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Japan to United States: America Can Only Be Made Great Again if Recognized as such by the World

Japan to United States: America Can Only Be Made Great Again if Recognized as such by the World © EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s recent state visit to Washington, D.C., for the first time in nine years, came as a bit of a surprise even to those who closely follow one of the world’s most important alliances. Previously, during their contacts at the highest level, the parties mostly limited themselves to joint statements on the situation in the Indo-Pacific region and, from this perspective, expressed a conceptual position on other international issues. At the same time, it was proclaimed that from now on, the United States and Japan would become global partners in creating a “free and open international order.” For nearly seven decades, relations between the United States and Japan have been predominantly bilateral. The focus has always been on the U.S. commitment to defend Japan, including maintaining a nuclear umbrella over the Japanese islands. Today, the situation has changed, and in order to properly assess the development of events, it is worth delving into history.

At the time of the security agreements between the United States, Japan and other East Asian countries, the main threat to the liberal world order emanated from the USSR. In Europe, NATO was responsible for containing the “red” threat. In Asia, the creation of a collective security system was impossible, and it was replaced by a network of bilateral agreements and US military bases. Over time, the situation has changed. On the one hand, China’s growing influence, the growing threat from North Korea and Russia’s aggressive policy have heightened tensions around Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Senkaku Islands and the Northern Territories. On the other hand, the American policy of unilateral total domination has changed. For a variety of objective and subjective reasons, Washington has in recent years begun to form regional alliances in Asia that would complement, and possibly eventually replace, the existing bilateral commitments.


In these circumstances, Japan has found quite an effective way to secure its own interests, which can be called kaizen diplomacy small but consistent steps aimed at achieving Japan’s security goals. The external challenges faced by Fumio Kishida’s government at the end of 2021 were the obvious increase in the threat of war in Europe, the consolidation of power in China in the hands of Xi Jinping and Beijing’s increasingly assertive policy towards Taiwan and the South China Sea, the decline in the reputation of the United States due to the hasty withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the advancement of the DPRK’s missile program. As events have shown, all of these trends have nothing but intensified over time. In these circumstances, the head of the Japanese government, who is a seasoned diplomat, chose the path of small but consistent changes. First, at the end of 2021, the strategic documents defining Japan’s security policy were revised. Subsequently, after Russia’s open aggression against Ukraine began, Japan sided with Ukraine, quite correctly defining the events in Europe as an egregious violation of international law aimed at destroying the liberal world order.

The United States, which supported Ukraine in its fight against the aggressor, did not abandon the Indo-Pacific region. Steps were taken to form and strengthen the Quad, a security alliance of the United States, Japan, India and Australia, and later the US-Japan-South Korea strategic triangle was renewed. In an effort to help the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in 2022 Japan revised government documents that had previously explicitly prohibited assistance to the armed forces of other countries, and in 2023 and 2024 further changes in arms production and export policy took place. Japan has participated in several recent NATO summits and has stepped up its participation in international military exercises in Asia.

All of these events, which previously seemed to be sporadic, suddenly formed a clear picture after Kishida’s visit to Washington, which allows us to conclude that a new reality has emerged in which the United States and Japan have become, as they themselves have defined it, “global partners for the future.” If we add to this the formation of Japan’s record defense budget ($52 billion in fiscal 2024) and the commitment to reach the NATO standard of 2% of GDP, the purchase of the first 400 Tomahawk missiles and the opening of new military bases on remote islands near Taiwan, the case for the “global” partnership becomes even more pronounced. Additional proof of the parties’ serious intentions was the trilateral summit with the participation of the President of the Philippines, which took place during Kishida’s visit. It was the actions of Chinese coast guard ships against Philippine vessels in the South China Sea that led to the intensification of the security dialogue between Japan and the Philippines, and now its development in a trilateral format. From now on, the US-Republic of Korea-Japan triangle has been supplemented by the US-Japan-Philippines triangle. The importance of this event is evidenced by China’s sharply negative reaction.

