Japan proves itself a staunch ally

Fumio Kishida
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at his official residence in Tokyo Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Kishida said Monday that Japan is considering stepping up border controls as a new variant of the coronavirus found in South Africa spreads around the world. (Kyodo News via AP) 細島啓輔/AP

Japan proves itself a staunch ally

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Intoxicated by Xi Jinping’s poisoned trade chalice, America’s European allies appease China. Even our closest ally, the United Kingdom, flirts with appeasement.

Fortunately, at least one major ally in the Pacific is taking the opposite approach. Japan is boosting its readiness for war.

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In three policy documents released this week, Tokyo offered a welcome dose of clarity to the landscape of global threats by acknowledging that Beijing has “overly trampled” on the principles that underpin international cooperation and prosperity. It noted that Beijing is challenging the international order in profoundly unfavorable ways. It added that the regional security environment is as “severe and complex” as at any time in Japan’s modern history. In response, it explained that Japan must build a robust counterstrike capability to deter and defeat an outside attack.

In a clear nod to the prospect of U.S.-Japan cooperation in war with China, Tokyo observed “a renewed recognition of the importance of cooperation with allies who have the intention and capability to respond to invasion jointly in order to deter invasion from outside.” Note the explicit identification of both “intention” and “capability.” Rather than copy the European Union’s engagement within NATO, which centers on rhetoric above all else, Japan intends to be capable of fighting China and winning.

Japan is, crucially, putting its money where its mouth is. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government has committed to massive boosts in defense spending. Japan may soon spend 2% of its gross domestic product on defense rather than its customary 1%. Tokyo intends to make that money go far. Reflecting its concerns over China’s naval and missile forces, Japan will load up on long-range land attack and anti-ship missiles. It has also announced that it will develop a new strike fighter aircraft with Italy and Britain. These developments will at a minimum force the People’s Liberation Army to recalculate the risk of any attack on Japan or Taiwan. With other Japanese forces, these bolstered military capabilities could help the United States inflict real damage on the PLA.

Beijing, predictably, is not very happy about Tokyo’s dramatic shift. A hyperbolic editorial from the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper warned that Japan’s action is “not only wrong but also dangerous” and “will definitely lead Japan into a dangerous and barbaric drift, and the end is a huge dark vortex.”

Chinese disquiet is understandable. A stronger Japan will help resist Beijing’s imperial ambitions and undermines Beijing’s claim that only the U.S. objects to its own burgeoning power and truculence. Japan, today, is a globally respected democracy known for its commitment to peace and politeness. That it is now taking such bold action underlines for the world the seriousness of China’s destabilizing challenge.

Tokyo’s new stance is both morally praiseworthy and strategically necessary.

Chinese Communists never lose an opportunity to tar modern Japan with the war crimes for which its Axis predecessor inflicted on the Chinese. It wants to cow Tokyo into shame-faced subservience. It is true that Japanese soldiers committed grotesque atrocities against the Chinese during the 1930s and 1940s. Approximately 8 million Chinese civilians were killed during the Second World War, with a similar number dying of disease and famine. Terrible incidents such as the Nanking massacre need always to be memorialized.

But China’s claim that Japan therefore lacks the moral authority to oppose Beijing’s aggression today is tendentious and ridiculous. A present-day serial killer does not get a pass by referencing the crimes of another 75 years earlier. China is committing genocide against its Uyghur minority, is shredding Hong Kong’s democracy and freedoms in contravention of international law, and disregards human rights and the rule of law in the government of its own people. Communist China is an enemy of everything that democratic Japan holds dear.

Japan, a close ally, is moving to join the U.S. in actively confronting the most profound threat to international security since at least the end of the Cold War. It is moving in ways that go beyond rhetoric and posturing. Tokyo is showing that should the fight come, America will not stand alone.

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