Islamic State a growing threat to East Asia, including Japan: defense review


Staff Writer

The Islamic State group is becoming a growing threat to East Asia, including Japan, highlighted by the kidnapping and killing of Japanese nationals, according to a defense review released Friday.

“The ISIL is threatening the security of East Asia, including Japan, by targeting the Asian people and Asian embassies in the Middle East, showing its ambition for territorial expansion, as well as recruiting foreign fighters from Asian countries,” the 2016 East Asia Strategic Review by the National Institute for Defense Studies Japan said, referring to the militant group’s previously known name, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Previous reviews mentioned the 2011 Arab Spring, but this is the first time the review, which has been published annually by the Defense Ministry’s core research arm since 1996, has allocated a chapter to IS, underscoring Japan’s increased interest in the terrorist group’s influence in Asia.

The report was released three days after Turkey detained a 23-year-old Japanese man suspected of trying to cross the border into Syria to join IS, in a rare case involving a Japanese national. The man was subsequently deported and arrived back in Japan Thursday night.

And it comes after a hostage video of Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who went missing after entering Syria last July, emerged earlier this month, although it is not clear who captured Yasuda.

An increasing number of Japanese are being targeted by IS.

Last year, the militant group executed two Japanese nationals — journalist Kenji Goto and private security contractor Haruna Yukawa — after a $2 million ransom demand was rejected. IS has also warned of attacks on Japanese embassies in Indonesia, Malaysia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The report noted that a Japanese college student planned a trip to Syria with intentions of joining IS in 2014.

The review also highlighted the group’s expansion into China by noting that its territorial claims seem to include the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region — a fact highlighted by Xinjiang’s Communist Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian who said last year that IS has been recruiting Uighurs.

Even though China has so far expressed no intention of joining the fight against IS, the report said that the extremist group posed a grave threat to China.

Meanwhile, the review also mentioned China’s rising military presence in the South China Sea, where it has been building massive man-made islands and deployed military assets such as surface-to-air missile launchers and radar.

The review noted that the issue there had evolved from territorial disputes between a number of ASEAN countries and China to a more pronounced standoff between the United States and Beijing.

The U.S., which has viewed China’s military presence in the waters as a potential threat to its national security, has conducted freedom of navigation operations through what China is claiming as its territorial waters within 12 nautical miles (22 km) of the man-made islands to keep China in check.

Yet the rise of IS and Russia’s increasing military intervention could potentially limit Washington’s focus on Asia, despite the U.S. emphasis on a pivot to the region.

The review said the U.S. has become more nervous about Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, as well as Russia’s intervention in Syria.

The newly emerged Russian threat was also highlighted in the Quadrennial Defense Review in 2014, which said that “Russia’s multidimensional defense modernization and actions that violate the sovereignty of its neighbors present risks.”

The latest review emphasized that the situation surrounding IS and Russia’s intervention has escalated since the quadrennial report was published, implying that those changes could potentially affect the U.S. military posture, including in Asia.

Shinji Hyodo, editor-in-chief of the review, said that the U.S. might not be able to focus on Asia in as much detail when it has to face ongoing turmoil in the Middle East and Europe.

“It seems that the mutual strategic interest between the U.S. allies are not necessarily shared,” he said.