Structural realists might reasonably predict that foreign policy elites in countries like Japan and Australia would view China’s economic and military rise as a potential threat and seek to balance against it. However, the actual policy behaviour of Japanese and Australian policy elites has been quite complex—pushing forward at times, hesitating at others and generally uncertain if an explicit counter-coalition against China through bilateral security cooperation is the right policy path. Why is this?
This paper explains the puzzle by focusing on the perceptions of policy-makers regarding the risk of provoking China; entrapment with the other; and entrapment with the United States. The paper demonstrates how policy-makers’ concerns regarding entrapment or abandonment related to their mutual US ally—as well as concerns about potentially provoking China—have had an instrumental effect on the degree to which Japan and Australia have strengthened their security commitments to each other. While the rise of China—and the relative decline of US power—has shaped the overall direction of Japan–Australia security ties, such structural imperatives are of course also complicated by how domestic actors think about the tactical aspects of understanding and surviving these structural features.
Read the full paper in International Affairs.