PacNet #35 – Abe Shinzo and the Japan-South Korea relationship: Near- and long-term legacies

Under former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, Japan’s relationship with South Korea had its ups and downs, mostly downs at the end. But the broad actions that Abe took to shore up Japan’s regional role have laid the basis for a promising renewal of security cooperation under Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and the new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Over his eight years in office, Seoul-Tokyo relations went from bad to worse. The region also evolved during those eight years as overlapping minilateral and multilateral groupings brought Japan and South Korea closer together, even if by accident. Abe was responsible for both—that is his complicated legacy.

As Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Abe spent time alongside four South Korean presidents, but his legacy will likely be cemented by the developments in relations that took place under the tenure of conservative former President Park Geun-hye (2013-17) and progressive former President Moon Jae-in (2017-22). Numerous historical grievances frustrated progress in improving relations during Abe’s time in office, as each government took antithetical views over reconciliation on issues surrounding forced labor and the “comfort women” (wartime victims of sexual slavery).

In the weeks to come following Abe’s assassination there will be countless pieces published that focus, rightly, on Abe’s ideological bent which often manifested itself in revisionist personal and political actions that damaged the country’s relations with South Korea. Yet, Abe’s strategic re-shaping of the Indo-Pacific region will continue to elevate the role of regional powers, like South Korea, in shaping and defending the rules-based international order. As threat perceptions in South Korea and Japan converge to drive closer strategic alignment, Abe’s transformation of Japan’s security and defense architecture can enable the two counties to work together more seamlessly. With an eye to the future, the legacy Abe leaves behind is a strong foundation on which his successors can build.

Abe is often quoted for the famous line he delivered to former Secretary of State Richard Armitage in 2013 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that “Japan is not, and will never be a Tier-two country…I am back, and so shall Japan be.” As the intellectual godfather in the conception of the Indo-Pacific and the Quad, a central stakeholder in keeping the Trans-Pacific Partnership alive after US withdrawal (and renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership), a main player in moving Japan towards a “values” based foreign policy centered on democracy and human rights, and a leading figure in seeing Japan become the most trusted strategic partner in much of Asia, Japan’s proactive leadership role in the region under Abe unquestionably accomplished this goal.

While bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea during Abe’s tenure did not see the same levels of progress, another quote from his 2013 CSIS speech underscores Abe’s view of the strategic importance of the relationship, “Even with the existence of issues…the ties between Japan and Korea is something that cannot be severed.” Many of Abe’s successes in elevating Japan’s security and economic role and re-shaping Indo-Pacific regional architecture have set the groundwork for the two countries to take the bilateral relationship to new heights. These developments have evolved as South Korea, too, has sought a greater security and economic leadership role in the region.

Abe played a large role in re-envisioning the region’s hub-and-spokes-style regional architecture to encompass minilateral groupings. These minilateral arrangements have proven adept and flexible in responding to challenges and organizing collective action. Smaller memberships facilitate stronger consensus-building. As I have argued elsewhere, pursuing regional peace and stability through minilateral engagement allows countries to cooperate where their interests align, without the fear of being trapped in a formal and binding structure. Conflicting views on issues outside the distinct remit of a minilateral grouping do not jeopardize cooperation.

Abe’s leadership in elevating minilaterals to center-stage in the Indo-Pacific has direct implications for future Japan-South Korea relations, as the likely main vehicle for near-term cooperation is the US-Japan-South Korea trilateral. Progress is already happening on this front, as the three countries announced last month that they would restart trilateral ballistic missile defense-tracking exercises, the first such trilateral exercise in three years.

The shared threat from North Korea is an obvious motivation for these exercises, but both countries similarly share concerns regarding China’s assertiveness and provocative actions in the East and South China Seas and across the Taiwan Strait. Both countries’ leaders have joined President Biden in joint statements emphasizing the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, representing a significant shift from prior US-Japan and US-ROK joint statements. While it was Suga Yoshihide, Abe’s successor as prime minister, who issued the first US-Japan joint statement that mentioned Taiwan for the first time since 1969, no one made greater efforts than Abe to bring the two Asian democracies closer together. The significance of both progressive former President Moon and conservative incumbent President Yoon joining Japan to include mention of Taiwan in respective joint statements with the US cannot be overstated.

Economic security is another realm in which Abe spearheaded efforts to minimize risks to Japan from supply chain vulnerability, industrial espionage, and economic coercion by launching an economic division at the National Security Secretariat in April 2020, becoming the largest of the seven divisions in the NSS. As both Japan and South Korea have felt the screws of China’s economic coercion, the South Korean government has taken similar steps and launched a center dedicated to economic security that will be housed under its foreign ministry. In another promising development to link these efforts through US-Japan-South Korea trilateral cooperation, the three countries’ senior officials discussed ways to enhance cooperation on economic security during a June 2022 meeting.

While Abe’s often ultra-nationalist and revisionist actions in office should not be downplayed as his legacy on the Japan-South Korea bilateral relationship is recounted, his time as prime minister was instrumental in shaping the region to the benefit of both countries’ national interests. The growing policy alignment in Japan and South Korea owes much to the path Abe charted in modernizing Japan’s national security state and enabling greater international security engagement. Whether converging threat perceptions and growing policy alignment in Japan and South Korea can translate to substantial cooperation remains unclear, but these past few months have seen promising developments in the bilateral relationship.

All three countries have a responsibility to capitalize on the momentum in both Japan-South Korea and US-Japan-South Korea senior official engagements and invest sustained attention towards incrementally upgrading cooperative activities based on the shared national security interests of all three countries. Abe Shinzo laid much of the groundwork for this. It is now up to Prime Minister Kishida to build on it.

Jada Fraser (jada.fraser@yahoo.com) is an MA student in Asian Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Her research interests lie at the intersection of defense and diplomacy in Asia and her work has been published in outlets such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, The Lowy Institute, and The Australian Strategic Policy Institute. 

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #21 – India’s strategic autonomy: A lesson for Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s official visit to India in mid-March in the midst of the Ukraine crisis highlighted the two countries’ differing stances on international affairs. While the statement issued during his visit shows that these two countries have deepened defense and security cooperation since the early 2000s, they could not agree on a strong message against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This disagreement is unlikely to impact their relationship in the immediate future but could be a good lesson for Tokyo on Delhi’s strategic autonomy—and what that might mean for a future crisis for Japan.

Kishida’s visit to India

Kishida’s official visit on March 19-20 kicked off the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and India. It also restarted annual mutual visits, halted in 2019 due to unrest in India, and not resumed due to the pandemic. Though several summit meetings between the two, both virtual and in-person, took place during the pandemic, resumption of mutual visits symbolically reconfirms ties.

After their summit meeting, Kishida and Modi issued a joint statement covering a variety of security issues, including the South China Sea, North Korea, Afghanistan, terrorism, Myanmar, and cybersecurity. They welcomed the first 2+2 meeting of their foreign and defense ministers since November 2019 and operationalization of the Agreement Concerning Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services between the two forces. They directed ministers to identify concrete areas for future cooperation in defense equipment and technology, beyond ongoing collaboration in unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) and robotics.

They also expressed serious concern about the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, reiterating their call for an immediate cessation of violence.

The statement, however, avoided naming Russia.

India’s strategic autonomy

That New Delhi would continue its traditional stance toward international affairs was obvious as soon as Russia started its “special military operation” in Ukraine on Feb. 24. While Japan, the United States, Australia, and European nations condemned Moscow’s action and imposed economic sanctions, India refrained from criticizing its old friend Russia directly. US President Joe Biden and his senior staff have had several consultations with Indian counterparts and urged them to take a clear position since the incident occurred, but these consultations have not gone according to Washington’s plans. India was one of the minority of countries abstaining from the United Nations resolution condemning Russia for invading Ukraine. US President Joe Biden told a business forum on March 22 that India is being “somewhat shaky” compared to Japan and Australia.

