The Nature of China’s Rise and Why It Matters to the U.S. and Japan: A Japanese Perspective

Hiroko Maeda
January 19, 2016

This paper by Hiroko Maeda was published by The Project 2049 Institute, and a draft of it was presented during a Project 2049 Institute conference in March 2015.


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Chinese_military_honor_guardChina’s military buildup has shaken regional stability and poses a challenge to the U.S.-Japan alliance. This view is broadly shared in the U.S. and Japan, but the respective reasons for concern might be slightly different. China’s assertive foreign policy has raised concerns in the region, which undercuts the discussion about what type of U.S.-Japan alliance is needed in the post post-Cold War era.

Both the U.S. and Japan view this bilateral alliance as important, reliable and time-proven. However, both parties should not ignore the reality that this critical relationship also includes some fragility. When the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took power and then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama announced his new idea on security and foreign policy in 2009, U.S. officials were anxious about the DPJ’s policy, though they carefully avoided making negative remarks. Subsequently, when China proposed the “new model of great power relations” for the Sino-U.S. relationship, it seemed that the U.S. agreed to use the term, which made many in Japan feel uneasy. Moreover, discussions in the U.S. about the concept of offshore balancing triggered some questions in Japan about U.S. strategy in the region.

At present, Japan’s relationship with China is complicated. Japan does not want to treat China as an enemy. Japan seeks to encourage China’s stable and peaceful rise despite situations where China is showing a tendency to increase its power to secure its own interests. In light of these situations, the U.S. and Japan need more consultations and should share a strategy for maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific. They must work together to reaffirm the significance of the alliance, strengthen their security strategy, and recognize the nature of the threat in the regional military balance.

Japan’s strategy toward China is to prevent China from becoming a dogmatic hegemon, while at the same time supporting its stable and balanced growth so that China becomes a mature and trustworthy neighbor. However, Japan has put more weight to balancing and hedging than ever before because of Japan-China tensions and China’s increasing assertiveness.

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