Having been to Tokyo twice in the last two weeks* for interviews and workshops on Japan-China-Korea relations and Japan-Australia relations, my answer to Sam’s query (Is Japan Alarmed by China's Rise?) is YES.

Japan is alarmed, and so it should be.

Any country facing a neighbour that has a defence budget increasing at the speed of China’s, has a growing nuclear weapons program focused on short and medium-range missile delivery, is providing steadfast backing for a nuclear-armed rogue state that threatens you, is becoming more assertive in territories that both states claim, and has a leadership team that refuses bilateral summitry should be worried.

The troubled history of modern Japan and China, the size and trajectory differences between them and their very different political systems simply add to Tokyo's worries.

The 2010 National Defence Program Guidelines released by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government and the flurry of activity on security policy under the Liberal Democratic Party-led government indicate a bipartisan consensus in Japan about the threat to Japanese national interests from China’s growing military might and increasing assertiveness, particularly in the East China Sea.

This consensus extends to the need for Japan to enhance its own response capabilities, to strengthen the US-Japan alliance and focus it on this threat, and to develop stronger security relations with states in the Asia Pacific and beyond. This political consensus is also in line with Japanese popular concerns about China and Japan-China relations.

Rob Ayson’s piece inadvertently highlights a connected worry for Japan: that states will increasingly view their policies and statements about Japan (and issues that Japan has a clear interest in) through the lens of their bilateral relationship with China.

Rob Ayson argues that Australia should not unnecessarily annoy China. He then nominates the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue’s (TSD) relatively moderate statement opposing 'any coercive or unilateral actions that could change the status quo in the East China Sea’ and Prime Minister Abbott’s reference to Japan as Australia’s ‘best friend in Asia’ as cases in point.

But the TSD statement refers to all parties in the East China Sea dispute, not just China. And China itself has expressed a very similar position on the East China Sea. As for Abbott's statement, among Asia’s major powers, Australia has the deepest and broadest commercial, diplomatic and security ties with Japan. That's not a bad definition of a ‘best friend’ in the realm of international relations.

If Australia shies away from telling the truth about its relationship with Japan due to fears of annoying China, or fails to support standard diplomatic language in regional institutions that Japan and Australia are part of and China is not, then Tokyo’s worries would seem to be justified.

* My research trips to Japan were funded by the Australia-Japan Foundation.

Photo by Flickr user Commander US 7th Fleet.