In the past few years, the Chinese military threat to Japan has become increasingly serious. Under such circumstances, Japan has acted accordingly, outlining strategic plans for the next five years to expand military budgets, boost defense capabilities and enhance its ability to deter enemies.
On Dec. 16, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet approved three key security documents: the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy and the Defense Force Buildup Plan.
According to these documents, Japan is to boost its counterattack capability against “military targets” (eg, an enemy’s missile bases), as well as deploy US-made long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles starting in 2026.
The National Security Strategy is a major turning point in Japanese security policy since the end of World War II. It has made clear that Japan strongly opposes China’s attempts at expansionism that would lead to changes in the “status quo.”
The threat is displayed most clearly by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) frequent military drills in the seas and airspace surrounding Taiwan. The activities not only put Taiwan at risk, but also sound alarm bells in the international community.
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that while Taiwan has been subjected to China’s intensifying military power, the Japanese government considers Taiwan an important partner and friend who shares its values.
In the past few years, it has become obvious that China has the upper hand over Taiwan in terms of military strength, and Japan would consider an invasion of Taiwan to be a national security threat.
In August last year, after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, China conducted large-scale air and naval military drills around Taiwan while launching missiles into Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
After the drills, then-Japanese minister of defense Nobuo Kishi said in an interview that Japan and Taiwan are close: Okinawa Prefecture’s Yonaguni Island is just 108km from Taiwan.
If China invades Taiwan, Japan would not only be involved, but would probably be used as a “stepping stone” or “spring board” for China’s advancement. It is therefore necessary for Japan to prepare and consult substantively with the US.
In its 2021 Defense of Japan white paper, the Japanese government for the first time officially recognized the significance of Taiwan’s security. It also emphasized that PLA aircraft routinely patrolled around Taiwan, which would affect not only Japan’s safety, but also the stability of the world.
The white paper recommended that Japan enhance its alertness and respond accordingly.
The white paper also said that to promote Japan’s capabilities in multi-domain battle, it would not only bolster its missile defense and extraterritorial defense capabilities, but also build two new Aegis combat system-equipped warships and develop “standoff missiles” that can be launched from a distance.
Meanwhile, Tokyo aims to improve its defense networks in relation to its southwest islands, hoping to deter any Chinese attempts at military expansion.
The approval last month of the three key security documents is a breakthrough for Japan’s armed forces, as it would be able to break away from its defense-oriented principle.
With these revised documents, the Japan Self-Defense Forces would be empowered with autonomy in the use of force. Its participation in joint warfare with allied forces would also be legitimized.
The tensions in the Taiwan Strait have increased. North Korea would continue to launch missile tests, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not ended. In the face of these events, Japan naturally feels uneasy and insecure.
Acting in line with what former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said — “a Taiwanese emergency is a Japanese emergency, and therefore an emergency for the Japan-US alliance” — the Japanese government has been deliberating on security in the Strait as seriously as it can.
Yao Chung-yuan is a professor and former deputy director of the Ministry of National Defense’s strategic planning department.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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