Rise of Japan and balance of power in Asia


Gauri Srivastava


Japan, the island country on the eastern edge of Asia, is one of the four developed nations of the largest continent. The cultural superpower is an important player in the Asian and world politics. It has outstanding bilateral ties with most Asian nations and is a part of the major regional multilateral organizations, apart from both economic and technological power. It is one of the top foreign aid providers in the world. But with the change of geopolitics in Asia with rise of China, Tokyo feels that it is time to revisit the pacifist policies and construct a new geopolitical paradigm for Japan.



Japan is in the midst of major policy review both domestically and globally. Japanese leaders are off late realizing they have lost hundreds of business contracts in the recent past to China and others despite offering bright prospects in regard to technology and economic viability of those projects.

The reason is Japan does not have enough political and geo-strategic weight in comparison to China and others. This is pushing Japan to rethink its engagement with the world and Asian continental powers.

Without securing political, military and economic heft, it cannot compete with China anymore. On the other hand Beijing is poised to change the present order either peacefully or forcefully using economic-military means as it is the case in South China Sea or Indian borders or in Indo-Pacific region.    

China has set out for a geopolitical hegemony to dominate Asia, Europe and Africa as it needs wide variety of market access and ensure smooth supply of energy to run its economy. The post-Covid situation is pushing Beijing to look for more trade and business to sustain jobs at home and more dollars to sustain its economic expansion programs abroad.

This is going to restart a Cold War 2.0 sometime in future and it will impact Japan and its economy. Thus, Japan needs to carefully analyse the situation in view of its war time past which rattled the entire Asian continent during the Second World War.

After the Second World War, Japan renounced war as a sovereign right and has since then maintained Self-Defense Forces instead of an integrated offensive and defensive military machine.

It follows a pacifist and peace-loving foreign policy till now. Japan’s core diplomatic imperatives are chiefly shaped by economic ties, on account of it being a resource-poor country that needs to import most of its mineral fuels.

It shares a strong relationship with China, which is its largest export market and trade partner. In the light of recent events, with China’s expansionist tendencies coming to the forefront and with the US-China trade clash, many countries are shifting their focus towards Japan as a viable trade partner.

Japan surely does not want to displease its prime trading partner but has started taking baby steps against China’s sudden belligerent policy. Earlier last year, after the Covid-19 outbreak disrupted logistic networks, the Japanese government encouraged its manufactures in China to relocate their base to their home country and other Asian countries, so as to make its supply chains less dependent on a single country.

China is actively seeking to replace the US as the leading power, and due to this change in the power structure of the Indo-Pacific region, regional middle powers like Japan and India are being expected to play a major role in countering Chinese ambitions.

Several countries are expressing their concern regarding China’s coercive economic and foreign policies and its interventionist military tendencies, and are looking for alternate options to secure their trade and manufacturing sectors.

Japan challenged China’s massive infrastructure development program, Belt and Road Initiative, with its Partnership for Quality Infrastructure which currently involves around 70 countries.

The fundamental cause behind this opposition is the Japanese need to preserve the multi-polarity of the region which the Chinese unipolar vision wants to do away with.

To maintain a state of prosperity and regional stability, Japan, along with other middle-order countries, will have to play an active role in the Indo-Pacific order. Japan has great ties with the US and India and with their help it can strive to get ahead of China.