Japan is back!

(To Gino Lanzara)
24/06/22

The international situation is evolving rapidly and there is no country that does not have to adapt. In a naturally critical area in which China, although on the rise, is showing fragility that will continue to prevent it from taking over the American hegemonic role in the short term; in which Russia aggressively proposes itself; where the Korean peninsula displays anti-Japanese sentiments, and where the US, while trying to contain Beijing is shaken by internal problems, Japan must go beyond the status of an economic entity to directly manage its own anti-Chinese security.

Japan in the mid-XNUMXst century will be hit by a demographic decline that will affect the ability to project diplomatic, economic and military power. In maintaining relations with Washington, Tokyo will have to maintain its role as a link with the West, keeping the focus on security and economic development.

Artificial Intelligence, quantum computers, 5G and 6G networks, are the prerequisites for the Japanese leadership to remain on the crest of the wave at least until 2051. The regional challenges will not be lacking: Korean instability, kept alive by the atomic north, will continue to make the relations between Seoul and Tokyo problematic, pushed towards a rearmament aimed at compensating the insecurity fueled by the risk of preventive attacks and by anti-access and area interdiction systems (A2 / AD), while relations with Taiwan will continue to remain central, given that reunification with the People's Republic would alter the regional security status forcing Japan to strengthen its presence to guarantee the freedom of shipping lines.

The Japanese strategy will therefore remain bound to the achievement of the objectives set by Xi Jinping for 2049; if Beijing's growth were even slowed down by economic stagnation, the Dragon would fall into the spiral of a destabilizing nationalism aimed at rekindling disputes in the East China and South China Seas.

Moving to the Indo Pacific, Tokyo has promoted a global strategic vision that aimed at free and open spaces (FOIP)1, so much so as to promote its commitment to supporting the international order even beyond regional borders, up to Latin America with the initiative together, founded on the three cornerstones of To progress2, the Lidear,Breathe in.

In 2051 in Japan the relationship between natives and foreigners will lead to a multiracial diversification of society; a society often portrayed as exemplary, but which needs a ministry of loneliness to cope with the high rate of suicides and Hikikomori, people who live detached from the surrounding reality.

Japanese society is authoritarian, it imposes the sacrifice of individual freedoms in favor of collective well-being; the Japanese work driven by the fear of exclusion from the context to which feel to belong; productivity goes hand in hand with workaholics3, stress, small social life, low birth rate, all to boast the title of model citizen, of orderly musician in an orchestra without soloists.

While economic growth worried Western competitors for its impetuosity, according to estimates by the World Bank, now Japan's GDP, penalized by low birth rates and increasingly demanding welfare, has gone from $ 5.449 billion in 1995 to $ 4,873 billion in 2017. not to mention the public debt, managed by the post office and the independent Central Bank4, which exceeded 256% of GDP at the end of 2021, and with inflation at 2,1% also due to the increases in the prices of raw materials and fuels following the Ukrainian conflict.

To remember: in Japan there is no spread, because there is no market in which government bonds compare with those of other countries; public spending remains relatively low, with a less pronounced tax burden than in the West.

If Japan wants to get out of the yoke of low growth, it must encourage demographic policies, also moving within the international forum, as done with the Comprehensive Progressive TransPacific Partnership5, or the TPP without the USA, which China and Taiwan have also asked to join, and to which the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes the ASEAN countries; the economy becomes geopolitical and a geo-economic axis is created conformed to the Silk Road, a strategy that, if carried out, by sea would create an economic area that would reach Europe from China and that would force Tokyo to a balance of power. Between accessions to the CPTPP, RCEP ratifications, Korea and Kurils6, Japan has become the focal point of Asian geoeconomic and geopolitical reorganization.

Tokyo returned to economic growth after Fukushima, and the political framework was stabilized by the protracted leadership of Shinzo Abe, who gave his name to a broad expansive program of economic reform, theAbenomics. The changes also affected the industry, which found itself having to face the growth of India and China.

Economic analysis7 it cannot neglect the internal market, which is large and driven by consumption, by cutting-edge infrastructures and by geographical aspects. Tokyo is relevant for its economic weight, for its financial accumulation bases, for it smart power, and for having been one until now civil power, or a consensus democracy, a geo-economic power with a multilateral policy towards the outside and with a liberal imprint on the inside that is giving way to a politics of power.

