The normalization of Japan's security policy and the perspective of regional and international actors



Japan is the world's third economy and the eighth military power in the world in terms of military budget. This country in terms of military and security in the years after World War II due to the imposed constitution (Article 9 of the Constitution) was banned from acting independently in world security processes, until recent years was defined as a role of the state "unusual" in international relations. Adopting purely economic strategy and giving the national security to the United States, led Japan to play a passive role in international politics and, at the same time, safe for its neighbors (China, South Korea, North Korea, other Southeast Asian countries, Russia, etc.).

However, Japan with this reclusive foreign policy in the years after World War II and relying on US security support, has been able to come out healthy from regional and international security Crises, the dynamic security environment of East Asia (Influenced by China's growing power threats and North Korea's nuclear and missile threats) and beyond that at the international system level (Declining US hegemony and China’s leaping and changing nature of threats and threatening activists) it cause changed the method of this country's leaders in security strategies. In this regard and in response to concerns resulting from the dynamic security environment in East Asia and beyond that, Japan has reformed its security policies, that distanced the country from its dependent foreign policy and at the same time brought it closer to active foreign policy.

These are the most important changes in Japan's foreign policy and national security: Increasing the military budget, the establishment of the National Security Council and presented the first National Security Strategy (December 2013); Elimination of arms export restrictions (April 2014); Interpretation of the "Peace Clause" of the Constitution (July 2014); Strengthen deterrence by expanding roles, missions and Self-Defense Forces capabilities beyond the framework of the Bilateral security alliance of the United States and Japan; Active diplomacy, especially in the areas of security and increase security cooperation with Australia, India and several Southeast Asian countries. Security reform with the above indices represents an effort by Japan to re-empowerment and play a broader role in regional and international political scenes that it can have different meanings from different countries. The importance of this issue and the consequences that provoke the reaction of the pros and cons countries in the regional and international arenas, has led us to examine and analyze the pros and cons views on Japan's security developments. In this regard, in this article, we attempt to answer this question that What is the view of neighboring countries affected by Japan's security developments. In response to this question, an attempt is made to explain the view of the five countries of China, South Korea, Southeast Asian countries, the United States of America, and finally, Russia. In explaining this view, efforts are being made to pay attention to both material and semantic dimensions at the same time, the historical memory of the countries in the region, as well as current trends and events, should be taken into account. The reason for the emphasis on historical memory, along with other current and material factors, is the role that past events and memories have on their current orientation toward Japanese developments; in other words, if we consider the output of a foreign policy device as declarative and practical policies, the inputs of this device are also a combination of external trends and perceptions. Therefore, it seems logical, as look at Japan's current developments, let's take a look at the past and the historical memory of other countries.

With this introduction, in the following sections will try to explain the views of some countries, and finally, to summarize this discussion.


  1. Cold politics and hot economics: Explain China's view of Japan's security developments

The writing and many of Japan's religious, literary, and artistic traditions originally originated in China, and therefore, the country has a lot in common with Japan. Despite this, since the end of World War II, issues related to Japan's actions during the war [1] has also been a source of diplomatic tensions between Japan and China. The bitter memories of the Chinese people of their neighbor on the one hand, and the alliance between Japan and the United States, on the other hand, has caused Beijing doesn’t have a positive view at developments in its neighbor's security strategy and always with a pessimistic and worried look criticized Tokyo's new foreign policy procedures. From the Chinese point of view, the efforts of radical leaders (Such as: Abe) It is doing so as a strategic ally with the goal of reviving Japan's security position as well as strengthening US hegemony in the East Asian region. Therefore, the new changes are considered a major threat to China.

The latest document confirming the Chinese concern over Japan's intentions, in 2019 are includes Mid-Term Defense Plans, National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) in which, on the one hand, China is clearly considered a threat, and on the other hand, it has been pointed out how to respond (military budget increase) and the need to respond to these threats. [4] From China's point of view, assuming as a threat against Japan's national security and the security necessities propound in the National Defense Program causes the country to respond to territorial disputes more quickly than before and stand more firmly on the preservation of its assets; Which is not very pleasant for China. The result of this pessimistic view of China to Japan's security developments, has been the failure of all security and economic cooperation projects, including the creation of a free trade zone.


  1. United States of America: From free ride to equal partnership


Since World War II, Japan's most important security relationship has been with the United States and many analysts believe that an alliance with the United States is the axis of Japan's foreign and security policy. Accordingly, all orientations and changes in the country's foreign policy is done by considering a security alliance with the United States. A review of relations of the two countries shows, although so far the Security treaty (1951) has been able to ensure Japan's security in the region, in recent years, the two parties tend to increase Japan's role in the security treaty and reduce the burden on the United States.

The United States wants to end Japan's "free ride" that began during Obama's presidency and has reached its peak during Trump and his foreign policy, it has caused fear of abandonment among the Japanese. As a result, Japan has made great efforts to maintain the security treaty by paying more and playing a more active role in bilateral relations. In this regard, it can be claimed that changes and reforms in the security structure of Japan is done with the support and pressure of the United States and with the welcome of this country. From this perspective, Japan's security changes not only provider the interests of the United States in bilateral relations but also has brought other strategic interests;

Interests such as: helping to contain China, using Japan's capabilities to counter North Korea's threats, forming a chain of allies and Japan's central role in managing this chain, use of Japan's capabilities to contain non-traditional threats (such as piracy) or cyber threats to the United States.


