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  • Context (IE): The Japanese PM’s address to the US Congress indicates the arrival of a new, assertive Japan to the world.

A map of japan with cities Description automatically generated

Japan Post World War II

  • Policy of pacifism: It avoided building significant armed capability, limited its defence expenditure, and refused to participate in military conflicts. The determination to expiate its militarism and imperialism was reversed post-war.
  • Military alliance with the US: Japan’s pacifism was compensated by its bilateral military alliance with the United States.
  • Focus on economy: As a US protectorate in Asia, Japan was free to focus its energies on rebuilding its economy. By the end of 1970s, Japan became the world’s second-largest economy, behind only the US.

Second transition of Japan in the 2000s

  • Idea of Indo-Pacific: Japan began to articulate new security architecture in Asia, including the idea of the Indo-Pacific.
  • Military resources: Japan is matching its strategic ideas with military resources and the political will to actively reshape the regional security order.

Reasons for radical change

External factors

  • Rise of China and its military assertion, especially on the territorial disputes with Japan;
  • The closeness of China & Russia and the coordination of their policies in North East Asia;
  • Growing military capabilities of North Korea;
  • Fears that the US could withdraw its security protection to Japan and other Asian allies.

Domestic factors

  • Conservatives in Japan: Conservatives in Japan wanted to move Japan from its role as a “responsible citizen of world affairs” to taking “responsibility for its own security & contributing to regional order.”

How is Japan becoming a geopolitical power?

  • Removing military expenditure cap: Japan has removed the historical cap on defence expenditure, which is unofficially 1% of its GDP. In 2022, it touched 1.1%.
  • Defence developments and acquisitions: In addition to developing its own counter-strike capability through cruise missiles, the country signed a deal with the US to purchase Tomahawk cruise missiles.
  • Easing export ban on lethal weapons: This has paved the way for Japan to leverage its immense manufacturing and technological base to aid its allies in keeping up with China and Russia.
    • For example, Japan approved a shipment of Japanese-made Patriot missiles to the US.
    • Along with the United Kingdom and Italy, Japan is leading the Global Combat Air Programme to develop the BAE Systems Tempest, a proposed sixth-generation stealth fighter.
    • Japan and the US finalised the creation of a joint military-industrial council to facilitate the co-production of weapons.
  • US-Japan joint operations command: US bases in Japan and Okinawa island are operated from command in Hawai’i (HQ of the US Indo-Pacific Command). Its transfer to Japan is being discussed.

Changes in diplomatic stance

  • South Korea: Japan has made attempts to end disputes with South Korea, inherited from Imperial Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
  • Support to Ukraine: In addition to all aid and support to Ukraine, Japan argues that the same could be the future of Asia if the principle of respecting territorial sovereignty is not defended.

Implications of “New” Japan

  • Security implications for the region: After decades of pacifism, a politically active and militarily more capable Japan will inevitably rearrange the regional security calculus.

Impact of “new” Japan on India

  • From the Indian perspective, a politically resolute and militarily strong Japan that can build a stable Asian equilibrium is a positive development.
  • It contributes to India’s objective of building a multipolar Asia in a multipolar world.
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