With China’s increasingly emerging economy and growing military role, Japan, while very exhausted in tackling the great tsunami and nuclear disasters, has to put the defense policy on its agenda once again.
Nathalie and Kyoko,
September 8, 2011, Tokyo – In Japan, particularly after what occurred after the March 11 disasters, earthquake and tsunami, politics has become very much inward looking. Great focus has been made in what has to be done internally. Very little attention and energy has been spent in diplomatic or international policies at present. China might be willing to take this as “a window of opportunity” while Japan is involved in its own domestic problems, Mr. Masayuki Masuda, Senior Fellow from the Japanese Defense Ministry said in a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday: “They might take more active approach in regards to declaring their sovereignty claims over the Senkaku islands”.
What China did after the 3/11 disaster occurred, is very similar to what they did after 9/11 in the US. China perhaps saw this as a way to overcome many of the outstanding problems between China and Japan. Mr. Masuda also said that, from a Chinese point of view, the Chinese feels its people has showed their immense goodwill in trying to help Japan recover from its disaster, however some felt that their goodwill was not well accepted, and as a result, great dissatisfaction has been expressed in China. Especially by an Admiral from the Chinese Navy, Mr. Uh Shong Li, who said very publicly after the earthquake, that the Chinese had showed consideration towards the sensitivity of the Japanese people, by refraining doing the military exercises in the waters surrounding Japan. However, he declared recently that these exercises could not be postponed any longer, and intended to start them soon.
From an economic point of view, according to Mister Masayuki Masuda, the Chinese economy is growing much faster than anticipated five years ago given by some forecast research institutes in the United States. According to Japanese estimates, China will have caught up in scope to the US economy “very soon”.
Although it is very difficult to scope the Chinese nation’s military extension, Japan has been looking at how much the Chinese government could provide to its military budget.
Mister Masayuki Masuda explained that if all the military budgets of the worlds’ nations were put together, the US would still surpass their total military budgets. However, the Chinese future military budget would also expand, and as a result it would eventually catch up with the US.
He said the Chinese military budget compared to the Japanese budget is already of “a considerable scope”, and “by 2020, the Chinese budget would be 6.5 times that of Japan’s” and in 2030, his ministry has predicted it will be 12 times that of Japan’s.
Looking at the US economy, experts can foresee the possible need for payment for social and welfare costs. Also, the US would probably not be capable to maintain a huge military budget going forward.
China has announced plans to eventually build aircraft carriers, although some Chinese people themselves have criticized this approach as being very costly, many are not aware that the shopping list for military hard wears that the Chinese government possesses at present is “much larger than most people understand”, Mister Masuda said.
Also the capabilities of the Chinese military are growing day by day. In regards to estimates published by the US Pentagon, they are areas, territories and waters where the Chinese are able to deny access into very large areas.
Mr. Masuda said Japan should “change its way of thinking”, and make changes in defense strategies, because in the past, all military strategies and defense strategies in this area have been “predicated on the assumption that the US military forces are overwhelmingly more powerful than any other military force in this region”. “However, with the growing expansion of the Chinese military, we must form a strategy that takes into account this power shift which is occurring in this region”.
Mr. Masuda also said that the Chinese are also very cautious in the way they express their confidence but there is no deny that they are very conscious of this power shift taking place. What is occurring already, is that given this background of growing military power by China, it has began to change its ways to approach ways in dealing with other nations. This is particularly obvious when it comes to conflicts in maritime zones: “We have seen changes in the Chinese attitude occurring both in the East China Sea and particularly in the South China Sea. They use power glimpses as a way to force compromise on their counterparts. And this new kind of attitude by China is gaining great support within its nation.”
As China is undergoing a period of political change next year, the world will see President Hu Jintao step down: “China is using their military power in order to back up a diplomatic activities”, Mr. Masuda explained.
However, China has also been sending its fleet in the Gulf of Eden, and fought some pirates in the coast of Somalia. It had been said that the Chinese Navy has been responsible for protecting over 4000 ships in this area. Therefore the growth of the Chinese military has also been able to be a positive development in insuring the international peace.
In the past, Japan’s policy regarding China has always been done in a bilateral context. Outcomes tended to be often mutually beneficial.
Mr. Masuda told Shingetsu News Agency that, although many Japanese would like to purchase new things, “from a realistic point of view, there is very little potential for the Defense budget to be increased, therefore, unless something unusual or drastic happens, the fundamental attitude of the Japanese military is not to try to purchase new things but rather to make better effective use of the things that they already have”. This is the spirit behind the new Japanese Defense guidelines.
In regards to the future Japan-US alliance, Mr. Masuda referred referred the journalists to the recent “Tomodachi” operations right after the great earthquake and tsunami as one of the most unexpected lessons that everyone learned: “The degree of mutual interoperability between US and Japanese forces’ equipment was much higher than it was expected, which is something that brings great satisfaction on the part of Japan and the US, but probably creates great concern on the part of China”. However, Mr. Masuda pointed out that Japan’s relationship with China should not only be a confrontational relationship, and as being neighboring countries, “they should have a cooperative relationship as well. We believe that therefore it is an important issue to develop a relationship of trust between the military forces in Japan and China”, he added.
With regard to the way Japan should proceed with its cooperation with South Korea to handle China’s behavior, Mr. Narushige Michishita, Associate Professor at the Japanese National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) told Shingetsu News that Japan had already been inviting Korean officers to observe a US-Japan joint exercise in the Japan Sea after the Senkaku Islands incident last year: “If South Korea decides that they can plug in their assets in the Japan-US alliance by imitating Japan’s new purchases, their forces would be interoperable with Japanese forces. However, at this stage, South Korea has not made a political decision to actually come into an anti-China coalition, and they do not have to”. “We are not talking about a Cold War yet”.
Nathalie and Kyoko, Tokyo