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Japan’s Geopolitical Balancing Act Just Got Harder

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe managed to strike a delicate diplomatic balance between China and the United States. But as Sino-American tensions escalate, his successor, Yoshihide Suga, will find it increasingly difficult to avoid taking sides, especially on technology issues and security arrangements.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s unexpected resignation last month for health reasons has raised many questions about the legacy of the country’s longest-serving premier. One of them is whether his successor, Yoshihide Suga, will be able to continue Abe’s geopolitical balancing act as tensions between China and the United States are continuing to escalate dangerously.

The US and China are critical to Japan’s peace and prosperity. America is Japan’s security guarantor and second-largest trading partner, while China is its largest trading partner and a next-door neighbor. After Abe returned as prime minister in December 2012, he adroitly managed Japan’s relationships with both.

Abe went out of his way to befriend US President Donald Trump, even as Trump claimed that US-Japanese trade was “not fair and open,” and demanded that Japan quadruple its contribution to the cost of keeping American troops in the country. He further pleased the Trump administration by quietly banning the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from participating in building Japan’s 5G network.