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The Japanese know how to deal with China

Japanese PM Fumio Kishida with Joe Biden in January. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

When it comes to China, the West acts “more like a student parliament” than a “closed formation”, says Michael Sauga in Der Spiegel. In Washington, Republicans and Democrats compete over who can use the most “belligerent tone” towards Beijing; Emmanuel Macron wants to “look away” if China invades Taiwan; the EU calls the country a “partner, competitor and strategic rival”, presumably so each member can choose the label that suits its needs. The country with the best approach is Japan. Around 10 years ago, Tokyo had to dramatically adapt its policy towards China after Beijing cut off vital raw material exports during a territorial dispute. This “painful experience” helped Japanese officials pioneer a strategy of “de-risking” without “de-coupling”.

Japan still receives around 20% of industrial imports from China, three times more than Germany. But Tokyo is “no longer as easy to blackmail”. Successive governments have ramped up military spending and consolidated security alliances with countries from America and Australia to India. Economically, Japan has developed a “China plus one” strategy, barring firms from relying solely on Chinese companies for raw materials. There’s a special ministry that monitors the flow of “critical goods” like semiconductors and medicines, controlling which “sensitive components” can be imported from Beijing. And rather than pursue an aggressive policy of domestic production – like “America First” – Japan has signed big free trade agreements with Indonesia, Vietnam and other rising powers. The whole approach is a perfect demonstration of “how to benefit from the Chinese market and reduce your own dependencies at the same time”.