Japan has in recent times made some transformational changes to its overall security and military policies. Any public discourse on transformation of the military policy generally faces headwinds in Japan because of the sufferings of Japanese people caused by the military policy during the World War II (WW II). However, the latest changes to its security and military policies announced by the government haven’t generated as much controversy thereby showing convergence across the entire political spectrum due to the altered security scenario existing in the region. This piece efforts to trace the causal factors of this transformation, its implications and opportunities for the entire region.
Japan and China witnessed a phase of continued tension and hostility post WW II as China considered herself to be the victim of Japanese imperialist oppression and war crimes. There were frequent calls by Chinese leadership for reparations from Japan for the exploitation and oppression of her citizens as well as the loot of its natural resources. The relations witnessed a thaw only in 1972 when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai decided to give up the call for reparations as he believed that Japan had also been a victim of the militarism. Japan as a symbol of reconciliation, since 1979 has continuously been providing Developmental Assistance to China till as late as Mar 2022, totalling a massive US$ 32.4 Billion.
However, in the 21st century as China grew economically and militarily, it started behaving with more belligerence against its smaller neighbours, claiming maritime territory in South China Sea as well as East China Sea in clear violation of international maritime laws, constructing military bases and artificial islands and restricting freedom of navigation in sea and air for other users. Any protests by smaller neighbouring nations led to incrementally aggressive actions by PLA Navy, Coast Guard and the Maritime Militia. Since the time, evidence relating to the possibility of petroleum deposits in Senkaku Islands poured in, China has become more aggressive in its claim over these Islands. The PLA Navy has intruded into the Japanese territorial waters eight times since 2004 and of these, five intrusions have taken place during 2021 alone. However, China, though a major factor, is not the sole reason for the change in Japan’s defence and security policy enunciated in its Security Strategy. Russian invasion of Ukraine and Russia laying claim over Kuril Island Chain, where it has also deployed missile systems, which Japan calls its Northern Territories is another factor responsible for the change in Japan’s security philosophy. China-Russia alliance further lowers the threat threshold for Japan. Then there is the North Korea that very frequently fires ballistic missiles over the Japanese territory. All these security events have made Japan to brainstorm whether it can continue with its exclusively defensive security posture or needs to adopt a deterrent posture.
The Transformation in National Security Strategy of Japan
In view of this complex and challenging security environment that Japan finds itself in, it embarked upon a major metamorphosis of its security policy. As part of this major overhaul, Japan released three new national security documents in Dec 2022, namely, the National Security Strategy (NSS)- which guides the security policy, the National Defence Programme Guideline (NDPG) and the Mid Term Defence Programme (MTDP) that guides the military to achieve the vision outlined in the previous two documents. The latter two will guide the Japan’s defence policy for the next 10 years. While elaborating the security challenges being faced by Japan, China has not been directly named but the threat assessment regarding it is well aligned with the threat assessments made by US and NATO. The new strategy also draws its concerns from the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan straits and the “threat” posed to Okinawa due to the Chinese missiles debris that fell in the Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone during exercises conducted following Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in Aug 2022. Japan is also cognisant of the fact that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan will actually breach the sovereign airspace and maritime territory of Japan. Therefore, peace and security in the Taiwan Straits is of paramount importance for Japan’s security. This is the reason China becomes the prime threat in the overall vulnerability matrix of Japan. The strong adjectives used in the latest NSS not only emphasise the urgency of the threat as well as the measures that need to be adopted to mitigate the threat but also marks a paradigm shift regarding the security policy from mostly a US dependent to a DIY one. The major feature of this DIY approach will be the acquisition of counter strike capabilities that will allow Japan to carryout pre-emptive strikes against any developing threat. This offensive defence policy of pre-emption marks a significant departure from the purely defensive policy followed hitherto fore by Japan. To execute this approach Japan will have to raise new missiles units, combat air squadrons and submarines along with command-and-control headquarters to supervise these units and for coordination and cooperation with US forces deployed in Okinawa and Guam. The ministry of defence has already clarified that the brigade in Okinawa will be strengthened and a system will be developed to allow the military to use civilian resources in an emergency – a clear allusion to the Taiwan contingency.
China has criticised the Japanese announcements as sensationalisation of China Threat, calling it prejudiced, a distortion of facts and a smear campaign. An uptick in China Japan rivalry will be a natural consequence and relations are bound to remain strained. This will affect existing geopolitical tensions in Indo Pacific and the region will witness enhanced militarisation.
To ward off adverse effects of this rivalry on its economy, Japan will try to develop other sources of import for goods and services for which it has so far depended on the global factory- China.
The continued belligerence of China along the LAC has certainly compelled India to shed its ambivalence about Quad Security dialogue and is gradually transforming Quad into a proto alliance. However, the implications of this shift in Japan’s policy for the India China equation will not be be substantial in short term and are at best unpredictable due the complex interplay of the China Russia Japan triad and the India Russia dyad. But certainly, defence manufacturing and enhanced defence imports by Japan will be a natural outcome. The increase in the defence spending will now mean that the defence budget will now increase to US$ 47 billion in fiscal year 2023. Gradually, the annual defence budget will increase to approximately US$ 90 Billion, which will be equivalent to 2 per cent of the GDP target- a benchmark also used by NATO allies of USA. This would translate to Japan spending around USD 322 billion on defence over the next five years. Implications of this enhanced budgetary spending on defence will be a concomitant mushrooming of a defence industry in Japan. India has been Japan’s trusted trade and technology partner with significant Japanese investment in India. This should be seen as an opportunity for Indian defence industry to collaborate, jointly develop and manufacture in India due to the peculiarities of industrial issues in Japan. Manufacturing in India will also be economical due to low wages, availability of ample technical manpower and a growing defence manufacturing ecosystem. Indian Defence MSMEs and SMEs can play a pivotal role and participate in this growth story as OEMs.
An aggressive and assertive China wanting to shape the geopolitics and economy of Asia and Indo Pacific has emerged as a threat to all its smaller neighbours. Xi Jinping has been urging its military to be prepared at all times for war. Though the main adversary in these exhortations may be Taiwan and US, Japan will also have to be tackled as a major US ally in the Pacific. China’s Taiwan obsession causes severe concern among the security planners of Japan as well. The developing security environment in the Pacific will witness the emergence of another military power in the coming years in the form of Japan. As the third largest economy of the world, it has the deep pockets to cater for the military hardware to meet the security challenge to its sovereignty and stand up to a regional bully. From the adoption of a pacifist post WW II constitution to the adoption of the Offensive Defence Strategy, Japan would have traversed a full circle just in a span of less than a century.
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