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The U.S.-Japan military alliance needs strengthening, experts say

Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-15s escort 2 U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Devin M. Rumbaugh)
September 18, 2022

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Without a military alliance Japan cannot defend itself but even with an alliance it still needs to strive to expand its defense capabilities, a leading Japanese security analyst has said.

At a virtual event held on Thursday at the Hudson Institute, a conservative U.S. think tank, Research Director of the Canon Institute for Global Studies Kunihiko Miyake spoke about lessons that Japan could draw from the ongoing war in Ukraine.

One of them was about the need to strengthen the U.S.-Japan military alliance, first signed in 1951 but now facing new threats including from China. 

He also spoke about the tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the role of Okinawa, the main island of Okinawa prefecture, located in the East China Sea between Taiwan and Japan’s mainland.

The U.S.-Japan alliance “has been evolving successfully,” Miyake said, adding that nevertheless Tokyo needs to develop an effective defense strategy.

“We need to increase the defense budget, expand defense spending and work on various contingency plans,” the Tokyo-based analyst said.

“We have more threats than the Europeans,” he said, implying that – besides Russia – Asian countries also need to deal with security threats from China and North Korea.

On Aug. 31, the Japanese Defense Ministry made its largest ever budget request of 5.59 trillion yen (U.S. $40.4 billion) for the 2023 fiscal year to deal with increased security challenges.

In June, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he intended to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities “fundamentally over the next five years.”

Miyake, a former senior diplomat, said Japan “could do more with the Quad,” the security grouping that comprises the U.S., Japan, India and Australia, as well as strengthening cooperation with South Korea and with NATO.

Support for Taiwan

As tension rises in the Taiwan Strait, Japan realizes that “the stability of the situation surrounding Taiwan is also critical for Japan’s security,” according to Japan’s 2022 defense white paper.

Tokyo is considering boosting defenses on outlying islands in the southwest, with military facilities to be set up on some of the islands close to Taiwan.

Miyake, who is also the president of Japanese think tank the Foreign Policy Institute, said it is vital that the government and military get support from the residents of Okinawa in their campaign for a stronger Japan-U.S. alliance as well as to defend Japan from a possible Taiwan conflict.

Most of the U.S. military presence in Japan is on Okinawa but there has been widespread discontent amongst the population about U.S. military bases there, despite efforts to move them away from the island’s core areas.

To deal with new security threats from China, Miyake suggested an “increasing joint use of bases” by Japanese and U.S. forces in Okinawa.

U.S. government officials have been talking about the scenario of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

On Thursday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said during an interview there is “a distinct threat that there could be a military contingency around Taiwan.”

Sullivan told Bloomberg that the U.S. will “push back at any effort to change the status quo by force” by China.