ISSN 2330-717X

Japan Responds To China’s Threatening Rise


By Rajeev Sharma

For quite some time, Japan has been watching with trepidation China’s aggressive military posturing in South and East China Seas and the Western Pacific. The Chinese behaviour has become all the greater cause of concern for the Japanese as China has peppered its military moves with a hard-nosed diplomacy. The Japanese concern became clear when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid a bilateral visit to Japan late last year and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked him how to deal with China. Manmohan Singh told him: keep China engaged through diplomacy while simultaneously bolstering your economy and defence.

The inevitable happened and the Japanese government announced on December 17, 2010 its National Defence Programme Guidelines in response to China’s increased defence spending. Unsurprisingly, Japan’s new guidelines refer to Chinese pro-active naval activities as a “matter of concern for the region and the international community,” and aim to fortifying the defences of the Nansei Islands–Okinawa Prefecture and Kagoshima Prefecture, which have witnessed unusual Chinese military activities in 2010. The development marks a paradigm shift in Japan’s defence policy as now Japan will be deploying F-15 fighter jets to a SDF base in Okinawa Prefecture and permanently stationing Ground Self-Defense Force troops to the hitherto defenceless southernmost island, something that no Japanese government dared to do for fear of arousing China’s wrath.

China is to blame itself for triggering an expensive arms race in the region by its dangerous brinkmanship that has woken up a much more technologically superior power like Japan. China is following in the footsteps of Soviet Union which diverted huge parts of its GDP to imaginary defence needs at the cost of raising the Gross Happiness Product of its citizens. With its needlessly aggressive diplomacy, China has forced Japan to reverse its 65-year-old policy of self-defence and embark on a new concept of “dynamic defence capabilities” as formulated by the new National Defence Programme Guidelines. It is now only a matter of time when Japan will take three more steps that will bug China no end: (i) formation of a National Security Council to formulate comprehensive security policies; (ii) lifting its self-imposed ban on arms exports and participation in international joint weaponry production; and (iii) increasing its defence cooperation with like-minded China-wary regional powers and seek newer allies other than the US.

Since 1945, Japan had been maintaining only minimum defence capabilities. Now, under the new guidelines Japan will be “increasing the activity” of its defence hardware and “clearly demonstrating” its advanced capabilities. The new guidelines lay out three security objectives: (i) prevention of external threats from reaching Japanese shores by Japan’s “own efforts”; (ii) neutralization of external threats by improving international security architecture with cooperation from allies; and (iii) securing global peace and stability by “multi-layered security cooperation with the international community” in a consolidated manner.

Japan Vs China Today = France Vs Germany Before World War II?

Winston Churchill foresaw the decline of French military power and the rapid strides made by Hitler’s Germany way back in 1935 when he had not yet become the Prime Minister of Britain. Churchill confided in a French writer, Andre Maurois that the French Air Force, which used to be the best in the world, had slipped to 4th or 5th spot and the German Air Force was fast emerging as the world’s best air force. Churchill told Maurois that this posed a threat to France, something that eventually happened five years later. Germany invaded France and occupied over sixty per cent of the French territory for four years until 1944.

Substitute France for Japan and China for Germany and you get the picture of 2010. Maurois has recorded Churchill’s warning in his book “Tragedy in France” that was first published in the United States in 1940. Significantly, the book’s Japanese edition came out in 2005 when China was not seen as posing a threat to Japan. The comparison of France and Germany just before the 2nd World War with Japan and China in 2010 does not end here. Today Japan too has had a series of weak and short-lived governments just as France did before World War II.

For almost a quarter century, China has consistently been raising its military expenditure by 10 percent or so every year. China is now planning to build its own aircraft carrier and has been upgrading its fighter planes and submarines like the one possessed. China has been beefing up its military muscle with not just an eye on Japan, but the United States as well. A demon

nese trawler collided with two Japan Coast Guard vessels near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in September 2010. The Chinese resorted to highly aggressive diplomacy when the Japanese impounded the Chinese trawler and arrested the crew members. Japan failed to show pluck and meekly surrendered to the Chinese threats of “dire consequences” if the crew and the trawler were not released forthwith. Even after their release, China continued to up its ante and demanded an apology. This time Japan did not oblige. This prompted China to take its gunboat diplomacy to a higher level. A month after the Senkaku Islands episode, the Chinese military aircraft have routinely been harassing the Japanese Self-Defence Forces’ aircraft over the East China Sea.

The new Chinese behavior has naturally raised tensions in the region as the Japanese Air Self Defence Force has ordered its fighter aircraft to scramble every time the Chinese have resorted to provocative air activities. As of December 22, 2010, the Japanese Air SDF has launched scrambles 44 times, the highest figure in the past five years. An indication of what has triggered the change in China’s policy came from a report in a Chinese military organ that said that China does not “consider its EEZ (Economic Exclusive Zone) to be part of international waters.” This clearly means that China is set to flex its military muscle to keep foreign military personnel (read Japan and the US) out of Chinese EEZ.


It is clear that China’s self-avowed “peaceful rise” has hardly been “peaceful” – and that too so early in its journey towards superpower status. Japan has already starting reaching out to major powers in the region and has embarked upon a substantive and sustained up gradation of its security and defence ties with such countries as India, Australia, South Korea and Vietnam.

India and Australia will be the key for Japan in this context. Japan needs to once again take the lead and revive the Quadrilateral Initiative

stration of this came in the third week of December 2010 when China successfully tested and deployed the world’s first weapon system that can target a moving carrier strike group from land-based, long-range mobile launchers. This is aimed at American as well as Japanese navies.

The Chinese have attracted a lot of negative attention from the international community ever since a Chi (involving Japan, the US, Australia and India) –a strategic baby that was conceived in 2007 and aborted in early 2008. Australia had then acted as the party spoiler. The then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had rocked the boat of the Quad Initiative, apparently at the behest of China.

China has started realizing that its assertive diplomacy and aggressive military maneuverings have set the cat among the pigeons and is keen to make amends. As a result, it sent Premier Wen Jiabao to India (December 15-17, 2010) even after India’s Oslo rebuff to China on December 10 when the Indian envoy in Norway did attend the Nobel Peace Prize award-giving ceremony despite China’s request to India to skip the function. China has declared its plans to revive military-to-military relations with the US after a year-long suspension of the ties.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported on February 4, 2011 that China and Japan are considering holding a vice ministerial-level meeting later this month to discuss ways of avoiding a repeat of the Senkaku Islands incident last September . The Kyodo report said: ‘Along with maritime safety measures, especially around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the two sides are likely to discuss Japan’s new defense policy outline, stalled bilateral talks concerning a treaty on joint gas field drilling in the East China Sea, and tensions on the Korean Peninsula, according to the sources.’ The talks may well be a dialogue of the deaf as both sides claim full ownership of Senkaku Island (called Diaoyu Islands by China), but the important thing is that China has nudged Japan to the negotiating table and Japan has agreed.

However, this is too little, too late. China needs to show to the world that it is a responsible, restrained and mature global power and not a fire-spewing dragon.

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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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