Japan Planning to Refocus Defense Toward China

“The Japanese government is expected to release new ‘Defense Guidelines’ later this week, clearly signaling changes in the country's defense posture from one meant to deter threats in the north from Russia to that focused on Chinese military expansions in the waters south and west of Japan. The document, designed to provide basic objectives for the Self Defense Forces along with specific weapons procurement plans to achieve them, will be only the fourth of its kind since the first was published in 1976, and would revise the last guidelines which came out in 2004,” says Asia Society Associate Fellow Ayako Doi.

“The process for the latest revision has been closely followed by observers of East Asian security, partly because of rising tensions in the region in recent years, but also because of the 2009 election which ended the post-war domination of the pro-U.S. Liberal Democratic Party. The new government led by the Democratic Party of Japan was initially perceived as trying to distance itself from the alliance with the U.S. in favor of more friendly relations with China. But the latest developments in the region, including a diplomatic spat with China in the East Chine Sea over an arrest of a Chinese fishing vessel by the Japanese Coast Guard in September, and the recent revelation by North Korea about its nuclear capability, eliminated any illusion that might have existed about Chinese and North Korean intentions among the Japanese.

“According to reports in advance of its release, the new document describes China's new assertiveness and expanded military activities as a cause for ‘concern for the region and the international community.’ The new guidelines will seek to drastically reduce the number of tanks and land-based artillery, and instead to build a larger fleet of submarines and to replace old fighter jets with new ones -- so as to create a more ‘mobile’ force. Although the authorized strength of the Ground Self Defense Force (army) is expected to remain about the same, SDF will continue its ongoing shift of resources from northern Japan toward the southern parts of the country, including the long chain of sparsely inhabited islands, stretching down into the East China Sea and the Pacific, where increased Chinese naval activities have been observed in recent years.”

Ayako is in the Washington DC area. To arrange an interview, contact the Asia Society communications department at 212-327-9271 or pr@asiasociety.org.