An extremely important element of the visit to Washington was Fumio Kishida’s speech to both houses of the U.S. Congress, which was very well received by both parties. For us, it is fundamental that in his speech, the Japanese Prime Minister not only mentioned Ukraine, but also linked support for Ukraine to the leading role that the United States should play in the world. Analysts were surprised to note that it was not the United States that called on pacifist Japan to be more active in international affairs, but rather the Japanese prime minister who called upon the United States to do so. In fact, this is not surprising. Japan is revising its principles of participation in international defense projects, and it is expected that this year it will begin servicing US Navy ships and US Air Force aircraft on its territory. Japan’s possible participation in the AUKUS submarine construction project for Australia is also being discussed, and permission for the future export of a new generation of military aircraft with Britain and Italy is already part of the government’s rules for exporting military equipment. It seems that the belief that pacifism should be well armed is prevailing.

The global partnership between the United States and Japan will, of course, address not only security issues, but also the economic development of countries and regions that are under China’s strong expansionist influence. It is currently difficult to name specific joint initiatives, apart from the already completed construction of chip factories in the United States and Japan, but it also includes active support for the island states of Oceania and greater policy coordination in South America and Africa. Japan is still waiting for Washington to return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and remains the largest foreign investor in the United States.

It is quite obvious that the Japanese prime minister’s visit to Washington was viewed in the context of the ongoing US election race. It is well known that former Japanese Prime Minister Abe was perhaps the only one who managed to maintain good relations with the eccentric former US President Donald Trump. During the visit, Kishida managed to avoid personalizing his political preferences, and his demonstration of friendly relations with Biden did not go beyond protocol. At the same time, his appeal to the American people through his speech in Congress was aimed at the importance of maintaining the US leading role in the world, regardless of the name of the White House resident. The impression was that the main message of the head of the Japanese government, translated from diplomatic language into American, could sound something like this: America can be made great again only when it is recognized as such in the world, that is, beyond the borders of the United States, and that this is in the interests of both the United States and its allies. In fact, Fumio Kishida spoke about this in an interview with the American media on the eve of his visit. According to him, the contacts of Japanese representatives with Asian leaders in recent years have shown their common concern about a certain loss of US attention to the problems of small but very important island states amid quite strong pressure from China. One illustrative example of such developments was the decision of the Republic of Nauru to break off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of the PRC in early 2024, in addition to the establishment of strategic partnership relations between the PRC and the Solomon Islands in 2023.

Kishida’s visit to the United States was not without provocations from the Russian Federation. The Moscow media traditionally accuse Japan of making territorial claims against Russia (this is about the Russian-occupied Northern Territories), but now they have announced the “disclosure” of plans for the United States to use Japanese territory to launch strikes against Russia. In general, there would have been no point explaining why such “ideas” are simply part of an anti-Western disinformation campaign that would not stop for a minute if it were not for the appearance on the air of the American media this time of a completely fictitious story that Japan is simply bound to have nuclear weapons. In particular, they claim that last April Henry Kissinger stated: “The Japanese have a clear idea of where they are headed; they are heading toward the goal of becoming a nuclear power in five years.”

The argument of those who have taken up this idea, which has nothing to do with reality, is as follows. The role of the United States in the world is declining. NATO is already feeling this and Europe is looking for its own defense capabilities that will be useful if Trump is elected and the United States continues to focus on its own problems. The same will happen in Asia. In addition, the “Narva issue,” which is a bone of contention in Brussels, is completely similar to the context in East Asia: would the United States risk a nuclear strike in response to defending Japan’s uninhabited Senkaku Islands from Chinese occupation? During his visit to Tokyo in May 2022, President Biden emphasized that U.S. security guarantees extend to these islands. However, there are two dozen Chinese military bases near them, and only four of the United States and Japan. Therefore, Japan seems to have no choice but to develop a nuclear shield of its own in order not to depend on Washington’s whims.

Of course, such speculation has nothing — and cannot have anything — to do with Japan’s true intentions. For decades, this country has been a leader in the struggle for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The three nuclear principles (do not possess, do not develop, do not deploy) remain unchanged, and it is impossible to imagine what could influence their revision. Japan is looking for other ways to defend itself against possible missile attacks and is doing so quite successfully, but nuclear weapons cannot even theoretically be considered a deterrent. So we should leave Kissinger alone; he has already done enough to make the world remember him with a kind word. And for us, the important conclusion is that a strong alliance between the United States and Japan is in Ukraine’s interest.

Read this article in Ukrainian and russian.

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