Event Summary: ‘China, Japan and the Future of East Asia: How to Cope with the Changing Dynamics’


This is a summary of an event with Hitoshi Tanaka, Senior Fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange, on 12 December 2013; it reflects the views expressed by the speaker and not those of the Henry Jackson Society or its staff.

To view the full transcript of the event, click here


Hitoshi Tanaka discussed recent power shifts in East Asia. Considered the main intellectual architect of Japanese foreign policy over the past decade, he argued that China’s rapid growth is the cause of its increasingly assertive behaviour in the region, particularly regarding the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands dispute. He also spoke about the internal problems China is facing; arguing that China is using Japan to distract its citizens from these difficulties, which if exacerbated could cause major unrest. Mr Tanaka assessed the measures and precautions that could be taken by Japan, the US and other Asian powers in the region, before moving on to what the future holds and stressing that it is a global rather than a regional issue.

The internal and external challenges posed by China’s rapid growth

  • China surpassed Japan in terms of GDP in 2010. Since then, its confidence has grown and behaviour has become more aggressive which will create instability in the near future.
  • To counteract this, the United States are expanding their military presence in Asia and trying to rebalance their commitments from the Middle East to Asia. Along with Russia, they joined the East Asia Summit in 2011.
  • There is currently very strong nationalistic sentiment in China, worsening the issue surrounding the disputed islands.
  • There are also huge domestic governance issues, such as income disparity, the environment and food safety. If economic growth there falls, it would exacerbate social problems and in turn lead to a political power battle, and so the Chinese government are keen to turn attention to the outside.
  • If economic growth does not continue and there is not political reform, the Communist party may not survive.
  • President Xi Jinping is trying to balance the liberal and fundamentalist forces within the party, creating contradictory policies.

The military constraints Japan faces

  • The nation does not have constitutional authority to use its military in an offensive or corrective sense, even in the situation where there is a direct security threat in short of actual aggression.
  • This has created a need to change the interpretation of the constitution, but this would create problems in the region with Korea and China.
  • Because of the history of Japanese behaviour in the region, particularly during WWII, there is still mistrust of the nation despite the Murayama statement, and heightened nationalism on the part of China has worsened this.

The future of the region

  • There is no need for stronger national security precautions, although as the United States reduce their military expenditure there will be a need for Japan and East Asia to share their responsibilities.
  • There are confidence building measures that could be taken, for example multilateral treaties encompassing Japan, Korea, the US and China regarding North Korea and other strategic issues.
  • There need to be common rules created in the region to help create a much broader economic region.
  • There is a great need for energy cooperation and joint energy exploration, particularly as East Asia continues to grow rapidly. The citizens and politicians alike of the different countries must be aware that they have a common political interest and a very high stake in the future.
  • Regarding North Korea, the political party rather than the military is beginning to take the upper hand. This power struggle may create more instability in the region.
  • We are likely to see Russia gradually growing in presence in East Asia.



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