By Chen Yang
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited the US on September 23 to 26 for the Quadrilateral security dialogue among the US, Japan, Australia, and India (Quad), which was also his last visit to US before leaving the office. Suga’s visit right before his term ends is extraordinary.
A look at Japan’s post-WWII political history shows that its prime minister wouldn’t engage in such an important foreign event before stepping down from power, for the main reason that the caretaker cabinet’s top priority is ensuring the smooth handover of power. The fact that the “lame-duck” Prime Minister Suga insisted on going to the US at such a moment and participating in such a high-level and large-scale foreign event thoroughly reflects his eagerness to leave some personal political legacy before leaving office. Since he took office in September 2020, his administration has been known as a staunch follower of America, and making a last-minute effort to deepen Japan’s engagement in the Quad and make a dent before the end of his term is something he would not give up.
Suga’s American trip also displayed Japan’s willingness to remain America’s strategic lackey. The face-to-face summit was initiated by US President Joe Biden, and Suga’s agreement to attend despite the severe COVID-19 pandemic at home further proved how Tokyo is readily at Washington’s beck and call. Besides, judging from the ongoing presidential election of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, Japan’s choice to continue being America’s “cat’s paw” won’t change soon. Although the main candidates running for the LDP presidency have different policy agendas, they are all for containing China, deepening the Japan-US alliance, and promoting a so-called “free and open Indo-Pacific region”. The Quad is seen by Washington as an important platform to make deployments in the Indo-Pacific, and Suga’s attendance didn’t just represent that his administration attaches great importance to the “clique”. What’s more important is expressing loyalty to Washington – the change of prime minister won’t in the least affect Japan’s commitment to the Quad.
However, being so eager to be America’s errand boy, even in a very undignified posture, and forming a clique in the Asia Pacific will only put Japan in a more passive situation.
On the one hand, Japan’s eagerness and willingness are never met with equal respect from the US. Just like Suga who hurried to the US for the summit on the eve of the end of his term, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also paid a rushed visit to the then-president-elect Donald Trump in November 2016 to pay homage to the incoming leader. Yet, as is known to all, the Trump administration didn’t back up an inch on issues like the Japan-US trade imbalance and sharing of military expenses for American troops stationed in Japan.
On the other hand, Japan’s cooperation with the US to form the clique is against the will of regional countries. While actively taking part in the Quad, Tokyo has also expressed support for the trilateral security partnership called “AUKUS” — Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Its supportive attitude toward these two cliques is obviously inconsistent with the stance of most Asian-Pacific countries. ROK Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said at a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) seminar on September 22 that defining the US, ROK, Japan and Australia as an anti-China bloc is a “Cold War mentality”, stressing that ROK won’t join the Quad. After AUKUS was formed, the Indonesian government canceled the upcoming visit by the Australian Prime Minister and asked relevant countries to stop the dangerous move. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob publicly called AUKUS a catalyst of the regional nuclear arms race and urged countries to avoid any provocative action. It’s clear that Japan’s reckless pandering to America’s clique-forming tricks in the Asia Pacific will only get itself isolated in the region.
Suga’s appearance at the Quad summit as Japanese Prime Minister might be taken by himself as one of the few highlights during his term, but it also posed a contrast to the fact that he is soon to step down after going home. It’s ironic that what he hopes will be his political legacy actually sends a different message – Japan is like a footman at America’s beck and call. No matter how hard the prime minister tries to be on good terms with the US president and to assist in implementing American strategy, that won’t help his political career in any way.
Editor's note: This article is originally published on haiwainet.cn, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.