Japan Strengthens Defense Power to Counter Aggressive Chinese Designs: Shows Pragmatic Approach

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Recent aggressive Chinese moves have pushed Japan “to significantly strengthen its defense power”. Japan, which has a treaty with the United States for its defense, has so far depended on its ally. Lately, Dragon has greatly increased the pressure on the Senkaku Islands. Japan is also the victim of cyberattacks from Chinese-sponsored groups. And the recent escalation of aggressive Chinese activity against Taiwan poses a serious threat to the Japanese lifeline.

Since last year, Japan has begun to indicate a clear shift in its approach to China. The white paper published in July 2021 focused significantly on the threats posed by China to the region due to the latter’s growing assertiveness in the waters around the South China Sea and the Pacific region. Above all, for the first time, Japan removed Taiwan from a map of China in its White Paper on the Defense of Japan. The Japanese White Paper in its previous editions had always shown Taiwan and China together, alluding to Taiwan as a territory of China. Japan has also included Taiwan in Part I, Chapter 2, Section 3 of “Relations between the United States and China, etc.” and not as before in “Deployment and Strength of the People’s Liberation Army” in Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 2.

The White Paper, while observing China’s relentless attempts to change the status quo through coercion around the Senkaku Islands, declared Beijing’s actions “a violation of international law.” Japan outlined a defensive-offensive strategy that would be adopted in the event of an invasion by China to its remote islands. This includes rapid maneuvers and the deployment of sufficient units to block the access and landing of invading forces while ensuring sea and air superiority. It is also considering offensive operations to retake any part of the territory that may be occupied by invading forces. The white paper stresses the need for cross-domain operations and the merging of capabilities in the traditional domains – land, sea and air – with capabilities in the new domains – space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum. Japanese strategy is centered on the Miyako Strait.

Japanese leaders have repeatedly said that China’s actions against Taiwan pose a threat to regional peace and could force Japan, as well as the United States, to intervene militarily if China attacks Taiwan. Japan also builds defense relationships with other countries to defend its interests.

On January 6, 2022, Australia and Japan signed the “historic” defense agreement. Called the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA), the treaty is only Japan’s second such agreement. Earlier in 1960, Japan had signed a defense pact with the United States. This has great strategic importance for the Indo-Pacific region and reinforces the trend of mini-alliances against Chinese belligerence. This comes a few months after signing AUKUS. The RAA aims to promote joint exercises and disaster relief operations. The treaty establishes a legal framework to simplify administrative procedures for the entry of troops into each other’s countries. The two countries had been working on it for several years and it was agreed in principle in November 2020, demonstrating their determination to strengthen defense ties in the face of the growing threat from China.

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida commented, “This is a historic agreement that will take Japanese-Australian security cooperation to a new level. He added, “The importance of security cooperation between Japan and Australia has increased significantly, and it is a great pleasure to see the results of our vigorous negotiations materialize.” In a similar vein, Australian Prime Minister Morrison, after the signing, told reporters that the treaty would open a new chapter in advanced defense cooperation between Australia and Japan. He said the reciprocal military agreement with Japan would apply both to humanitarian projects in the region and to “hostile circumstances”. “We will be completely interoperable between what we can do and how we deploy together,” he said. Significantly, Japan is also considering entering into similar treaties with France and the United Kingdom.

On January 21, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida had a meeting with US President Biden, who confirmed Japan’s change in approach to China. The leaders spent about 80 minutes of their first official meeting discussing concerns about China’s growing military assertiveness that is causing growing concern in the Pacific. Besides the Taiwan issue, the leaders discussed the situations in Hong Kong and China’s Xinjiang Province. Biden has repeatedly called out Beijing for its crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong and forced labor practices targeting China’s Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The leaders also discussed opportunities to strengthen economic ties between the two nations, launching a new “2 plus 2” dialogue focused on resolving economic issues, ranging from supply chain challenges and technology investments. keys to increased cooperation on trade issues. Japan also expressed support for the Indo-Pacific economic framework proposed by the Biden administration and pledged to work to build support for the initiative in the region. Biden reportedly encouraged Japan to increase its defense budget.
The above reflects not only a change in Japan’s approach to Beijing’s aggressiveness, but also its determination to play an active and assertive role in the region. The strengthening of its defense power suggests that it would not hesitate, if necessary, to resort to the military dimension. Indicating this, Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said Kishida had explained his commitment to enhancing Japan’s military capability, saying the prime minister would consider “all options, including acquiring a preventive strike capability”. Japan’s defense ties with France and the United Kingdom in the coming period would further strengthen Japan’s military might.

The formation of mini-alliances has become a necessity for the powers of the region, where China is deploying its military muscles. The merging of the region around common concerns about China satisfies all stakeholders, including India. But that brings us to the crucial question of India staying out of such alliances. Is it in India’s interest? Doesn’t it risk keeping India out of the main players, making its influence very limited? Shouldn’t India join such alliances to pressure China from the ocean region? Would India’s decision to join a defense alliance reduce the acceptability of the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative? These issues need to be carefully considered and India needs to calibrate its approach. Considering all the issues, it seems there are more benefits to joining such alliances than staying out. China can be deterred by combined military power, which is in India’s interest.



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