The shifting relationship between China’s one-party government and the military is a “risk management issue” for Japan, while North Korea poses a “significant threat,” Tokyo warned yesterday.
In its annual defense report, Japan said the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had been speaking out on foreign policy more frequently, a key shift in political-military ties that has set alarm bells ringing in Tokyo.
“Relations between the [Chinese Communist Party] leadership and the People’s Liberation Army have been getting more complex,” the report said yesterday, calling the shift a “risk management issue.”
“The degree of military influence on foreign policy decisions has been changing,” it said.
Senior Chinese military officials have become more vocal, making public comments about US military drills in regional waters, for example, Japanese defense officials said at a briefing.
China has been embroiled in separate spats over regional territorial claims — with Japan as well as with several Southeast Asian nations, including Vietnam and the Philippines — which have flared up in recent years.
However, the report also said the PLA may have limited influence, with the number of its personnel on key political decisionmaking bodies declining, as China readies for a once-in-a-decade leadership shuffle.
“As part of Japan’s risk management, we recognize that the intention and purpose behind China’s actions are becoming less predictable, which is a challenge when we address the country,” said Toshinori Tanaka, director of the defense ministry’s strategic intelligence analysis office.
Japanese Minister of Defense Satoshi Morimoto said that “there is a certain degree of wariness, not only in Japan, but in the whole of East Asia, as to which direction China will be heading.”
Tokyo once again in this year’s report described China’s response to disputes with neighbors as “assertive,” a description that raised eyebrows in Beijing when it was published in last year’s report.
“China’s [military] moves, together with the lack of transparency in its military affairs and security issues, are a matter of concern,” the report said, adding that Chinese defense spending had grown 30-fold in the past two decades.
The report comes days after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Morimoto suggested Tokyo could use force to defend disputed East China Sea islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in Taiwan, which also claims the islands.
Tensions between China and Japan rose again earlier this month after Chinese vessels twice entered waters near the resource-rich disputed islands, sparking a diplomatic row. Tokyo’s comments about possibly buying the islands from their private Japanese owner generated an angry protest in Beijing.
The uninhabited outcrops were the scene of a particularly nasty row in late 2010 when Japan arrested a Chinese trawlerman who had rammed two of its coastguard vessels.