Japan’s growing militarism aims to curb Chinese influence in the region.
Written by Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
For the first time in its annual defense review, Japan directly mentioned the need to improve security and stability around Taiwan. On July 13, the Japanese Ministry of Defense published its newest “White Paper”, which for the first time devoted a special section to the Taiwan issue. Undoubtedly the publication is sending a message to Beijing and demonstrates Tokyo’s intentions to more heavily intervene in the Taiwan issue. This not only adversely affects the situation in the Taiwan Strait, but also creates additional risks and problems in trying to achieve peace and stability in the region.
Last year’s Japanese defense report noted that the overall military balance between Beijing and Taiwan, with the former considering the latter a rebel province, is shifting in favor of mainland China. The 2021 White Paper also expressed this and for the first time it highlighted the potential instability around Taiwan. The White Paper outlined that more attention should be paid to the crisis situation as mainland China has increased its military activity against what it calls a rebel province, the U.S. is selling weapons to Taiwan, and the island is also focusing on developing its own military equipment.
The White Paper states that the U.S. clearly shows its pro-Taiwan stance militarily through the sale of weapons and the passage of ships through the Taiwan Strait. Japan believes that it is unlikely that China will come to a concession with the U.S. on the Taiwan issue. Both Beijing and Taiwan believe in One China, but the latter refuses to accept the rule of the Chinese Communist Party, hence the instability in the Taiwan Strait. Japan noted for the first time in its official defense document about a crisis in the region due to rising tensions around Taiwan, and pointed to mainland China as the source of the crisis, being under the influence and pressure of the U.S.
In the U.S., the Japanese statement on Taiwan is welcomed. However, by adopting a hostile policy towards the Taiwan issue, Tokyo could be the biggest loser in the dispute. Since this is about the militarisation of East Asia and Japan’s willingness to increase its military role and involving itself in regional issues, it can be expected that hostilities against China will increase. Beijing however does have the capabilities, through military and economic means, to counter Taiwan’s threats of succession, even if they do have Japanese assistance.
Japan also has the risk of limiting its own geopolitical influence if it chooses to completely adhere to U.S. interests in the region rather than having a pan-Asian outlook. It could lead to the decline of Japan’s international influence and prestige if regional countries are forced to choose between Tokyo and Beijing.
The defense review was approved by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s cabinet and presents China as the main issue for Japan’s national security. China’s military threats, along with the lack of transparency in its defense policy, has become a concern for the region according to the White Paper. The report calls on China to play a more active role in cooperation with regional countries and the international community to ease tensions.
However, the White Paper actually reflects a lack of flexibility in Japan’s diplomacy and does not contribute to the development of Sino-Japanese relations, especially if we consider their participation in the anti-China QUAD bloc, which also comprises the U.S., India and Australia.
As in previous years, the Japanese Ministry of National Defense exaggerated the Chinese threat. Although China receives widespread scorn for its claims over the South China Sea, it must be noted that nearly all disputants over the region have unrealistic claims. It is also worth remembering that China has not been at war since 1979, a far cry from almost every other global and regional power in the world.
Beijing has expressed willingness to resolve issues through dialogue. However, Japan is now presenting itself as preferring to contain China, hence its newfound willingness to use Taiwan as a pressure point to limit Beijing’s influence in the region.
According to a report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in April 2020, in 2019 Japan ranked ninth in military spending – about $47.6 billion dollars. This increased to $51.7 billion on April 1, 2021. With Japan now a member of the U.S.-led QUAD, boosting its military budget year-on-year, and openly expressing Taiwan as part of its military planning, the country is undoubtedly becoming more hostile towards China.
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