From Five Eyes to Six? Japan’s push to join the West’s intelligence alliance


AAp/AP/Kaname Yoneyama

Craig Mark, Kyoritsu Women’s UniversityAs tensions with China continue to grow, Japan is making moves to join the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance. This week, Japan’s ambassador to Australia, Shingo Yamagami, told The Sydney Morning Herald he was “optimistic” about his country coming on board.

[I] would like to see this idea become reality in the near future.

This comes as New Zealand voices its concerns over using the Five Eyes process to pressure China.

What is this spy alliance? And what are the benefits and risks to bringing Japan on board?

What is the Five Eyes?

Beginning as an intelligence exchange agreement between the United States and United Kingdom in 1943, it formally became the UKUSA Agreement in 1946. The agreement then extended to Canada in 1948, and Australia and New Zealand in 1956.

This long-running collaboration has been particularly useful for sharing signals intelligence, or intelligence gathered from communications and information systems. The group’s focus has shifted over time, from targeting the USSR during the Cold War, to Islamist terrorism after the September 11 attacks in 2001, to the rising challenge from China today.

Japan’s intelligence infrastructure

There is a significant intelligence tradition in Japan. After the Meiji Restoration of the 19th century, the imperial Japanese army and navy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs developed extensive intelligence networks. These aided the rise of the Japanese empire in its wars against China, Russia and eventually the Western allies in the second world war.

After the war, Japan’s intelligence services were revamped under American supervision. Japan has since been an important base of operations for US intelligence operations in Asia, particularly by military intelligence, the CIA and the National Security Agency.

The Japanese intelligence community now comprises a range of services, including the Ministry of Defense’s Directorate for Signals Intelligence, which provides expertise in regional signals intelligence. Given Japan’s proximity to China, North Korea, and Russia, Japan may well be an attractive addition to the Five Eyes alliance.

There is also a precedence for formal intelligence sharing with the West. As well as its long-running collaboration with the US, an Information Security Agreement was signed between Australia and Japan in 2012. At the end of 2016, the US, Japan and Australia signed a similar trilateral agreement deepening the extent of covert security cooperation.

Japan’s close relationship to the US is seen in Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit last week to the US, the first foreign leader to be officially hosted by President Joe Biden. The talks in Washington focused heavily on China.

Previous reluctance to expand the group

While the Five Eyes group has often cooperated with the intelligence services of Japan on an ad hoc basis — as well as those of France, Germany and Israel — there has so far been reluctance among the Five Eyes members to formally broaden the alliance.

The US especially has had doubts in the past about the security and reliability of the Japanese intelligence community. In particular, this is due to concerns over its relative lack of overseas experience.

Suga was the first foreign leader to be hosted formally by President Joe Biden.
AAP/AP

In 2013, the Abe government passed a controversial Designated State Secrets Law to reduce these vulnerabilities and present Japan as a more valuable security partner. The ensuing revamp of the intelligence services, under firmer central direction of a National Security Council, has reformed Japan’s capabilities to some extent.

But further complicating matters, New Zealand has now shown its hesitancy about using Five Eyes to pressure China. This threatens to undermine the unity and stability of the alliance, even raising the prospect of New Zealand leaving Five Eyes altogether.

What about China?

Japan’s relationship with China — its neighbour and main trading partner — could potentially be a stumbling block. This relationship was managed fairly successfully under the Abe government, where the mutual benefits of trade and investment were prioritised.

This has largely continued under Suga, but more hawkish members of the government are starting to push a tougher line against China.




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With the ongoing territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, and more assertive demonstrations of force by the People’s Liberation Army, relations between China and Japan have become much frostier. As Japan is on the “frontline” with China, becoming a Five Eyes member has the potential to improve its strategic position via stronger support from its alliance partners.

Leadership change in Japan?

The best prospect for Japan joining Five Eyes probably lies with cabinet minister Taro Kono. He is the minister for administrative reform, responsible for supervising Japan’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. In his previous tenure as defence minister, Kono was enthusiastically in favour of Japan joining Five Eyes.

