The ‘Know Your Region’ series is designed to support unit and individual professional military education on the South East Asian region. It’s important for all serving members of our military to have a foundational knowledge of the countries and issues in the Indo-Pacific.


On this page:

  • Summary
  • Politics
  • Treaties, Policies, and International Forums
  • Japan and Australia
  • Japan and the US
  • Japan and its Neighbours



Japan has held a predominantly democratic political system influenced by Western/ European style imperialism since the 1850s. Since then, Japan’s relationship with its closest neighbours has not always been smooth, as wars with China, Russia and Korea will attest. It fought with the Allied Nations during World War I, but following its invasion of China in 1937, it fought against the Allies in World War II. Following the country’s reconstruction post-1945, Japan has built its foreign policy and diplomacy on strengthening international relations through peace treaties and building a ‘Western industrialised democracy’ (MOFA, 1990).

The video below gives an overview of the Geopolitics of Japan:



Japan is a democratic, constitutional monarchy with a three-tiered government structure at national, prefectural (regional) and local levels, based upon the British model. Its parliamentary government is led by Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide who was appointed in September 2020, following the resignation of Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, due to health reasons.

The Head of the Imperial Family is Emperor Naruhito who ascended the throne in May 2019.  With a new Emperor began a new era of the Japanese Calendar known as ‘Reiwa’ meaning ‘beautiful harmony’.

Following World War II, Japan became a liberal democracy, and in modern times, it continues to focus on peace and prosperity. Japan has formed strong partnerships with many of its neighbours with whom it has a shared political and cultural heritage. Diplomatic intent is identified through its annual ‘Blue Book’ explaining its foreign policy, which particularly relies upon continued relationship with the United States to support its national security.

For a good overview of the Japanese system of Government watch the following video.

For more information on Japan’s politics, see the resources below.


Japan’s Monarchy

Emperor Naruhito represents the Japanese people and is a symbol of the State. He has no political power but performs acts in matters of state as per the Japanese Constitution including formally appointing Prime Ministers, awarding honours and performing ceremonial functions.

The Japanese Imperial Family is the oldest hereditary monarchy in the world; however, with only one current male heir to the throne born in the last 50 years, hopes of continued male-only succession to the throne are limited.

For an explanation of Japan’s Monarchy, watch the following video:

For further information on Japan’s Imperial Family, see the resources below:


Treaties, Policies, and International Forums

Japan’s strategic diplomatic intent is to build strong relationships with its regional neighbours and the USA, to support and strengthen its security and economic goals. Its foreign policies have worked towards establishing peaceful and stable relationships with its regional neighbours and other nations in a rapidly changing global environment.

For a short and informative video detailing the history of Japan’s engagement with the ASEAN community, watch this short video.

For further information on Japan’s political policies see the resources below:


Japan and Australia

Japan and Australia have a strong bilateral relationship due in part to their long-established trade partnerships and shared economic interests. The two countries have similar values and shared interests, particularly their commitment to democracy and human rights. They also work collaboratively with the United States. Both nations have worked together to support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and are partners in several regional forums.  More recently, Japan and Australia have reached an agreement on a defence treaty that provides reciprocal opportunities for each county to develop their strategic and security relationship with the intent of supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific region. This will be done through greater engagement with each other’s defence forces through exercises and joint support to natural disasters and humanitarian issues.

  For further information on the Japan/Australia relationship, see the resources below:


Japan and the US

Japan has had an alliance with the US since the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty of 1951. The alliance provided US protection of Japan in return for allowing US military base(s) in Japan. The treaty has been adapted over the decades reflecting Japan’s growing economic independence. Since the early 2000s, the two nations have increased their defence cooperation. Additionally, the two countries have strengthened their alliance through common global concerns, such as climate change, and trade agreements. This year, Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, became the first foreign leader to visit President Biden at the White House.

The growing influence of China in the Asia-Pacific has increased the USA’s commitment to the alliance, particularly regarding security policies. The USA has further involved itself in the region being one of the four nations in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, (or ‘The Quad’), which is a diplomatic network partnership between the USA, Japan, India and Australia. This partnership enables the USA to support the Indo-Pacific democratic countries.

Further reading on Japan and the USA can be found in the resources below:


Japan and its Neighbours

Japan and South Korea

Japan and South Korea have had a chequered past spanning many centuries. In recent history, in 1910, Japan colonised the Korean Peninsula which only ended through Japan’s defeat in 1945 at the end of World War II. Post-war, Korea was divided into two zones of occupation (north and south); and Japan and South Korea established diplomatic relations in 1965.

Today Japan and South Korea have experienced some trade and political disputes. including most recently, a trade dispute over goods that impact upon the production of chemicals needed to make smart televisions and mobile phones. Politically, there is an ongoing dispute over a group of islands known as Dokdo or Takeshima.  The relationship between the two countries is also discussed in a separate feature in #KYR Japan, later this week.

For a short, but interesting comparison of the two countries, watch the following video:

Further information on Japan and South Korea can be found in the resources below:

Japan and China

China and Japan are respectively the second and third largest economies in the world and are geographically separated by the East China Sea. Japan officially describes China as its most important diplomatic relationship; yet its current Diplomatic Blue Book has raised criticism from China for highlighting the global power as the ‘China threat theory’. This term has been used on the international stage to describe China’s ambitious actions in the region as it works towards its ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. Japan is among the nations who have raised concerns regarding China’s trade, technology and human rights policies. China’s relationship with Taiwan was recently mentioned in Japan’s Defence White Paper, emphasising the need for peace and stability with the Asia-Pacific region.

Further information on Japan and China can be found in the resources below:

Japan and Russia

Japan and Russia’s diplomatic relationship began in the 1850s with the Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation. The two countries have disputed the ownership of the Northern Territories (also known as the Kuril Islands) since Russia’s occupation of them in 1945. Although a declaration was signed in 1956 which returned two of the islands to Japan, this never occurred, and Japan remains in pursuit of a resolution to return the two (if not all four) islands to its ownership.

During the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, Japan sought to build a stronger diplomatic relationship with Russia; the recent administration of Yoshihide Suga is expected to continue the relationship-building efforts of Abe.

Further information on Japan and Russia can be found in the resources below:


Discussion Questions

  1. The US and Japan have maintained strong diplomatic ties since the end of the second world war, characterised by strong economic and military growth. Has this relationship run its course, or is it now more critical than ever considering China’s growth in the region?
  2. Despite currently maintaining formal diplomatic ties with most of its neighbours, tensions with some nations remain as a result of the legacy of Japan’s wartime activities. Do you think Japan has done enough to manage these issues and earn the respect of its neighbours? What affect may this legacy have had on Japan’s domestic and foreign agenda?
  3. The relationship between Japan and Republic of Korea (ROK) has often been tense; however, their respective relationships with China, influenced by the Chinese stance on North Korea and Taiwan respectively, potentially affords an opportunity for mutual partnership. What might this look like? What obstacles would need to be overcome? What role does the US and Australia have to play in this?
  4. China’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy is a concern to some nations in the Asia / Indo-Pacific. How can members of the Quad, particularly Japan, achieve their objectives of securing a rules-based international order amidst the rising influence of the world’s second biggest power?