The US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attended the Security Consultative Committee（SCC） meeting in Tokyo on October 3. The meeting has been described as “historic” since it was the first time both US top leaders in foreign relations and the national security could travel to Tokyo for the occasion. In the phrase of a U.S. senior official during the press conference, it “symbolizes the rebalance to Asia and the Administration’s commitment to this region.” At a time when both the US and Japan are grappling with their domestic budgetary constraints and shortages, what does this “historic” meeting mean for the alliance itself and how the continuous strengthening of the US-Japan ties and the planned revision of the 1997 Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation in coping with “the regional and global challenges of the 21st century” may evolve, and what all these imply to China, are relevant questions to answer.
What’s new for the alliance?
According to the joint statement entitled “Toward a More Robust Alliance and Greater Shared Responsibilities”, both sides intend to upgrade the bilateral alliance in three parts: bilateral security and defense cooperation, regional engagement, and realignment of U.S. forces in Japan. As to the bilateral part, US and Japan have drawn up the timetable to redefine the guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation. The Subcommittee for Defense Cooperation was established to “draft recommended changes to ensure the Alliance continues its vital role in deterring conflict and advancing peace and security”, and the task of the revision will be completed by the end of 2014. In addition to the guideline-revision efforts, the two also expressed their intentions to enhance cooperation in the areas of ballistic missile defense (BMD), cyberspace and space, which symbolize sharing of strategic vision and coordination in new “global domains”.
As to the regional engagement issue, the two agreed to reinforce “a system of international partnerships and multilateral cooperation” to promote “a peaceful, prosperous and secure Asia-Pacific”, which includes the strategic use of Japan’s Official Development Assistance in maritime security and trilateral dialogues with Australia and South Korea. They will also work together to strengthen institutions such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), APEC, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Defense Ministerial Meeting Plus (ADMM+).
The last part of the Joint Statement refers to the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan. The two nations agreed to implement the related plans as soon as possible while ensuring operational capabilities, which include the return of facilities and areas in Okinawa, the relocation of 9,000 U.S. Marines outside of Japan. In order to promote Japanese capabilities, apart from the introduction of two squadrons of MV-22 aircraft, the U.S. has made several breakthroughs, such as “the first deployment of p-8 maritime aircraft outside of the U.S. beginning in December 2013”, the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft in spring 2014, and the F-35B aircraft in 2017, which is also said to be forward-deployed abroad for the first time
What does this mean to China?
The aforementioned developments and the statement as a whole have several implications to China. First, although the U.S. would not like to offend China directly and refrained from including any clauses concerning Diaoyu Island in the statement, it made a clear signal that China is under constant surveillance in the following respects: the U.S. and Japan identified “ensuring the Alliance’s capacity to respond to an armed attack against Japan as a core aspect of cooperation,” which means any war or conflict involving Japan may naturally put the U.S. under the obligation to defend Japan. The inclusion of the condition aims to discourage China from using forces against Japan in cases like the Diaoyu dispute. The statement listed “a range of persistent and emerging threats as well as challenges to international norms”, among which “coercive and destabilizing behaviors in the maritime domain” and “disruptive activities in space and cyberspace” point directly to China and North Korea. Furthermore, the statement immediately calls on China to “play a responsible and constructive role in regional stability and prosperity, to adhere to international norms of behavior, as well as to improve openness and transparency in its military modernization with its rapid expanding military investments.” Although written in an encouraging note, it put pressure on China to behave in a way that conforms to the interests of U.S-Japan alliance.
Second, the reinforced alliance itself – the upgrade of military cooperation in both quality and scope— and the U.S. encouragement of Japan’s self-defense capabilities will inevitably harm China’s strategic interests. The two nations confirmed to enhance the BMD capabilities and to designate the Air Self-Defense Force base in Kyogamisaki as the deployment site for the second AN/TPY-2 system; they also stressed the need for closer coordination in cyberspace, especially the related defense cooperation through a new Cyber Defense Policy Working Group. Additionally, they decided to revitalize the system for collecting and sharing information related to space situational awareness and space-based maritime domain awareness, and to concentrate on the early realization of the Japan Aerospace Exploration (JAXA) involvement, paving the way for greater US-Japan defense cooperation in national security. (In the past, Japan’s space policy had been limited to scientific purposes under the supervision of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports) The two also strengthened the bilateral Dialogues in Extended Deterrence, “reinforcing the credibility of the U.S. defense commitment to Japan, including nuclear and conventional capabilities”. Besides, they also emphasized the importance of shared values in international norms, implying their willingness to confront China squarely under certain circumstances. Furthermore, the U.S. strongly and clearly endorsed Japan’s expansion of its role in security affairs, including the establishment of National Security Council, by re-examining of Japanese right of collective self-defense and by increasing its capabilities to defend sovereign territories. The U.S. support for Japan’s independent military growth and its interests in Diaoyu islands in the name of administrative rights will be a constant element of provocation in Sino-U.S. relations.
Third, given all the above, China can still feel somewhat at ease due to the limits of this alliance. A big plan and a glory vision as the scheme are, the implementation will constitute questions. The U.S. and Japan identified 12 areas of consultation for bilateral security and defense cooperation, yet according to the past experience, the similar consultation has failed to yield any concrete results. Also, at a time when both countries are facing constraints in defense spending, it is unrealistic for the U.S. to expect Japan to spend more, and the strain caused by the issue of base relocation will continue to be a drag in the bilateral ties. Most importantly, against the background that both China and the U.S. resolve to pursue a new model of major power relationship, China has become more and more confident that the U.S. will put the healthy and constructive relationship with China as its top priority. It seems the country need not worry too much.
Yang Wenjing is an associate research professor of Division for American Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.