By Yoshihide Soeya —
Will China rise peacefully? For major external actors such as the United States and Europe, the rise of China, if achieved peacefully, would entail acquiescence in Chinese power and/or peaceful coexistence with China on the global stage.
Would this, however, be the same for its Asian neighbors, even if China rises peacefully? An official from a Southeast Asian country attending the 2014 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore expressed the region’s sentiment eloquently, “We do not think China wants to rule the world. China just wants to rule us.” Indeed, what China wants on the global stage, on the one hand, and in Asia, on the other, may not be the same.
At present, the Japanese government, naturally and understandably, places a rising China at the center of its strategy. In a way, this is true of almost all the countries in China’s neighborhood as well as the United States, which are all struggling to find an optimal strategy to cope with the shifting balance of power where the rise of China is the most critical factor.
The current Japanese strategy, however, appears to be driven by a somewhat excessive sense of “threat” vis-à-vis China, and as a result tends to gravitate toward the alliance with the United States at the expense of another critical aspect of Japan’s strategy, i.e., security cooperation with its Asian neighbors, including South Korea, Australia, and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.
Moving forward, substantiating security cooperation with these three East Asian actors could be an alternative Japanese strategy, the backbone of which will still be Japan’s alliance with the United States. Since its defeat in the Second World War, the framework for Japanese security policy has been premised on Article 9 of the postwar constitution (A9) and the U.S.-Japan security treaty (Alliance), which I dub the Article 9-Alliance regime, or “A9A.” Yet in order to fully substantiate security cooperation with its Asian neighbors, Japan would need to go beyond the A9A regime, and, logically speaking, this would eventually require a revision of Article 9 on the basis of liberal internationalism, even though, realistically speaking, such prospect is not in sight. Such a theoretical scenario, however, does not imply any huge departure of Japanese strategy from the mainstream line of postwar security policy.
This liberal and internationalist aspect of Japanese strategy is a natural outcome of the A9A framework, and moving beyond it simply means a further advancement of this postwar tradition of Japanese strategy. This regime has constrained Japan’s unilateral military options, rendering its regional military role, except in cases of immediate self-defense, relevant only under the framework of its alliance with the United States.
At the same time, however, the A9A regime also places somewhat fundamental constraints on Japan’s active participation in nontraditional security cooperation, such as international peacekeeping operations. This has been an actual limitation on security cooperation between Japan and Australia. In several instances in the recent years, such as peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, Japan’s ability to deliver meaningful security cooperation with Australia has often fallen short of Australian expectations. Japan and South Korea might eventually realize the same is true for their security cooperation. Policymakers in Tokyo and Seoul may already know this well, because negotiations on the bilateral Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) have achieved little progress since 2012.
In the domain of traditional security as well, Japan is likely to underperform relative to its newly allowed potential despite the recent security legislation. For example, this includes cooperation with the United States and South Korea in the event of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula. Contrary to the widely-held view in South Korea, the real danger associated with the role of Japan in the event of a military contingency on the Korean Peninsula will be Japan’s inability to deliver and act on the basis of the new security legislation, rather than becoming too involved in Korean security.
All of this makes the case for redefining the issue of revising Article 9 of the Japanese constitution on the grounds of future-oriented liberal internationalism, rather than on a sense of trauma about the loss of “autonomy” in the “postwar regime.” In the A9A regime, Japan’s history in the Second World War is closely and inseparably tied with Article 9 as two sides of the same coin. Without facing this history squarely in a way acceptable to the international community, let alone to the United States, changing Article 9 remains impossible. This is not because of the opposition of China or South Korea, nor Japanese liberals. This is an inherent logic of the A9A regime. In years to come, Japan would need to move beyond this regime to fully substantiate its commitment to liberal internationalism and its cooperation with East Asian friends.
For Japan to do this, an alternative strategy must be conceptualized and debated before anything else. Japan’s relations with East Asian countries should occupy a central place in such a future-oriented strategy.
Dr. Yoshihide Soeya is Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the Faculty of Law of Keio University. In 2016, he was a Visiting Scholar with the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Dr. Soeya’s essay is part of CSIS’s Strategic Japan Working Paper Series featuring Japanese scholars addressing pressing issues in Japanese foreign and economic policy.