India prefers realpolitik over morals, as Dev Goswami, a senior assistant editor at India Today, writes. He justifies this position as two-thirds of India’s military equipment has Russian origins, which India cannot afford to risk when it faces a potential “two-front” (China and Pakistan) war. Russian oil could attract India as well. Indian Oil Corp., India’s top refiner, recently ordered 3 million barrels of Russian oil, while Hindustan Petroleum Corp has booked 2 million barrels.

That said, India also abstained from the UN resolution submitted by Russia on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. In addition, India has “unequivocally condemned” killings in Bucha in Ukraine by Russian soldiers at the UN on April 6. This also shows how India maintains its strategic autonomy or “proactive neutrality.” Since its independence from British colonialism, India has vowed to chart an independent course in its foreign relations. It led the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War to avoid involvement in the conflict between the Western and the Eastern blocs. Even though India signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1971 after the Indo-Pakistan War, many Indians have long hesitated to call their relationship an alliance.

Leading power

Why, then, does India participate in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) with Japan, the United States, and Australia? Rivalry with China could be one of the factors, but a driver could also be India’s interest to become a “leading power” in the world. Indian leaders have been interested in reaching this status since independence, but that interest has grown considerably with its economic rise in the 2000s. India must engage with countries like the United States, Russia, China, Australia, and Japan to become a leading power. In the last 20 years, India’s steps have oscillated between maintaining strategic autonomy and pursuing world power status. It finally became a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) led by Russia and China in 2017, in addition to agreeing to an in-person summit meeting among the Quad leaders last September.

At the same time, New Delhi is also strengthening its leadership as a “big brother” among smaller neighbors as Modi launched “Neighbourhood First”—focused on the good relations and co-development of South Asian countries—or “Act East”—strengthening India’s relations with Southeast Asia—policies during his first term. This clearly appeared when India started “Vaccine Maitri (friendship)” and supplied vaccines to nearly 100 countries.

Japan and like-minded partners, then, should leverage this crisis to enable India to play an important role between Russia and the United States. Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told Indian parliamentarians in late March that India’s position is based on six principles—1) to “stand for peace,” and the immediate cessation of violence and hostilities, 2) dialogue and diplomacy, 3) the global order anchored on international law, 4) humanitarian access, 5) to provide humanitarian assistance, and 6) for India to stay in touch with the leadership of both Russia and Ukraine. He further said that Modi has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin three times and to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy twice, and suggested a direct conversation between two parties.

Conclusions

New Delhi’s response to the Ukraine crisis might disappoint Tokyo but will not impact Japan-India relations immediately. Although Kishida reacted sharply against Russia, Tokyo usually shows an ambivalent attitude toward international affairs, not so dissimilar to India. Due to wartime experiences and their prioritizing of economic relations, Japan is not like those Western nations that have a proclivity to compel other countries to behave like them. Ukraine is too far away for both countries to damage the relationship that has developed over the last 20 years.

Still, a good lesson for Japanese is how their counterparts in India react to an international crisis. India does not align with a majority of the world when their policy might harm its national interest. It means that India also might not support Japan even when it faces a crisis. Tokyo should not expect too much from India, yet many in Japan still want to believe that expansion of security cooperation between two countries, as well as face-to-face summits among Quad members, are evidence that the ties could lead to a significant upgrade, perhaps to a quasi-alliance in the near future.

Japan should remember that India does not promise anything.

Tomoko Kiyota (tomokokiyota@gmail.com) is an Associate Professor at the Office for Global Relations, Nagasaki University and an Adjunct Fellow at Pacific Forum. While she specializes in Japan-India relations, Dr. Kiyota also has work experience at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and the Embassy in India and Thailand as a diplomat and a researcher. 

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #20 – After Ukraine – Enacting a realistic Japanese diplomatic security policy

 

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Mainichi Shimbun. It has been edited and translated from Japanese.

With Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the world now stands at a crossroads. Will we revert to a pre-World War II order where the weak suffer what they must, and the strong do what they will? Or will we maintain the existing global order under international law? At this crucial moment, Japan must unite with the G7 and continue to impose tough sanctions on Russia to prevent further military challenges and uphold a free and open international order.

Those who suffer most in wars are always civilians. Japan should make every effort to engage with concerned countries to begin ceasefire talks and avoid further casualties. As of April 2, over 4.1 million Ukrainian citizens—nearly a 10th of Ukraine’s population—have been forced to flee to other countries. Although Japan has historically been reluctant to accept refugees, it has announced its intent to accept Ukrainians. Yet, the conditions under which they are accepted should be further relaxed. Meanwhile, the momentum for providing humanitarian assistance to Ukraine is growing among Japanese citizens. Rational assessment of the turbulent international situation is essential to achieving balanced diplomacy.

Declining US influence

Because Washington failed to prevent Russia’s invasion, US influence in the world will weaken and we are heading towards a more multipolar world. Certainly, the United States has no obligation to defend a non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member. However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and on certain conditions, Ukraine was promised territorial integrity and security by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia via the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Not standing by this commitment may lead to certain countries in East Asia to take actions similar to Russia’s, while setting a precedent that countries with nuclear weapons cannot be controlled. In particular, the danger of crises emerging in the Taiwan Strait and on the Korean Peninsula are increasing. Given US cautiousness in dealing with nuclear-armed states, Japan will have to engage in diplomacy and dialogue to reassure concerned countries.

Japan should reconsider its reliance on the United States, which has not fulfilled its role as the global policeman. At the same time, without the United States, East Asia will also likely become unstable. So, deepening the Japan-US alliance to keep the United States in Asia is critical. In that sense, Japan has a major role to play. Japan must take drastic measures to strengthen its diplomatic and defense capabilities and build a new international cooperative system centered on peace and stability in Asia. As situations in foreign countries are becoming increasingly tense, Japan is under pressure to rebuild its security strategy from scratch. The time is ripe to promote Japan’s readiness and actions to protect itself.

The role of political parties

A think tank focused on diplomacy and security policy should be established by my party, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) of Japan, to renew and deepen policies, reduce over-reliance on the bureaucratic nerve center of Kasumigaseki, and amplify Japan’s global reach. There is an urgent need to stabilize relations with the United States and to establish an independent intelligence gathering and dissemination system. The CDP should therefore establish offices in Washington, DC.

While the opposition party should always offer alternatives to the ruling party, there is no need to highlight differences when it comes to diplomacy and security policy. We should leave party interests behind when it comes to issues directly linked to the survival of the nation, and instead unite to protect peace in Japan.

Promoting realistic policies

In the face of the current crisis, Japan must seek comprehensive foreign and security policies based on a realistic view of the international order. According to various polls, over 80% of people worry about Japan’s security in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Protecting the lives of the people and the sovereignty of the nation should be the highest priority for Japan. National defense approaches should be further discussed and deepened and no topic should be taboo.

Gaining trust and reassuring the public are difficult tasks. Politicians should avoid making unrealistic and reckless assertions while also avoiding being overly sanguine about countries that are expanding their military. What Japan’s national defense policy requires today is to thoroughly reconsider Japan’s conventional capabilities while also ensuring the smooth operation of extended deterrence. The will and leadership of our politicians, and our realistic understanding of the geopolitical situation, will be further tested if we are to protect Japan and lead the liberal international order in Asia.

