In its annual White Paper defense report entitled Defense of Japan, Japan has emphasized China as a threat to Japan’s security. China’s military activities both in the South China Seas and near Japan, particularly around the Senkaku Islands have alarmed many in East Asia and Japan is no exception. In past White Papers, Japan has expressed concern over China’s military but refrained from calling China a threat. This White Paper represents a significant step up in language concerning China and would seem to represent the reality of the security situation with China that Japan is facing. The release of this White Paper also comes on the heels of the approval by the lower house of Japan’s Diet to move forward with new legislation allowing for an expanded role by the Japanese military. As expected, China has lashed out at Japan over the contents of the White Paper.
The White Paper
Approved by the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the 429-page white paper provides insights into the security environment Japan faces. Its release delayed for over a week, the White Paper was approved on Tuesday July 21st by the cabinet. The delay has been attributed to Abe and the ruling party, the LDP, demanding inclusion of China’s “one-sided” maritime activities. The original draft of the paper was said to be too soft on China. Following the approval of the White Paper by the Cabinet, Defense Minister General Nakatani said at a news conference, “Coupled with a lack of transparency in terms of military and security affairs, China’s military development is of concern to the regional and international community, including our country.” He added, “our country needs to observe it closely”.
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Focus on China
At the top of security concerns in the report is China which takes up one-third of a chapter on global security trends. The report mentions, “China, particularly over conflicting maritime issues, continues to act in an assertive manner, including coercive attempts to change the status quo, and is poised to fulfil its unilateral demands high-handedly without compromise.”
In the East China Sea where both Japan and China have disputed claims, China is constructing oil-and-gas exploration programs. Fearing that China could use these platforms to tap oil and gas reservoirs that extend into Japanese territory, Japan has called on China to halt construction of the platforms. In 2008, both countries agreed to jointly develop resources there though China resumed independent activities following the 2012 purchase by the Japanese government of the Senkaku Islands. Though the platforms are being built in China’s EEZ zone, Tokyo is not only concerned about the potential for theft of Japan’s oil but also the use of the platforms for military surveillance purposes.
Though Japan is not a claimant nation in the disputed South China Sea, special attention in the White Paper is directed at that region. In the White Paper, Tokyo accuses Beijing of “high handed” tactics as China moves forward with its provocative actions in the region despite protests from regional countries in East Asia. Japan has singled out China’s expansion work at Fiery Cross Reef as a sign of increasing militarism. Fiery Cross Reef is the location of China’s first and only airstrip in the South China Sea, built on reclaimed land over the past year.
The report also mentions North Korea as a threat. Japan is concerned about the increasing range of North Korean ballistic missiles coupled with that countries nuclear weapons capability. Other top threats include terrorism from groups such as ISIS. Earlier this year in February, ISIS beheaded two Japanese hostages in the Middle East. South Korea though not listed as a threat has denounced Tokyo for again claiming sovereignty over the Korean controlled Dokdo Islands which Japan calls Takeshima. This is the 11th straight year that Japan has done so in its White Paper.
Chinese officials have reacted harshly to the White Paper. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said
“The new defense white paper of Japan once again ignores facts, makes irresponsible remarks on China’s normal military growth and maritime activities, deliberately plays up the “ China threat” and stirs up tensions.” He referred to China’s activities in the East China Sea as “justified, reasonable and legitimate.” Harsher though were comments on Japan’s role in the South China Sea. Lu remarked, “Japan’s actions of deliberately intervening in the South China Sea issue and playing up regional tensions run counter to regional peace and stability, and severely undermine the political and security mutual trust between China and Japan.” Additionally Lu said, “We solemnly urge Japan to stop causing tensions or provoking conflicts, and do more to contribute to regional peace and stability,” said Lu.
China’s Defense Ministry also expressed strong dissatisfaction over the White Paper. The Defense Ministry argues that the modernization of the military is a legitimate right of China as a sovereign state. The Defense Ministry also criticized Tokyo for its recent passing of expanded security legislation saying “Japan, on the one hand, declared that it pursues a path of peaceful development, but on the other hand, it seeks to adopt a new package of security bills that will enable Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to engage in armed conflicts overseas and help defend others even if Japan is not attacked.” It added, “The two-sidedness of Japan’s foreign policy will cause an adverse impact on the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.”
Meanwhile, Zhuang Jianzhong, vice director of the Center for National Strategy Studies at Shanghai Jiao Tong University said of Japan’s concerns over China’s activities in the South China Sea, “The Chinese construction on the reefs has nothing to do with Japan’s security situation. Japan is neither a claimer state or a nearby country in the South China Sea area. It’s deliberate show of unnecessary worrying shows that Japan wants to be involved in the SCS affair.”
Japan and China
Japan has in the past refrained from directly regarding China as a threat in its annual White Paper though the situation has changed enough to warrant use of that language now. The massive buildup of China’s military does not match the idea of its peaceful rise. China’s activities in the South and East China Sea are both aimed at provocation and increasing China’s influence rather than promoting peace and understanding in the region. With the recent passage of new security legislation in Japan which is widely expected to be signed into law within the next three months, Japan under Abe is moving to confront threats to its security. This White Paper further confirms what many already know, that Tokyo is concerned about the actions of Beijing.