Keeping the Dragon at Bay: The South China Sea Dispute in Japan’s Security Strategy

  • Alexandra SakakiEmail author
Part of the Global Power Shift book series (GLOBAL)


Japan’s view of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea is intricately linked to its own dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Amid deteriorating Sino-Japanese relations and strains over the bilateral territorial row in the past few years, Tokyo’s political elites have become increasingly concerned about Beijing’s growing confidence and assertiveness in its foreign policy. From their perspective, China is pursuing a strategy of creeping expansionism in the maritime domain by challenging the territorial status quo of islands in the South and East China Seas. In its national security planning, Japan is thus seeking to discourage Chinese assertiveness in the East Asian region. As the paper shows, the US-Japan alliance continues to play a key role in Japanese strategic thinking, but it is no longer viewed as sufficient in ensuring security and stability for Japan in the region, particularly vis-à-vis China. The paper demonstrates two areas in which Tokyo is making greater efforts to supplement the alliance’s deterrence function: Firstly, it is enhancing its military ability to discourage and respond to Chinese provocations around the Senkaku Islands, although efforts are constrained by budgetary limits. Secondly, Japan is diversifying its security relations with regional countries, thereby seeking to demonstrate to China that it is not indifferent to Beijing’s provocations in the South China Sea. The paper draws on a content analysis of Japan’s newest security strategy documents (the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Program Guidelines, both issued in December 2013) as well as recent (Japanese language) papers and commentary by Japanese security experts.


Japan South China Sea Maritime disputes Capacity building US-Japan alliance 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik/German Institute for International and Security AffairsBerlinGermany

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