20 September 2019
US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with their wives, wave to the crowd at the White House on April 28 after the signing of the new guidelines of the US-Japan defense treaty in New York. Photos:,
US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with their wives, wave to the crowd at the White House on April 28 after the signing of the new guidelines of the US-Japan defense treaty in New York. Photos:,

New US-Japan defense treaty counters China’s regional ambition

The new guidelines for the US-Japan defense cooperation were released at the end of last month (prior to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s state visit to Washington). Compared to the first and revised versions in 1978 and 1997, clauses in the new guidelines are perceived as bold and some new additions appear to be moves to counteract Beijing.

Following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s sullen-faced meeting with Abe during last year’s APEC summit, Beijing has abandoned its cold-shoulder approach and is seeking to conciliate Tokyo. That’s why its response to the new US-Japan treaty is noticeably moderate.

Being preoccupied with internal economic and political woes, Chinese leaders have taken a softer stance on Japan.

It’s also possible that Beijing’s friendly gesture is part of its efforts to market the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and soothe neighboring countries’ nerves.

A few points in the new guidelines are noteworthy.

In the overview part, the document states that “the United States is actively implementing its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region”.

A rebalance by the US lays bare the disequilibrium in the region, mainly due to Beijing’s military buildup in recent years which has been causing apprehension among its neighbors.

Thus, Washington notes that “central to the rebalance is the ironclad US commitment to the defense of Japan, through the full range of US military capabilities, including nuclear and conventional”.

Also in the guidelines, there is a conspicuous reaffirmation about the disputed Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands in China’s official documents): “The Senkaku Islands are territories under the administration of Japan and therefore fall within the scope of the commitments under Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, and [both countries] oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands.”

Japan also has bitter wrangles with South Korea and Russia over the sovereignty of islets in neighboring seas, like the Liancourt Rocks and the Kuril Islands, but there is no similar reference in the document.

The third chapter lays out specific initiatives and deployments of the most modern and advanced US weapon systems to Japan to “strengthen the alliance’s deterrence and response capabilities”.

These include the dispatch of US Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, rotational deployment of US Air Force Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles to Misawa Air Base in the Tōhoku region as well as a second AN/TPY-2 radar (X-band radar) system in Kyōtango, Kyoto.

In addition, Aegis ballistic missile defense-enabled ships will be stationed at Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa by 2017 and Marine Corps F-35B aircraft, a variant of the Stealth Multirole fighters undergoing testing, will also be delivered to Japan by the same year.

Also, aircraft carrier George Washington will be replaced by the more advanced Ronald Reagan at Yokosuka later this year.

The fourth chapter stresses regional security cooperation with South Korea, Australia and ASEAN member countries.

Beijing harbors profound resentment towards Washington’s military presence and subsequent deployments in Asia and has been developing its strategies and capacity that bear the hallmarks of the “access denial” theory.

The endeavor is also aligned with efforts to propagate internationally the notion about “an Asia for Asians” to garner support from neighbors to contain and ultimately dislodge Washington and its allies in the region’s security affairs.

Beijing’s plan is reminiscent of Japan’s concept of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere during World War II.

The scheme was announced by the then Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe in 1938 to form a mutually supportive alliance among Japan, China and Manchukuo (Manchuria) – Japan’s puppet state in northeastern China – to form a self-sufficient “bloc of Asian nations led by the Japanese and free of Western powers”.

Never was such a co-prosperity bloc established as Japan’s real objective was hierarchical and intrusive; it was but a plot to facilitate its military purposes.

By the same token, nations in the region feel that Beijing’s peddling of “an Asia for Asians” cannot gloss over its audacious ambitions, especially when it comes to sensitive issues like territorial disputes. One source of concern is Beijing’s island-building in the South China Sea.

Thus, it should not be surprising that neighbors, who have been feeling increasingly uneasy about Beijing’s wide-ranging reclamation, genuinely welcome the new US-Japan defense guidelines as they hope that Washington can continue to assume a vital deterring role in the region.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 4.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal