The moderator, Ms. Suzanne Puanani Vares-Lum (President, East-West Center), opened the breakout session and explained the background of regional security with regards to the United States and Japan. She then introduced the panelists, Ms. Emma Chanlett-Avery (Specialist in Asian Affairs, Congressional Research Service), Mr. Tatsuhiko Takashima (Vice Admiral (retired) & Former Commander, Fleet Submarine Force, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force), and Dr. Tomohiko Taniguchi (Professor, Keio University). The panelists were then invited to share opening remarks about how they view the current regional security situation.
Ms. Chanlett-Avery talked about the close U.S.-Japan alliance in terms of the Indo-Pacific security strategy. Both countries share concerns about regional security considering the rise of China. The United States supports Japan’s enhancement of operational capabilities, allocation of more resources to defense, and increasing interoperability with U.S. forces. Also, the United States and Japan are cooperating on activities in Southeast Asia to increase capacity in the maritime domain. She also touched on Taiwan security. U.S. policy could be shifted towards Taiwan through the introduction of the Taiwan Policy Act, which is relevant to Japan’s position on the matter. On challenges for the alliance, she highlighted the lack of a robust U.S. role in the economic architecture in Asia, tensions between Japan and South Korea, and a degree of underlying anxiety about the U.S.’s role, stability, and position on the global stage.
Dr. Taniguchi emphasized that Japan is facing threats from Russia, China, and North Korea. The late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attempted to reduce Russia’s threat by forging a bilateral peace treaty. Dr. Taniguchi emphasized that Japan is drastically unprepared to handle combined military action from the three threats. Japan’s biggest national security interest lies in a free, open, and rules-based Indo-Pacific. He also touched on Taiwan. If Taiwan falls to China, then the East and South China Seas will become a combined anti-access area, affecting the Japan Marine Self Defense Force’s and U.S. Navy’s navigational freedom. He emphasized what could happen with regards to the future of Taiwan, especially considering it will continue to be the most strategically important key for the entire Indo-Pacific region. Japan must build preparedness and work together with the UN to uplift the status of Taiwan, so it becomes a more integral part of the world system and too valuable to lose. Japan must build military capabilities including offensive capabilities, such as missiles and information warfare. Japan should invite the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-capable attack submarines to be semi-permanently home ported at a navy base in Sasebo or Yokosuka.
VADM Takashima talked about operational cooperation between the United States and Japan. Regarding North Korea, there are three areas of cooperation between the United States and Japan. The first is on ballistic missile defense (BMD). BMD is not a sufficient line of defense because it is challenging and expensive. Japan is currently relying on the United States’ counterattack capability. The second area of cooperation is counterattack operations. Japan should develop its own counterattack capability so it can be the first responder to an attack. The third is cooperation on the future of North Korea’s ballistic missile submarines, which improves operational effectiveness, mutual trust, and gives more deterrence to North Korea. He then talked about Taiwan. If China attacks Taiwan, it is not an automatic war victory for China. The defense of Taiwan relies on the will of its citizens to defend against China, and it seems that their will is getting stronger. Additionally, Taiwan has been expecting attacks from China and is well prepared with shelters and exercises. Submarine operations in the Taiwan Strait are not ideal due to the shallowness of and ease of mine planting in the strait. He also explained that U.S. surface forces from the Pacific would be met with missiles from land, sea, and air. The most eminent cooperating area would be mine operation, including laying and sweeping. However, the U.S. capability in this area is not strong, so the expectation for Japanese burden-sharing would be high. Cooperation is also necessary in anti-missile warfare against anti-ship ballistic missiles, including early warning and evasion, measures against missile guidance, and ballistic missile defense. In addition, anti-submarine warfare and submarine operation are areas for cooperation.
Ms. Vares-Lum then asked Ms. Chanlett-Avery to talk about the implications of the new national security strategy. Ms. Chanlett-Avery first explained that the emphasis and focus strategically is on China and the Taiwan Strait not North Korea. The implications for Japan are that the United States is focused on China as its primary challenge and competitor. The importance of allies is emphasized as well. The national security strategy maintains the framework of the world being in a confrontation between autocracies and democracies, and there are some Asian countries that do not particularly align with the U.S.’s framework.
