The meanings of the U.S.–Japan alliance in relation to China and the redefinition of its Guidelines from 1996 to 1999

The U.S.-Japan alliance has different meanings. For Japan, it is the key mechanism for its self-defense under Article 9. For the United States, the alliance is one spoke in its hub-and-spoke mechanism in the Asia-Pacific region (APR). During the Cold War, it was a key alliance against the communist bloc and supported U.S. forward defense. At the same time, it had the purpose of constraining ‘Japan strategically,’ which was often identified as ‘the cap in the bottle’ against Japan’s militarism or its full-fledged military.12 This point became clear after

U.S. China policy shifted from containment toward détente at the beginning of the 1970s.13 According to Henry A. Kissinger, then-National Security Advisor to U.S. President Richard Nixon, the U.S. government persuaded China to accept the U.S.-Japan alliance by suggesting that this treaty functioned as the cap in the bottle to constrain Japan’s remilitarization.14 U.S. President Richard Nixon and Kissinger ‘worked hard to convince the Chinese leadership that it was in China’s interest to avoid a U.S.-Japan-China triangular relationship in East Asia’ and ‘(i)t would be far better to keep Japan in the snug embrace of the United States, which would delay for a considerable time if not avoid altogether Japan’s revival as a military power.’15 This view worked for China’s ‘passive’ acceptance of the U.S.-Japan alliance.16 In the United States, many analysts still view the security link to Japan has a means to contain Japan strategically.17 Nonetheless, the U.S.-Japan alliance has worked as a security and political mechanism to check China's rise in the region.

During the Cold War, Japan attempted to moderate the impact of the UJMST as much as possible to maintain a stable relationship with China. At that time, it was supposed that Japan’s excessive inclination toward the U.S.-Japan alliance would intensify security tensions with China. Because of this, Japan was ambiguous over whether the U.S.-Japan alliance was applied to China. In 1960, the Japanese government officially explained that the term ‘Far East’ in Article 6 of the UJMST stipulates that the United States can use its bases in Japan for contingencies in the Far East, including the northern part to the Philippines, Japan and its near regions, the Korean peninsula and Taiwan.18 This explanation avoided a reference to the Chinese mainland, and the geographical range of Japan’s defense commitment was unclear. Before the middle of the 1970s, Japan did not have a legal basis for the use of the SDF in security cooperation with the United States at the operational level. The 1978 Guidelines enabled Japan to begin defense cooperation with the United States, but it only allowed for Japan’s territorial defense under Article 5 of the UJMST. This means that Japan’s intention to use the SDF in relation to China under the UJMST was weak in terms of institutional preparation before the middle of the 1990s.

This reserved attitude was intact in the 1990s, and sprang from different strategic outlooks between Japan and the United States on post-Cold War East Asia. Japan’s use of the U.S.-Japan alliance in relation to China remained ambiguous. The range of defense cooperation in the U.S.-Japan alliance was expanded by the 1996 U.S.-Japan Joint Declaration, the 1997 revised Guidelines, and the 1999 Act on Shuhen jitai (The Act Concerning Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan). Contrary to the U.S. interpretation, the intention to apply them to China was not clear. During the first half of the 1990s, Japan did not have a definite perspective on how to use the U.S.-Japan alliance in the post-Cold War period. The end of the Cold War brought about optimism, a mood of gradual disengagement from the U.S.-Japan alliance, not only among Japanese leftists who opposed the U.S.-Japan alliance during the Cold War, but also among some groups of Japanese moderate conservatives and defense experts who used to support the alliance during the Cold War. The 1994 Higuchi Report upheld the proposal that Japan’s post-Cold War security strategy should be based upon a Takakuteki (multilateral or multidimensional) security strategy.19 It ‘did not recommend major departures from current policies,’ including the maintenance of the U.S.-Japan alliance, but Japan's multilateral cooperation, such as U.N. peacekeeping operations, was placed as the first pillar of Japan’s defense policy and the U.S.-Japan alliance was the second. This could have suggested disengagement from the U.S.-Japan alliance.20

