Vernuccio’s View: Japan Rises to its Defense

Japan is increasingly threatened by an expansionist China and an aggressive Russia, even as North Korea suspends its missile testing program.

Japanese Government document describes how Tokyo envisions threats to the nation:

“In the area surrounding Japan, there is a concentration of nations with large-scale military capabilities, and a regional cooperation framework on security has not yet to be fully institutionalized, leading to the existence of uncertainty and unclarity, including the persistence of territorial disputes and unification issues…There has also been a noticeable trend among neighboring countries to modernize and reinforce their military capabilities and to intensify their military activities.”

The specific security challenges Japan faces include: North Korea’s military development of nuclear weapon and ballistic missile; the unilateral escalation of China’s military activities; and Russia’s expansion of military actions in the areas surrounding Japan. Territorial disputes over the Northern Territories and Takeshima, both of which are inherent parts of the territory of Japan, remain unresolved.

In a published interview, Tokyo’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera warned of “imminent threats” to his nation from both Moscow and Beijing, as well as North Korea’s missile and nuclear program. China has become a military superpower, and has engaged in a threatening manner towards Japan as well as violating international law in the Pacific by invading the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone, and unlawfully laying claim to strategically significant seaways.

Stephen Nagy, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University, noted in an interview with DW that “Beijing is…demonstrating a very assertive policy in the South China Sea and the East China Sea and using a salami-slicing approach to reduce Japan’s claims to the Senkaku Islands,” Nagy was referring to uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are controlled by Japan but claimed by China. The DW analysis notes that “The Chinese navy continues to carry out frequent incursions into Japanese territorial waters around the islands, challenging Japan’s claims to control the waters.”

Berkshire Miller, writing in the Japanese publication Nikkei Asian Review  warns that “Japan must respond to China’s growing naval power… The crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program has dominated security debate in Northeast Asia over the past year. But Japan must not be distracted from a much more important long-term challenge: China’s enhancement of its military capabilities in the region and its growing assertiveness, driven by President Xi Jinping’s more hawkish and nationalist foreign policy.”

James D.J. Brownwriting for the National Interest reports that “…In the last fiscal year, Japan scrambled jets 390 times to intercept approaching Russian aircraft. This figure was up by eighty-nine from fiscal 2016 and was only exceeded by the 500 scrambles provoked by China. Russia’s military presence on the Kuril chain, which Japan controlled until 1945, has also increased. In November 2016, just ahead of President Putin’s visit to Japan, Russia announced the deployment of new anti-ship missiles to Iturup and Kunashir. At the start of 2018, Moscow ruled that combat jets could be deployed to Iturup. Construction is also beginning on a naval facility on Matua in the Northern Kurils, at the site of an old Japanese base.

Japan has begun to respond by cautiously increasing its defensive forces, although it continues to debate the extent it can do so and not exceed the limits of its Post WW2 Peace Constitution.  There is debate on whether the portions of that constitution denying Japan the ability to develop a more conventional military posture should be repealed.

Tokyo emphasizes that “…the extended deterrence provided by the United States is indispensable. Japan will closely cooperate with the United States, and take appropriate responses through its own efforts. In addition, Japan will play a constructive and active role in international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.”

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government

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