Assertive Engagement: An Updated U.S.-Japan Strategy for China

Assertive Engagement: An Updated U.S.-Japan Strategy for China

Tokyo and Washington must work together.

4. Stronger Combined Military Capability of the United States and Japan

Both the United States and Japan need to continue to modernize their forces. Japan has arrested the decline of its defense budgets with modest increases in the past three years, but it must do more. It is Japanese interests that are under the greatest direct threat from Chinese military modernization, and Japan’s defense expenditures are only a quarter of those of the United States, as a percentage of gross domestic products. If American defense budgets stabilize and Japanese defense budgets increase, there is no objective reason that the United States and Japan cannot maintain the current relatively stable maritime and air balance in the region, denying China a high-confidence ability to take and hold Taiwan, the Senkakus or other islands in the South and East China Seas.

The United States and Japan should continue to engage China’s armed forces in exercises such as the multilateral RIMPAC exercise and operations to meet common challenges, from antipiracy patrols to the Ebola outbreak, tsunami responses and the full range of peacekeeping operations. In addition, there is scope for an array of confidence-building measures such as hotlines, exercise notifications and observer exchanges, protocols for seamanship and airmanship when encountering ships and planes of the other country, and others.

5. Countering Chinese Aggression in the South China Sea

In the South China Sea, China has been challenging international laws by unilaterally drawing the so-called “nine-dashed line” to claim most of the South China Sea as its territorial waters. Currently, Chinese support of its territorial claims in the South China Sea is taking place primarily below the level of military confrontation. Japan and the United States need to formulate an effective response to the series of Chinese actions by civil agencies, backed up by military forces that seek to establish de facto jurisdiction over the entire South China Sea.

First, the United States and Japan should encourage, even facilitate, at least the elements if not the exact shape of a settlement for South China Sea territorial and EEZ claims, including those of China. Such an action should attract the support of all countries involved except for China, which would denounce it and refuse to participate. This action would further isolate China as the outlier to a reasonable solution, generally acceptable by international standards. However, it could also reassure China. China has some strong claims, and any reasonable adjudication would award to China a healthy EEZ in at least the northern part of the South China Sea. Establishing this settlement would provide a positive diplomatic vision around which all countries except China and its few subservient friendly countries could throw their support.

Second, once there is in place a general scheme for a reasonable settlement of all the conflicting claims—although one not accepted by China—then the United States and Japan should encourage all parties to take actions that are their right and responsibility on their islands, and within their territorial seas and EEZs. The United States and Japan should recognize these actions as legitimate, rather than the current policy of simply calling for restraint and moratoria by all claimants. As they have in the Senkakus, the United States and Japan would have a basis on which to conduct military actions to support or oppose specific moves by China and the other claimant countries.

Third, the United States and Japan need to conduct traditional military activities such as exercises, reconnaissance, and survey air and sea operations with enough frequency and in enough strength to establish precedent and prerogative.

Fourth, in addition to these diplomatic and military actions, the United States and Japan can provide economic and other assistance to claimant countries to build their capacity to enforce maritime security in their claimed territorial waters and EEZs.

Dennis C. Blair is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sasakawa USA. Hiroko Maeda is a Non-Resident Fellow at Sasakawa USA and a Research Fellow at PHP Institute in Tokyo.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/ U.S. Department of Defense