3. Southeast Asian countries; positive view but worried


However, the bitter memory of the occupation of many Southeast Asian countries by Japan remains in the mind of the people of these countries but the Japanese government's efforts to improve relations as well as its actions after World War II has been effective in changing this negative attitude. According to a survey conducted among Southeast Asian countries by the “ISEAS” Japan was the only country with more than 50 percent of respondents to the question of which country is doing the right thing in terms of world peace, security and governance They voted for it. (Okano-Heijmans, 2018: 3).

Although Southeast Asian countries are Japan's traditional economic partners, they have expressed interest in strategic security cooperation in recent years. Among the countries in the region, the Philippines and Vietnam are working hard to strengthen their security relations with Japan. The 2012 cooperation agreement on scientific exchanges in the field of military issues between the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan (Gray, 2013: 6) is an example of increase relations between Japan and South East Asia. In the end, it should be noted that the positive view of East Asian countries on the process of normalization of Japan's foreign policy and the desire for security cooperation with this country has become more important for three reasons, these countries are in common with Japan on the issue of security alliance with the United States, Fear of China's rise and its effects, especially on territorial disputes Japan's capacity to control common regional concerns such as piracy, therefore, Southeast Asian countries seem to see Japan as a barrier to China's growing influence and this has become more important by reducing the US willingness to accept the costly security role in East Asia.


4.South Korea: Pessimism linked with abhorrence


Although, Korea and Japan traditionally have a lot in common in many cultural aspects, including the Chinese writing system and China's philosophical and religious influences, and in strategic aspects such as security alliances with the United States or in feeling threatened about North Korea. Hard colonization of Korea by Japan in the early twentieth century has caused relations between the two countries after decades is still not at un acceptable level. The reason why Koreans are pessimistic about Japan's honesty except those related to World War II, Japan's recent behavior, such as: reform of textbooks to eliminate crimes committed by Japan during World War II, and annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine, the tomb of war criminals. From South Korea's point of view, although Japanese authorities have changed their security policies because nuclear threats from North Korea and China's increasing military power and its provocative behavior in the South China Sea, the ultimate goal of this rising trend in the military field is the revival of Japan as a power in the East Asian region. From South Korea's point of view, Security changes provide an opportunity to contain or control North Korea's threat to Japan, this also provides security for South Korea: but in the long term, these changes will give Japan more role in security tricks and the country’s abuse of new conditions. (Dalton, Michishita, Zhao, 2018: 24). From a strategic point of view, Dispute between US regional allies are not pleasant and it imposes unnecessary costs on the US-based security system and this is while, the security system based on the centrality of the United States will act stronger than before if South Korea has a more positive and optimistic view of the developments in Japan.


5. Russia, from border disputes to strategic concerns


The most important issue in Russia and Japan relations is the issue of border disputes and the discussion of the alliance between Japan and the United States. Although in recent years, the two countries have experienced increasing relations, despite all efforts, they have not signed a peace treaty on the disputed Kuril Islands yet.

From a strategic point of view, the military strengthening of Japan, on the one hand, may affect the country's orientation towards the islands, on the other hand, considering the strategic alliance between Japan and the United States, Japan's military strengthening means strengthening US hegemony in the East Asian and other regions. Fear of an organization like NATO in East Asia, Tokyo has become more active in the field of security and military especially the discussion of arms exports and Russia's loss of interests as one of the main producers of weapons is another reason of Russia's critical view to Japan's security developments.




Japan's declarative and practical policy in recent years has been based on the positive use of military power to increase peace and stability in the East Asian region and beyond. Although Japan's performance in the years after World War II at a global level such as its assistance to UN peacekeeping operations or its financial assistance to security crises has causes it is known as peace-loving country, in the East Asian region, and especially in the discussion of Japan's relations with neighboring countries and the former colonies of this country these mental perceptions are completely negative and worrying. In this regard, we are faced with two procedures: On the one hand, Japan's positive actions in the humanitarian field (Such as: peacekeeping operations in Cambodia and Myanmar, help to make peace in war-torn countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan) in the past years it has confirmed the intentions of this country and strengthening the military dimension can be seen as reinforcing these measures; On the other hand, Negative historical memory and the continuation of the security treaty between Japan and the United States have provoked negative reactions to Japan's self-reinforcing actions in the field of security and the move from reactive[6] foreign policy to proactive [7].

Therefore, it seems that in the coming years, Japan will devote more energy to convincing its neighbors that security changes are non-threatening. Considering the concerns of neighboring countries in traditional security areas, Japan will do more to avoid provocative actions in the region. These measures will include the country's relations with the United States as a strategic ally, as well as relations with allied countries beyond East Asia. It should also be noted that active diplomacy is currently being pursued by Shinzo and Abe in the coming years, in order to reduce the level of tension, it will be pursued more deeply and broadly.



Dalton, Toby, Michishita, Narushige, Zhao, Tong (2018). Security Spillover: Regional Implications of Evolving Deterrence on the Korean Peninsula, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Okano-Heijmans, M. (2018). Reimagining Europe’s Partnerships with India and Japan: a New trilateral? Netherlands Institute of International Relations 'Clingendael'.

Gray, Gavan P. (2013). Japan's Defence Build-up and its Meaning for Asia, European Institute for Asian Studies, Briefing Paper 2013/3, Retrieved from


[1]- During World War II, Japan colonized parts of Manchuria, and in many big cities of China invaded. Under the pressure of the United States, Japan was forced to sever ties with China until 1972.

[2]- Mid-Term Defense Plans

[3]- National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG)

[4]-  To read more about Japan's defense documents, visit the website of the Ministry of Defense:


[5]- In the last days of World War II, Soviet Union South Sakhalin Islands and the Kuril Islands, including several islands near Hokkaido, have been seized, the Japanese claim that these are part of their native land. Russia and Japan are still in talks about the islands.


[6]. Reactive


[7]. Proactive