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Japan-China: Learning to live with rivalry

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COMMENTS

17 August 2010 10:27

Andy Forrest is a Lowy Institute intern. He recently completed his PhD thesis on Chinese perceptions of Japan's security strategy.

Since the LDP was swept from power in September 2009, there has been talk of what a DPJ Government means for China-Japan relations and, more broadly, Japan's evolving security role. Observers such as Professor Yoichiro Sato argue that Japan's strategic posture has been damaged by the DPJ's willingness to withhold criticism of China's human rights practices and advocate closer cooperation between East Asian countries.

But beneath this thin layer of seemingly changed sentiment lie major areas of concern that continue to work against a genuinely altered strategic dynamic between China and Japan.

Changes in the US-Japan security alliance over the last decade run deep and cannot be easily reversed by the DPJ – even if it wanted to. The DPJ has no choice but to accept the fact that many Chinese strategic observers now perceive the US-Japan security alliance as an appendage to a larger US-led effort that is ultimately hostile to China.

In any case, examples abound of the DPJ Government's willingness to maintain strong US-Japan security arrangements. Japan was recently an observer at a round of US-South Korean naval drills in the East Sea off Korea and the Yellow Sea, which China's military publicly condemned last Thursday.

The Kan Administration is also working closely with Washington to negotiate the relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to northeast Okinawa – despite strong public opposition in Japan. Add to this the Kan Administration's willingness to defend Japan's involvement in the US-led ballistic missile defence (BMD) programme and it is clear that the DPJ has decided to learn to live with being locked into a position of strategic antagonism with China.

Photo by Flickr user Rockies, used under a Creative Commons license.

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