The energetic, media-savvy and ambitious Kono is widely favoured to replace Suga as prime minister if he does not survive a vote for leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in September. An election for the lower house of the Diet (Japan’s parliament) also must be held by October.

Security environment could make the decision

A more threatening security environment overall may hasten the push towards a “Six Eyes” anyway.

A cyber attack on the Australian parliament in 2019 was implicitly blamed on China, while the US counterintelligence establishment is still reeling from the consequences of the massive Russian SolarWinds cyber attack and Moscow’s interference in the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections.




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This week, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police have blamed the People’s Liberation Army for organising hundreds of cyber attacks on Japanese companies, universities and government departments, including Japan’s space agency JAXA. This is certain to harden opinion against China.

If all members agree, especially with encouragement from the US, it would be fairly straightforward for Japan to formally join the Five Eyes. If the regional security environment continues to deteriorate, the declaration of a Six Eyes alliance incorporating Japan would be a clear diplomatic signal of a determination to confront China in intelligence and espionage.The Conversation

Craig Mark, Professor, Faculty of International Studies, Kyoritsu Women’s University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Japan is facing a fourth COVID wave and sluggish vaccine rollout. Will it be ready for the Olympics?


KYDPL KYODO/AP

Craig Mark, Kyoritsu Women’s UniversityAs a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic worsens in Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga faces a formidable challenge to successfully host the increasingly beleaguered Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, with less than 100 days left to go.

More contagious variants of COVID-19 are spreading from Japan’s second-largest city Osaka. Cases are already rising again in Tokyo, requiring a so-called “quasi state of emergency” to be reimposed in Japan’s major cities.

Anxieties are also rising over the country’s sluggish vaccine rollout, which is far behind many other countries, including Singapore, South Korea and Indonesia. Opinion polls show up to 70% of Japanese feel the vaccine rollout has been too slow.

As the head of one nursing care centre put it,

the government doesn’t seem to understand the urgency of the matter.

A delayed start to Japan’s vaccine rollout

Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the rollout, has said 100 million doses should be stockpiled by June to cover the country’s elderly population (36 million people), health care workers and those with pre-existing conditions. This means, however, less than half the population is likely to be vaccinated when the Olympics start on July 23.

The main cause of the slow rollout stems from the initial decision by the government to go through a delayed approval process for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Japan only began vaccinating those over 65 years old this week.
Kyodo News/AP

Even though Phase 3 trials were concluded last November and the vaccine was approved by the World Health Organisation on December 31, the Japanese Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA) took another six weeks to conclude its own trials before granting approval. The rollout has been further impeded by strains on Pfizer’s production capacity and export controls imposed by the European Union.

At least four Japanese pharmaceutical companies have been conducting their own vaccine trials, but these have been stymied by a lack of investment and the slow pace of bureaucratic approval by the PMDA.




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Japan also has orders for 120 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 50 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine, with hopes they will be approved for distribution and domestic production by May. Local trials have also begun for the Novavax vaccine, with hopes of being able to produce it domestically by the end of 2021.

Though achingly slow to be delivered, this means Japan has secured the rights for 564 million doses — more than enough for its population of 120 million people.

Osaka’s torch relay was held in a park without any crowds due to COVID concerns.
Hiro Komae/AP

A history of vaccine scares

But vaccine supply isn’t the only issue the country is facing. There are also concerns over the relatively high rate of vaccine reluctance among the Japanese public. Less than 25% strongly agree vaccines are effective, important and safe, according to a survey by The Lancet.

This is the legacy of vaccine safety scares in past decades. A small number of infants died from whooping cough vaccinations in the 1970s, followed by some adverse reactions to a combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in the 1980s.




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Unfounded safety fears even led to the government withdrawing a national vaccination program for the human papillomavirus (HPV) in 2013, with fewer than 1% of Japanese girls now vaccinated for HPV.

Two recent surveys, however, show more than 60% of Japanese people are willing to get a COVID vaccine. The groups with more hesitancy included women and younger generations, with just over half indicating they wanted to get vaccinated.

