China Risk and China Opportunity for the U.S.-Japan Alliance

How should the risks and opportunities presented by a continually rising, increasingly self-assertive China be addressed? This is a pressing issue for the international community, particularly for the United States and Japan, whose alliance has proactively helped form and maintain the liberal, rules-based international order for the past several decades.

To enhance mutual understanding and encourage effective policymaking, the Japan Forum on International Relations (JFIR) and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have convened a small group of U.S. and Japanese scholars to examine the risks and opportunities accompanying China’s ascendance. This group includes China specialists, alliance experts, and authorities on trade and security issues in the Asia Pacific.

Led by Matake Kamiya and James L. Schoff, the group has conducted research and facilitated dialogue since April 2017 through private roundtables and public symposia that seek to further U.S.-Japan cooperation and coordination on China policy. The project examines different perspectives between the alliance members and discusses ways in which Washington and Tokyo can effectively respond to China’s rise. An accompanying series of policy briefs explores various China-related risks and opportunities for the U.S.-Japan alliance in the areas of regional and international order, trade and technology, security, and foreign relations. To learn more about the project, click here.

JFIR, together with the project’s U.S. team members, wish to thank the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership respectively for their generous support, without which this project would not have been possible.

—Matake Kamiya and James L. Schoff, Project Leaders and Co-editors

Policy Brief Series

About the Project

China today occupies a far more complex role in the international system than the Soviet Union did during the Cold War. For many countries at that time, particularly the Western liberal democracies including the United States and Japan, the Soviet Union was simply a security threat. There was little interdependence and minimal human, economic, and other types of exchanges between the West and the Soviet Union. For liberal democratic countries, the Soviet Union was an enemy and not a country with which they wanted to pursue cooperation. China in the twenty-first century is different. For many countries around the world, Beijing simultaneously poses serious security challenges and presents opportunities for cooperation.

On the security front, Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines, adopted in December 2018, point out that “China engages in unilateral, coercive attempts to alter the status quo based on its own assertions that are incompatible with existing international order,” and the document maintains that China’s military development and behavior represents “a serious security concern for the region including Japan and for the international community.” Similarly, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, issued in June 2019, identifies China as a “revisionist power,” who is undermining the international system “by eroding the values and principles of the rules-based order.” The report directly accuses China of conducting activities that are “inconsistent with the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The risks associated with China’s rise are not limited to the political and security fields. In the economic arena, China’s predatory industrial policies generate risks for other countries that cannot be ignored. In particular, the Made in China 2025 strategic plan, whereby the Chinese government provides subsidies to national champion companies while limiting foreign companies’ access to China’s high-tech sector, poses significant risks to the future of the U.S. and Japanese economies.

At the same time, however, Washington and Tokyo want to cooperate with Beijing when possible. The most obvious opportunities China presents tend to be economic ones. All countries are trying to benefit from their relationships with the world’s second-largest economy. Another more subtle window for cooperation China offers relates to the maintenance and stability of the international order. While there are increasing concerns in the international community that Chinese assertiveness could destabilize the liberal, rules based international order, there are some positive ways China’s external behavior could help maintain international stability.

Examples of such Chinese behavior include more active participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations, cooperative efforts to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, and Beijing’s increasingly positive attitude toward mitigating global warming, particularly after the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. China’s intentions to cooperate with the international community to tackle these global issues has become increasingly evident. The establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could have a positive impact on the stability of regional order in the Indo-Pacific, if China pursues these projects not only to advance its own national interest but also to provide public goods, and if Beijing does so within a framework of multilateral cooperation.

Recognizing that there is room to improve U.S.-Japan policy coordination and that the two countries need to take a positive leadership role in dealing with China’s rise, this project aims to help form a bilateral consensus on foreign policy approaches across a wide range of important issues including the regional and global orders, trade and technology, and national and regional security. The joint team has published a series of related policybriefs that begin to clarify areas of agreement, potential perception gaps, suitable policy recommendations, and areas for further study.

These briefs contain the authors’ own perspectives and do not represent the views of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Japan Forum on International Relations, other institutions to which the authors respectively belong, or project funders. The group will continue to broaden its research by examining different aspects of China’s rise and its implications for the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Project Leads and Co-editors

Matake Kamiya
National Defense Academy of Japan, and the Japan Forum on International Relations
James L. Schoff
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


  • Michael S. Chase
    RAND Corporation
  • Zack Cooper
    American Enterprise Institute
  • Carla P. Freeman
    Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies
  • Yuichi Hosoya
    Keio University
  • Masafumi Iida
    Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies
  • Asei Ito
    University of Tokyo
  • Patricia M. Kim
    Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Satoru Mori
    Hosei University
  • Mie Ōba
    Tokyo University of Science
  • Mira Rapp-Hooper
    Council on Foreign Relations
  • Evans J.R. Revere
    Albright Stonebridge Group
  • Ryo Sahashi
    University of Tokyo
  • Shin Kawashima
    University of Tokyo
  • Michael D. Swaine
    Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Nicholas Szechenyi
    Center for Strategic and International Studies
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