Ms. Vares-Lum asked Dr. Taniguchi about the upcoming national security strategy for Japan based on the current situation. Dr. Taniguchi explained that Japan is going to make a pledge to increase its defense budget to make it on par with some European nations in five years. Also, the need for offensive capabilities that are currently lacking will be outlined. It has been said that Japan will purchase missiles from the United States for offensive capabilities. The challenge with this is having a top-down commitment from the leaders of Japan to make it happen.
Ms. Vares-Lum asked VADM Takashima about what Japan would do if there were a conflict on the Korean Peninsula. VADM Takashima said that Japan would have to develop its own capability in such an event. Japanese military forces would need more capability to operate independently, such as in attack operations. He also explained that Japan and the United States should share missions based on effectiveness. To handle complex situations, missions should be shared in a more operational way, especially in the East China Sea and Sea of Japan.
A member of the audience said that one of her concerns is that the United States and Japan will have to cooperate jointly and bilaterally, and Japan may not be able to grow joint and bilateral capabilities due to its own internal limitations. VADM Takashima explained that Japan has a joint staff not a joint command which causes issues for cooperation with the United States. Reformation includes the establishment of a joint command; however, Japan is lacking the human resources in the Self Defense Forces. Dr. Taniguchi added that before Prime Minister Abe came back into power, no officer in uniform was allowed to enter the Prime Minister’s building. When PM Abe was in power, the chiefs of staff and joint chiefs of staff made regular visits, and then the top of the government became aware of who was in charge of the forces. The situation is developing, but it takes a strong commitment from the leaders. Ms. Chanlett-Avery commented that the U.S and Japan are aligned on joint and bilateral cooperation. However, making the cooperation happen is the challenge, and Japan needs to enhance its jointness and, if the defense budget is increased, spend it effectively.
Another member of the audience asked Dr. Taniguchi where Japan should get the defense budget from because, politically, it is difficult to raise consumption tax, the number of children in Japan is decreasing, and a budget is being spent on the elderly for their pensions and healthcare. Dr. Taniguchi answered that if defense is vital, there will be a way to increase the budget. Japan’s budget is bigger than the entire economy of Saudi Arabia or Turkey. However, 70% of that is fixed because municipalities, government debt obligation, and social welfare require payment. Japan’s social welfare expenditure amounts to more than 120 trillion yen. That is almost the same as the combined sum of the defense budget of the United States, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and India all combined. Therefore, growth must be the top priority.
Then a member from the audience asked Dr. Taniguchi and Ms. Chanlett-Avery about the red line that will trigger sanctions against China if it acts on Taiwan, and the collective set of sanctions that Japan could take with the United States and other Asia Pacific nations. Dr. Taniguchi said that Chinese leaders do not want a clear red line in terms of Taiwan. Japan should reduce risks in case of contingencies. For example, the Japanese living in China could not be evacuated quickly enough if Japan were to sanction China. One solution could be for Japanese corporations to send employees to China without their family. Ms. Chanlett-Avery added that she would never assert a red line. China remains economically important to Japan and many other countries. Therefore, causing friction with China causes economic costs to other countries.
Following, another member asked VADM Takashima if Japan should join AUKUS and develop nuclear propulsion submarines, and if that would contribute to enhancing Japan’s capability against China. VADM Takashima explained that, for Japan, nuclear submarines are better because they are more capable. However, they are expensive to build. Japan can build more diesel submarines and have more of them in the proximity of Japan. A diesel submarine still works for Japan. However, he expressed hope that Japan somehow acquires nuclear submarines.
Members of the audience then asked the panel how to best convince everyone that now is the time for a stronger, more strategically empowered Japan, and if Japan has somehow sent the wrong signal to China causing President Xi Jinping’s reaction regarding leadership roles. Dr. Taniguchi explained that strategic defense issues should be strongly considered because China is rising and changing. President Jinping is focusing on the next five years, so he is likely to act within that time frame. Also, no other bilateral relationship has been as strong as that between the United States and Japan, which is known and understood by China. China views Japan as a dependent function of the United States, so Japan has not done anything wrong vis-à-vis China. It is important for the Japanese leaders to always continue to meet with President Jinping to find out what he is planning. VADM Takashima added that communication between the top leaders is important because it creates an incentive for the Chinese leader to discuss with their military leaders about operations more seriously. Ms. Chanlett-Avery commented that, given the tension and sense of urgency, it is important not to get into an unwanted escalatory situation.