The established postwar order in the Asia-Pacific region is a thing of the past. A nationalist, militarized China under the rule of Xi Jinping has now motivated Japan to drastically change course and develop a new security strategy that includes increased defense spending and a closer working relationship with the US military. Japan's President Fumio Kishida and US President Joe Biden confirmed the alliance between the two countries at a meeting in Washington, D.C. just last week.
In the future, those roughly 50,000 US soldiers currently stationed in Japan will function as a rapid reaction force that could quickly respond to potential attacks from China or its ally North Korea. But what motivated the US and Japan to take this step?
Chinese missile tests near Taiwan rocked entire Asia-Pacific region
In August 2022, the Chinese army launched five rockets near Taiwan. All of them landed in Japanese territorial waters. This put Tokyo on alert. Beyond the rocket launches, Japan is worried that China might attempt to occupy the Senkaku Islands, which are part of Japanese territory. Beijing maintains the islands — which it refers to as the Diaoyu — are actually part of China.
In addition to China, the communist dictatorship in North Korea and the Russia regime also pose threats to Japan's security.
On the December 18, 2022, Pyongyang tested new rockets that can be equipped with nuclear warheads and could potentially reach Japan.
On May 24, 2022, while the democratically elected heads of state in Japan, Australia, India, and the USA met for talks, China and Russia flew six bombers near Japanese airspace to demonstrate their military might.
The Moscow-Beijing-Pyongyang axis stretches further still, to Tehran, where another unjust regime looks poised to become a threat to an entire portion of the world. The murders that Iran's mullahs have carried out on their citizens are a scandal, and dictators in Tehran seem to believe they can get away with them because of their close ties to Russia, China, and North Korea.
Neither have Pyongyang nor Tehran been deterred from developing nuclear weapons. While China officially rejects the deployment of nuclear weapons, Xi Jinping has nevertheless outlined plans to increase the country's arsenal of nuclear warheads by 400.
Beyond that, Beijing is also suspected of aiding Russian troops in occupied Ukraine via its ally North Korea — or at least of not undertaking measures to prevent Pyongyang from providing Russia with military support.
Meanwhile, China's approval of North Korea's nuclear arms development program has led South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to consider the redeployment of American nuclear weapons, which were withdrawn from the country in 1991 as part of the global disarmament movement.
In order to adequately counter any potential Chinese threat, US President Biden is looking beyond simply strengthening bilateral ties with Japan, pledging instead to improve the security architecture of the entire region via a new Indo-Pacific alliance that includes Australia and New Zealand.
Can economic ties deter war between China and the US?
Many geopolitical experts today believe global trade relations will prevent a war between the USA and China. Yet others claim the opposite is true, citing a lack of economic ties between the Soviet Union and the West as the reason the Cold War never went hot — because neither side disrupted the other's business.
Politicians in Washington, D.C. are currently trying everything they can to avoid getting directly involved in the war in Ukraine. That has only been possible because the US had no contractual defense obligations in place with Kyiv before Russia's invasion.
Things are different, however, in the Pacific, where Washington has security agreements with Tokyo and Seoul, and as far as Joe Biden sees it, with Taiwan, too. Since China has laid claim to the entire West Pacific (in violation of international law), the outbreak of war in the region seems merely a matter of time. That is why the US is interested in seeing more counties in the Asia-Pacific expand their defense capabilities: in order to deter China and its vassal North Korea from attacking, and to avoid the immediate nuclear escalation that would ensue as a result of China and the US facing off on the battle field.
Alexander Görlach is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and a research associate at the Internet Institute at Oxford University. After residencies in Taiwan and Hongkong, that part of the world — particularly the rise of China and what it means for the free world — has been his primary area of focus. He's also held various positions at Harvard and Cambridge University.
This article was translated from German.