“…This paper focuses on the competition between China and Japan over their festering territorial dispute in the East China Sea. Though political frictions over the Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese) Islands are decades-old, since a 2012 contretemps over the islands led Beijing to begin regular, provocative deployments of government vessels into the islands’ contiguous zone and territorial seas, the dispute has become the most significant geopolitical flashpoint and locus of security competition between China and Japan today…
In September 2019, Brookings Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy Bruce Jones convened seven Brookings scholars and affiliates — Richard Bush, Lindsey Ford, Ryan Hass, Adam Liff, Michael O’Hanlon, Jonathan Pollack, and Mireya Solís — to discuss Japan’s present and future path in this era of great power competition. The edited transcript below reflects their assessment of the current state of Japanese strategic choices.
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of Japan’s strategy for dealing with China’s rise and critique of the idea that Japan is seeking a middle ground between the U.S. and China… […]
My latest analysis … of the rapidly evolving maritime gray-zone competition between China and Japan in the East China Sea … has just come out in print as part of a […]
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of the evolution of Chinese views of the U.S. alliance system and its role in East Asian security… is published in the March 2018 […]
My latest peer-reviewed article… an analysis of the implications of recent institutional reforms–esp. the new National Security Council–for Japan’s crisis management capabilities…has just been published in the newest issue of Journal of […]
My latest peer-reviewed article… a critique of traditional methodologies and metrics often employed in contemporary security studies and analysis of four regional states’ military responses to China’s rise…has just been […]
Desperately Seeking Statesmen
Japan’s self-restraint continues despite its refusal to acknowledge even the existence of a dispute. Ironically, and unfortunately, it is because Japan does not behave provocatively that its policy never makes headlines. Yet its constructive behavior demonstrates that even when a government claims territory “inherently,” acknowledges no dispute, and exercises effective administrative control, it still can choose self-restraint in the interest of regional stability. Meanwhile, Tokyo’s and Taipei’s initiatives demonstrate that when two are willing to hear the music, they can indeed tango.
As relevant parties search for a framework to manage South China Sea tensions, a consensus, binding definition of “self-restraint” faithful to the spirit of the 2002 DOC is the Holy Grail. The deck today seems stacked against it. Unconstructive activities driving changes to the status quo are unlikely to be reversed. Political will among relevant parties remains in doubt. Nevertheless, as observers naturally focus on tension and conflict, constructive alternatives must be proactively kept a part of the conversation.
That Japan’s decades-old policy of self-restraint is so often ignored is perhaps evidence that, at least until recently, it proved so effective.
Since Tokyo’s September 2012 ‘nationalization’ of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Beijing’s use of military and paramilitary forces to challenge Japan’s decades-old effective administration has introduced a major source of uncertainty and risk into a volatile flashpoint between the world’s second- and third-largest economies. Specifically, China’s unprecedented operations increase the likelihood of an unintended incident in the surrounding waters or airspace. While neither side seeks conflict, how capable China and Japan are of rapidly and effectively preventing such an incident from escalating is a crucial, yet rarely-asked question. This is particularly true given the noxious state of Sino–Japanese political relations, infrequency of high-level dialogue, presence of nationalism potentially affecting leaders’ domestic political calculations, policy decision-making processes considered relatively slow and consensus-oriented, and the longstanding absence of bilateral crisis hotlines.
The question of how capable the two sides are at managing a crisis effectively is not merely an academic one…
Since the summit between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping last November, the ice between Tokyo and Beijing has begun to thaw. But crowded waters and airspace in the East China Sea still make the risk of miscalculation or low-level encounters escalating into a major crisis too great for comfort…
My latest… op-ed [in Japanese] on the urgent need for Japan and China to establish, and to reliably implement, bilateral crisis management in the East China Sea has been published in Japan’s Asahi […]
My latest… on the need for reliable Sino-Japanese crisis management mechanisms in the East China Sea has been published in Foreign Affairs. Liff, Adam P. and Andrew S. Erickson, “Crowding […]
My analysis of the prospects for a significant and sustainable breakthrough in relations between China and Japan after the (potentially) landmark November 10 summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and […]
I have posted a working paper containing a point-by-point comparative analysis of the statements on “improving Japan-China relations” released simultaneously by Beijing and Tokyo on November 7, 2014. These statements […]
Kato, Yoshikazu and Adam P. Liff. “China-Japan Relations Remain Fragile?” The Global Times [China], August 7, 2009. [with Yoshikazu Kato]