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The U.S. Has a New Partner in the Fight Against China | Opinion

Beijing is not pleased.
Tokyo just announced it will soon acquire the ability to destroy faraway targets with cruise missiles. On Friday, Japan released its National Security Strategy along with the National Defense Strategy and the Defense Buildup Program.
China’s Tokyo embassy immediately announced it had issued a diplomatic protest for “stirring up tension and confrontation in the region.”
Why is Beijing upset? Tokyo correctly labeled China as Japan’s No. 1 national security threat; the National Security Strategy called the Chinese regime “the biggest strategic challenge, unlike anything we have seen before.”
“The new National Security Strategy and the supporting documents present an epochal change in Japanese defense policy,” Tokyo-based Lance Gatling of Nexial Research, an aerospace and defense consultancy, told me. “For the first time since the 1954 establishment of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, the new strategy explicitly adopted counterstrike capabilities.”
To acquire those capabilities, Japan announced it will be buying American-made Tomahawk cruise missiles, extending the range of indigenously produced missiles, and developing hypersonic weapons.
Japan’s acquisition of counterstrike weapons is, on its face, prohibited. Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, titled “Renunciation of War,” provides in its first sentence that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” According to the second sentence, “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” Since the document came into effect in 1947, Japan has maintained it will not use force to defend itself.
Nonetheless, Japan has continually interpreted the American-drafted constitution to become, as the Japanese say, a “normal nation.” As a result of the creative process, Tokyo has built one of the most capable militaries anywhere.
Yet Tokyo hobbled its Self-Defense Forces with restrictions. And then on Friday, Tokyo eliminated one of the most important of them, the counterstrike option.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government’s new strategy “marks a major transformation of our postwar security policy.” That bold assertion is an understatement.
The change not only makes the Japanese military more capable, it also makes Japan a full partner in its treaty alliance with the United States.
“In past decades, the Japanese and the U.S. carefully delineated specialized roles and missions based on Japan’s exclusively defensive strategy,” Gatling noted. “Using its heretofore exclusive defensive capabilities, Japan agreed to secure its land and sea national territory, providing what former Prime Minister Nakasone called ‘an unsinkable aircraft carrier,’ from which American military forces based in Japan and nearby could launch strikes against military targets.”
Tokyo’s new defense posture means Japan will soon be working alongside the U.S. as a full partner in attacking attackers. As retired General Kunio Orita of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force told this publication, “We are now seeing the beginning of a new and improved U.S.-Japan alliance.”
And as Gatling points out, Japan’s new counterstrike capabilities will go beyond missile strikes. The country intends to develop an offensive cyber capability. Japan could eventually employ as many as 20,000 cyberwarriors.
So what changed Japanese opinion?
Partially it was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“One year ago, it would have been unthinkable for Japan to possess the capability to directly attack another country’s territory or to secure a budget to acquire such capability,” said Tetsuo Kotani of the Japan Institute of International Affairs to the Financial Times.
Yet the war in Eastern Europe was only a catalyst for the stunning change in public opinion in Japan. “According to an opinion poll conducted 25 years ago, about half of the Japanese people already had a negative view of China,” says Jay Aeba, chairman of CPAC Japan, a conservative action group. “A survey conducted this year found that 87 percent of Japanese citizens view China unfavorably.”
It is this country-wide change in perceptions that led Kishida to sponsor both the reorientation of defense policy and a large increase in defense spending. Last month, the prime minister announced a doubling of the military budget to 2 percent of gross domestic product by fiscal 2027. That commitment breaks a consensus, in place since the 1960s, to cap such expenditures at the 1 percent level.
The new Japanese attitude comes not a moment too soon. “Militant states in our region threaten not only Japan and our neighbors but the world as well,” says Aeba. “We Japanese are now ready to defend ourselves, and we will work with friends and allies as strong partners for peace and stability.”
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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