Japan has built a geopolitical balance that has balanced the American strategic alliance with Chinese economic integration, the fruit of the long work of Shinzo Abe delivered into the hands of the new premier, and former dove, Fumio Kishida, pragmatic and moderate outsider with a high percentage of support, preferred tononconformist Kono Taro, opposed to atomic energy and the bearer of an unpopular pension plan, and who managed to reconcile the liberal area with the conservative one.

This is where, in anticipation of the general elections next November, domestic politics comes into play, so it is worth remembering the habitual lack of political longevity of Japanese heads of government8, except for Abe who certainly did not abandon the political scene even if from the wings, and it is legitimate to wonder if the imperial institution has not become superfluous, or if it should not continue to represent the symbol of the country's unity, especially now that Naruhito9 has consolidated, with its presence in the company, the mass emperor system. In any case, the elections are unlikely to substantially change the Japanese policy which has opted for dynamic continuity.

Economically, Bank Of Japan does not intend to change direction, maintaining an expansive monetary and fiscal policy with substantial full employment, and with Keynesian-style measures.

In the economic and financial statements context, theincrease in military spending, which could exceed the 1% of GDP threshold. In fact, this is where the other part of the political texture of Shinzo Abe first and of Fumio Kishida now takes shape, given the intention to equip the Japanese self-defense forces with offensive capabilities. Despite the Chinese protests, it could not be otherwise, given both the repeated ballistic launches by Pyongyang and the incursions of the Beijing coast guard around the Senkaku Islands.

In light of this scenario, a Japan with nuclear weapons that would speak out is not so far from reality end to a decades-long balance, overtaken by strategic reasons such as to believe that the maintenance of one status quo which for some time has already contemplated the use of an advanced system for the production of atomic energy for civil uses, and the possession of nuclear devices by regional political actors who are not always so reliable.

That Japan, geographically lacking in strategic depth, has the technical capabilities to arm itself in a short time is certain, just as it is certain that it is in any case lacking, at the moment, specific vectors for launching nuclear devices, with the exception of the underwater component. now founded on class boats Soryu (photo), equipped with anti-ship missiles Harpoon, theoretically modifiable to mount nuclear warheads, and in the future based on atomic propulsion vehicles capable of increasing the deterrent aspect aimed at Russian and Chinese targets inland.

The problem of nuclear development is political although even in the civil field, after Fukushima in 2011, the needs led, in 2017, to reconsider the decommissioning of nuclear power plants10.

There are two Japanese problems in this area: Article 9 of the constitution, which prohibits the use of force for offensive purposes, and the strategic paradox that Japan, despite not having nuclear weapons necessary for a second strike, due to its technological capabilities and its alliance with the US, it is considered as if it had them. In short, Japan needs nuclear deterrence, so it needs the US, unless it intends to pursue a strategic ambiguity that it should work to acquire nuclear weapons but without declaring them.

Meanwhile, Fumio Kishida, favoring realism, intends to strengthen the Japanese defense capabilities within the next five years with a roadmap that recalls the 2% increase in NATO spending, without forgetting the funding to be provided to the Indo Pacific countries.

The key points are basically 5: budget increase11, QUAD, violations of international law, Beijing Moscow axis, Marina Militare, according to the logic of a rearmament that conflicts with the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and with a constitutional provision that cannot fail to take into account the political evolutions of Ukraine, the threats made to Taiwan, the legitimacy of the intervention in defense of an allied country.

We move on, examining the recent White Paper12, from the ability to attack to the possibility of counterattack especially in the southwestern part of the archipelago.

In addition to the development of hunting stealth Mitsubishi FX and the enhancement of the Amphibious Rapid Intervention Brigade, a large part of the resources will be destined to the naval sector, since in case of attack they should be destroyers Aegis and the new boats Taigei to counter the enemy, and seeing that direct US support is not so obvious.

From this perspective, the Ukrainian tactic is interesting, which adopts qualitative and quantitative asymmetrical techniques: nothing closer to the contrast imagined against China with native and not simply shared weapons, that is (atomic) weapons for which the permission of the legitimate owner is essential ( American).

After more than 70 years, the Japanese Navy is once again the most powerful and capable in Asia; even in the face of Chinese naval growth, the Tokyo Navy should not be underestimated, holder of control capabilities and antisubmarine power second only to the American ones, and capable of supporting a naval strategy aimed at protecting maritime communication lines in the straits of Miyako, Luzon and Malacca, waterways of inestimable importance for energy import / export at the base of the Shigen Gaikou, resource diplomacy.

