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Monday Morning Meeting on Japan’s Domestic Discourse on Security

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  • August 22, 2022
    Monday Morning Meeting
    1000 hrs

    Executive Summary

    2022 remains a decisive year for Japan due to the publication of Tokyo’s Revised Version of the National Security Strategy later this year. Discourses in Tokyo mainly focus on the resurgence of the Great Power Competition and Japan's counterstrike capability. The region is experiencing an emerging shift in how the Japanese public perceives security. Tokyo’s perception of China and Russia has also witnessed a major shift, with Japan increasing aligning itself with the G7. In the Korean Peninsula, while relations with North Korea have witnessed mounting tensions, relations with Seoul are on an upward trajectory.

    India has positioned itself as a priority nation and a crucial node in Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) framework.

    Detailed Report

    Dr. Prashant Kumar Singh introduced the topic of the Monday Morning Meeting by bringing to light the recent publication of Japan's Defence White Paper. He also discussed the recently issued Defence of Japan 2022 Digest by Japan, which mainly focused on how the world community is currently experiencing its worst crisis since World War II and how Taiwan has evolved into a critical reference point for strategic competition between the US and China.

    Dr. Titli Basu was given the floor by the moderator after the brief introduction.

    The speaker initially delved into the positive posture of Japan since late Mr. Shinzo Abe’s administration. She also noted that 2022 was a decisive year for Japan due to the publication of Tokyo’s Revised Version of National Security Strategy later this year, discussions on which are still going on. The speaker added that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) appears to be considering realistic national security options as the strategic environment in the region has changed. She mentioned that the first National Security Strategy of Japan was released in 2013, predating events like the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the resurgence of QUAD, and the US-China Strategic Competition. It dates back to a period when the Free and Open Indo-Pacific was yet to become a dominant theme in the strategic lexicon.

    Dr. Basu went on to discuss the patterns in the literature produced by the top Japanese think tanks and laid out the empirical evidence supporting that literature.

    According to her, the main theme was the resurgence of Great Power Competition, which included both the strategic rivalry between the US and China and the US and Russia. Japan is also a participant in this Great Power Competition as a security treaty ally of the United States. She also looked at the prevalent themes in Japanese media. Several issues are appearing in Japanese media, including the discussion about Japan's counterstrike capability, whether to follow the NATO model on nuclear sharing and the topic of doubling defence spending in a 5-year time frame. In this case, Dr. Basu noted that, beneath the surface, there is uncertainty concerning the roadmap and the source of the funding, keeping in mind Japan's fiscal situation.

    The region is cautiously watching what kind of Japan they will have to deal with as Japan begins rewiring some of the national security components of its National Security Strategy. This is because the East Asia region, where Japan is located, has multiple dynamics at play, such as contested territorial claims, a toxic history in domestic politics, and a high degree of nationalism.

    Dr. Basu further noted that the year 2022 is a particularly challenging year for Japan because of the passing of the Late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, one of the key figures at the forefront of the country's national security discussion. Speaking on the unfortunate assassination, the speaker emphasised Abe’s active involvement in influencing the domestic political discourse on Taiwan-related matters. Former PM Abe also advocated a national discussion on nuclear sharing arrangement with the US. This caused waves in domestic politics and prompted the publication of future public opinion polls. About 80% of respondents, according to some polls, believe that there should be a national discussion on nuclear sharing arrangements with the United States. In this regard, Dr. Basu noted that former PM Abe’s assassination is irreparable damage not only to the discussion on national security but across the spectrum.

    Speaking about how security experts are approaching the issue, the speaker made the observation that some of the more serious writings are less concerned with whether Japan should have these nuclear sharing agreements and more about whether the current NATO model is the best one to follow or whether they should come up with some sort of arrangement that is more specific to the US-Japan Security Alliance. The lack of a unified command structure and the operational challenges are also prominent topics of discussion.

    Moving further, the speaker elaborated on the emerging shift in how the Japanese public perceives security, focusing particularly on how, compared to a decade ago, the public has grown more realistic and informed about security issues. Dr. Basu referenced a Nikkei Asia opinion poll in which almost 74% of the Japanese respondents said that Japan should participate in efforts to stabilise the Taiwan Strait. Additionally, numerous polls from various newspapers across the political spectrum reflect similar viewpoints. The centre-right poll by Yomiuri Shimbun revealed that 70-72 per cent of respondents said Japan should improve its defence capability. Similar findings from the left-leaning paper The Asahi Shimbun revealed that 64-65 per cent of respondents thought Japan should improve its defence capability. The speaker also noted that Prime Minister Kishida’s approval rating was consistently high following his stance on the Russian invasion, indicating that the Japanese public approved of it.

