Washington and Tokyo agreed to expand military cooperation on issues related to China, North Korea and Ukraine.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, researcher in Social Sciences at the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; geopolitical consultant.
The US and Japan are once again involved in joint plans to confront China. On January 21 US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held a virtual meeting to talk about various topics of mutual interest, especially in defense matters. China, North Korea and the Russian-Ukraine border were the main focus of attention during the few more than twenty minutes of meeting. This was the first summit between the two leaders since Kishida’s inauguration in October last year.
Commenting on the summit, Kishida stated: “We agreed to work together to advance cooperation among like-minded countries to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific (…) We agreed to closely cooperate on China-related issues, including the East and South China Seas, Hong Kong, and the Xinjiang Uyghur [Autonomous Region], as well as North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues (…) [US and UK] keep close contact with other allies and partners and continue communicating on the point that any attack will be met with strong action”.
Subsequently, the meeting was endorsed by real events. On Saturday, the US and Japanese navies began a series of joint rapid military exercises in the Philippine Sea. An immense display of force took place in the region, with two American aircraft carriers, two amphibious assault ships, several destroyers, guided missile cruisers, among others. In an official statement on the case, the US Navy said the operation was aimed at “conducting training to preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific region”. However, considering that this sea is an extremely tense zone, marked by the presence of the dissident island of Taiwan, the US-ruled territories of Guam and the Mariana Islands, these naval drills can be considered a true affront to peace and freedom of navigation.
The set of factors (the meeting between Biden and Kishida and the naval drills) seems to have been interpreted as a great affront by Beijing, which immediately operated a military response, sending vessels and aircrafts for a show of force at sea near Taiwan. According to some reports, the Chinese operations were carried out by 24 J-16 fighter jets, 1 J-10 fighter jet, two Y-9 transport aircraft, two Y-8 anti-submarine alert aircraft and one H-6 bomber with nuclear capability. These detailed data, however, still need to be confirmed by more consistent sources.
In fact, scenarios like this tend to become more and more common in the coming months. US and Japan are ready to tighten measures against China in every way possible along the entire coastline that surrounds the country. The main focus is to deploy as many Western military vessels as possible in tense and disputed regions, such as the South China Sea, Senkaku Islands, Taiwan, among others.
For the US, this type of situation is interesting because it helps to destabilize the Chinese naval strategic environment. Any form of destabilization against Beijing is positive for the American side, which has the Asian country as one of its main rivals in the global geopolitical scenario. However, in an absolutely adverse sense, participating in this type of operation does not seem to be really interesting or strategic for Japan.
Obviously, China and Japan have historical rivalries, with tense ties and territorial disputes marking bilateral relations. But this does not mean that Japan’s anti-Chinese interests are the same as American ones. The US wants to destabilize China as it considers Beijing an enemy of its geopolitical project to maintain hegemonic political, economic and military status throughout the world; while, on the other hand, the rivalries between Tokyo and Beijing concern strictly regional factors, typical of powers with different interests within the same continent.
By supporting American maneuvers within the Asian continent with the sole intention of affecting China, Japan is assuming a very dangerous posture, which can do more harm than good. For example, the Japanese prime minister, during the virtual meeting with Biden, agreed to increase bilateral military cooperation in Ukraine, which is a zone of tensions totally outside the interests of the Japanese state.
What is happening is simply an imposition of interests on the part of the US: in exchange for US ships off the Chinese coast, Washington wants Japanese help in Eastern Europe. And there is no reason to believe that this can be in any way profitable for Tokyo. In fact, with relations between Russia and China increasingly high, the possible Japanese action in Ukraine may push joint responses by Russia and China in the Asian maritime zone, which will make the situation much more tense for the Japanese side.
It is necessary for the Japanese government to understand that the best way to strategically deal with its differences and rivalries with China is through direct bilateral dialogue, without interference of powers from other continents – whose interests do not concern the Asian continental reality. The more American “help” is given to Japan, the worse the situation may be.
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