Japan is ringing the alarm over China’s growing military capabilities and its escalating strategic alliance with Russia, revealing a significant shift in the region’s geopolitical landscape. This pressing concern was highlighted in Japan’s new defense paper, also noting the rising tension surrounding Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.
Recently, North Korea hosted a military parade with Russian and Chinese delegates in attendance. The ostentatious show featured the country’s latest drones and long-range nuclear-capable missiles. Japan’s defense paper pointed out that Russia and China have ramped up their strategic alliance, engaging in five joint bomber flights since 2019, and conducting several joint naval demonstrations, intended as a clear display of force against Japan. The paper noted this as a grave concern for both Japan and the region.
The paper also predicted that China will possess around 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035, enhancing its military superiority over Taiwan. Japan views this as a security threat, particularly for its southwestern islands, including Okinawa. The central government of Japan has been working to reinforce the defenses of these remote islands, installing new bases for missile defense on islands like Ishigaki and Yonaguni.
However, these security measures recall bitter memories for many Okinawa residents, who still remember how the local population was essentially sacrificed by Japan’s wartime military to delay a U.S. landing on the main Japanese islands. Many fear a similar scenario in case of a Taiwan emergency.
In an effort to address these concerns, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno pledged to offer solid support for the evacuation of residents from remote islands. He acknowledged these challenges during a recent visit to Ishigaki, where Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama urged for reinforcements to the local airport and port facilities and the construction of underground shelters in preparation for a possible emergency.
China’s President Xi Jinping, who set a goal of building a “world-class military” by mid-21st century in 2017, may expedite this target. His call for the rapid advancement of the People’s Liberation Army at the Communist Party congress in October reinforced this speculation.
North Korea’s swift progress in nuclear and missile development represents an increasingly imminent threat to Japan, the report stated. North Korea has launched around 100 missile tests since the start of 2022, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). It is now believed that North Korea has the capability to conduct nuclear attacks on Japan and the continental United States.
Reacting to Japan’s defense paper, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning accused Japan of interfering in China’s internal affairs, creating tensions in the region, and seeking excuses for its military expansion. She asserted that China’s military policy is defensive and its joint patrols with other countries adhere to international law and practice.
Despite improving relations with Japan due to shared concerns about China’s threat, South Korea slammed Japan’s claim to a South Korean-controlled contested island in the defense report, calling it unjust.
The report follows the adoption of new national security defense strategies by Kishida’s government, which plans to double the defense budget to $310 billion by 2027 (which would be higher than China’s current defense budget). However, this ambitious military expansion raises questions about feasibility in a country facing a rapidly aging and shrinking population.
In response, a government-commissioned panel recently proposed a package of recommendations, such as scholarships, extension of the retirement age, hiring retirees, improving the workplace environment, and tackling harassment, to help Japan’s military maintain troop numbers.
In a significant move, Japan announced plans to open a NATO liaison office in Tokyo to strengthen security ties with Western nations. Despite Japan primarily relying on the U.S. for national security since World War II, recent steps reveal efforts to boost national defense and solidify partnerships with the West.
As part of this shift, Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. recently announced the intention to open a NATO liaison office in Tokyo. Commenting on this development, former Japanese Senior Vice-Minister of Defense and member of Japan’s House of Representatives, Kenji Wakamiya, underscored the importance of building a multifaceted security network with NATO, while maintaining the U.S.-Japan alliance at the core of national security policy.
In response to Japan’s plan to establish a NATO liaison office in Tokyo, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson stated that the Asia-Pacific region does not welcome group or military confrontation.
Amid these heightened regional tensions, Japan has bolstered its defense budget and is set to buy 400 tomahawk cruise missiles from the U.S. in addition to strengthening ties with NATO and other Western nations.
Japan does not have many new options, but they are still an economic powerhouse in the world. And China makes them nervous.