Japan is back: unbundling Abe’s grand strategy

International relations Defence

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is determined to keep Japan a tier-one power in Asia and the world. Through strengthening the economy and reforming national security institutions, as outlined in the December 2013 inaugural Japanese national security strategy, he seeks a strengthening of the US-Japan alliance and greater alignment with other maritime democracies to balance a rising China.

In this publication, prominent US Asia watcher and Lowy Institute nonresident fellow Mike Green examines changes to Japan’s economic and defence policies and argues that Japan needs help in resisting possible Chinese coercion, refining its own foreign policy narrative and seeking a stable relationship of reassurance with Beijing.

Key findings:

  • Japan’s options for internal balancing – shoring up indigenous power to manage a rising China – are limited. The base of national power is the economy. The jury is still out on whether Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party has the stomach for fundamental economic policy and strategic reforms.
  • Abe is embarking on the next major reform of national security decision-making with the establishment of a National Security Council and National Security Bureau (NSB). This innovation in Japan’s defence policy will enhance the power of the foreign ministry, the defence ministry, and the Self Defense Forces.
  • Abe has been the most energetic diplomat of all Japan’s post-war prime ministers. But his diplomacy has focused on the near and far abroad rather than the immediate neighbours South Korea and China. Japan will need help in addressing its relations with South Korea.
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