Political pressure on Suga

For over a year, Japan’s pandemic strategy has largely relied on requests for businesses and the public to take voluntary precautions, such as closing bars and restaurants by 8pm, rather than enforce strict lockdowns. The government’s goal was to minimise the impact on the economy.

The Suga government and that of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, however, have been under constant criticism for what many perceive as a reactive approach to the crisis. There have been a number of missteps along the way, too.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has seen his popularity drop significantly since the start of his term last year.
Kaname Yoneyama/AP

This has worsened the approval ratings for the governing conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has to face a national election for the lower house of the Diet (Japan’s parliament) by October. Numerous corruption scandals implicating LDP Diet members, senior bureaucrats and even Suga himself have also undermined public support for the government, which could ultimately threaten Suga’s leadership.

Relations have also worsened between Suga and leaders of Japan’s prefectural governments, especially the governors of Osaka and Tokyo. They have been insisting a “quasi state of emergency” be reimposed for at least a month, following the premature lifting of the previous state of emergency on March 21.

Osaka’s governor has also called off the Olympic torch relay through the streets of his city.

Playbook for a COVID-safe Olympics

The Tokyo Olympics, themselves, however, are still proceeding as planned. The Suga and Tokyo governments and the International Olympic Committee believe there is simply too much at stake in terms of corporate sponsorships, broadcasting rights and political prestige — despite the vast majority of Japanese people believing the games should be cancelled or postponed.

Suga is even expected to invite US President Joe Biden to the Olympics during his official visit to the US this week.




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Foreign spectators have now been barred from attending, but organisers are still hopeful to have a domestic audience for the games, particularly since
socially-distanced sporting events have resumed in Japan, such as baseball, soccer and sumo wrestling.

However, there is so far no requirement that local spectators be vaccinated. And the IOC is only encouraging — not requiring — that athletes be vaccinated, according to IOC Vice President John Coates.

All athletes, coaches and support staff, as well as the foreign media, will instead have to show negative COVID-19 test results before entering Japan. They will also be required to follow a COVID-safe “Playbook”, which will strictly control their activities during the games and require testing every four days.

How the government handles the games may just determine its fate in the October elections.

Scandals and negative publicity have swirled around the event for months, putting enormous pressure on the government and organisers.

Last week, a report that priority vaccinations were being considered for the Japanese Olympic team ahead of the public sparked a social media backlash and prompted a denial by the government.

With less than 100 days to go until the opening ceremonies, the Suga government needs to take a stronger approach towards the pandemic and dramatically speed up its vaccine rollout. The success of the games — and the survival of Suga’s government — depend on it.The Conversation

Craig Mark, Professor, Faculty of International Studies, Kyoritsu Women’s University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Quad group makes vaccine deal as a wary China watches on



AAP/AP/Ryohei Moriya

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

American officials and those representing other parties to a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) may try to pretend that a summit of Quad leaders was not driven primarily by concerns about a China threat.

Briefing reporters after the meeting and the announcement of a vaccine deal to help low-income countries fight the COVID pandemic, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan sought to play down the issue when he said the Quad was not fundamentally about China:

The Quad is not a military alliance; it’s not a new NATO, despite some of the propaganda that’s out there.

But the fact is there would be no Quad, and no inaugural summit of the leaders of the US, Japan, India and Australia if it were not for deepening alarm among the US and its allies about how China’s rise might affect peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

The leaders’ joint statement leaves no doubt a China preoccupation is driving the elevation of this body to national leader status. In doing so, it invests it with much greater significance. The statement reads:

We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values and unconstrained by coercion.

If this is not “fundamentally about China”, it’s not clear what it is about.

It remains to be seen whether the first Quad summit bolsters the group’s ability to counter a rising and increasingly assertive China, or whether differing priorities among its participants expose its limitations.

The Quad is being marketed as a constellation of liberal democracies against an illiberal China. But there is a world of difference between how each of the participants view and interact with China.




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Not just about China

In assessing the likely effectiveness of the Quad, it is well to keep in mind that nations do not have permanent friends or permanent enemies – just permanent interests.

Canberra would be foolish to invest too much faith in what is, at this early stage, a consultative body that will meet semi-regularly to discuss regional challenges and conduct military exercises.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison would be advised to contain his exuberance in describing the Quad as the arrival of a “new dawn”.

