The biggest deliverable of Shinzo Abe’s visit to the United States so far was actually cemented before Abe arrived in Washington, D.C. The new U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines, which are designed to expand Japan’s ability to contribute to the alliance as well as providing for better integration between the U.S. military and Japan Self Defense Forces, were finalized during a “two-plus-two” meeting between the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers in New York.
“The main achievement of issuing the new guidelines is to intensify and reinforce the deterrence and responsiveness to the complex new security environment in East Asia,” Yasuhisa Kawamura, foreign press secretary at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Diplomat on Wednesday. While Japanese officials (including Kawamura) have been careful to say that the new guidelines do not target any third country, they are widely read as a response to China’s increasing military capabilities. So what does China think of the new guidelines?
Unsurprisingly, Beijing is not a huge fan. When asked about the updated guidelines, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters that “the U.S. and Japan are responsible to ensure that their bilateral alliance does not jeopardize a third party’s interests including China’s, nor undermine peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.” Hong also questioned the value of the alliance in general: “The U.S.-Japan alliance is a bilateral arrangement forged during the Cold War period. In today’s world … the Cold War is long-gone.”
A spokesman for China’s Defense Ministry made the same point when asked about the new guidelines. A “military alliance is an out-dated product which goes against the trends of times featuring peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit,” Geng Yansheng told the press. “Any attempt to strength military power by forging [a] military alliance, contain[ing] the development of other countries and seek[ing] selfish gains will turn out to be futile,” he added.
Chinese President Xi Jinping himself made a similar point back in May 2014, at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). At the time, Xi urged countries to move away from reliance on military alliances and “the outdated thinking of [the] Cold War.” Instead, he championed an Asia for Asians security concept — with China ready and willing to play a leading role in crafting a new “code of conduct for regional security.”
Xinhua, meanwhile, repeated its earlier assertions that Abe and Japan’s troublesome views on history mean Japan cannot be trusted with military affairs. Xinhua argued that the new defense guidelines are a threat to the world. “For a nation notorious for sneaky attacks, most famously against Pearl Harbor, the new arrangement will resurrect the ghosts of Japan’s militaristic past in the region,” a “China Voice” commentary said. Xinhua concluded by taking Chinese officials’ statements to their logical (but unspoken) conclusion: “The U.S.-Japan bilateral alliance, forged during the Cold War, should not be strengthened; it should be dumped.”
The vociferous reaction is only to be expected, but Japan and the United States both apparently tried to do damage control by briefing China on the new defense guidelines. Hong Lei confirmed that the United States “informed China before publishing the Guidelines.” Kawamura also confirmed to The Diplomat that Japan “absolutely” discussed the new guidelines with China, not only during “recent bilateral defense authorities communication, but on various occasions in the past.” Japan’s government “explained what the purpose is of having the new guidelines and the basic thoughts behind it,” Kawamura said.