Japan: Defense White Paper 2013

16 Jul, 2013    ·   4036

Rajaram Panda deconstructs the Japanese Defence White Paper and its strategic implications for the region

Rajaram Panda
Rajaram Panda
Visiting Faculty, SLLCS, JNU

On July 9, 2013, the Ministry of Defence of Japan released its Annual White Paper 2013 (AWP-2013). This is the first Defence White Paper released under the administration of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. The major highlight of the AWP-2013 is the demonstration of nationalist rhetoric and a far more vigilant tone than in previous years as it described the regional security challenges that Japan faces and how it plans to respond to them. In the foreword to the AWP-2013, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera observed that the issues and destabilizing factors in Japan’s security environment “have become pronounced, acute and more problematic” and vowed to “protect our people’s lives and assets, and our territorial land, sea and sky, till the end”. The foreword listed North Korea’s satellite and nuclear tests, and “the rapid expansion and intensification of activities by China in the waters and airspace around Japan”, as the most serious challenges to Japan’s security.

This is the first such report published since Abe returned to power as Japan's prime minister with a massive mandate in December 2012. His primary objective is to alter Japan’s pacifist Constitution, drafted by US military occupation forces shortly after Japan's defeat in 1945. That makes some of Japan's neighbors uneasy, believing it could lead to a revival of Japanese militarism. There is a widespread perception in the region that Japan has never sufficiently expressed remorse for its brutal colonization of the Far East and much of the Asian continent before and during the Pacific War. Within a month of assuming office, for the first time in eleven years, Japan pushed up annual spending by 0.7 per cent to 4.68 trillion yen, or $46 billion. Japan is also conducting a review of its long-term defense policy guidelines that will set the course for the nation’s defense strategy for the next decade. The guidelines are expected to be released by the year-end. It is also increasing the scope of defense drills with its primary ally, the US, which maintains more than a dozen military bases and tens of thousands of uniformed personnel in Japan.

The White Paper gave few details about what the guidelines may include. It highlighted two new areas under discussion that could significantly change the nature of the role of the Japanese military as a self-defense force: developing the ability to launch preemptive attacks on enemy bases abroad and the creation of an amphibious force similar to the US Marine Corps.

Reactions From Neighbours
Both China and South Korea lost no time in criticizing the AWP-2013. Within hours of the issuance of the AWP-2013, the foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing responded by accusing Tokyo of making unfounded accusations against China. Japan and China have a long-standing dispute over small islands in the East China Sea controlled by Tokyo. Tension has escalated since the central Japanese government, in September 2012, purchased the unoccupied islands (known as Senkaku in Japanese and Daoiyu in Chinese) from their private Japanese owner. Onodera said the Chinese “have attempted to change the status quo by force in ways incompatible with the existing order of international law and in ways that could be seen as provocative.”

By playing up the China threat, a state news agency Xinhua commented, Japan runs risk of playing with fire. After "taking pride in the atrocities" committed by Japan during World War II, the increase in Japan's defense budget translated Abe's attempt to "cater to rightists at home" ahead of the upcoming elections to the Upper House on July 21. The Chinese spokesperson Hua Chunying defended by saying China's maritime activities are carried out according to international law, the country is on the path of peaceful development and always stands for resolving territorial disputes through dialogue. She accused of Japan of playing up the China threat, causing tensions and confrontation, and “the international community cannot help but worry over where Japan is heading.” The white paper also suggests Japanese forces should have the capability to attack enemy bases as an effective deterrent against ballistic missile threats. That was in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs, as indicated by defense minister Onodera.

South Korea, also a potential target of the rival North’s forces, joined China in criticizing the Japanese document. The South Korean government protested the Japanese government’s unjust territorial claims over a rocky outcrop, covering less than one-fifth of a square kilometer, held by South Korea, known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese. South Korea’s foreign affairs ministry said "Japan's incorrect view of history deserves to be solemnly criticized". It further said, all these will unlikely ease ongoing tensions in the region whose stagnant economic growth could further fuel nationalist rhetoric from all sides. Speaking for the defence ministry, Col Wi Yong-seop denied Japan has any historical, geographical or legal right to the rocks. Colonel Wi said if Japan refuses to withdraw its territorial claim there can be no expectations of defense exchanges or military cooperation between the two neighbors.

From the reactions it transpires that the shadow of history does not easily go away.