Japanese companies have long aimed to foster resilience in their supply chains by a “China Plus One” strategy that emphasized adding redundancy in addition to any production in China. But this government support goes further by actively supporting a “shift away from China” approach. The idea of moving domestic companies out of China has gained adherents in other capitals in the West, including in Washington, D.C. with White House officials as it would support Trump’s “America First” motto. Abe’s top adviser Yoshihide Suga wants Japan to become less reliant on China as a result of the pandemic crisis.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Since 2018, Japan had been aiming to foster friendlier ties with China. As a capstone to the relationship, the countries were gearing up for a state visit in April that could have set a new, more ambitious tone for the relationship. Yet, the pandemic has been a triple whammy on the bilateral relationship and fragile détente, forcing Japan to postpone the Tokyo Olympics, cancel Xi Jinping’s spring state visit to Japan, and initiate a decoupling away from the Chinese economy. In recent history, China-Japan ties are normally described as “cold politics, hot economics.” Analysts are seeing a return to that politically cold equilibrium.
Devin Stewart is Senior Fellow at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs where he founded the Asia Program. He also has served as an adjunct assistant professor in international affairs at Columbia University and New York University.