Hideshi Futori (info@futori.net) is a member of the Japanese House of Representatives in the Constitutional Democratic Party.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #15 – Ukraine: A turning point in Japanese foreign policy?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted an unprecedented global response. Despite their geographic distance, many Asian countries have joined the United States and Europe in imposing a wide range of sanctions. Japan surprised many with its condemnation of the invasion, in contrast to its hesitancy to take action against Russia after the 2014 invasion of Crimea or following the Myanmar coup.

But while these moves reflect shifts in Japan’s approach to the international order and its relations with both Russia and Europe, the specifics of the Ukraine crisis suggest that this trend may not necessarily apply to Japan’s foreign policy in the future.

Japan’s response to Russia

Prior to the invasion, Japan monitored the situation in Ukraine closely and took small steps to signal its alignment with the West. For example, Japan announced on Feb. 9 that it would divert some its liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports to Europe, where supply was tight. As Russia amassed troops near the Ukraine border, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Feb. 15 that he would extend at least $100 million in emergency loans, and Japan signed on to a G7 Foreign Ministers’ statement expressing concern on Feb. 19.

On Feb. 23, after Russia ordered troops into separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, Japan joined Western nations in imposing sanctions and threatening to go further if Moscow launched an all-out invasion. Japan’s initial sanctionsincluded prohibiting issuance of Russian bonds in Japan, freezing the assets of specific Russian individuals, and restricting travel to Japan.

After the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, Japan ramped up its response in tandem with G7 countries and other partners. Kishida joined with other G7 leaders in condemning Russia’s actions as “a serious threat to the rules-based international order, with ramifications well beyond Europe.” Japan’s sanctions have since expanded to include restrictions on transactions with Russia’s central bank, freezing assets of Russian entities and individuals, excluding Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system, imposing export controls on goods such as semiconductors, and suspending visa issuance, among other things. Japan has also imposed sanctions on Belarus and provided $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, at least $100 million in loans, visa extensions, and basic supplies for its military. It also announced steps to accept refugees.

Japan coordinated its actions closely with the United States and others. It took many steps simultaneously with Washington and other first movers, although Tokyo has sometimes been a day or so behind, as in the blocking certain Russian banks’ access to SWIFT. Still, Japan’s stance on Russia has emerged as one of the toughest in the Indo-Pacific.

Motivations and limitations

Several factors combine to motivate Japan’s response, and also offer insights into the limitations to generalizing from this case to predict Japan’s responses to other crises.

First, the scale and nature of the conflict differ dramatically from the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea or other cases in which Japan displayed much more hesitancy. There is little ambiguity to the current situation: the conflict is far more intense, and Russia’s role as aggressor is undeniable. Moreover, the Ukrainian people’s resistance in the face of the invasion has inspired the sympathy of governments and publics around the world, including a growing segment of the Japanese population. Poll data suggests that the proportion of Japanese people supporting alignment with US sanctions has grown from 43% in January to 61% in late February after the start of the conflict.

Second, Russia’s actions undermine the rules and norms governing the international order, as Kishida has declared. Japan has been a major beneficiary of the post-World War II international order, and over the past decade has taken an increasingly high-profile role in defending its principles and institutions, from its leadership on trade to its promotion of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. If countries violate the fundamental principle of state sovereignty without consequences, it destabilizes international relations in a way that threatens Japan’s national interests, with potential parallels to China looming large. Elites as well as the Japanese public fear such spillover. For example, a Nikkei poll released Feb. 28 showed that 77% of Japanese respondents were concerned that the Ukraine invasion increases the odds of China using force against Taiwan.

Third, while it was once common to treat events in Europe and Asia as separate, the importance of developments in one region for the other are now clearly understood. Japan welcomes increased engagement by Europe in the Indo-Pacific as a way to build coalitions with like-minded partners to help address thorny regional problems. By displaying solidarity with Europe on Ukraine, Japan helps amplify the effect of other countries’ sanctions and signals to its European partners in hopes they will reciprocate in the event of a similar contingency in the Indo-Pacific—such as in the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea.

Fourth, Japan’s economic interdependence with Russia is limited. In 2020, Russia was Japan’s 13th-largest import partner and accounted for about 1% of Japanese exports. Under former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, the Japanese government attempted to build a closer relationship with Russia in hopes of negotiating a favorable resolution to the territorial dispute over the Northern Territories/Kuril Islands. Although Japanese companies were encouraged to do business with Russia as part of this process, Russia ranked only 31st as a destination for Japanese outbound investment in 2020. Japan’s most significant economic connections with Russia come in the field of energy: imports of LNG, coal, and crude oil, plus Japanese involvement in the Russian energy sector. Japan has discussed banning Russian energy imports with the United States and Europe, a step that Washington decided to take on March 8. However, many in Japan are concerned about energy prices and shortages, despite Kishida’s reassurances that the country has sufficient reserves of oil and LNG to avoid a significant impact on supplies in the short term.

Finally, the failure of Japan’s conciliatory policy toward Vladimir Putin to produce improvements in their territorial dispute during previous administrations paved the way for Kishida’s harder line. Japan’s recent actions vis-à-vis Russia likely dashed any hopes of regaining the Northern Territories—at least while Putin remains leader—but this was already recognized as a lost cause by the final days of Abe’s time in office. Over the last year reports of increased activity in Russian military planes and warships around the disputed territories have prompted additional concern. Kishida was foreign minister under Abe and helped promote this prior agenda. The current crisis, however, is Kishida’s opportunity to break with past precedent and distinguish himself from Abe, while demonstrating solidarity with the West.

Still, Japan is unlikely to endorse a values-based diplomacy and will instead likely continue its traditional pragmatic approach. When the nature of a conflict is more ambiguous or its economic stakes higher, Japan is likely to display more hesitancy—both conditions are likely with China, with which Japan is highly interdependent, and which tends to favor gray zone conflict over outright aggression.

Even with Ukraine, it remains to be seen how far the United States and Europe will go with sanctions, and to what extent Japan will follow. As pressure mounts to extend sanctions to the energy sector, Japan will face difficult decisions.

While the Ukraine crisis may not herald a sea change in Japan’s overall foreign policy, it does mark a turning point in its policy toward Russia. Japan’s actions thus far also reveal important changes in the way Tokyo sees its role and its willingness to confront new global challenges.

Kristi Govella (kgovella@gmfus.org) is senior fellow and deputy director of the Asia Program at The German Marshall Fund of the United States and an adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum. She is an expert on the intersection of economic and security policy in Asia, as well as Japanese politics and foreign policy. Her publications include Responding to a Resurgent Russia: Russian Foreign Policy and Responses from the United States and the European Union (2012). Follow her on Twitter @KristiGovella. 

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Photo: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a press conference on February 25, 2022. Source: Cabinet Secretariat Cabinet/Public Relations Office/Prime Minister’s Office of Japan

PacNet #13 – What the Indo-Pacific sees in Ukraine

The capitals of the Indo-Pacific are closely watching the invasion of Ukraine. From Tokyo to Taipei, Hanoi to Canberra, and Bangkok to Beijing, Russia’s invasion presents a lucid lesson as to the tactics China could use in any forced re-unification of Taiwan, such as gray zone operations, lawfare, fake news, military might, and posturing.

But the Indo-Pacific faces numerous other areas where a Russian-style takeover with Chinese characteristics could happen. In the East China Sea, the Senkaku Islands face nearly daily incursions and challenges to Japanese sovereignty through lawfare tactics such as adoption of a Chinese Coast Guard Law in January 2021.