On the other hand, the U.S. posture toward the alliance was also ambiguous at the outset of the 1990s until the Higuchi report was released. After the Cold War, the presence of U.S. forces in Japan was questioned by some American political elites and academics. The 1990, 1991 and 1992 reports of the Department of Defense under the George W. H. Bush administration suggested reductions of U.S. forces in East Asia to meet new realities and U.S. budget cuts, and sought Japan’s and South Korea’s burden-sharing.21 The dissolution of the U.S.-Japan alliance was proposed by some U.S. academics such as Chalmers Johnson.22 The United States, however, reacted against the Higuchi report, and considered that it sought a multilateral security framework in the place of the U.S.-Japan alliance.23 U.S. decision-makers sought to redirect Japan’s security posture from disengagement to close U.S.-Japan partnership. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph S. Nye Jr. was the key proponent of this redirection in the Clinton administration.24 The Clinton administration under Nye’s initiative issued the East Asian Strategic Review in February 1995, which was the first statement of the U.S. commitment to East Asia and the U.S.-Japan alliance in the post-Cold War era. It upheld the maintenance of 100,000 personnel of U.S. forces in East Asia and ‘encouraged Japan to strengthen defense cooperation with the United States’ to meet the new security environment.25 For the United States, the redefinition of the Guidelines of the U.S.-Japan alliance was a response to China’s military build-up, which was a security concern. Nye regarded the redefinition of the alliance as necessary for the U.S. engagement of East Asia and expected China to take a constructive role in this region.26 Michael Mochizuki pointed out that the U.S. side had the intention to encourage ‘Japan to do more on the defense front’ against China.27 Japanese journalist Yoichi Funabashi pointed out that the Nye initiative had an element of power-politics in relation to China. In Funabashi’s view, Nye observed that both Japan and China were rising powers, but by allying with Japan, the United States intended to counter the hegemonic rise of China, though this was not regarded as containment.28

From 1996 to 1999, Japan expanded defense cooperation with the United States, but China was not the focus of alliance politics for Japan at that time though the move raised Chinese concerns. China criticized the 1996 redefinition of the U.S.-Japan alliance by saying that it was a continuation of the Cold War.29 The 1997 Guidelines were conceived by China as an anti-China ‘alliance’ in response to the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait crisis.30 Christopher W. Hughes pointed out that the United States and Japan intended ‘to hedge against a possible military contingency involving China by strengthening the bilateral alliance,’

Japan’s alliance politics 127 while avoiding ‘the overt designation of China as a threat.’31 Unlike Hughes’ observation, however, Japan’s intention to hedge against China at that time was rather weak, cautious, and not based upon a clear strategy. It did not fully consider China as a security object under the U.S.-Japan alliance, and its new defense posture did not necessarily correspond to China’s military build-up, as we have seen in Chapter 4. The 1999 Act on Shuhen jitai was for regional contingencies that might lead to military attacks on Japan if they are not dealt with. SDF operations with the United States for Shuhen jitai were limited to rear support such as transportation, refuelling or medical support. Because of its timing, China regarded this as a political response to the Taiwan Strait crisis.32 Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) moderate conservative prime ministers such as Ryutaro Hashimoto and Keizo Obuchi (1998-2000) were cautious about changing the conventional low-profile security policy toward China. They wanted to affirm the limited application of the U.S.-Japan alliance toward the Asian neighbour. In addition, unlike China’s accusation, Japan's move to revise the U.S.-Japan alliance was motivated mainly with the 1993-94 Korean crisis in mind. Akiyama points out that the introduction of the Shuhen jitai act was a new case of Japan's defense cooperation under the 1997 revised Guidelines of the U.S.-Japan alliance. It arose from the operational need for Japan-US defense cooperation in a Korean Peninsular crisis,33 and, in this context, deterrence was not conceptualized vis-à-vis China.

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