-two meeting of Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers.
We hope Japan uses this new momentum to deepen its cooperation with like-minded allies Australia and the U.S. and quickly lay out a comprehensive strategy for regional stability.
The main focus of Japan’s diplomacy and security policy this year will again be China.
On Jan. 6, Tokyo and Canberra agreed to facilitate joint training between the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Australian military — a defense pact aimed at deterring China. The following day, a joint document from the Japan-U.S. two-plus-two meeting stated that the two countries would cooperate in the research and development of technology to counter “hypersonic missiles,” which travel much faster than the speed of sound.
China and Russia are rushing to develop these difficult-to-intercept missiles, and North Korea claims to have test-launched a hypersonic weapon on Jan. 5. Policymakers need to pay special attention to the fact that Japan’s neighbors are deploying and diversifying weapons faster than ever.
China has increased its defense spending at least fortyfold over the past 30 years, and the military balance in East Asia is beginning to collapse. Against this backdrop, Japan plans to update the National Security Strategy and a couple of related documents by the end of this year. A more thoughtful debate on how to best protect national security is urgently needed.
It goes without saying that broad-based support for the Japan-U.S. alliance is a prerequisite for sound national security. The recent spread of COVID-19 from the U.S. military bases in Japan to nearby communities is alarming. Neither government should take this situation lightly.
The U.S. and Japan, while strengthening their bilateral alliance, should bolster multilateral cooperation as well. Fortifying the ties among Japan, the U.S. and Australia — countries that value freedom and democracy — will enable smoother functioning in the Quad, which consists of those three nations plus India.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. Kishida said he wants to pursue a “realist foreign policy for the new era.”
Enhancing Japan’s deterrence is essential as political tensions rise over the Taiwan Strait and the Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu. As China’s neighbor, Tokyo must also go to great lengths to maintain dialogue and communicate thoroughly with Beijing. The true value of Kishida’s balance-oriented diplomacy will be tested this year.
Challenges persist elsewhere in the region as well. Tokyo’s diplomatic rift with Seoul has dragged on, and there are no signs of a resolution of the North Korea abductee issue. Meanwhile, the dispute with Russia over the so-called Northern Territories remains unsettled. We hope the Kishida government will pursue determined, thoughtful diplomacy.