Apr 13, 2021 - World

Interview: Gen Nakatani on China and the U.S.-Japan alliance

Photo illustration of Gen Nakatani.
Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Japan should coordinate even more closely to check China’s military rise, Gen Nakatani, a prominent member of Japan’s House of Representatives and a former defense minister, told Axios in an interview.

Why it matters: Later this week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will become the first foreign leader to visit President Biden at the White House, demonstrating the importance that the Biden administration is placing on the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Details: Nakatani is a co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international group of legislators from democratic countries focused on the challenge of China's rise. He is also the co-founder of the Japan Parliamentary Alliance on China.

What he's saying: "Japan's greatest concern about China is its growing military power," Nakatani told Axios. "The Japan-U.S. alliance should strengthen the maintenance of vigilant surveillance and deterrence through joint Japan-U.S. actions."

  • To address this challenge, Nakatani emphasized the importance of working together with regional partners who share common values, including the Quad, an informal grouping of four Indo-Pacific democracies — Australia, Japan, India and the U.S.
  • Nakatani said that with the new challenges facing the region, Japan should amend its pacifist constitution so that the country can shift from a focus on pure defense to "active Asian security."

On what to expect from the upcoming summit between Biden and Suga:

  • "The two sides will likely declare that they share common strategic goals and values, confirm specific policies and issues, and make a clear statement that they will maintain deterrence through the Quad with India and Australia."
  • Also likely up for discussion: cooperation on climate change; human rights diplomacy toward China; naval cooperation and freedom of navigation operations; missile defense; and economic and security topics such as space, cyberspace and 5G.

Driving the news: Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi recently criticized China's human rights violations in Xinjiang, its Hong Kong crackdown, and its actions in the contested East China Sea.

  • But while Tokyo has been unusually outspoken on Xinjiang, it has not taken action.
  • "The Japanese government has never sanctioned human rights violations and is even hesitant to ratify the UN Genocide Convention," said Nakatani. "This is due to the fact that Article 9 of the Constitution prohibits the use of force, and the Japanese government is thoroughly committed to its non-military pacifism that says the issue should be resolved peacefully, and remains reluctant to impose any sanctions on foreign countries."

What to watch: The EU only recently created its own version of the Global Magnitsky Act to sanctions human rights abusers overseas, and Nakatani hopes that Japan will soon follow suit. "I will continue to spare no efforts in passing the Japanese Magnitsky Act," he said.

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