According to Lyle Goldstein, the Taiwan Strait remains ripe for invasion and in the South China Sea the Philippines has experienced Chinese swarming gray zone operations such as the April 2021 Whitsun Reef incident, as well as Chinaexplicitly rejecting the Permanent Court of Arbitration 2016 decisions against China’s claims. Today, China holds a set of artificial islands it has militarized, supposedly as an outpost for the delivery of emergency aid and humanitarian aid to Southeast Asian friends.

What the Indo-Pacific sees

Three concerns have emerged from Russia’s invasion. The first has to do with US security guarantees at the bilateral level. After the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, concerns have resurfaced as to whether the United States will come to the aid of Japan over the Senkaku Islands or Taiwan in the event Beijing seeks to unify it with the mainland.

Similarly, in the South China Sea critical sea lanes of communication, the major arteries of trade and import/export of energy are potentially at risk if China decides to engage in a forced acquisition of these territories.

Stakeholders in the region worry that a Russian-style contingency in the East China Sea, South China Sea, or Taiwan Strait would fundamentally collapse the regional security architecture, placing invaluable sea lines of communication and the First and Second Island Chain in the hands of authoritarian China, a regime with an established track record of economic coercion and weaponization of supply chains.

The second area of concern for Indo-Pacific stakeholders is the response of the United States and the international community. Stakeholders closely observe the tools that will be applied to penalize, discipline, and push back against Russia’s expansionism.

They should appreciate that the European Union has taken a collective stance including the EU’s first batch of Russia sanctions targeting 351 lawmakers, high-ranking officials, and banks. Germany has taken forceful actions by putting Nord Stream 2 on hold, and the United States has coalesced and strengthened NATO unity in the face of Russia’s belligerence. This includes comprehensive and collective sanctions such as “sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will have profound impact on Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.”

The question for many Indo-Pacific states is: Will this be sustained? Will it be escalated, and will deterrence capabilities be deployed to prevent further expansion of Russian influence into Eastern Europe? And, perhaps most importantly, will this pay dividends?

This is critical for Tokyo, Taipei, Canberra, and Southeast Asian countries. They view enhanced deterrence capabilities as essential for pushing back against aggressive Chinese behavior in their region. This includes deterrence systems to “prevent low-intensity crisis scenarios like the landing of Chinese fishing crews or maritime law-enforcement officials on the Senkaku Islands,” according to Iwama Yoko and Murano Masashi.

In Japan’s case, Iwama and Murano also stresses the importance of enhancing the “MSDF’s capabilities to swiftly negate any Chinese efforts at escalation, thereby underpinning its national capability to handle situations arising in the gray zone.”

The logic of Indo-Pacific stakeholders is that anything less than substantial investment in deterrence and costly punitive measures against the Putin regime would result in Beijing drawing false conclusions about the resolve of the United States and its allies, and thus an end to the US Indo-Pacific Strategy.

The hope for capitals in the Indo-Pacific is that a robust defence of Ukraine will not distract the United States from sustained engagement at all levels in the region. In addition, they hope that confronting Russia will mean that the United States and its allies can draw lessons from Russia’s invasion, including the need to maximize deterrence capabilities within the Indo-Pacific. Ideally this will be integrated with economic sanctions as well as a blocking of potential aggressors’ ability to use the financial system and sea lanes of communications freely—key elements to maintain China’s economic prosperity.

Third, and relatedly, capitals in this region will watch for a shift of resources away from the Indo-Pacific and towards Ukraine. The Biden administration has been adamant that it will not intervene militarily in the conflict (notwithstanding the at least 7,000 troops that have been sent to “ reassure skittish NATO allies in Eastern Europe”). Capitals within this region will look at the investments NATO and the United States place in Poland, Hungary, and other countries vulnerable to Russian incursions or tactics including the weaponization of refugees.

They will be also look for a concrete example of resources directed at the Indo-Pacific. This includes a United States Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that not only competes with Chinese initiatives but offers new initiatives and frameworks for integrating the region. That includes inculcating a rules-based order, transparency, and good governance in the region to deal with emerging regional challenges.

What to expect

While Indo-Pacific capitals are concerned about the US position in the region, some like Japan will not wait for the United States to respond while others will vacillate in silence. They will likely begin their own bilateral and multilateral initiatives to strengthen deterrence capabilities. This will include more proactive cooperation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) at many of the contested areas within the Indo-Pacific.

This proactive diplomacy will not only translate into Quad partners providing for their own maritime security but also into bringing in other partners into a Quad-plus formation to ensure that the Quad remains a nimble institution that can deal with ad-hoc regional problems.

AUKUS-based deterrence capabilities will likely accelerate within the region. Many Indo-Pacific stakeholders will welcome this. We are also likely to see contingency strategies to deal with challenges across the Taiwan Strait as well as South China Sea and the East China Sea. Tokyo has been at the forefront of this shift, articulating Japan’s security concerns over Taiwan, and with former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo stressing that a Taiwan security dilemma is a Japan security dilemma.

Indo-Pacific stakeholders, including China, will look at the failures and successes of Russia, but also the United States and its allies. China will look for cracks in the US-NATO armor, seeking leverage to pursue its geopolitical objectives across the Taiwan Strait and East and South China Seas. They will look for weaknesses in the Biden administration and commitment to sanctions, including removing Russia from the SWIFT system, which will have economic implications for the United States and the partners. One consequence, for instance, could be the acceleration of China’s attempts to adopt a digital currency to deploy throughout the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) network of countries and potentially insulate China from future sanctions.

Indo-Pacific stakeholders will also look to the strategies that the European Union and the United States develop to deal with the energy shortages and increases in energy prices as Russia will likely weaponize energy resources to pressure EU countries to step back from sanctions.

Working together, Canada and the United States may provide some energy relief in the short to mid-term, until the European Union further diversifies away from Russia as its primary energy supplier.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the canary in the coal mine for many Indo-Pacific stakeholders. A forceful, collective, and effective response to Russia’s belligerence would do much to accrue the confidence of the United States allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.

Dr. Stephen Nagy is a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI); a senior fellow at the MacDonald Laurier Institute (MLI); a senior fellow at the East Asia Security Centre (EASC); and a visiting fellow with the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA). Twitter handle: @nagystephen1.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Photo: A Chinese Coast Guard ship seen near the Senkaku Islands in February. Source: Hitoshi Nakaima/Kyodo

PacNet #11 – Nuclear submarines for our Pacific allies: When to say yes

An earlier version of this article appeared in Real Clear Defense. 

On March 9, South Korea will elect a new president. One of the first things the new president will have to determine is whether or not to get Washington to support South Korea’s development and fueling of a nuclear submarine fleet. The progressive candidate, Lee Jae-myung, has publicly vowed to press the United States to cut a submarine technology transfer deal for South Korea similar to what Washington struck with Australia. In a recent interview, Mr. Lee noted, “It is absolutely necessary for us to have those subs.”

But is it? Mr. Lee’s key opponent, Yoon Suk-yeol, says no. He favors investing in military space and airborne surveillance systems instead. In fact, if South Korea is serious about neutralizing the naval threats it faces, it would do far better with a sound mix of advanced non-nuclear anti-submarine and anti-surface systems than with nuclear submarines.

A detailed study, which The Naval War College Review just published, spells out why. Commissioned by my center and authored by James Campbell Jr., of Naval Sea System Command, “Seoul’s Misguided Desire for Nuclear Submarines” details how poorly nuclear submarines would perform in the relatively closed East China, Yellow, and East Seas, which border Korea. His conclusion: The best way to track and contain North Korean naval threats and help the United States and Japan monitor the First Island Chain (the islands connecting Russia, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines) is not with nuclear submarines. Nuclear submarines are vastly more expensive and far less effective than a proper mix of advanced non-nuclear naval systems for these particular missions.

