Explainer: Why Japan is looking for military ties beyond its US ally

TOKYO, Jan 13 (Reuters) – Ahead of meeting President Joe Biden in Washington DC, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Italy, France, Britain and Canada, in part to forge ties of security that could help him fend off China, North Korea and Russia.


In June, then Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said his country was surrounded by nuclear-armed nations that refused to adhere to international standards of behavior.

Following Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, Kishida called security in East Asia “fragile”.

At the top of Japan’s threat list is China, which could attack Taiwan or neighboring Japanese islands. Chinese military activity is increasing around the East China Sea, including joint air and sea exercises with Russia.

At the same time, North Korea fired missiles into the Sea of ​​Japan and in October launched an intermediate-range missile over Japan for the first time since 2017.


For the past seven decades, Japan, which renounced the right to wage war after its defeat in World War II, has relied on the United States for protection.

In exchange for its promise to defend the country, the United States obtains bases which allow it to maintain a major military presence in East Asia.

Japan hosts 54,000 US troops, hundreds of military aircraft and dozens of warships led by Washington’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier.


As China’s military power grows alongside its economy, the regional balance of power has shifted in favor of Beijing.

China’s defense spending surpassed that of Tokyo two decades ago and is now more than four times greater.

Encouraged by the United States, Japan unveiled its biggest military build-up since World War II in December, with a pledge to double defense spending to 2% of GDP within five years.

This will include money for missiles with a range of over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) that could hit targets in China.

Beijing, however, is expected to continue to expand its military capabilities and is likely to deploy increasingly sophisticated weapons.


For this reason, and always with the support of Washington, Japan is seeking new security partners to support it both militarily and diplomatically.

That effort, so far, has focused on countries that are also strong allies of the United States, including Australia, Britain and France. Tokyo is also seeking closer security ties with India, which since 2004 has been meeting regularly with Japan, the United States and Australia to discuss regional diplomacy as a member of the Quad Group.

On January 11 in London, during his tour of other G7 countries, Kishida signed a reciprocal defense access agreement with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that will make it easier for the two countries to conduct military exercises in the territory. the other.

Japan is chairing the G7 this year and will host its leaders in Hiroshima in May.

As Britain shifts its focus more towards Asia, it has sought closer defense ties. In 2021, he sent the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to visit Japan and announced that he would permanently deploy two warships to Asian waters.

In December, Japan announced it would build a new jet fighter with Britain and Italy, its first major international defense project with a country other than the United States since the end of World War II. .

Since the start of the Ukrainian war, Japan’s sometimes difficult relations with neighboring South Korea have also improved, opening up the possibility of closer military cooperation between the two American allies.

Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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