A Closer Look: Why Japan is Seeking Military Relations Outside of Its US ally

TOKYO (Reuters) – Before meeting President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Italy, France, Britain and Canada, in part to forge security ties that could help them fend off China, North Korea and Russia.

The harsh neighborhood

In June, Japan’s defense minister at the time, Nobuo Kishi, said his country was surrounded by nuclear-armed states that refused to abide by international norms of behaviour.

In the aftermath of Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, Kishida called security in East Asia “fragile”.

Topping the list of Japanese threats is China, which fears it might attack Taiwan or nearby Japanese islands. Chinese military activity around the East China Sea is increasing, including joint air and sea exercises with Russia.

At the same time, North Korea launched missiles into the Sea of ​​Japan, and in October He threw a medium range missile over Japan for the first time since 2017.

The only ally

For the past seven decades, Japan, which had given up the right to wage war after its defeat in World War II, has relied on the United States for protection.

In exchange for its promise to defend the country, the United States obtains bases that allow it to maintain a large military presence in East Asia.

Japan hosts 54,000 American troops, hundreds of military aircraft, and dozens of warships, led by the only forward-deployed American aircraft carrier.

Defense build

As China’s military power grows along with its economy, the regional balance of power has shifted in Beijing’s favour.

China’s defense spending has surpassed what it was in Tokyo two decades ago, and is now four times larger.

With US encouragement, Japan in December unveiled its largest military buildup since World War II, with a commitment to double defense spending to 2% of GDP within five years.

This would include money for missiles with a range of more than 1,000 km (621 miles) that can hit targets in China.

However, Beijing is expected to continue expanding its military capabilities, and is likely to use ever more advanced weaponry.

new allies

That is why, once again, with the support of Washington, Japan is looking for new security partners to support it militarily and diplomatically.

This effort is focused, for now, on countries that are also staunch allies of the United States, including Australia, Britain and France. Tokyo is also seeking closer security ties with India, which since 2004 has met regularly with Japan, the United States and Australia to discuss regional diplomacy as a member of the Quartet.

In London on January 11, during his G7 tour, Kishida signed a mutual defense agreement with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that would make it easier for the two countries to conduct military exercises in their respective territories.

Japan chairs the G7 this year and will host its leaders in Hiroshima in May.

With Britain leaning more towards Asia, it sought closer defense ties. In 2021, it has sent its new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on a visit to Japan, and has announced that it will permanently deploy two warships to Asian waters.

In December, Japan announced that it would build a new jet fighter with Britain and Italy, in its first major international defense project with a country other than the United States since the end of World War II.

Since the beginning of the Ukraine War, Japan’s sometimes turbulent relationship with neighboring South Korea has also improved, opening up the possibility of closer military cooperation between the two US allies.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly). Editing by Kim Coghill and Jerry Doyle

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