In this 2009 International Affairs essay, Christopher Hughes of the University of Warwick in the UK (where he is Professor of International Politics and Japanese Studies, a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, and Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies) writes about “Japan’s response to China’s rise”.
“Japanese policymakers remain determined to marshal their national resources to secure vital interests in the face of China’s rise, and not to cede regional leadership easily to their Chinese counterparts,” Hughes concludes. “To this end, Japan’s default strategy towards China remains one of engagement. Japan has attempted to maintain the relationship with China by activating bilateral frameworks for engagement, and by trying to embed the Japan-China relationship within a relatively symmetrical framework involving the reassuring presence of the US. Japan has continued to rely on economic power as its principal means to engage China, but in maintaining the US presence has increasingly expanded US-Japan military alliance cooperation and its own national military capabilities. Japan’s bilateral and trilateral engagement of China has arguably paid considerable dividends as both sides have striven to enhance cooperation in politics, economics and, increasingly, security.”
Japanese policymakers clearly hope that [the] double strategy of engaging China in East Asia and soft containment globally will oblige Chinese policymakers to come to an accommodation with Japan’s legitimate economic and security concerns and with its continuing leadership aspirations in East Asia. In this way, China’s rise and Japan’s relative decline can be carefully managed, it is hoped for the benefit of region-building in East Asia.
This strategy is not without risks, Hughes notes. If the engagement policy falters, Japan may need to emphasize the containment approach, which could lead to “open rivalry” that “might spill over into full competition for influence.” Japan could very well lose such a competition, Hughes reckons.