Japan’s annual defense white paper had, unsurprisingly, lots to say about China. The Wall Street Journal reports:
At 484 pages, this year’s defense paper is 60 pages thicker than last year’s. The ministry said that was partly because of “various incidents that took place around Japan.”
In one event in June, a Chinese frigate entered a contiguous zone around the disputed East China Sea islands, just outside their territorial waters, the paper said. Other Chinese ships have entered the contiguous zone, but it was unusual for a warship to do so. The islands are known as the Senkakus in Japanese and Daioyu islands in China.
Chinese military aircraft are expanding their activities closer to those islands, the white paper said. In the year ended March 2016, Japanese jet fighters scrambled 873 times, of which 571 times involved Chinese aircraft, up from 464 China-related scrambles the previous year, it said.
Tokyo said China is “making steady efforts to turn these coercive changes to the status quo into a fait accompli.” Official Chinese state media responded, “For a country which is reluctant to face up to its ignominious wartime history squarely, its attempts to beef up military power will pose a serious threat to world peace.” Hardly beating around the bush, that.
The white paper’s authors also said they have reason to believe North Korea’s claims that it has nuclear miniaturization capabilities that could enable it to mount the weapons on missiles and fire them toward Japan. As we’ve written repeatedly, developments in North Korea also reflect poorly on China. If this intelligence holds, it means we’re likely to see South Korea and Japan continue their rapprochement over the next year.
Elsewhere, China has been stepping up its own rhetoric as President Xi Jinping tries to manage growing anger among nationalists in the military. Xi hasn’t ordered any substantive changes in the South China Sea, but a Beijing court ruled on Tuesday that China has the authority to prosecute any foreigner who “trespasses” there.
Japan is more interested in the East China Sea, where it has its own claims, than in the South China Sea. But Tokyo has seen China’s aggression in the South China Sea as an opportunity to improve relations with Southeast Asian countries worried about Beijing’s ambitions.
Meanwhile, all eyes are watching Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now that he has a big enough parliamentary majority to push for remilitarization. Abe says he is focusing on the economy first, and Japan’s cabinet approved a $73 billion stimulus effort today—smaller than expected, but still welcomed by many business leaders. It seems likely that Abe will stick with his stated plan; he knows that Abenomics (despite delivering only mixed results) is very popular and remilitarization is not. Abe also recognizes that China isn’t backing down, and so it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which Beijing does something that makes many Japanese feel the need for a stronger military. In theory, at least, Abe won’t have to build support for his plans. China will do that for him.