Japan’s Military Is Getting Ready To Meet China’s Growing Regional Ambitions


China’s President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People, on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings, in Beijing November 10, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Pierre Bienaime

For a long time, Japan’s military force was an exercise in contradiction. The country has ranked among the world’s top military spenders, at almost $50 billion in 2013 — despite a constitution that explicitly forbids war (and even the maintenance of “land, sea, and air forces”).

But in July, the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a reinterpretation of the pacifist clause called Article 9.

Without changing the constitution’s wording, Abe made clear that Japan intended to step up its military prerogative in the region, allowing it to come to the aid of an attacked ally, for instance.


The country spends the equivalent of 1% of its GDP on defense, a figure that could grow after a decade of flat-lining; last year Abe’s cabinet approved a five-year spending plan on a laundry list of military hardware: Three surveillance drones, stealth aircraft, 52 amphibious troop carriers, 28 next-generation fighter planes (the F-35) and 17 Osprey aircraft units.

The total expenditure from the plan is estimated to reach $232 billion to $240 billion.

Aside from foreign purchases, Japan has also undertaken the development of its own advanced fighter. The ATD-X is envisioned as being a stealthy air-superiority fighter that could be deployed to counteract the development of fifth-generation fighters by China and Russia.


The experimental ATD-X may spawn into a stealth fighter. (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Defense)

Japan’s Ministry of Defense plans to use the research developed for the ATD-X as a stepping stone to the eventual development of a sixth-generation fighter that would be designed for counter-stealth capabilities.

Japan also wants to expand its fleet of submarines from 16 units to 22, an asset Japan has much experience leveraging. The National Interest explains that Japan keeps its submarines “at a number of key invasion routes to Japan […] This concentration is a Cold War holdover, from when Japan expected that Soviet Union might invade during wartime.”

The BBC’s Tokyo correspondent agrees that Japan’s military was once mainly a foil to the Soviet threat, “designed in the days of the Cold War to protect Japan against an invasion from the north, from Russia.”

Japan military exerciseYuya Shino/REUTERS A Japanese military exercise

The new perceived threat is China, a country with which Japan’s relationship has never fully recovered from the latter’s imperial aggression before and during World War II. Alongside China’s economic growth has come a mushrooming defense budget, which has steadily climbed since 2000 (to $132 billion).

In 2010, tensions reached a low boil, catalyzed by a territorial dispute over the Senkaku (or Diaoyu) Islands in the East China Sea. More recently, China has shifted tactics over the island chain by sending fishermen en masse to the region in an effort to assert de facto control.

Ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC) last week in Beijing — where the two countries’ leaders halfheartedly shook hands for the cameras — Japan’s prime minister did at least open the door to fielding Chinese claims on the territories.

But an eventual armed clash in disputed waters is certainly possible.
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/japan-military-increases-south-china-sea-2014-11#ixzz3JUjJ8oUD



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