Japan Responds to China’s Rise

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.”

He adds:

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.


4 thoughts on “Japan Responds to China’s Rise

  1. Juan Manuel López Nadal

    A very interesting article. In these moments it seems that nationalism is on the rise in both Japan and China. Political leaders in both countries should refrain to encourage these dangerous trends in their domestic environment and give priority to economic co-operation and interdependence. Sino-Japanese relations are crucial for Asia’s security and stability , and their deterioration can also affect the world economy in general

  2. Ida Leung

    It is not surprising that China comes out as a subject in the presidential election. The losing of jobs to China, the RMB, China’s disregard of intellectual property right etc all have strong populous appeal. Yet the article rightly pointed out that “if low-cost manufacturing jobs don’t go to China, they’ll go somewhere else. Think Mexico”.

    In yesterday’s class we discussed why China’s “peaceful rise” is met with so much skepticism. Notwithstanding that the opening up of China has brought tremendous benefits for many countries, including the US, China is always portrayed to be the villain. Its one-party rule, the lack of rule of law and the lack of transparency make it an easy target on human issue, unfair trade practices, military hegemonic etc. The increasing number of trade disputes could be a sign of the end of economic honey-moon but there are some lessons learned for Chinese investors from the Huawei incident and the recent lawsuit brought by Ralls Corp against President Obama for barring the company from taking over four windmills in the US state of Oregon due to national security concerns. Though a long way to go, China needs to learn the rules of the Western game and play them well.

  3. Lily Yao

    After reading the essay by Professor Hughes, the first question comes to my mind is – “Would the US-Japan military alliance cooperation affects the outcome for the current island disputes between China and Japan?”

    In the recent island disputes between China and Japan, the United States has stated repeatedly that it takes no position on the sovereignty dispute. But at the same time, Japan and the US planned for a joint drill to simulate the retaking of a remote island from foreign forces. (Though it was cancelled according to today’s news.) So, what is the role of US in this incident?

    Based on the Japan-US security treaty, the US is obligated to assist Japan in defending the islands. Would this force the US to step in if China takes any further action? Or would the US step away as it might significantly affect its relationship with China? I think there is no conclusion yet for the US government either, but war is definitely something that the US would try to avoid.


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