Due to the growing cybersecurity tensions between the United States’ relationships with China and North Korea, Japan – as a central diplomatic, economic, and military ally of the U.S. –  has significantly enhanced its cyber-defense capabilities.

Recognizing that cyber attacks pose a very serious threat to national security, Japan’s alliance with the U.S. in responding to security challenges and cyber threats (particularly from China and North Korea) has further strengthened.

In May, an agreement to join an information-sharing program called Automated Indicator Sharing, together with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has been signed by the Japanese government. It was then followed by a first official meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump who both agreed to expand bilateral cybersecurity cooperation.

In addition, as reported by the joint-statement released by the State Department, during the fifth joint U.S.-Japan cyber dialogue which took place in Tokyo on July 20 and 21 – Abe and Trump discussed how the two countries can deepen information-sharing and cooperation to protect and respond to cyber attacks.

“Japan and the United States recognize that automated large-scale distributed cyber attacks, such as through botnets, may pose a significant threat to cyberspace, in particular in the context of increasing connectivity through the Internet of Things (IoT). They intend to share approaches enhancing the resilience of the Internet, combating botnets, and to enhancing the cybersecurity of the IoT, in coordination with appropriate stakeholders.”

Against North Korea, Japan’s needs to continuously sustain its efforts against the growing cybersecurity tensions started when North Korea twice tested its intercontinental ballistic missiles – resulting to traded threats to take military action between dictator Kim Jong-un and Trump, including Pyongyang’s threat to fire missiles towards Guam. Moreover, a missile was launched and flew over Japan, landing in the Pacific Ocean, last September.

With the rising tensions over the Korean Peninsula and North Korea saying to have a 6 000-person cyber force, a warning that North Korean hackers were targeting global financial institutions was issued, in June, by the United States.

The Sino-Japanese relations, on the other hand, continue to be stained by the lingering misconceptions (i.e., Nanjing massacre), historical animosity, and territorial disputes (i.e., Diaoyu islands), which weaken existing cooperation and deter possible collaborations such as in cybersecurity.

Japan, on the cyber frontier against China, has increased its security and militarized its strategy in response to a series of incidents that revealed its cybersecurity vulnerabilities – such as advanced persistent threats (APTs) to which China is most likely the main offender. Knowing the threats that China might impose to Japan’s critical infrastructures, responsibilities for cybersecurity were moved to the Japan Ministry of Defense (JMOD) and Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) – Japan’s military institutions.

Similarly, last year, Chinese intelligence was behind the hacking of the United States’ national security – such as data on nuclear weapons, FBI, and war plans – repeatedly targeting its agencies and email accounts of U.S. officials.

“Chinese intelligence has repeatedly infiltrated US national security entities and extracted information with serious consequences for US national security, including information on the plans and operations of US military forces and the designs of US weapons and weapons systems.”, as stated in a draft annual report for 2016, cited by the Washington Free Beacon.

Because of this, Japan perceives China’s military rise and cyber capabilities as a threat – making it expand its global strategy for cybersecurity. However, while Japan bolsters its defense perimeter in cyberspace to relative state players, it continuously avoids a direct cyber dialogue with China and North Korea – providing an arena for further direct tensions.

And while Japan’s turn to a more proactive defense position is seen as a potential to become a major “cyber power’ and therefore, enhance the defense capabilities of the U.S.-Japan alliance – it will potentially increase tensions with China and North Korea.