Japan to shift military towards China threat

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Niccolo and Donkey
Japan to shift military towards China threat


Mure Dickie

December 13, 2010

Defence policy guidelines set to be unveiled by Tokyo this month are likely to contain bad news for Japanese tank commanders – and an even less welcome message for policymakers in neighbouring China.

Officials and analysts say the keenly awaited National Defence Policy Guidelines will signal a historic refocusing of Japan's army and other forces toward securing the line of small islands in the southern Nansei chain that stretches from Japan’s main islands toward Taiwan and are seen as threatened by China's rapidly growing military power .

"The biggest change from previous guidelines will be the shift from north to south," says Jun Azumi, senior vice-minister of defence, in an interview. "Strengthening defences in the Nansei area is going to be a major pillar."

The new priorities spell a redistribution of resources away from tank units and other forces originally deployed in areas such as the northern island of Hokkaido to defend against a feared full-scale invasion from the Soviet Union.

Many analysts say Tokyo has been slow to match what has been a sharp increase in China's ability to project power in the waters up to and beyond the lightly-populated Nansei archipelago.

Tokyo has already deployed more advanced fighters to the southern island of Okinawa, the largest and most populated in the Nansei group, and beefed up army units there, but China's deployment of new submarines, supersonic anti-ship missiles and advanced fighters is seen as challenging US and Japanese military superiority in an area that includes sea lanes vital to the trade-dependent economy.

Japanese concerns have been fuelled by the increasingly assertive tone of Chinese diplomacy – and in particular Beijing's fierce reaction to the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain that clashed with Japanese coast guard vessels near the Senkaku islands – known in China as the Diaoyu group – which Tokyo says are part of the Nansei chain.

Kunihiko Miyake, a security expert at the Canon Global Institute, says the incident helped generate the political will to overcome institutional resistance to change from within the army – officially known as the Ground Self Defence Force in a nod to Japan's pacifistic constitution.

It also helped win over members of the left-leaning ruling Democratic party, which ousted the long-ruling conservative Liberal Democratic party last year, says Mr Miyake.

"Probably we have to thank the captain of the Chinese fishing boat for helping us make this important decision on military posture," he says. "This is potentially a real breakthrough in the history of the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force."

The implications of the decision to make strengthening southern defences a priority are unlikely to be spelled out in full detail in the new guidelines, though Japanese media say GSDF tank numbers could be cut by one-third to free up funds.

Early steps are likely to include new island radar stations, with small army units to guard them. Some analysts say anti-ship missiles should later be deployed along the Nansei chain to support naval forces in the area.

Mr Azumi declined to discuss such specifics, but says the new policy will stress in particular the need for greater military mobility so that forces can be deployed quickly by air or sea to wherever they might be needed.

"Island defence is not just a matter of stationing 500 or 1,000 men on an island," the vice-minister says. "As we know from our tough fight against the US in the (1941-45) Pacific war, it's no use leaving them standing on their own. You need to have a lot of back-up and support."

The defence ministry also wants the new guidelines to set the stage for the acquisition of new submarines and destroyers, and for a long-delayed decision on an advanced fighter to replace its fast-ageing fleet of F-4 Phantoms.

Yet even with the public worries about China and about nuclear-armed North Korea – whose recent attack on a South Korean island is fuelling calls for an expansion of Japan’s anti-ballistic missile defences – planners still face severe spending constraints.

A huge fiscal deficit means the defence ministry cannot even be sure of stemming years of defence budget cuts.

“Given the regrettable lack of détente in East Asia ... [we are arguing that] it is important to maintain defence spending,” says Mr Azumi on the internal budget battle.

“Before you can fight China, you have to go to war with the finance ministry.”


Russia and China are filled with energy-irredentism these days, making a war in the North-West Pacific, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Ukraine close to certain for this decade.
Niccolo and Donkey
They'll simply slot along the US-UK in light of their adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and of course the BTC Pipeline in the Caucasus.

Energy Wars.