China military rise could threaten Japan economy, PM Suga warns


Yoshihide Suga, Japan's prime minister, speaks during an interview in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. - Bloomberg

TOKYO (Bloomberg): China’s rapidly growing military influence and unilateral changing of the status quo could present a risk to Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in an interview with Bloomberg, ahead of the first Quad summit.

"The changing power balance brought by the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific, along with the increasing inward focus spurred by the pandemic have increased uncertainty,” Suga said before the first in-person leaders’ meeting of Quad nations US, Australia, India and Japan, which is to be held on Friday (Sept 24) at the White House.

The group of democracies is seen as trying to balance China’s increasing influence and military might in the region. Beijing has accused the US of trying to form a clique.

China’s changing of the status quo with its military power in the background "could present a risk to our country’s peace and prosperity,” Suga added in the interview on Wednesday.

In response, Japan should strengthen its alliance with the US to bolster deterrence, and also work on increasing its own defensive capabilities, he said, adding it was still important for Japan and China to maintain dialogue.

The Japanese leader’s trip to the US will be the swansong of his one-year premiership, with a Sept 29 election in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party set to pick his successor as leader and therefore prime minister.

Seen as a diplomatic novice when he took over, Suga has presided over a downturn in relations with China, his country’s biggest trading partner. Adding to the tensions have been comments from some senior lawmakers in Suga’s ruling party about the importance of Taiwan to Japan’s security, sparking irritation from Beijing, which sees the island as part of its territory.

The Quad meeting comes as the group’s prospects of cooperating with other nations on regional security were overshadowed by a dispute involving two of its members and France. The so-called AUKUS security partnership between the US, UK and Australia is partly intended to enable Australia to obtain nuclear-powered submarines -- a plan that some Asian nations have said could spark an arms race in the region.

"Our country hopes for cooperation between related countries,” Suga said, when asked about AUKUS, singling out France as one of the countries with which Japan wants to cooperate. When asked about the dispute among the US, Australia and France over the submarine contract, Suga said Group of Seven countries had agreed to work together as allies, and that US President Joe Biden had given a United Nations speech emphasising the importance of maintaining alliances.

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