In April, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga became the first foreign leader to visit U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House. The two leaders used their meeting to outline an ambitious vision for the future of the U.S.-Japanese alliance, unveiling new initiatives on climate change, technological investment, and public health intended to show that democracies working together can provide important public goods. Most important, their joint statement explicitly identified China as the major challenge facing the alliance, enumerating “concerns over Chinese activities that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order.” After years of veiled messaging, the Japanese and U.S. governments formally acknowledged that they are working together to deter China’s military power in Asia and compete with China economically.
It would be premature, however, to imagine that Washington has succeeded in drawing Tokyo into firm opposition to Beijing. Japan may be increasingly alarmed by China’s behavior and willing to criticize the actions of Chinese leaders, but it knows that a fundamental break with China is very unlikely. Rather, Japan remains committed to a “mutually beneficial” strategic relationship with China. Despite Suga’s hawkish posturing in the White House, Japan’s geography, economics, and domestic politics will militate against its enlisting in a U.S.-led cold war against China.
The above excerpt was originally published in Foreign Affairs.
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