Such systems include upgrading South Korea’s air-independent propulsion submarines, anti-submarine aircraft, and naval surface combatants; upgrading, sharing, and analyzing acoustic and non-acoustic anti-submarine sensor information with Washington and Seoul; and investing in new anti-submarine technologies. The latter include airborne and underwater drones, wave runners, artificial intelligence-enhanced anti-submarine systems and the like.

As for South Korea using nuclear submarines to launch conventional missile “second strikes”—yet another argument some South Korean naval advocates make for “going nuclear”—using these boats for this mission compares poorly against using air and mobile ground-launched missile systems. These are far more survivable, can fire many more rounds, and cost far less per flight. Finally, if Seoul is eager to secure a blue-water navy, then developing advanced surface combatants, including small aircraft carriers, is more cost effective and avoids compounding the growing challenge of identifying nuclear submarine friends and foes in the open Western Pacific.

Sensible for Seoul, this set of recommendation is also sound for Tokyo. From bases in Japan, super-quiet, advanced conventional submarines and other select non-nuclear systems can monitor and contain Chinese and North Korean naval threats within the First Island Chain far better than nuclear submarines.

What, then, about Australia? Located thousands of miles from China’s coast, Canberra requires naval platforms that can quickly travel significant distances and stay on station for extended periods. For this purpose, nuclear submarines make sense. In short, it’s different.

Why belabor these points? First, if Washington wants Seoul and Tokyo to make military investments that are leveraged to deter North Korea and China, preventing South Korea and Japan from wasting billions of dollars on nuclear submarine cooperation is essential. This, in turn, requires making a no-nonsense distinction between Australia’s naval requirements and those of Seoul and Tokyo.

Second, green lighting South Korea on nuclear submarines risks spreading the bomb. Nuclear submarines require enriched uranium fuel. Seoul, which attempted to build nuclear weapons in the 1970s, has been asking Washington to allow it to enrich uranium now for nearly a decade. So far, Washington has said no. Why? Even if Seoul promised to enrich uranium ever so slightly, it could flip any enrichment plant it ran to make weapons-grade uranium in a matter of days. Bottom line: If Seoul pursued its own nuclear naval program, it would alarm Japan (a historical antagonist that also has pondered going nuclear) and disrupt alliance relations with Washington, Seoul’s nuclear guarantor.

What’s to be done? It would help if Seoul weren’t the only one being asked to restrain its nuclear aspirations. In this regard, my center has proposed having Australia commit to a moratorium on enriching uranium tied to its 30-year AUKUS nuclear submarine deal. It also has recommended that the United States and Japan join South Korea in suspending their commercialization of fast reactors and the recycling of nuclear weapons explosive plutonium. This would help spotlight similar militarily worrisome plutonium production-related activities in China.

Finally, Washington should work with Europe to help Seoul and Tokyo tackle significant cutting-edge defense related projects of their own. For South Korea, this might be developing space surveillance systems. For Japan, it could be advanced communications, computing capabilities and cryptology to crack China’s great firewall.

Each of these steps would help. First, however, South Korea and Japan need to conclude that their acquisition of nuclear submarines would be, at best, a dangerous distraction.

Henry Sokolski (henry@npolicy.org) is the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Arlington, Virginia, and author of Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future. He served as deputy for nonproliferation policy in the office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the George H.W. Bush administration.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael B Zingaro

PacNet #3 Abe was key to the Indo-Pacific’s evolution

This is a transitional moment for the Indo-Pacific. Regional governments are forging new security relationships—the Japan-Australia partnership is the leading edge, as various European governments jostle for inclusion—and new institutions are emerging—from AUKUS to the Quad in the security sphere and at the same time, economic configurations include CPTPP and RCEP.

How did we get here? There are several explanations. Realists insist that rising powers create instability, triggered either by their ambition or the hegemon’s insecurity. For others, the unraveling of the architecture of coexistence, in which China provided markets and the US provided security, was the problem. To my mind, there are still more basic explanations.

First, you need a threat, a source of instability big enough to motivate states to act. With all due respect to John Mearsheimer, China doesn’t fit the bill—at least, not until recently. China has been rising for decades and while that created concern, there wasn’t concerted action to balance against it until Xi Jinping took power. He inherited a powerhouse economy and a modernizing military and married them to ambition and vision—a Belt and Road Initiative that girdled the globe—to pursue the China dream. His ascension and his muscular foreign policy unnerved governments worldwide. If the dream belonged to the nation, it is Xi who acted to make it real: The elimination of rivals, the consolidation of power, and efforts to entrench himself in office make plain that he is a singular world-historical individual who drives decision making in Beijing.

That security threat has been magnified by perceived unreliability on the United States. It’s tempting to blame Donald Trump for this. He created considerable unease with his disdain for alliances, contempt for multilateralism, and narrowly defined view of US national interests, but concern predates his administration. The US refusal to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a strategic agreement masquerading as a trade deal that Washington was instrumental in negotiating, is the most glaring example, and that was President Obama’s fault. The failure to ensure that China honored the purported agreement to withdraw its forces from Scarborough Shoal was another blow to US credibility.

Trump’s mercurial and transactional approach to policy crystalized fears and left allies and partners wondering what might be next. While the worst predictions did not come true, the damage was done. Governments around the region know that even if Trump departed, Trumpism remains, and his foreign policy mindset could reassert itself in Washington even if he did not return to power.

More alarming, though, is a realization that a “mainstream,” traditionally minded president like Joe Biden can still unsettle the status quo. The withdrawal from Afghanistan rattled even those allies who approved of the decision but were alarmed by the incompetence of its execution and the lack of consultation. The persistence of Trump’s thinking about economic security, manifest most plainly in tariffs that remain in place against allies, is another source of concern. Other moves, such as the abrupt cancellation of the France-Australian submarine agreement and the substitution of a UK-US deal, reinforce a belief that Washington’s field of vision is narrowing and that allies and partners play increasingly bit roles.

A third factor that shaped the region’s evolution was the tenure of Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. His was one of the most remarkable second acts in world politics. After a brutal failure during his first term as prime minister, he returned to the Kantei for a period of stability, energy, and creativity unrivaled in Japan’s modern history.

The fact that Abe stayed in office as long as he did—he claimed the record for the longest-serving PM in the country’s history—transformed perceptions of Japan. His determination to modernize the country’s national security bureaucracy and subsequent commitment to using that power and purpose to support a wobbling regional order yielded institutions—the CPTPP and the Quad, to name but two—pillars of the emerging architecture.

A fourth and final key factor is a conceptual framework, the Indo-Pacific. Abe championed this concept, but it deserves recognition on its own. While the idea of an Indo-Pacific strategic space had been employed by US Pacific Command combatant commanders from the late 1980s, Abe elevated that idea to a guiding principle in his 2007 speech to the Indian Parliament in which he spoke of “the confluence of two seas.” Obama’s “rebalance” incorporated the concept, but it didn’t assume prominence until the Trump administration adopted the framework in 2017.

The Indo-Pacific is a curious geographical space. China is physically in the middle, but it’s bracketed between two democratic powers. The inclusion of India as a geopolitical counterweight to China is one of the most obvious intentions of its proponents. More important, that Indo-Pacific frame is a predominately maritime domain and links the strategic space to the trade routes that run through its heart. In addition, the inclusion of the Indian Ocean invites European countries with an African presence to be engaged. These considerations expand the number of countries that can claim an interest in events within that region. It is thus an inherently inclusive framework, which allows more countries to participate in regional security affairs.

