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Expert: Japan and U.S. should maintain regional balance and counter China’s military expansion

The following is a commentary by Keio University professor Mori Satoshi.


U.S. President Joe Biden has made clear his intention to strengthen U.S. involvement in the Indo-Pacific region through a series of meetings during his visit to the region as well as the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit which took place prior to the visit. The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which augments deficiencies in the area of the economy, does not include an expansion of access to the U.S. market. IPEF is a possible path to further developments such as enacting independent agreements in digital economy and trade.


This Quad summit was significant in that the participants were able to confirm the progress of cooperation in such areas as climate change and cyber security. New initiatives will be launched in areas such as gaining understanding of the marine environment. The Quad focuses on peacetime cooperation. With India as part of the Quad, China is placed in a situation where it must always be conscious of India, with which it shares a border. Thus, the Quad plays a role in deterrence in a broad sense.


Various efforts under the free and open Indo-Pacific framework will aim to create an environment in which countries in the Indo-Pacific grow by establishing various cooperative networks while respecting independence and free will so they do not have to be dependent on China. In that sense, IPEF is inextricably linked to the purpose of deterring China’s regional domination and hegemony. Furthering engagement with Pacific island states is urgently necessary.


In addition, the United States and Japan reiterated their strong message of countering China’s economic intimidation and unilateral attempts to change the status quo. The U.S. Department of Defense’s annual report predicts that China will deploy at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030. It should be recognized that Japan and the United States confirmed the crucial importance of ensuring the reliability and resilience of the United States’ “extended deterrence” and announced the enhancement of Japan-U.S. talks on extended deterrence.


In addition, Japan and the United States agreed to speed up their cooperation in emerging technology fields. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio is currently not considering Japan’s participation in AUKUS, the U.S.-U.K.-Australia security framework. Instead, he takes the position that Japan will enhance its cooperation with each of the three countries in various ways. Going forward, Japan should consider participating in the AUKUS working groups when appropriate, particularly the recently-launched working group on hypersonic technology.


Japan has expressed its intention to drastically strengthen its defense capabilities by securing by a considerable increase in defense spending, making a de facto international commitment. The new Australian government will basically follow its traditional defense policy. It is good that Japan, the United States, and Australia have taken a clearer position on stabilizing the region through maintaining appropriate balance in response to China’s arms buildup since a widening military imbalance increases the risk of war.


Since Japan is a democratic nation, some people will probably raise concerns that Japan, the United States, and Australia are rushing into a neverending arms race with China. I think that one of the major objectives of Japan and the United States should be to promote arms control and demonstrate a posture of responding to China’s shifting moves while deterring China by sending frequent signals that “China’s goals cannot be achieved by force even if it reinforces its armaments because the United States and its allies will respond by maintaining balance.”

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