The 2012 white paper on defense, endorsed by the Cabinet on July 31, expressed concern over China’s rapid defense buildup and muscle-flexing in the Pacific Ocean, noting that it has become common for Chinese naval vessels to enter the Pacific Ocean, and that China appears intent on improving its ability to deploy its naval forces in international waters.
The report pointed out, for example, that a flotilla of 11 Chinese naval ships, the largest grouping ever, passed between Okinawa Island and Miyako Island in June 2011, and that Chinese ships entered Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in August 2011 and March 2012.
In view of this development, it is important to be vigilant over China’s moves in the seas around Japan. But it must keep in mind that overreaction could worsen the security situation.
On July 26, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told the Diet that if a neighboring county commits an illegal act in Japanese territories and territorial waters, including the Senkaku Islands, the government will firmly deal with it, including the use of the Self-Defense Forces.
Mr. Noda lacks prudence and his statement can be taken as provocative. If Japan, together with the United States, takes a confrontational attitude toward China, it could increase tension in the region and thus destabilize the security situation. Japan and the U.S. should not slacken their preparedness, but political and defense leaders should be careful when talking about the security situation around Japan, especially China’s moves.
For the first time, the white paper pointed to crisis management-related problems deriving from the possibility that the relationship between the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army has become “more complicated” and that the PLA has become more assertive in expressing its views on issues related to state sovereignty and maritime interest.
It also pointed out that China’s disclosed defense outlays increased about 30-fold in the past 24 years and that they represent only a part of the real spending. It also said that China lacks transparency regarding its defense equipment, the direction of its military modernization and the breakdown of its defense budget.
To maintain the trust of its neighbors, China must increase its transparency about its defense buildup.
In addition, Japan and China should earnestly increase defense exchanges and strengthen mechanisms for ensuring maritime safety to prevent unexpected developments that could disrupt bilateral ties. To this end, continuous communication is extremely important.
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