The key variable appears to have been Abe—which means that our current moment may well result from considerable luck. Abe was a break with history, and Japan appears to be resorting to kind. His successor was in office for just a year. His successor, Kishida Fumio, is popular, but he is a traditional Japanese politician who mediates among factions and plays down his own opinions. There is mounting evidence that the Japanese public is increasingly inward-focused, cautious, and risk-averse. It can be led, but Kishida will have to have vision, charisma, competence, and luck, especially given the challenging circumstances—COVID, China, and a distracted ally.

Still, trajectories have been set, and that will allow bureaucracies to follow through. Headwinds will grow, but there is enough momentum and energy to believe that a genuine regional security architecture will emerge.

Brad Glosserman (brad@pacforum.org) is deputy director of and visiting professor at the Center for Rule-Making Strategies at Tama University as well as senior adviser (nonresident) at Pacific Forum. He is the author of “Peak Japan: The End of Great Ambitions” (Georgetown University Press, 2019).

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #1 The limits of a securitized Japanese FOIP Vision

Critics of Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision conflate it with an anti-China containment strategy. They see it as an extension of the former Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy. Others see the “free and open” aspect of FOIP as hypocritical as Japan actively courts non-democratic states to support its FOIP vision, such as through the recent Japan-Vietnam summit and activities with countries considered flawed democracies, such as India.

These interpretations misread FOIP’s strategic imperatives. First, conceptualizing FOIP as an anti-China containment strategy overlooks deep and mutually beneficial Sino-Japanese economic ties. To illustrate this, in 2020, a year in which China’s unfavorably ratings remained at record lows in Japan, we saw deepening Japanese exports to China, equivalent to $141.6 billion (and 22.1% of total Japanese exports).

If we include the $44.4 billion (6.9%) of Japan exports to Taiwan and the $32 billion (5%) of exports to Hong Kong, exports to greater China represent at least $218 billion or 33.1% of Japan’s total exports, nearly twice that of the US at $118.8 billion (18.5%). Economic decoupling is not possible nor desirable, a sentiment shared by most of China’s trading partners.

We have also seen Japan’s willingness to cooperate with China on infrastructure and connectivity in third countries based on the principles of transparency, fair procurement, and economic viability, to be financed by repayable debt and to be environmentally friendly and sustainable.

In surveys conducted by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), China returned to its position as the most promising country in terms of trade in FY2020 survey. Its return to the top of the JBIC survey ranking was related to COVID-19 policies that kept supply chains mostly intact and operational, allowing for the resumption of economic activity. China compared very favorably to India, which experienced a severe nationwide lockdown and the associated disruption in the economy.

Second, FOIP’s “free” and “open” do not reference democracy or freedom of press advocacy; they refer to trading regimes, sea lines of communication, and the digital economy being rules-based, transparent, and arbitrated by international law and/or multilateral agreements. Japan has a long track record of working with partners regardless of their political system, commitment to democracy, or human rights track record. Japan-Iran, Japan-Vietnam, and Japan-China energy and economic cooperation are cases in point.

Participating in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement alongside China further illustrates Japan’s reticence to sever its economic ties with its largest trading partner.

Third, Japan’s expanded defense procurement continues to be incremental both in terms of budget but also capabilities. For example, according to Janes Defense Budgets forecasts an increase to $49.6 billion in 2022 is slightly larger than 1% of Japan’s GDP. Compared to China, spending approximately $209.16 billion in 2021 (approximately 1.34% of GDP), Japan’s spending increase remains modest and focused on the acquisition of cyberspace, electromagnetic, and over-the-horizon radar capabilities, as well as satellites to enhance space and maritime domain awareness. Beyond these capabilities, the 2022 defense budget aims to secure funding for the deployment of around 570 Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces (JGSDF) and to deploy surface-to-air and anti-ship missile batteries on Okinawa’s Ishigaki Island.

 In contrast, while China is committed to expanding its nuclear arsenal and testing hypersonic delivery systems, Tokyo is still wrangling over constitutional reform and whether it should increase defense spending to 2% of GDP.

If FOIP was a containment strategy, we would see a substantial increase in deterrence capabilities, including submarine acquisitions, lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWs), and the acquisition of mid- to long-range missile systems that would be able to target threats in the region.

Instead, Tokyo’s FOIP vision continues to be multifaceted. Key features continue to include trade promotion, development, the expansion of infrastructure and connectivity, and investment in resilient supply chains. Together, these core features are inculcating a rules-based predictability into critical sea lines of communication (SLOCs) through an adherence to international law.

For Tokyo, the focus on SLOCs, trade promotion, development, the expansion of infrastructure and connectivity and investment in resilient supply chains is tangentially related to Japan’s economic security. A disruption in SLOCs through a regional conflict, incident, or Taiwan contingency would cut off Japan’s economy from the critical arteries for the import and export of goods and energy resources.

Trade promotion, development, the expansion of infrastructure and connectivity and investment in resilient supply chains is about enmeshing Japan into the Indo-Pacific’s economy, its burgeoning institutions, and its rules-making process. Tokyo wants to lock itself into the region’s political economy to ensure that it evolves in a form favorable to Japanese interests. This means strategic partnerships, multilateral cooperation and agreements, and socio-economic tools rather than military tools being the primary means Tokyo wishes to achieve its strategic priority.

The Japan-EU Economic Partnership, Japan-EU Infrastructure and Connectivity agreement, and the Resilient Supply Chain Initiative (RSCI), which include Japan, India, and Australia, are all examples of Tokyo’s efforts to enmesh itself in a series of multilateral agreements that anchor Japan into the national interests of other regions and countries and to anchor those countries and regions into the Indo-Pacific.

This multilateral approach does not eschew strategic partnerships, defense agreements, and the centrality of the Japan-US alliance in Japan’s FOIP vision. Japan is continuing to deepen its relationship with the US while moving towards a defense treaty with Australia.

Discussions are also on their way towards the Japan-UK Reciprocal Access Agreement, 2+2 ministerial security talk between Japan and France, and on May 3, 2021 Japan and Canada announced their “Shared Japan-Canada Priorities Contributing to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”

The latter announcement stresses cooperation in six key areas including: 1) the rule of law; 2) peacekeeping operations, peacebuilding, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; 3) health security and responding to COVID-19; 4) energy security; 5) free trade promotion and trade agreement implementation; and 6) environment and climate change.

This is an agenda that speaks to Japan’s comprehensive approach to achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific region. It also illustrates the limits of a securitized Japanese FOIP vision focused on confronting or containing China directly.

Policymakers in Washington should understand that Japan’s FOIP approach resonates with many regional stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific as it aims to invest in regional institutions such that they are more resilient, transparent, and rules-based. Critically, Japan continues to engage with China economically from a position wedded to both multilateral engagement and deepening cooperation within the US-Japan alliance.

Dr. Stephen Nagy (nagy@icu.ac.jp) is a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo, a senior fellow with the MacDonald Laurier Institute (MLI), a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) and a visiting fellow with the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA). Twitter handle: @nagystephen1.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #59 – “JAUKUS” and the emerging clash of alliances in the Pacific

When the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) agreement was announced in September, Moscow’s initial response was gloating. In 2015 Paris had reneged on a deal to sell Russia two amphibious Mistral warships and now France itself has been let down by its close allies.