    Speaking on Tokyo's China Strategy, the speaker said that the 2013 National Security Strategy document termed Tokyo’s relationship with Beijing as a ‘Mutually Beneficial Relationship based on Common Strategic Interests.’ Japan opposes a Sino-Centric Regional Order. She mentioned the opinions of some of the top researchers in China in this context. For instance, one opinion is that China changed the status quo by becoming stronger, and Japan and US changed the status quo by becoming weaker.

    The speaker emphasised the post-pandemic trend of increased discussion on economic security and spoke about Japan's leadership position in this sector due to the presence of a full-time minister for economic security. She made a point to underline that in this situation, economic security does not imply a decoupling from China.

    A central tenet of Japan’s China discussion is the Taiwan issue. Wherever he went, whether it was to NATO or the G7, Prime Minister Kishida conveyed the same message: Is ‘Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow.’ The subject of Taiwan, the speaker pointed out, had already taken centre stage the year before, as Taiwan was featured in the 2021 Defence White Paper. She added that the LDP's Taiwan Project Group will look for further ways to engage with Taiwan. Additionally, Japanese security experts are considering what operational plans the US-Japan Security Alliance might have as they become increasingly certain that China is determined to reunify Taiwan.

    Dr. Basu also underscored the Japanese discourse following the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi’s visit. She spoke of tremendous camaraderie at the political level, but academically, there were concerns about the strategic significance of this visit since some believed it was a pretext for China to escalate and make this a standard practice.

    Speaking on Japan’s Russia Policy, Dr. Basu stressed that there is a complete reversal of former PM Abe's Russia Outreach. Japan now aligns with the G7, and Russia regards Japan as an unfriendly country. The effectiveness of economic sanctions is also a topic of discussion within the Japanese strategic community, as well as whether there might be a more effective approach to exert pressure, besides sanctions.

    As the presentation drew to a close, the subject of Japan’s threat assessment from North Korea was covered, before moving to Japan’s relations with India. The speaker said that when it comes to North Korea, Pyongyang's advancements in nuclear and missile technology are the biggest worry for the Japanese. She also added that relations with South Korea, which is an important part of the trilateral arrangement that the US has with its Northeast Asian allies in terms of dealing with the Korean peninsula, were good.  

    The 2013 National Security Strategy released by Japan lists India as a priority nation. She pointed out that there is general agreement in policy documents and the most recent Defence White Paper on the subject of India, that New Delhi is crucial to the FOIP framework and that India is given space in their policy papers.

    After the speaker brought her presentation to a close, the moderator thanked her for her insightful remarks and opened the floor to questions and comments from the audience.

    Key Takeaways from the Q&A Session

    The question-and-answer session brought to light many viewpoints based on a thorough assessment of the matter presented during the discussion. Following are a few of the key points raised during the session:

    • The conversation explored the connections between the present domestic debates and the government's Taiwan policies. The possibility that Japan would modify its relations with Taiwan in the case of a war between China and the United States.
    • Numerous discourses on the term 'Strategic Ambiguity' were examined in relation to the One China policy implemented by East Asian nations.
    • The nature of the debates surrounding pre-emptive strikes and Japan's direct involvement were discussed.
    • A connection was made between the potential fall of Taiwan and the consequences for Japan.
    • Avoid excessively securitising India's connection with Japan.
    • Possibility of India becoming Japan's most significant economic partner was explored.
    • Inability to effectively counter Chinese expansionism with substantial measures without economic decoupling.
    • It was observed that by remaining silent about the economic blockade, we are encouraging China to engage in similar acts in the future, despite the fact that the semiconductor industry may be affected.
    • The discussion delved into the possibility of interpretation of Japanese counterattack capabilities as a credible second-strike capability.
    • Changes in Japan's perception of the threat posed by China during the previous decade were examined, along with corresponding changes in the terminology used to define the threat and security situation.
    • Domestic discourse on nuclear sharing with the USA.
    • Identification of Africa as a growing strategic security concern for Japan within domestic discourse.

    The Report was prepared by Ms. Esha Banerjee, Intern, East Asia Centre, MP-IDSA.