This is not a “new dawn” in Asia, even if we are witnessing a Chinese sun rising.

In a paper – How Biden can make the Quad endure – the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues the body needs to avoid a “China Trap” – becoming a narrowly-defined China-obsessed body – and seek to broaden its scope.

In this regard, it is a positive development that Quad leaders have undertaken to supply up to one billion coronavirus vaccines across Asia by the end of 2022. This is a practical demonstration of the Quad’s potential and one aimed at countering China’s soft power.

The Quad must ensure it doesn’t fall into the ‘China trap’, making everything about Beijing’s rising power.
AAP/AP/Andy Wong

A ‘new kind of diplomacy’

History is important to understanding the Quad’s genesis and where it might head. The body owes its start to the establishment in 2004 of an ad hoc grouping formed to deal with the devastating Boxing Day tsunami.

The United States, Japan, India and Australia established what was described then as the “Tsunami Core Group”. This initiative represented a “new type of diplomacy” to face an existential challenge.

In 2007, the first meeting of the Quad was held on the fringes of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila. The Quad showed promise as a regional grouping, but the Kevin Rudd government, elected that year, abandoned the Quad dialogue on the grounds it would be perceived as being part of a China containment policy.

This did not align with Labor’s strategic impulse, which was to continue to elevate relations with Beijing.

In 2017, under the Turnbull government, the grouping was revived. It has been described as “Quad 2.0”, to distinguish it from its first iteration.

Since then, participants elevated a dialogue among themselves to defence and foreign minister level. Quad countries have also participated in regular military exercises. However, until last week, when newly-elected President Joe Biden decided that in his first significant foreign policy initiative he would bring together Quad leaders, the body had lacked head-of-government imprimatur, and thus credibility.

That has changed.

Biden’s description of the Quad as a “vital arena for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific” means it has the potential to become an important component of a regional security architecture.

This is provided it does not get bogged down in a defensive anti-China mindset in dealing with regional concerns from China’s power to climate change to health challenges.

Helping to put the Quad summit into perspective is the planned meeting late this week in Anchorage, Alaska between US Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken, Sullivan and their Chinese counterparts. This includes Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

This will be the first high-level meeting between senior American and Chinese officials since the inauguration of the Biden administration on January 20. The Anchorage meeting will be critical to Washington’s efforts to establish a better working relationship with Beijing.

Top of the agenda will be discussion about a prospective summit between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

This is shaping as one of the more important encounters of the modern era.

Testifying last week before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Blinken said the Anchorage meeting would be an opportunity

to lay out in very frank terms the many concerns that we have with Beijing’s actions and behaviour.

The Blinken-Sullivan meeting with Chinese counterparts will be framed by a discussion Biden had last month with Xi in which he told the Chinese leader the US intended to challenge China’s “coercive and unfair economic practices” as well as its record on human rights, and its crackdown on Hong Kong.

According to the White House summary of that discussion, Biden also said he hoped to cooperate with Xi on matters like the coronavirus, nuclear proliferation and climate change.

There was no indication from the summary whether Xi had raised with Biden his election description of the Chinese leader as a “thug”.




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China’s response to the Quad meeting has been predictable, although less florid than might have been anticipated. This no doubt reflects an understanding in Beijing that attitudes in New Delhi, Tokyo, Washington and Canberra are not identical. This is how Beijing’s mouthpiece the Global Times put it in a commentary:

The Quad is not an alliance of like-minded countries as the US claims. The three countries other than the US would probably take a tactic of coordinating with the US in narrative while sticking to their own approaches to China.

Beijing will seek to wedge Quad members where it believes opportunities arise. Its wedge diplomacy will be a test for the group’s solidarity in its efforts to provide a regional counterweight to China.

Consolidation of the Quad’s importance will depend on self-interest of its various participants and circumstances. Beijing’s willingness to acknowledge the legitimate interests of Quad members will determine whether it proves to be a useful addition to a crowded regional architecture, or another irritant in an increasingly fractious relationship between China and the West.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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