Quickly, however, emotional satisfaction gave way to cold geopolitical calculations, which had little to do with France. On the surface, the military-technological arrangement of the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia is of minor concern to Russia. AUKUS’ area of focus is the Indo-Pacific, whereas Russia’s most vital security interests and geopolitical ambitions are in Europe and the Middle East. In the Pacific, Russia’s strategic posture is defensive and status-quo-oriented.

That doesn’t mean Russia isn’t concerned. The Russian Pacific Fleet currently has only seven nuclear-powered submarines on active duty, and Australia is expected to receive eight submarines with American and British assistance. Still, no one expects that Russia will need to fight Australian subs, if only because their area of operation would likely be much closer to the South China Sea than the Sea of Okhotsk.

Everyone understands that AUKUS has China in its crosshairs. So, Moscow’s stance on AUKUS is first and foremost determined by Russia’s relationship with China. Mostly because they have a shared foe—the United States—Moscow and Beijing have been building up a “strategic partnership” since the late 1990s. The Russo-Chinese alignment, as it stands now, has all the features of a quasi-alliance, or entente.

There is little chance that Russia and the United States work out their differences in the foreseeable future, especially given the Ukraine issue. At the same time, a multi-faceted geopolitical and geo-economic rivalry between Beijing and Washington is intensifying. The Moscow-Beijing bond, then, will only get stronger. Russia expects Chinese support in its confrontation with NATO in Eastern Europe. As we will see, based on readouts of official talks and commentary from Chinese state media, Beijing seeks to enlist Moscow as an ally against US-led coalitions in the Indo-Pacific. This is why Moscow opposes AUKUS—and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) between the United States, Japan, India, and Australia—even if these arrangements do not pose a direct challenge to Russian security.

Moscow has repeatedly expressed its disapproval of AUKUS, including at the highest level. In a recent public appearance, Vladimir Putin called it a “closed alliance” whose establishment “leads to more tensions” in “the Pacific zone.” During his videoconference with Xi Jinping on Dec. 15, both leaders denounced AUKUS, as well as the Quad. Putin has also expressed support for Beijing’s “legitimate position on Taiwan-related issues.” According to Xinhua’s account of the Putin-Xi conversation, Russia “will firmly oppose moves by any force to undermine China’s interests using Taiwan-related issues, and moves to form any type of ‘small groups’ in the Asia-Pacific region.” Reciprocating Putin’s understanding of Chinese strategic concerns in the Indo-Pacific, Xi “supported Russia’s demands” that NATO should stop expanding toward Russian borders.

Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov referred to AUKUS as a “bloc” and “destabilizing factor,” which may “usher in a new phase of struggle for dominance not only in the Asia-Pacific, but in other regions as well.” Gerasimov also emphasized AUKUS’ potential to proliferate nuclear technology. In another sign of Russian solidarity with China, the Russian envoy at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna joined his Chinese counterpart in labeling AUKUS a potential nonproliferation concern. (As an aside, Russia’s purism with respect to the nonproliferation dimension of AUKUS may smack of double standards. For decades, since the 1980s, the Soviet Union/Russia has been leasing nuclear-powered submarines to India and this collaboration program is still active.)

To counter AUKUS, Beijing may expect more from Moscow than rhetorical solidarity. With China bracing for a long-haul rivalry with the United States and its many allies and partners, Beijing will probably attempt to construct its own network of alliances, and Russia will be front and center. In military terms, Russia offers three benefits to China. First, Russia is the most significant external supplier of military technology for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), even as China is becoming increasingly capable of designing and producing most sophisticated weapons. Second, Russia can tie down US forces in the European theater, distracting Washington and weakening its capacity to respond to contingencies in the Western Pacific. Finally, Russia could support China in the Pacific strategic theater in the event of a confrontation, most probably over Taiwan.

It is perhaps only a question of time before a fourth nation, Japan, throws its weight behind AUKUS. De facto, it is already there, informally, and a formal linkage may be in the works, despite US officials’ claims to the contrary. Tokyo has consistently signaled that it would not stand aloof in a contingency over Taiwan, and it has been more vocal in recent months.

The emerging “JAUKUS” is primarily a naval partnership. If there is a war between China and JAUKUS countries, it will happen primarily at sea. This is where Russia’s assets in the North Pacific would come in handy, and there are signs that Beijing is beginning to see Russia as an important part of China’s response to the maritime threats coming from the JAUKUS coalition. Even just a month before AUKUS was announced, the Russian International Affairs Council published an article by Zhao Huasheng, a professor of Fudan University, in which he proposes to add a maritime dimension to the Sino-Russian strategic partnership. The article argues that “China and Russia are facing serious security threats from sea, some of which are from the same source. Maritime military cooperation between China and Russia can enhance their respective military defense capabilities and more effectively safeguard their security.”

Given the sensitivity of the subject, it is unlikely a senior Chinese scholar published this article without a nod from Beijing. In a Russian-Chinese expert roundtable in late October, which I attended, there were also calls from the Chinese side for arrangements consisting of states not happy with AUKUS and the Quad.

The maritime domain has been an increasingly important component in Russo-Chinese military cooperation. The most spectacular recent manifestation was a “joint patrol” by Russian and Chinese warships in the Pacific Ocean, in which they nearly circumnavigated Japan. Of note, the commanding ship of the joint flotilla was the Chinese newest destroyer Nanchang. Beijing’s Global Times said the Sino-Russian naval demonstration was “a warning to Japan as well as the US, which have been rallying allies to confront China and Russia, destabilizing the region.”

The North Pacific is the most logical theater to operationalize a Moscow-Beijing military axis. Russia and China have a direct presence in the region, where they maintain substantial military capabilities, which can complement each other. It is also in the North Pacific that Russia and China directly interact with a shared adversary—the United States and its junior ally Japan. Last June, Russia held massive military drills in its Far East and adjacent waters. The exercise simulated “a standoff of two coalitions of states,” even though the composition of antagonistic coalitions was not revealed.

Russia’s naval capabilities in the Pacific are limited, with the Russian Pacific Fleet being essentially a green-water navy. Still, Russia can provide a range of force multiplier functions to the Chinese in the event of a new Pacific War. For example, Chinese submarines can use Russia’s Pacific littoral zone, especially the Sea of Okhotsk, as a sanctuary. In recent years, Russia has been building its coastal defenses in the Pacific, paying special attention to the Kuril Islands that guard the entrance into the Sea of Okhotsk. The prospect of China getting basing rights on the Russian Pacific Coast, perhaps in Kamchatka, also no longer looks out of question. When a conflict over Taiwan erupts and the United States and Japan intervene militarily, China might rely on Russia to launch a counterattack against Alaska and the Japanese Islands.

One might ask about Russia’s motivation to get drawn into a Pacific war between China and JAUKUS, especially given that such a war could easily escalate? The simple answer is that Moscow has no choice. If the Ukraine crisis escalates and the West imposes massive sanctions on Russia, Moscow will turn to China for an economic lifeline. Chinese help is unlikely to come free of charge. In return, Russia might be asked to accommodate Beijing’s military requests in the Pacific.

North Korea is another strategic player in the North Pacific whose geo-economic dependence on China, along with its avowed anti-Americanism, makes it a suitable candidate for a Sino-centric alliance network.

Over the next few years, a “RUCNDPRK” partnership could become a counterbalance to JAUKUS.

Artyom Lukin (artlukin@mail.ru) is Deputy Director for Research at the Oriental Institute – School of Regional and International Studies, Far Eastern Federal University (Vladivostok, Russia).

