Originally Published 2011-08-16 00:00:00 Published on Aug 16, 2011
Japan's recently approved Defence White Paper has pointed out discomforting Chinese maritime activities in the region, military modernisation and the opacity about China's goals as challenges to Japan's national security.
China Threat and the New Japanese Defence White Paper
Japan's Defence White Paper, which was approved on August 2, 2011, gave an insight into the perceived threats that the country's Self Defence Forces would face in the future. It raised concerns over a variety of regional and international issues that demanded a greater degree of preparedness from Japan. Discomforting Chinese maritime activities in the region, military modernisation and the opacity about China's goals figured as challenges to Japan's national security. The White Paper was published shortly after Taiwan's National Defence Report that highlighted the threat from the People's Republic of China (PRC), pointing towards its military modernisation, increased defence budget and missile deployment targeting Taiwan.1 Japan's Defence White Paper also raising the China issue suggests that countries concerned with Beijing's growing assertiveness in the region are now getting louder in voicing their concerns.

The White Paper, under the section titled "Trends concerning the South China Sea," underlined the recent chain of events such as the Sino-Vietnam and Sino-Philippines confrontation on the issue of territorial rights over the disputed area. Similarly, Chinese naval activities near Japanese waters were raised as an issue in the section titled - China's Ocean Activities - that featured incidents where Chinese flotillas were spotted near the Japanese maritime territory engaging in exercises or monitoring activities.
China had been increasing military drills and monitoring activities in the region, which the White Paper said was aimed at defending the Chinese territory and waters, deter and prevent Taiwan's independence, maintain and protect its maritime interests and to defend its sea lanes of communication. Since much of Beijing's territorial and maritime claims had different interpretations by other countries involved in the disputes including Japan, the White Paper highlighted the need for constant observation of these activities.

China's military posture and its increased defence budget had also been raised as a concern. The lack of transparency and the ambiguity regarding the future goals of China's military modernisation that created insecurity in the region and the international community, was again an issue highlighted in the White Paper as well as several analyses coming out of the region.

The White Paper also highlighted the growing dependency on information technology and the rising number of cyber attacks against such networks that had become an indispensible part of the country's infrastructure. It also signified the importance of cyber security as information and communication systems formed the foundation of the Japanese armed forces' command and control. As counter measures against cyber security threats, Japan plans to take steps such as integrating its various cyber security agencies established under different departments and creating a centralised operational unit, expanding the role of intelligence agencies to counter cyber attacks and seeking international cooperation on the issue.

The White Paper also outlined the steps taken by countries like the US, the UK, Australia and South Korea in the field of cyber security. Since a number of hacking attempts had been carried out to infiltrate vital information networks all across the globe, Japan raising the issue of cyber security as a concern and planning to augment its cyber security apparatus, is a move that even India should make since it had also been a prime target for hackers. 

The issue of nuclear weapons technology proliferation by some countries, pointing towards China's assistance to Pakistan and North Korea to develop nuclear weapons, was also raised in the White Paper. The development of these weapons by countries like North Korea and Pakistan were raised as concerns for Japan. Fears regarding the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons arsenal and the possibility of using a nuclear warhead during a conflict had been raised. Issue of proliferation of ballistic missile technology was also discussed in the White Paper. 

The Iranian nuclear programme was criticised as the White Paper points out several instances wherein Iran failed to abide by international conventions, such as the breach of Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguards agreement by in 2005. Iran's aim to increase the uranium enrichment level from 5 percent to 20 percent was also pointed out as an instance of irresponsible action.

Apart from these issues, terrorism and ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Libya have been identified as concerns for the international community among others. The defence policies and military postures of all the major players in the region and the world were discussed.

Additionally, the White Paper explained the role played by the Japanese Self Defence Forces (SDF) during the "Great East Japan Earthquake" in March 2011 and consequent Fukushima nuclear crisis. The alliance with the US and its future prospects were also elaborated, giving importance to ensuring its ability to tackle broad range of issues over the next 50 years.

As part of measures for beefing up Japanese defence capabilities, the White Paper suggested multi-layered security cooperation with the international community, strengthening of alliance with the US and also engaging with other countries to stabilise the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region.

Unsurprisingly, Beijing came down heavily on Japan, condemning the White Paper, labelling it an attempt to play the "China Threat Theory." Reacting to the White Paper and expressing "strong opposition", the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that it contained "irresponsible comments" about China.2

Two important players in Asia - Japan and Taiwan - voicing their insecurity regarding China, within a short of time, could lead other nations in the region with similar apprehensions, to take a similar stance. Vietnam and Philippines have shown clear signs that they would not be giving into the Chinese territorial claims easily, as indicated by the military drills that both countries conducted with the US shortly after a spat with Beijing over the disputed waters of South China Sea.

Although these countries would still be careful in dealing with Beijing, a collective regional approach, with the backing of the US to address the "China Problem" could be gaining ground. If that would be the case, it's interesting to see how China reacts to this collective attempt to check its growing assertiveness. What makes it even more intriguing is the fact that China would soon be going through a leadership change. It is difficult to predict if the new leadership will follow the same assertive posture or would the changing geo-strategic dynamics of Asia compel the new leadership to change or soften its stand on issues like the South China Sea. 

(The author is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

1  Rich Chang, "MND Report Highlights Threat of PRC," The Taipei Times, July 20, 2011, available at
http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2011/07/20/2003508663 (accessed on August 09, 2011).

2  "China Refutes Japan's 2011 Defence White Paper," China Daily, August 04, 2011, available at
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-08/04/content_13045569.htm (accessed on August 09, 2011).

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