Regional peace, stability at risk as AUKUS hypes Tokyo membership
Published: Oct 31, 2022 11:35 PM
Well-trained pawn Illustration: Vitaly Podvitski

Well-trained pawn Illustration: Vitaly Podvitski

It is not surprising to see that the US media once again hyped the idea of bringing Japan into AUKUS, but Tokyo has to think twice on whether its gain can outweigh its loss by doing so.

The magazine Foreign Affairs on Friday published an article entitled "Why Japan Belongs in AUKUS" by Michael Auslin, research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. The article calls for an expansion of AUKUS into JAUKUS by bringing Japan into the group, underlining that "amid rising tensions with China," Tokyo's largest-ever increase in defense spending was a "reminder that Japan's technological and security policies and ambitions are increasingly aligned with those of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States," members of AUKUS.

Since the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun in April reported that each AUKUS member had informally asked Japan about the possibility of it joining the partnership, related hype has never stopped. It is anticipated that Japan will join AUKUS sooner or later and it's just a matter of time, both Yang Xiyu, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, and Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times. 

Yang noted that tensions with Beijing or the so-called China threat is just the pretext, Tokyo's increase in its defense spending or its willingness to join military groups is because it desires to turn itself into a military power. 

Today, Japan seems to have become a right-leaning society, and regards China as its biggest imaginary enemy, repeatedly interfering in China's Taiwan question and the South China Sea issue. Tokyo is aware that it is hard to gain leverage against China on its own. It needs to rely on the US and other members of AUKUS to forge a multilateral military alliance, noted Song.

The US is also keen on bringing Japan into the bloc. Apart from Australia and Britain, Japan is US' closest and most obedient ally, and is highly coordinated with Washington's military strategy. Furthermore, as the US now intends to shift its military strategic focus from the Western hemisphere to the Eastern one, considering Japan's economic size, political influence and capabilities in defense military, it is an ideal candidate for AUKUS' expansion, and adding China's neighboring country can shorten the military mechanism's distance with China.

If Japan does become a member of AUKUS, it will create more strategic instability for the whole Asia-Pacific region, and regional countries should be highly vigilant toward Tokyo's intention in this regard. A membership to AUKUS will mean a subversive change to Japan's own Pacifist Constitution, resulting in substantial change of Japan's role and status in the existing regional security structure. The rise of Japan as a military power as well as the US-led AUKUS' northward expansion will naturally undermine regional peace and stability, which will exacerbate the security dilemma among AUKUS, Japan and other regional countries.

When discussing Japan's potential accession to AUKUS, some voices argue that Japan will become a victim of US' China strategy and AUKUS will contain China at the expense of Japan. Gal Luft, co-director of the Washington-based think tank Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, commented on the piece in Foreign Affairs saying, "Latest from neocon central: Now that we are almost done impoverishing Europe, it's time to take down Japan."

Japan needs to keep prudent in deciding whether it is worth to join AUKUS. According to Song, since the end of World War II, Japan has always been exploited by the US, with a large number of US troops stationing on its territory, and the cases of US military there bullying the local Japanese are widely seen. If Japan joins AUKUS, the US will use it as a front-line military base against China and Russia. The US will not hesitate to sacrifice Japan's interests in a bid to safeguard its homeland security and defend its hegemony.

The US does not want to see an independent Japan, but an obedient little brother. Therefore, if Japan wants to take advantage of the US-led AUKUS as an instrument to realize its ambitions and strategy to become a normal country, the path will be very winding and bumpy.