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

US-Japan Cybersecurity Cooperation: Beyond the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

As an anchor of stability in the Indo-Pacific region, the US-Japan alliance faces enormous challenges and opportunities to revisit, review, and reinvigorate existing approaches in cybersecurity cooperation. The two countries face an ever-changing cyber threat environment, especially with the advent of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, cloud-computing against the backdrop of deteriorating global Internet consensus.

The US-Japan Virtual Forum on Cybersecurity Cooperation: Beyond the Tokyo Olympics examined the progress, challenges, and prospects for US-Japan cybersecurity cooperation in securing critical national infrastructure (CNI) against the backdrop of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and increasing great power competition. Experts from both countries convened for two days of closed-door sessions and a cybersecurity table-top exercise. Policy recommendations were then shared by select speakers at a public panel. This special report showcases research originating from these discussions that was conducted by select Forum attendees.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction 
  2. Key Findings from the US-Japan Virtual Forum on Cybersecurity Cooperation: Beyond the Tokyo Olympics 2020
  3. Next Steps for US-Japan Cybersecurity Cooperation After Tokyo 2020 | Mihoko Matsubara
  4. Threats & Trends in Critical National Infrastructure | Gregory Winger, Ph.D.
  5. Strengthening US-Japan Cooperation on Protection of Critical National Infrastructure | Benjamin Bartlett, Ph.D.
  6. Seizing on US-Japan Opportunities for Submarine Cable Security | Justin Sherman
  7. US-Japan Cybersecurity Cooperation | Professor Wilhelm Vosse, Ph.D.
  8. The Cyber AI Nexus: Implications for the US-Japan Cybersecurity Alliance | Mark Bryan Manantan


Click here to download the report.

Introduction

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics put into sharp focus the increasing significance of cybersecurity to Japan’s national security agenda in recent decades. Ahead of the highly anticipated 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games, Japan’s National Intelligence Agency warned the government about an expected influx of state-sponsored hackers targeting critical national and digital infrastructure to disrupt or hijack the historic sporting events. The warning is reminiscent of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics held in South Korea, where malware nearly delayed the opening ceremony. In 2018, a recorded cyberattack also compromised 300 computer systems, affecting the inter- net and television services managed by the International Olympic Committee.

Amid postponement of the 2020 Olympics due to the global pandemic, Japan has remained focused on mitigating malicious cyberattacks, especially with increasing tensions in the region, including US-China geostrategic and geo-economic rivalry and Russia’s four-year Olympic ban. Japan continues to ramp up its cyber defenses. Amid the limitations of its pacifist constitution, Japan has made leaps in the adoption of a more defense-oriented posture in cybersecurity. Japan is now an emerging cyber power.

Integral to Japan’s overall cybersecurity policy is closer cooperation with the United States. The US-Japan alliance anchors the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. Enduring regional security therefore relies on the bilateral initiatives undertaken by Tokyo and Washington across all domains, including cyberspace. Although cybersecurity cooperation within the alliance has been robust, the urgency to constantly review, assess, and upgrade facets of cybersecurity engagements — confidence-building measures, and international law and cyber norm promotion — is imperative due to the evolving nature of sophisticated cyberattacks and the disruptive effects of technological advancements.

In light of these recent developments, Pacific Forum hosted a three-day virtual workshop from August 17-19, 2021, titled the US-Japan Cybersecurity Cooperation Virtual Forum: Beyond the Tokyo Olympics. The work- shop examined the progress, challenges, and prospects for US-Japan cybersecurity cooperation in securing critical national infrastructure (CNI) against the backdrop of the Tokyo 2020/2021 Olympics, COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing great power competition. The workshop gathered over 70 individuals representing government, industry, academia, and civil society from the Indo-Pacific. The first two days were closed-door, while the final day’s proceedings were open to the public. The virtual dialogue featured well-known Japanese and American speakers who tackled key dimensions of cybersecurity cooperation under the US-Japan alliance. In parallel to the virtual discussions, a cybersecurity tabletop exercise was conducted to test and operationalize the concepts and deliberations and formulate actionable and pragmatic policy insights. 

To sustain the virtual dialogue’s relevance and policy impact, Pacific Forum has compiled this special digital publication with select contributions from the panelists. With the increased attention on state-sponsored cyberattacks, the proliferation of ransomware, and the disruptive effects of emerging technologies, the launch of this special issue comes at an auspicious time. Reflecting on the outcomes of the virtual event, the authors in this volume took a step back to locate gaps in the US-Japan alliance’s role in securing cyber stability in the Indo-Pacific region before zooming in on concrete policy recommendations. 

This digital publication begins with the Key Findings report that outlines the salient points of the three-day virtual dialogue, including the deliberations during the cybersecurity tabletop exercise. Reflecting on the aftermath of the Olympics, Mihoko Matsubara’s “Next steps for US-Japan cybersecurity cooperation after Tokyo 2020” offers insights on the lessons learned and best practices that Japan can apply and sustain with its ongoing collaboration with the US and its partners across Asia and Europe. Dr. Gregory Winger’s “Threats and trends in critical national infra- structure” examines the SolarWinds and Colonial pipeline hacks to expose the evolving patterns of malicious behavior on supply chains before calling for a more proactive and persistent type of engagement between the US and Japan. 

Focusing on practical collaborative steps that the US and Japan can undertake in protecting their critical national infrastructure, Dr. Benjamin Bartlett’s contribution probes into how the alliance can address cyber incidents that fall under the level of an armed attack. He explores what coordinated responses Tokyo and Washington should pursue to confront low-level yet persistent threats like cyber espionage in critical national infrastructure. 

Justin Sherman’s “Seizing on US-Japan opportunities for submarine cable security” explores the physical dimension of cybersecurity, scrutinizing the strategic issues underpinning undersea cable networks. Mr. Sherman’s article emphasizes the importance of regulatory func- tions and joint capacity building to safeguard submarine cables, which are the connective tissue of US-Japan cyber intelligence-sharing, and more broadly the global internet infrastructure. 

Looking ahead, Professor Wilhelm Vosse’s piece scans the weaknesses and strengths of Japan’s cybersecurity architecture. Although Japan has made impressive strides in its regional and international cyber diplomacy — capacity building, confidence-building measures, and joint training exercises — it needs to review the fundamental elements of its cyber policy. This will entail narrowing the definition of cyberattacks and exploring the notion of what offensive and defensive cyber capabilities look like for Japan given its pacifist constitution amid rising concerns over China, Russia, and North Korea’s cyber activities. Finally, Mark Bryan Manantan’s “The cyber AI nexus: Implications for the US-Japan cybersecurity alliance” tackles how emerging and dual-use technology like AI is tilting the alliance’s cyber cooperation. Mr. Manantan explores the mutual relationship between cyber and AI from normative and technical perspectives to conduct an in-depth analysis of the opportunities, challenges, and prospects for Tokyo and Washington in the age of technological disruption. 

As geostrategic competition shifts into the geo-economic and geo-technological spheres, cybersecurity will become even more central. It is our hope that the policy recommendations and insights offered by this digital publication will be applied among policymakers to enable deep reflection on the rapidly changing cyber landscape and consequently upgrade the existing dimensions of cyber cooperation. With current US-China relations hitting a cul-de-sac, clandestine and covert operations in the cyber arena will further accelerate — a reality that Tokyo and Washington must confront with both strategic pragmatism and prudence

Acknowledgments

The completion of this Special Edited Volume would have not been possible without the generous contributions of our featured authors, and the active participation and support from all the speakers, advisors, and participants during the US-Japan Virtual Forum on Cybersecurity Cooperation: Beyond the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.