Japan’s move to deterrence in relation to China in the 2010s and the U.S. limited commitments

Deterrence gradually became the key concept for Japan’s defense policy toward China. Japan feared that the United States might not defend the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, as the UJMST only stipulates that the U.S. obligation is to defend the area ‘under the administration of Japan.’ Whether ‘an armed attack' as mentioned in Article 5 of the UJMST can cover contingencies around the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands became a matter of concern among Japanese political and bureaucratic elites. The prevention of Chinese landings on those islands became important to maintain Japan’s administration, but Chinese landings onto the islands would not necessarily be ‘an armed attack.' In this case, Japan might have to cope with those contingencies alone. In 1996, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan Walter F. Mondale noted that ‘seizure of the islands would not automatically set off the security treaty and force American military intervention.’102 Japan needed a U.S. political commitment. In response to the Japanese request,

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton affirmed in January 2013 that ‘(a)lthough the United States does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands, we acknowledge they are under the administration of Japan,’ and that ‘we oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration’ of the islands.103 This ‘pro-Japan’ language of U.S. commitment in this statement was modified and became weaker later.104 In the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act, U.S. Congress included the sentence ‘that the unilateral action of a third party will not affect the United States’ acknowledgment of the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands.’105 Japanese concerns continued. Finally, in 2014, the Obama administration announced the U.S. commitment to the application of the UJMST to ‘all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku islands,’ but it maintained neutrality in regard to the sovereignty dispute over the islands.106

Japan wanted to specify deterrence in the U.S.-Japan alliance to counter China politically, whereas the United States was cautious about stepping up its political vocabulary. The Asahi Shimbun reported that, in 2011, the U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara agreed to revise the 2005 Common Security Objectives to meet China's security challenges in the South China Sea and East China Sea, but the actual announcement of China as a defense object was not included.107 In the 2011 U.S.-Japan joint declaration, the United States stressed its ‘regional deterrence’ in line with the 2010 QDR. The meaning of ‘regional deterrence' was not clear, but U.S. extended nuclear and conventional deterrence was reconfirmed. The United States agreed to ‘tailor’ its ‘regional defense posture’ to meet China’s increasing military capability or other regional security challenges, including the proliferation of nuclear technologies. The 2011 declaration also listed bilateral defense cooperation under the heading ‘Strengthening Deterrence and Contingency Response.' Though it was not directly mentioned as the object of deterrence, China was referred to as one of the common strategic objectives. The declaration encouraged ‘China's responsible and constructive role in regional stability and prosperity, its cooperation on global issues, and its adherence to international norms of behavior, while building trust among the United States, Japan, and China.’ It also sought to ‘(i) mprove openness and transparency with respect to China's military modernization and activities and strengthen confidence building measures.’108 The term deterrence was only used for North Korea.

Except for the Yukio Hatoyama’s premiership (2009-10), the left-to-center DPJ government (2009-12) did not change the aim of strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance, while it was unclear whether it regarded China as the object of deterrence.109 The DPJ Yoshihiko Noda government (2011-12) sought to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, but it lacked sufficient effort to ameliorate negative Chinese perceptions. He was insensitive to Japan’s political messages to China and, in 2012, decided on the governmental purchase of the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands ‘only within domestic politics,’ ignoring Chinese President Hu’s request to desist.110 According to The Asahi Shimbun, Noda and U.S. Secretary of State Clinton met at Vladivostok on September 8, 2012 when the 2012 APEC summit was held. Clinton showed her concerns with the impact of the purchase upon China, but Noda downplayed it. In the face of China’s increasing security challenges, the DPJ government also chose to condemn China in its White Papers. As examined in Chapter 4, from the 2011 Defense White Paper, Japan used the term ‘Koatsu teki' (‘assertive’ in English translation) to describe China’s military actions in the South China Sea.111 The 2012 defense White Paper, for the first time, referred to the increasing influence of the PLA over the CCP.112 This immediately provoked China's emotional criticism though the contents of Japan's reference were in line with Western observers' views.113 China denounced Japan’s statement as interference in its domestic affairs, which was the start of mutual denunciation.

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