Is It Really All About China? Japan’s Strategic Calculus and the Future of the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Sheila Smith Headshot
Date & Time Dec 02 2021 4:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Sheila Smith
Audience Open to the Public

Is It Really All About China? Japan’s Strategic Calculus and the Future of the U.S.-Japan Alliance

No country has felt the impact of China’s rise more keenly than Japan. In my recent book, Intimate Rivals:  Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, I explore the complex ways in which China’s growing influence is affecting Japan’s domestic debate about its foreign policy goals and its own ability to compete in regional affairs. Yet there is a more pressing question. Will China’s rise transform the basic premises of Japan’s postwar strategic calculus? Will Japan abandon the limitations of its Constitution on the use of force, and emerge once again as a full-fledged military power? Can Japan find allies and partners to offset the growing Chinese influence over the Asia Pacific? As Asia’s long time maritime power, will Japan be willing to allow China to assume a greater role in providing for regional security? I will explore the role of the United States in this evolving strategic competition between Tokyo and Beijing in Asia, and how Japan’s changing strategic calculus could raise new expectations for Washington’s management of our most important Asian alliance. 


Sheila A. Smith, an expert on Japanese politics and foreign policy, is senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). She is the author of Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China (Columbia University Press, 2015) andJapan's New Politics and the U.S.-Japan Alliance (Council on Foreign Relations, June 2014). Her current research focuses on how geostrategic change in Asia is shaping Japan's strategic choices. In the fall of 2014, Smith began a new project on Northeast Asian Nationalisms and Alliance Management

Smith is a regular contributor to the CFR blog Asia Unbound, and frequent contributor to major media outlets in the United States and Asia. She joined CFR from the East-West Center in 2007, where she directed a multinational research team in a cross-national study of the domestic politics of the U.S. military presence in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. She was a visiting scholar at Keio University in 2007-08, where she researched Japan’s foreign policy towards China, supported by the Abe Fellowship. Smith has been a visiting researcher at two leading Japanese foreign and security policy think tanks, the Japan Institute of International Affairs and the Research Institute for Peace and Security, and at the University of Tokyo and the University of the Ryukyus.

Smith is vice chair of the U.S. advisors to the U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Exchange (CULCON), a bi-national advisory panel of government officials and private sector members. She teaches as an adjunct professor at the Asian Studies Department of Georgetown University and serves on the board of its Journal of Asian Affairs. She earned her MA and PhD degrees from the department of political science at Columbia University.