Taiwan seen losing military edge to China

by Reiji Yoshida

The military balance between China and Taiwan is shifting in Beijing’s favor and the qualitative superiority of Taipei’s fighting force may soon be lost, the Defense Ministry warned Friday in a report.

Highlighting Japan’s major security concerns, the fiscal 2007 white paper, approved by the Cabinet the same day, also expresses growing concern over North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and lays out the reasons behind the January upgrading of the Defense Agency into a full-fledged ministry.

“(China’s military power) has been steadily growing, greatly affecting the regional situation and the security of Japan,” Defense Minister Yuriko Koike told reporters Friday. “We’ll cautiously continue our analysis” of the Chinese military, Koike said.

Koike was appointed to her position two days before the release of the annual report. The paper carries a forward written by her predecessor, Fumio Kyuma, with his photos. Kyuma resigned Tuesday after facing intense criticism over his comments that seemed to justify the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The report notes that China’s defense budget had seen double-digit nominal growth for the 19th straight year, hitting 347.2 billion yuan (5.2 trillion yen) for fiscal 2007, up 17.8 percent from the previous year.

Japan’s defense budget was 4.78 trillion yen in fiscal 2007, according to the defense paper.

The annual report also expresses concern over China’s forward deployment of its naval and air forces on the high seas, seeing it as a signal that Beijing is trying to build up its capability to deploy forces far from its coastal areas.

Specifically, China has introduced more submarines and advanced missile ships as well as landing craft and logistic supply vessels, according to the paper. “Also, China seems to have strong interest in possessing an aircraft carrier,” the report says.

As for North Korea, the report warns Pyongyang has considerably upgraded the capabilities of its ballistic missiles, pointing out that the nation successfully targeted a specific area of the Sea of Japan with six missiles of differing ranges last July.

The paper also suggests that although engaged in six-party talks pushing for the North’s denuclearization, Pyongyang may seek to maintain its current regime and its nuclear arms quest.

In an apparent bid to soothe concerns over the change in status of the defense body, 18 of the paper’s 479 pages were devoted to explaining why the agency was upgraded. The paper stresses that the ministry was created to better manage crises and to boost Japan’s cooperation in international peace activities, not to beef up the military.