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Policy brief | 22 April 2024

Strategic risk assessment in East Asia: A Japanese view

Image of Nobumasa Akiyama

Nobumasa Akiyama |Dean of the School of International and Public Policy at Hitotsubashi University

Asia-Pacific Asia-Pacific Region Defence Deterrence Risk Reduction Security Global Security APLN

In December 2022, the Japanese government unveiled a set of key strategic documents—the National Security Strategy (NSS), National Defense Strategy (NDS), and Defense Buildup Program (DBP)—signifying a significant shift in Japan’s defence posture in response to a complex and severe security environment in the Indo-Pacific region. The documents highlight security challenges from North Korea and Russia but identify China as Japan’s most substantial strategic challenge in the Indo-Pacific due to its expansionist policies, military activities, and economic coercion.

Under the leadership of Shinzo Abe, Japan adopted a proactive approach to address the China challenge, emphasising both diplomatic and defence policies. Collective self-defense and the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy played critical roles in this strategy.

In the post-Abe era, Japan, led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, aims to bolster its defence capabilities in response to a more severe security environment. The focus of Japan’s response is on enhancing counter-strike capabilities to deter potential Chinese offensive military operations as well as North Korean threats.

The Japan-US alliance remains a cornerstone of Japan’s security policy, particularly in addressing a potential Taiwan contingency. Deterrence is particularly challenging, given the evolving nature of China’s military actions, which include intimidation, coercion, and military exercises.

Japan has become increasingly apprehensive about China’s military buildup and aggressive actions, with almost 80% of the Japanese public expressing concerns about a potential crisis involving Taiwan. However, support for deploying Japanese Self- Defense Forces in such a scenario remains relatively low.

To address these concerns, Japan is developing long-range strike capabilities, including the introduction of Tomahawk missiles and the deployment of missile systems. The Japan-US alliance is actively working on coordinating operational plans and conducting training exercises to enhance readiness and deterrence in response to the deteriorating security environment, particularly in the Taiwan Strait.

These combined efforts underscore the critical need to maintain peace and stability in the region and to deter any attempts to change the status quo through military means. The Kishida administration has also outlined its commitment to strengthening engagement with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region, guided by the FOIP vision.

Read the policy brief here.

This paper is part of the Asia-Pacific Strategic Risks project, a joint project between the ELN and the APLN, that convenes government officials, experts, and practitioners from South Korea, Japan, Australia, and the UK to discuss how changing threat perceptions impact new and ongoing proliferation challenges and what policy solutions can address them, including steps to encourage strategic restraint, greater collaboration and carefully honed nuclear risk reduction diplomacy.

Image: Flickr,

The opinions articulated in the report represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network or the European Leadership Network, or any of their members.