The era when Japan was nothing but “the shield and the US the sword” has already passed since April 1996 with the joint declaration of military security by President Clinton and Prime Minister Hashimoto.
In his official trip to Japan, the then US President, Bill Clinton, did not just have as his main concern the settlement of the two countries’ economic and trade differences, but also their convergence in the sensitive region of Southeast Asia that has since been characterized by tension between China and Taiwan, South – North Korea, the claim of ownership of the oil-bearing Spratly islands, etc.
The opening in military relations between Washington and Tokyo has been methodically built over the years, with the two countries recommitting in January 2022 to work together to prevent China’s growing power from destabilizing the region, underscoring the importance of safeguarding of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
We recall that Japan is home to major US military bases for aircraft, such as the one on the southern island of Okinawa, very close to Taiwan, which means that the country will play a key role if the US engages in military operations to support Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
(p.s.: The US is bound by law to provide Taiwan with means of self-defense in the event that China unilaterally resorts to the use of force to change the status quo).
Beyond this context, however, about a year ago US President Joe Biden announced from Tokyo a new economic partnership in the Asia-Pacific region as a counterweight to China, known as IPEF.
Although many analysts have expressed their reservations about the real scope of this agreement beyond its symbolism, nevertheless the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework involving 13 countries – USA, Japan, India, Australia, Brunei, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – it’s not just another “loose” free trade agreement.
It is an agreement that aims to unify signatories through common standards in four key areas: the digital economy, supply chains, green energy and the fight against corruption.
According to the joint communique of the 13 countries that account for 40% of the world’s GDP, IPEF is the commitment to an Indo-Pacific region free, open, equal, inclusive, interconnectedresilient, safe and prosperous’.
But for China, the IPEF is nothing more than a plan by Washington to limit its growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region, while for many analysts the greatest weakness of the IPEF is the absence of one of the largest global hubs of the semiconductor industry. and other important technological, of Taiwan.
Washington, of course, has a clear intention to strengthen its partnership with Taiwan on a bilateral basis, as it did this July with Japan, when US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and her Japanese counterpart Shunichi Suzuki agreed to further strengthen bilateral relations. them and work together to tackle rising food and energy prices exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine and climate change.
It is also extremely important – and not given the publicity it should – that Yellen and Suzuki urged China and other creditors to work together “constructively” on debt settlement for low-income countries that are in extreme trouble in current period.
If one looks at the overall course of US-Japan relations in recent years and their common position on economic, geopolitical, environmental and trade issues, one could claim that Japan is now the closest US ally on the planet right now .
As “ironic” as this close alliance seems if one “opens up” the plan of history, it is a fact.
Recall the talks between the US Secretaries of State and Defense, Anthony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, with their Japanese counterparts, Yoshimasa Hayashi and Nobuo Kishi, in early January this year. The talks concluded with a joint statement that “…the cooperation of the two countries is the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region” while it is “… more important than ever that Japan and the US stand together and show leadership in the face of the many challenges”
In fact, Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi had “meaningfully” emphasized that the US strongly supports the revision of Tokyo’s strategy for national security and the strengthening of Japan’s defense capabilities.
These statements are anything but random and prepare the ground for expanded trade agreements that are apparently only a matter of time to be announced in the Defense sector – and beyond – between the two countries.
Japan abandons anti-militarism doctrine
Four days ago, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that he would double defense spending over five years to $39.5 billion, leading his country – which in 2022 is set to be the second economy with the largest Debt/GDP ratio – from ninth to third in the world in terms of defense spending and abandoning the anti-militarism doctrine that was based on the decision to fully disarm after its defeat in 1945. Japan should be exercised exclusively for defense purposes”).
But the years pass, oblivion gains ground, the world changes and with it the correlations of forces.
In 2006 the country acquired a Ministry of Defense and there was talk of repealing the Article of the constitution which states that Japan cannot engage in aggressive war and therefore the Japanese military is prohibited from possessing offensive weapons such as medium-range and medium-range missiles. long-range, oil tankers for refueling the navy, long-range bombers, etc.
North Korea’s provocation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ballistic missiles that landed near Japan’s southwestern islands during China’s maneuvers around Taiwan this summer. they have now led public opinion to a massive shift on the issue of greater defense spending for the country and increasing its military which currently numbers just 231,000.
So the days when Japan had a defense budget of around 1% of its GDP seem to be over. Japan will be equipped with improved missiles and radar systems that could intercept missiles from China and North Korea, as well as unmanned combat aircraft and a next-generation fighter jet that it will jointly develop with Great Britain.
24 billion in the battery market
Yesterday we had another important announcement from the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan has drawn up a plan to invest more than $24 billion in public and private sectors to develop a competitive production base in the battery market for use in electric vehicles and energy storage, the industry ministry announced.
In fact, government support will be extended to Japanese companies that will acquire mineral mines, such as nickel, lithium and cobalt, metals essential to the battery industry.
You see, if the annual battery production targets are met, Japan will need about 380,000 tons of lithium, 310,000 tons of nickel, 60,000 tons of cobalt, and 600,000 tons of graphite.
At this point we should of course think about two things: The first is what will be the increase in demand for the above metals on a global basis if only Japan will need these quantities.
For comparison, in 2020 global demand for lithium reached 317,517 metric tons, with industry analysts predicting a sixfold increase in demand by 2030.
The second is that, based on new research done in the US, lithium deposits have been identified in states such as Maine, North Carolina, California and Nevada.
The tightening of US-Japan relations is another common field of interest. Thanks to this field, of course, alliances with other countries rich in these resources, such as Australia, Africa and South America, have begun to be strengthened.
Returning to the battery business plan, Japan’s goals beyond securing raw materials include securing 30,000 skilled workers in battery production and supply chains by 2030, in order to get a head start on its competitors in China and in South Korea who are currently expanding market share in lithium-ion batteries at the expense of Japanese companies.
The Ministry’s announcement comes hours after Japanese automaker Toyota Motor announced a $5.6 billion investment in Japan and the U.S. to supply 40 GW of battery storage for electric vehicles, with production to begin between 2024 and 2026.
The $2.5 billion will be invested in the battery manufacturing facility for both hybrid electric and electric vehicles maintained by the industry in North Carolina of the USA and the rest in Japan in collaboration with Panasonic.
Toyota Battery Manufacturing North Carolina is set to begin operations in 2025, with the company stating that the total investment in the plant will now reach $3.8 billion.
In the coming months, the column expects similar announcements from other Japanese business giants, while it is possible that big names in the US Defense industry will increase their turnover again, thanks to Japanese orders.
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