Japan Identifies China as Primary Threat

18.12.10

Categorie: Asia, Atlantic Sentinel, China, Japan, Nick Ottens |
Tags: ,

Via Atlantic Sentinel

Via Atlantic Sentinel.

by NICK OTTENS

Cold War in East Asia? Japan is literally moving forces from defending against a Soviet invasion to monitoring today’s communist superpower. China thinks Tokyo’s attitude is “irresponsible.”

For 65 years, the close to a 150,000 soldiers of Japan’s Northern Army have been gazing across disputed waters from the island of Hokkaidō. A little over 800 miles to the northeast, the Russians kept similar watch on the Kuril Islands, the southernmost of which Japan claims as its own. But the Russians won’t be coming anymore. “It is unthinkable that an invasion of Hokkaidō would take place now,” a Ministry of Defense official was quoted as saying in several Japanese media last week. The focus is moving south, to China, which is simultaneously building up its armed forces and becoming more assertive in East Asia.The cabinet of officially pacifist Japan recently approved the National Defence Programme Guidelines which identify China as the foremost threat to Japanese security. “China is rapidly modernizing its military force and expanding activities in its neighboring waters,” according to the new guidelines. “Together with the lack of transparency on China’s military and security issues, the trend is a concern for the region and the international community.”

China and Japan are among each other’s foremost of trading partners but since China overtook the latter as the world’s second largest economy this year while Japan remains mired in recession, an economic balance would appear to have translated into increasing political discord.

Several maritime border disputes have frustrated relations for decades. In the East China Sea, which is estimated to contain some seven trillion cubic feet of natural gas and up to 100 billion barrels of oil, Japan has proposed that an equidistant line from each country should separate their exclusive economic zones but China claims drilling rights virtually up to the coast of Japan.

The two also dispute possession of the uninhabited Senkaku Islands northeast of Taiwan. Japan controlled these islands from 1895 until 1945 when they were transferred to American administration. In 1972, the islands were returned to Japan but both China and Taiwan have claimed them since.

The ownership dispute has implications for maritime boundaries between the three countries involved which became evident in September of this year when a Chinese fishing trawler collided with two patrol ships of the Japanese Coast Guard some eight miles northwest of the islands.

The Japanese detained the captain of the fishing trawler which prompted the Chinese to cancel a series of diplomatic meetings. China also cut off its export of rare earth minerals to Japan which are vital to Japanese high tech industries. Beijing denied a connection between the two events but the Japanese subsequently released the trawler captain without charge.

The United States consider the Senkaku Islands Japanese territory and both its secretary of state, Hillary Clinton and secretary of defense, Robert Gates affirmed American support for Japan in the event of a conflict after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had threatened further action against Japan unless the trawler captain were released.

Considering ongoing border disputes in the South China Sea which do not involve Japan but are testament to China’s mounting assertiveness in the region, Japan’s new military guidelines underline a clear shift of focus to counteracting China as a naval power.

Under the new plans, Japan will increase its submarine fleet from 16 to 22 and modernize its fighter jets. Some 400 and artillery pieces will be scraped at the same time. Japan will boost its ground, air and naval forces on the far southern Nansei islands that take in Okinawa, a major base for American forces, and are closer to remote flashpoint islands near Taiwan.

Japan also intends to enhance security ties with Australia, India, South Korea and other countries in Southeast Asia to “promote confidence and cooperation with China and Russia.” This risks worsening China’s sense of encirclement which largely inspires its military strategy. From Japan to Taiwan to Indonesia to India, the Chinese face a chain of American allies with armed forces evermore explicitly aimed at them. Even Vietnam prefers the United States as an ally but economically, the entire region remains dependent on China’s growth.

Despite rising tension, East Asia is far from on the brink of war. As Johan Wahlström suggested last year the region’s arms race is not just a contest in military capacity but one of prestige as well. “Aircraft carriers, destroyers and submarines are highly visible symbols of a country’s power,” he wrote. “For a region that is finally gaining recognition as a world powerhouse and not just a source of cheap goods, this is crucial.”

Originally published at Atlantic Sentinel.

|

4 Responses to “Japan Identifies China as Primary Threat”

  1. Prestwick says:

    Japan’s defence review makes sense. Scrapping tanks (very useful in a land war in China but not very useful in mountainous and urban Japan) while improving its fighter and submarine fleets (very useful in defending Japan) are good ideas.

  2. James says:

    “Encirclement” and “prestige navies” . . . we’re replaying the military and foreign policy of 19th century Europe.

  3. Logan Hartke says:

    “The Type 90 is still fairly new, so one can assume that all of them will remain in service for the foreseeable future. However, under the new plan, this would only leave room for a 60 tank purchase of the new Type 10…

    Implementation of the planned cuts almost certainly means the disbandment of the only tank division, the 7th Armored Division, as keeping it would hog all the tanks and tie them all up in Hokkaido…”

    I don’t know, Kyle. Getting rid of the 7th AD and spreading out the Type 90s doesn’t solve the replacement issue of the Type 74s and significantly reduce the need for Type 10 MBTs. The reason for the Type 10′s development isn’t that the Type 90 NEEDED replacing or that it was not a good enough tank to replace the Type 74. It was just too heavy for deployment outside of Hokkaido. No matter how many Type 90s you free up, their weight makes them inherently unsuitable as a Type 74 replacement in the southern islands–at least that’s what the JGSDF. The weight/size issue has been a major factor in the indigenous development of post-war Japanese tanks since the Type 61 and it is a factor here.

    You will likely see a reduction–if not elimination–of an MBT requirement in the standard infantry division OOB/TOE if this plan goes through (likely). Even so, the increased military posturing between China and Japan has shifted Japan’s focus from the defense of Hokkaido in the Cold War to a more realistic need to strengthen the defenses on Honshu and Kyushu. For this the Type 90 is unsuitable.

    In short, I think they’ll reduce the planned Type 10 buy, store a portion of the Type 90s, and get rid of the Type 74s entirely. Even though the Type 90s are pretty new, they can’t spread them out across all the islands, just Hokkaido. Japan wants to remain strong, but as they gain confidence in their position globally, they’re shifting their focus from defeating a possible invasion on land to preventing an invasion from the sea in the first place. This is the more intelligent strategy, but it requires a more offensively-oriented, larger blue water navy. For political reasons, this has been a sensitive issue in the past. Now the main country to fear in Asia is China and everyone knows it. A lot of countries are willing to forget WWII and let Japan face down China to avoid WWIII. In essence, Japan is reducing its anti-armor capabilities (fewer MBTs, Type 89 IFVs, AH-64s, OH-1s, etc) in favor of increasing its anti-ship capabilities (more submarines, stronger surface units, new purpose-built P-1 patrol aircraft, new longer-ranged ASMs and SSMs, increased focus on attack capabilities for new fighters). I think this is just part of that.

    Japan increased the number of submarines it wants to buy by 6 units. At a cost of roughly $600 million a sub, that’s not necessarily cheap. Cutting some new Type 10 MBTs and the AH-64DJPs would pay for them, though. My guess is that’s what we’re seeing here.

  4. Jay says:

    Please read history to see which country was the public enemy of the world. USA is using Japan as a guarding dog.

Leave a Reply