It is often said that diplomacy and military intimidation are two sides of the same coin. Japan seems to be practising the same by combining soft diplomacy & hard military strategy in its bilateral dealing with China. In line with this, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force conducted anti-submarine drills in the South China Sea on 9th October.
The anti-submarine drills in the South China Sea have come just a couple of weeks after the leaders of China & Japan conversed over a telephone and agreed to improve bilateral relationships. Now, with the anti-submarine exercise, Japan is practising the perfect blend of soft diplomacy & hard military intimidations.
The exercise was aimed to boost the tactical capacity of these vessels as well as the JSDF at large. These three vessels consisted of a helicopter carrier and a submarine. They are scheduled to make a stoppage at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam over the weekend intended to replenish supplies.
JSDF has been a dormant player in the Asia Pacific for long and because of that Japan has been called a pacifist power. However, now it is making waves with proactive exercises and strategic movements in the Indo-pacific.
This is one of the many exercises being conducted in the Indo-pacific by countries like Indonesia, India, USA, Philippines, Australia, Japan among others.
All the movements of Japanese SDF should be seen in the context of Sino-Japan relations and the latest dynamics between the new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Chinese President Xi Jinping. They made their first contact on 25th September when Xi Jinping was the 7th leader Suga-san called after taking over the office of Prime Minister.
As more information is coming out regarding the call between Yoshihide Suga and Xi Jinping, it is becoming clearer that Japan has made up its mind to take Beijing head-on. During the conversation, Suga-san did not even bring up the topic of Xi’s possible state visit to Japan which has been in limbo ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world.
However, even in the face of all this China has very little options. It just cannot afford to have the whole eastern borders overburdened by skirmishes and all neighbours filled with enmity against the Chinese. China in international eyes has become a country ruled by an evil dispensation because of its aggressive & antagonistic neighbourhood policy. The country is now in conflict with most of its neighbours including Japan, because of aggressive Chinese posturing and intimidating actions in South & East China Sea. Thus, with a change in leadership, China has become hopeful for a reset in its bilateral relations with Japan. A visit by Chinese foreign minister to Tokyo is planned even though Xi Jinping has been denied the invitation. Hopefulness is a very potent drug, and by the looks of it, China is heavily under its influence.
The isolation of China has become a reality, and this is very unprecedented as the majority of the analysts did not predict it. Almost all the developed world has seen the public view about China degrade in recent times. And China seems to be in a desperate effort to salvage any bilateral relationship it can possibly save. Japan has been one of those countries about which China seems optimistic for a reset in ties.
Suga-san agreed to a co-operation among the countries but raised issues related to North Korea too. The Japanese statement said that the two leaders spoke about “Japan and China’s continued cooperation in handling North Korea, including the kidnapping issue,” whereas it was missing in the Chinese statement.
Japan on one hand agrees to cooperate with its neighbour China and nurture its economic ties, and on the other hand, it continues with its proactive foreign policy of Shinzo Abe. It includes conducting anti-submarine exercises, hosting the ministerial-level QUAD meeting, improving ties with Indonesia & Vietnam, signing bilateral agreements with India, Australia & the USA, reknitting the USA’s East Asian alliance system with mending ties with the South Koreans and standing up for Taiwan.
This duality is becoming Suga-san’s foreign policy doctrine. By continuing Abe-san’s Indo-Pacific policy, he has increased the credibility of Japan among friendly countries as a trustworthy partner and by mending sour ties with South Korea he is further improving Japan’s standing as a big world power.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is following a very interesting policy in its bilateral relations with China. Reading the tea leaves correctly, he is creating a well-knit collection of minilateral groupings of friendly countries to counter China. At the same time, it is keeping China under the illusion of hope regarding the possibility of improvement in their bilateral ties. The latest anti-submarine exercise is proof for the above hypothesis. A blend of soft diplomacy and hard military strategy is the new foreign policy of Japan concerning China.