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Japan’s Defence White Paper 2012 and China’s Critical Response

Pranamita Baruah is Research Assistant at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • August 09, 2012

    On July 31, the Japanese government released the 2012 edition of the Defence White Paper titled ‘The Defense of Japan 2012’. While submitting the report for Cabinet approval, Defence Minister Satoshi Morimoto delivered a speech throwing some light on the document. Pointing out the rapidly changing security environment in East Asia, Morimoto particularly talked about the significant developments in China and North Korea in the last one decade. China’s military build-up and its constant military flexing in the Asia-Pacific region were the major highlights of Morimoto’s comments as well as in the Defence White Paper. Just like the previous edition of the Defence White Paper in 2011, this year too, the report warns that China’s military movements are “a matter of concern” for the Asian region and the international community, and “should require prudent analysis.”1

    Key Points on China

    While underscoring China’s rapid military build-up, the White Paper states that China’s defence spending has grown more than double the level it was five years ago.2 Chinese military spending has also reportedly expanded around 30-times over the last 24 years. China’s Defence Budget this year, for the first time, topped the $100 billion mark,3 which is now more than 1.6 times that of Japan.4 Although the White Paper acknowledges that the defence figures provided by China might not disclose the entirety of its military spending, it argues that the gap between Japan and China on defence spending will almost certainly continue to widen further in the future. The Paper further argues that the growing defence spending of China has raised concerns in the international community due to which, of late, many countries and the US in particular has been shifting its defence strategy to focus more on Asia. Here, while emphasizing upon the Japan-US military alliance, the Paper also advocates the effective construction of Japan’s defence.

    While highlighting China’s naval exercises, the White Paper states that China “plans to expand the sphere of its maritime activities” and carry out its operations “as an ordinary routine practice” in waters surrounding Japan, including the East China Sea, the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea”. The report also accuses Beijing of ‘intruding’ into Japan’s ‘territorial waters’ by carrying out major patrols near the Japanese territory of the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands), which has been claimed by China as its own territory. The White Paper also expressed the Japanese government’s increasing concern over China’s decision to strengthen surveillance around the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea region.5 Here, the Paper cites two instances (in March-April 2011 and April 2012) in which Chinese helicopters, which appeared to belong to the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) of China, flew close to Japanese destroyers engaged in vigilance monitoring around the Senkaku area.6 While pointing out China’s long-standing territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea region, the White Paper speculates upon the intentions behind Chinese activities to protect “maritime rights and interests” and “energy resources.”7

    More significantly, the White Paper for the first time points out a shift in China’s power structure. While noting that military-decision making is not transparent in China, the Paper argues that given the increasing number of cases in which the Chinese military has expressed its own stance on security issues, the relationship between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seems to have “been getting complex”. Citing the PLA’s increasing influence on political decision making, the report states that this is a “risk management issue” and caution should be taken while dealing with the powerful PLA.8

    On the domestic problems faced by China, the White Paper points out corruption at the levels of both the central and local communist leadership, regional disparities between urban-rural and coastal-inland regions, inflation, environmental pollution, rapid aging of population, etc. According to the Paper, all these factors could destabilize the government in China. Domestic ethnic minority issues in Tibet and Xinjiang might also complicate the situation further. The Paper also argues that although after autumn 2012 China might witness a substantial reshuffle in the CCP leadership, the next government would still have to deal with all these challenges.9

    China’s Response

    The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed “strong discontentment” with the White Paper’s apparent concern over China’s rapid military expansion. While offering China’s stance on the Paper, Geng Yansheng, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Defence, stated: “China strongly opposes the groundless criticisms of its national defense development and military activity, as well as irresponsible remarks regarding China’s internal affairs, made in Japan’s defense white paper.”10 While reiterating China’s adherence to the road of peaceful development and maintenance of a purely defensive military policy, Geng stated that “China will continue to organize normal military exercises and training activities and resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and marine rights.”11 Geng even alleged that Japan was making excuses for its continued arms expansion, reinforcement of military alliances and “distorting facts” about regional security concerns.12

    Chinese academics have been highly critical of Japan’s recent Defence White Paper. They mostly argue that the Paper is a clear proof of Japan using its ambition for military independence to stage a military comeback. Critics are also of the view that the latest report lacks coherence possibly because in the last one year Japan changed its defence minister four times.13

    Many Chinese scholars are of the view that after the 2010 National Defense Program Outline (NDPO), Japan has tried to deviate from its “Basic Defense Force” approach and is focusing more on a new security strategy based on a “multifunctional, flexible, and effective defense force” with a highly capable “dynamic deterrence” capacity. In this context, Li Wei, Director of the Institute of Japanese Studies in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, argues that Japan on one hand appears to be following the US strategy of balancing China’s military development while on the other it aims to realize its own military independence. Such changes in Japan’s defence posture have made it possible for Tokyo to step up its efforts to intervene in the South China Sea affairs along with other regional countries including Philippines and Vietnam. While arguing that the Japan-US alliance is no longer as asymmetrical as before, Li observes that Japan has already turned it into a convenient tool to become a ‘normal country.’14

    According to Ye Hailin, a professor in international relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Japan, by pointing out China’s ordinary progress in defence enhancement as a regional security concern, has shown its “unbalanced mindset”. He argues that the passing of Chinese naval vessels near the waters of Diaoyu/Senkaku islands is completely legal and justified as they were transiting the international watercourse into the Pacific Ocean. Huo Jiangang, an expert on Japanese Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), further argues that China has not violated the freedom of navigation in these waters as argued by the report. He alleged that Tokyo is “taking its imagination as a fact” and is misleading not only the Japanese people, but also the international community.15

    Many Chinese critics also argue that the Defence White Papers’ continued insistence on the ‘China threat theory’ is reflective of Japan’s Cold War mentality, right-wing thoughts and fear of China. According to them, Japan should treat China’s development as an opportunity rather than as a threat. Instead of deliberately creating international tension by making irresponsible comments and mischievous speculations about China, Tokyo should make a correct assessment of the situation and adopt the right attitude towards China’s peaceful rise.16


    So far, Tokyo has not made any official comment on China’s sharp response to the White Paper. However, many Japanese academics and policy analysts have put forward their own stance about the Paper. Most of them seem to believe that to deal with China’s rapid military modernization and its increasing activities around Japanese territorial waters, the Japanese Self-Defense Force (SDF) too should steadily strengthen their surveillance and patrol activities. They also insist that as the lack of transparency in Chinese military capabilities and decision-making process has been an issue of concern, Tokyo should pay close attention on that issue. Japan also needs to enhance its “dynamic defense cooperation” with the United States. Although critical of China’s military build-up, Japanese analysts however contend that there is an urgent need to step up the confidence-building measures between the two countries by reactivating bilateral defence exchanges.