The space sector should not be underestimated, stimulated by the aggressive Sino-Korean policies and supported by an ad hoc law of 2008, which made it possible to remove the prejudice of the only peaceful use of space, and the constant US technological support.

After the mention of multilateralism, let's examine the relevance of QUAD13, convened shortly after the American debacle in Afghanistan and characterized by the AUKUS agreement, connecting it to more stringent political-military alliances, and which South Korea would like to join. None of the participants (USA, Australia, Japan and India) are unbalanced in the defining it as a sort of NATO of the Pacific, but certainly, even if still in positions that are not always close and collimating, it is from time to time increasingly emphasizing the global strategic character, therefore not exclusively military, aimed at Chinese containment to be countered on production and procurement of rare earths and war industry.

Acceleration on the QUAD, an incident on both maritime safety with theIndo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA)14 and on space cooperation, it also derives from Japan's newfound assertiveness, committed to the double track of strategic competition and commercial cooperation with Beijing.

From the point of view of economic cooperation, QUAD joined the American initiative launched by President Biden, theIndo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity. While QUAD is not a Pacific version of NATO, meanwhile Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia have been invited to attend an Alliance session.15, with which Tokyo actually began its liaison since the beginning of the 90s, reinforcing it in 2013 with the signing of a Joint Political Declaration; Alliance called to review its strategic concepts more than 10 years after the 2010 Lisbon meeting, prior to China, Crimea, Isis, Syria. Given the moment, cooperation with regional actors is seen as essential by the US, which is committed to weaving its web of political relations.

Meanwhile, Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu gave an interview to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in which, in fact, he hoped that there could be a closer collaboration between Taipei and NATO, also in light of the statements made by the British Foreign Minister, Liz Truss.

The Japanese approach to NATO, with which an IPCP (Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program) already exists, testifies to Tokyo's strategic attempt, fueled by the Ukrainian invasion, to bind Europe to Indo-Pacific security, and becomes one more reason for China to critically rethink the partnership without limits close with Moscow.

In summary, Abe's political merit has been to extend Asian security interests to the gates of Europe, aided in this by Chinese assertiveness.

In the event of a conflict, would Japan prevail over China? On the average length (between 6 and 8 months) probably yes, also in function of the greater operability and compactness of the Japanese Navy. Thalassocracy cannot be improvised; the worst mistake for Tokyo would be to get involved in an impossible war of attrition.

1 Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy; on the Foreign Ministry website it is defined as a necessary strategy the construction of an international order based on laws and the diffusion, in the Indo-Pacific region, of principles that cannot be disregarded - such as rule of law, freedom of navigation of the seas and free trade - for the realization of regional prosperity and stability

2 Economic connectivity, of values, of knowledge

3 Addiction to work

4 That is, it is free to decide the amount of currency in circulation, as well as the level of interest rates

5 trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The deal combines economies that account for 13,4 percent of global gross domestic product, with approximately $ 13,5 trillion. The US exit deprived Washington of one of the major levers of economic hegemony

6 For the first time, the Russian occupation was declared illegal

7 The IMF has updated its economic report on Japan, and expects the globe's third largest economy to grow by 2,4 percent this year, and 2,3 percent in 2023.

8 the average duration of governments since 45 has been 16 months

9 Current 126th Emperor, and symbol of the Japanese nation; he does not hold any political role nor can he exercise politics, which did not happen with Akihito, who intervened by requesting that a law be approved allowing the abdication.

10 Japan, like France, is in favor of nuclear power to move towards an energy transition with fourth generation technology, which however takes several years.

11 The project includes systems with pre-emptive strike capabilities, as well as the development and strengthening of weapons related to cyber and cyber defense. To strengthen the sector, Abe has started a collaboration with the Cooperative Cyber ​​Defense Center of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn, Estonia. Japan, the first country in Asia Pacific, joined the cyber defense center in 2018.

12 The cover is interesting which, from a more neutral setting, has favored the image of a warrior on horseback

13 Quadrilateral Security Dialogue

14 The aim is to improve capacity in three critical regions, Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, Pacific islands, by monitoring their respective exclusive economic zones.

15 Prime Minister Kishida is expected on 29 and 30 June at the NATO summit in Madrid; Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi participated as a partner at the NATO summit, while the head of the Japanese SM, General Koji Yamazaki participated in the session of NATO chiefs of staff. In 2017, SG Stoltenberg visited Japan, as did Admiral Rob Bauer, president of the NATO Military Committee.

Photo: US Navy