China Is a National Security Threat to Japan

Editor’s note: this analysis was originally published by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and is reposted here with its permission.

While expanding its hegemony under the slogan of “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” China has conducted repeated joint naval and air force exercises in the western Pacific in an attempt to expel U.S. forces from the region in the future. As of now, Japan no choice but to depend on the U.S. nuclear deterrent, mostly strategic nuclear forces, for countering nearly 2,000 Chinese intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles that put from Japan’s Okinawa to Guam in their ranges. However, neither Japan nor the United States has means to intercept China’s sophisticated DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle.

China is rapidly expanding its military capabilities in outer space as well. Its killer satellites are capable of destroying U.S. as well as Japanese satellites. Chinese attacks could affect satellite communications through the global positioning system (GPS) we use every day and command, communications and intelligence gathering by the U.S. and Japanese militaries, preventing us from taking even defensive actions. The U.S. level of awareness of Chinese threats has risen to the highest ever point.

Beijing’s Scenario for Capturing Japan’s Senkaku Islands

China has taken control of islands in the South China Sea by force in defiance of a ruling by an international tribunal and is likely to apply the same forcible attitude to Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China will try to gradually downgrade Japan’s effective control of the Senkakus to make its claim to the islands as a fait accompli. China will also justify military actions on the islands by having Japan take military actions first in a contingency.

If expecting no U.S. intervention, China would have fishermen land on the Senkakus for distress or other reasons, may land coast guard personnel to protect fishermen and take advantage of the Chiense Coast Guard’s possible clash with the Japanese Coast Guard and police to mobilize military forces for protecting coast guard personnel and occupying the islands. During the escalation, China would mount three types of warfare (public opinion, psychological and legal) to justify its actions.

In its report on Chinese military forces released on September 1, the U.S. Department of Defense says that the number of China’s naval ships has topped that of U.S. naval ships. How long could Japan prevent China from making its claim to the Senkakus as a fait accompli if the U.S.-China military balance continues to shift in favor of China?

Japan may now be urgently required to strengthen its effective control of the Senkakus by conducting oceanographic or environmental surveys in waters around the islands. The U.S. and Japan also should conduct joint firing drills on the islands in the first phase and construct permanent facilities (oceanographic survey, navigation safety and other facilities) on the islands in the second phase. When Japan arrested the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that rammed into Japan Coast Guard ships in 2010, China took retaliatory actions such as the suspension of rare earth exports to Japan and the seizure of Japanese businesspersons. If Japan takes any action, China may conduct even larger-scale retaliation. The Japanese government must develop plans to exit from any emergency regarding the Senkakus.

China is No Longer Just a “Concern”

Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono told an online debate sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on September 9 that China has become Japan’s national security “threat,” although the government still describes China only as a “concern” in this year’s defense white paper. Given the dictatorial Chinese Communist Party’s suppression of information indicated by the novel coronavirus outbreak and its iron-fist approach demonstrated by its suppression in Hong Kong, the Japanese government should formulate a national security strategy clearly stating that China is a “threat to Japan’s national security.”

Kiyofumi Iwata is a member of the Council of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a former Chief of Staff of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.

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Author: Kiyofumi Iwata

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