Japan’s increasingly hostile stance towards China reflected in upcoming diplomatic bluebook

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25th March 2023 – (Beijing) Chinese experts have warned that Japan’s recent aggressive posturing towards China is set to continue, following reports that its upcoming annual foreign policy report will highlight the “China threat theory” and label Beijing as Japan’s “greatest strategic challenge”. According to analysts, the wording used in the 2023 diplomatic bluebook draft is the same as in Japan’s recently updated National Security Strategy, and reflects a growing trend towards assertiveness, particularly among right-leaning conservative politicians.

Compared with the diplomatic bluebook of 2022, which referred to China as a “strong security concern”, the 2023 edition will no longer be restrained in its language, highlighting Tokyo’s concerns over the Taiwan question and China’s military activities. Japan’s opposition to Russia in relation to the threat of nuclear weapons and territorial disputes will also be emphasized, alongside calls for better relations with South Korea.

The draft was obtained from the Japanese Foreign Ministry and is expected to be released in April, at a time when Japan is seeking to bolster its international presence and collaborate with the US’ “Indo-Pacific strategy”, which aims to counter China’s influence. This follows a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in which an action plan for a new “Indo-Pacific initiative” was announced.

Despite recent efforts to improve security ties with South Korea, the hostility towards China in Japan’s diplomatic bluebook and National Security Strategy is growing, with some experts warning that the language used is the most confrontational since the normalisation of bilateral ties. Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies, suggests that Japan’s aim is to contain China on all fronts, as part of its diplomatic strategic goal.

Japan’s updated national security plan includes provisions for increased defence spending and the ability to directly attack enemy missile-firing facilities. China has urged Japan to avoid using the so-called “China threat” as a pretext for military expansion, but according to Zhu Qingxiu, a Japanese studies researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the hostility towards China in Japanese politics is strong, with little incentive to improve relations due to conservative swings to the right and pressure from the U.S.

While there are areas of conflict between China and Japan, analysts suggest it is unlikely to lead to full confrontation. Instead, the most likely outcome is a continuing cold shoulder towards China, with analysts urging those in both China and Japan who support a healthy and stable relationship between the two countries to work together to halt the growing hostility.