With the signing of the agreement to construct two nuclear power stations for Vietnam yesterday, Japan cemented a broad and deep commitment in support of Vietnam's current government. Coming on the heels an acceleration toward a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with India one week ago and the solicitous behavior this summer toward South Korea, it looks more and more like Japan is practicing a sureptitious but rapid policy of encirclement around China, making a concerted effort to bolster and deepen relations with the countries on China's periphery, particularly those currently experiencing serious political difficulties with China.
Japan, at least in the short run, has very little to offer in terms of strategic assets. Its Self Defense Forces are still tightly bound to the defense of Japan's territory and territorial waters. However, it is clear from the content of the economic pacts being signed -- large infrastructure development projects, exchanges of nuclear power generation technology and agreements to explore the mining of rare earth elements -- that Japan's overseas economic development policy has a strategic edge.
The question is if Japan continues to further develop economic ties with a strategic edge aimed at China's periphery (Where are the commensurate approaches to further deepen Japan-Australia ties?) how long will it be before Sino-Japanese relations are indelibly altered? Will China, seeing Japan making friends with countries on China's periphery regardless of whether they are full democracies or not, respond with increased aggression toward Japan -- or at very least a greater feigned disinterest in Japanese concerns? How will Japan balance these very provocative moves when the Sino-Japanese relationship is so precarious, as was witnessed by the cancellation at the last minute of a planned meeting between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit?
Standing up to China, even indirectly through a policy of making common cause with the nations on China's borders, will have consequences.