The Guardian reports that the Five Eyes intelligence alliance could soon be enlarged to include Japan and broadened into a strategic economic relationship that pools key strategic reserves such as critical minerals and medical supplies. News of the potential development has come from statements made by various center-right British politicians. This sentiment is strong among British Conservative MPs in particular, who are working internationally to tackle the Chinese threat to Western hegemony.
Renewed Focus on China’s Global Ambitions
The renewed focus comes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic’s exposure of the West’s various key strategic dependencies on China. Plans to increase production of rare and semi-rare materials from America, Canada and Australia in order to reduce these nations’ dependency on Chinese stocks, will be announced under Five Eyes auspices.
Critical minerals are the key components in a wide range of consumer products like mobile phones, TVs and laptops. On average, China has accounted for more than 90 percent of the worldwide production and supply of rare earths during the past decade, according to the US Geological Survey.
COVID-19 has Changed Everything
Many Conservative MPs are also keen to form an economic alliance that could compete with Beijing, especially as post-Brexit Britain looks to form new trading partnerships outside of the EU and China.
Prior to COVID-19, there were many signs that the Sino-Japanese relationship was improving. In 2019, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force conducted good will exercises with the Chinese Navy for the first time. Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan’s attendance at Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony was also significant.
However, there were also many reasons to believe that the partnership had deep defects. Tokyo was concerned about the testing of missile systems such as the CM-401 and the use of precision strike systems against medium-sized ships, naval task forces and offshore facilities.
Japan Has Many Reason to Join Five Eyes
The digital component of China’s Belt and Road initiative also concerned Japan, as the divergence of their digital economies would require businesses to duplicate and then localize their business platforms for each economy. This would have increased costs for businesses by cutting supply chains.
After the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese Embassy confirmed that Japan attempted to help China by sending 380,000 pairs of gloves, 150,000 protective suits and 75,000 protective goggles in February. Chinese central and local governments and citizens returned the favor by donating a significant amount of medical supplies to Japan since March. Despite this good will, joining Five Eyes would provide Japan with more advantages than its current limited partnership with China.
By politically and economically expanding the Five Eyes alliance, Japan can diversify its supply chains. Earlier this year, the Japanese Government committed $2.2 billion to help domestic companies move their supply chains in general, not just in China.
According to the Japan-China Joint Opinion Survey, only 15 percent of Japanese respondents have a favorable view of China. Therefore, it could be more popular for the Japanese Government to strengthen its ties with the West.
Many Democracies Must Rethink Their Relationship to China
To be fair, the concept of the Five Eyes alliance is slightly outdated, too. The alliance was formed in 1941 after the Second World War when Japan had just been defeated by the Allied powers. Times have changed and if Tokyo joined the alliance now, it would be provided with the advantages of the Five Eyes’ signals intelligence, defense intelligence, human intelligence and geo-spatial intelligence.
Despite Edward Snowden’s revelation in 2013 that Five Eyes had been used to spy on one another’s citizens, Bruce Ferguson, the former head of New Zealand’s foreign spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, told The Associated Press at the time that the alliance’s information gathering capability “is like gold.”
With China provoking other countries such as India as well, there is no reason why the alliance cannot continue to grow in size in the long-term.
The coronavirus is a warning sign for many democracies in general to change their relationship with China. Both Tokyo and Beijing have had a strained relationship caused by the former’s failure to fully acknowledge the atrocities Japan committed against China during World War Two. Despite the fact that Sino-Japanese relations were improving prior to COVID-19, it was already becoming clear that Japanese supply chains were too dependent upon China. For the sake of Japan’s security and economy, they must join Five Eyes as soon as possible.