National / Politics

Japan's annual defense review expresses 'deep concern' over China muscle-flexing

Reuters, Kyodo

Japan’s annual defense review expresses “deep concern” over what it sees as China’s coercion as a more assertive Beijing flouts international rules when dealing with other nations.

The white paper, released Tuesday and titled Defense of Japan 2016, comes amid heightened tension in Asia.

The report, approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, warns that “unintended consequences” could result from Beijing’s assertive disregard of international rules.

“China is poised to fulfill its unilateral demands without compromise,” the government says in the review.

Last month an arbitration court in The Hague invalidated China’s sweeping claims in the disputed South China Sea, in a case brought by the Philippines.

China has refused to recognize the ruling. Japan called on China to adhere to the verdict, which it said was binding. Beijing retorted by warning Tokyo not to interfere.

China claims most of the 3.5-million-sq.-km South China Sea, with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also staking claims.

Japan has no territorial claims there, but it fears that Chinese military bases will bolster Beijing’s influence over a region through which $5 trillion in trade passes every year, much of it to and from Japanese ports.

Rather than confront China directly by sailing warships past its man-made island bases in the sea, Japan is providing equipment and training to the Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines and Vietnam, which are most opposed to China’s territorial ambitions.

The white paper says Self-Defense Force fighter jets scrambled against Chinese aircraft approaching Japanese airspace a total of 571 times in fiscal 2015, which ended in March — the most since fiscal 2001. It said activity near the Senkaku Islands saw a marked rise.

Beijing’s most powerful adversary in Asia is the United States, with its 7th Fleet operating from bases in Japan and South Korea. Japan has Asia’s second-biggest indigenous navy.

The defense review notes China’s growing capability to threaten naval vessels with its increasing armory of anti-ship missiles.

At 484 pages, the document is more than a 10th longer than last year’s report, and lays out other security concerns, including the threat from North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear bomb programs and a revival of Russian military strength in the Far East.

It takes 50 pages to outline Japan’s deepening alliance with the United States, as the Abe administration takes a step back from the war-renouncing Constitution by easing curbs on overseas operations for the SDF.

While previous administrations have denied Japan’s right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of friendly nations under attack even if Japan itself is not attacked, the latest report refers to this need and its constitutionality. It says the legislation has been supported by many countries and organizations worldwide and that Japan will not become embroiled in other countries’ conflicts.

The white paper also warns that Japan must address the threat of terrorism after an attack by Islamist militants in Bangladesh last month claimed the lives of seven Japanese aid workers and 13 other people.