Defending Japan

Offshore in a Dangerous Neighbourhood

Is China the Reason Behind Japan’s Push for S. Korean Ties?

with 3 comments

Japanese and Korean Flags
Possible partners against rising China? (source: World Security Network)
Charlie Reed at the Stars and Stripes quotes Denny Roy of the East-West Center in Hawaii as saying:

“North Korea provides the political excuse for what would otherwise be a strategic move” against China, Roy said. “It’s a fig leaf.”

“Japan-South Korea defense cooperation is an example of what the Chinese want to avoid,” said Roy, a senior fellow at the center. “China has long understood, and feared, that its rise might cause other countries in the region to cooperate strategically against (it.)”

Certainly, regardless of what motives are behind the Japanese push for better ties, China will interpret it as US-directed encirclement. That would no doubt accelerate Chinese military development and give the Chinese a sense of urgency.

Labelling China a threat would only escalate tension and become a self-fulfilling prophecy, [Bruce Klingner at the Heritage Foundation] said. But moves to strengthen Japan-South Korea military cooperation represent long-range goals for the U.S. and its democratic Asian allies to hedge against China’s massive and growing military.

The US has to tread a delicate line between hedging against and placating China’s ambitions and Japan will play an important role in maintaining that balance. That will require a lot of foreign policy savvy on the Japanese side, something that was in short supply in 2010.


Written by James

2011/01/13 at 11:02

3 Responses

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  1. I think the answer is “without a doubt.” One could say that the NK issue has always served somewhat of a double purpose in driving the expansion of Japanese security roles and capabilities since the 1990s. That is not to say that the Japanese have not taken the NK threat seriously, but I think NK has been a good “opportunity” to pursue this kind of expansion without necessarily engaging in the kind of rhetoric against China the government may have had to otherwise to justify changes both home and abroad. Sensible, I think.

    The common wisdom is that Japan prefers the status quo on the peninsula, although if there are any moves towards unification I expect Japan to more forcefully pursue a Korean alliance – they will want to reverse “the dagger pointed at its heart” and there should be no doubt over it. The fact that SK has much in common with Japan economically, politically and socially only provides more incentive. Like you say, much diplomatic nuance will need to be employed, because the key will be convincing China that in Japan trying to reverse the historical strategic “dagger” the Japanese will this time stop at actually using it. I think there is no doubt that they certainly will but rhetoric matters.

    Anyway, great blog and many thanks for the links to my own site. I hope you can keep up your blogging schedule – consistency has fallen by the wayside in my part of the world due to deadlines and things of the like!


    2011/01/13 at 11:32

    • My Masters research focused on this very issue with regards to LDP politicians using the abduction issue as a pretext to prepare for the future Chinese threat.

      In this case of these defence ties with S Korea, I’m sure that China has accelerated the push, but I think it’s clear that Japan needs to put in more leg work in convincing the S Koreans to get onside. It would be nice to see a transformation in the virtual alliance, but it seems woefully optimistic of the Japanese side. That leads me to believe that S Korea and Japan’s threat perception re: China is far less convergent than observers would have us believe.

      Thanks for commenting and for the encouraging words. I’m groping for a workable posting habit and I’m slowly finding it. Keep up the good work yourself ;)


      2011/01/13 at 11:50

  2. […] timing of this incident could not be worse. With Japan hoping to convince the South Koreans to strengthen military ties between the two countries, there is a chance that this incident could revive South Korean anti-Japanese […]

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