Japan’s Defense Strategy Highlights China Assertiveness as Key Security Challenges

A report about Japanese national security titled “Defense of Japan 2023” by HAMADA Yasukazu is published by the Japanese Ministry of Defense. And this article is a brief summary of the parts that concerns Sino-Japan tensions and Uyghur issues relating to the matter.

Series of China activities has breached Japan domestic security and become matter of serious concern for Japan and international community. This has compelled Japan to develop a new defense strategy due to increasing security concerns because of China aggression in regional activities. China's assertiveness in the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, along with its military modernization, has raised alarm in Japan over potential threats to its territorial integrity and regional stability. China's expansive territorial claims, establishment of air defense identification zones, and frequent maritime incursions near Japanese waters have heightened tensions. Consequently, Japan has launched Defense White Paper that compromises three main policies; National Security Strategy of Japan (NSS), the National Defense Strategy of Japan (NDS), and the Defense Buildup Program (DBP) in December 2022 as new defense policy mechanisms to bolster its defense capabilities, enhance regional alliances, diversify security partnerships to counterbalance China's rising influence and safeguard its national interests and security. This strategy has shown Japan commitment for more inclusive defense security strategies because the total allocations for 2023-2027 period is 43.5 trillion yen compared to the previous plan which was only 17.2 trillion yen in total.

China's increased military activities in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean (Izu and Ogasawara Islands) have raised concerns especially for Japan since the first intrusion spotted in 2016. The confirmed presence of Chinese military aircraft, including early warning aircraft(Y-8), intelligence gathering aircraft (Y-9), bombers (H6), and fighters, indicates a significant expansion and intensification of China's scope in the region. Besides, the activities of Chinese aircraft carriers such as "Liaoning" and the recently confirmed "Shandong," entering the Pacific Ocean and both aircrafts have been spotted in carrying more than 300 times (Liaoning) and 600 times (Shandong) conducting flights with carrier-based fighters that happen between 2016-2023.

These actions have likely led Japan to closely monitor the movements of Chinese naval assets and aircraft carriers, given the potential impact on regional security dynamics because China clearly want to demonstrate increasing military capabilities and projection of power. This development has prompting Japan to reassess its defense strategies and seek alliances to counter China's growing aggression especially for the area where the military aircrafts were spotted like in Okinawa and Miyakojima Islands. This Southwestern area is prone to China’s threat and in NDS, new defense architecture mechanism has been developed to guard this area such as GSDF Area Security Force units, acquisition of new missile ships (Type-12 surface-to-ship missiles, GSDF Type-03 medium-range surface-to-air missiles), and ASDF air surveillance radars. The initiative also included development of full-scale operations (landing ships, Minesweeper Squadron) and reinforcement of air superiority (warning aircraft unit and Southwestern Air Defense Force).

Moreover, Indo-Pacific region in which Japan is situated faces a host of security challenges where number of arms including nuclear weapons and missiles is rapidly building up around Japan, and the acquisition of territorial dispute area by force is happening. China attempted to establish status quo in South China Sea large-scale land reclamation and infrastructure development on features of the Spratly Islands such as its de facto control over Scarborough Shoal since 2012 have further contributed to regional tensions. This added with increasing activities of Chinese warships (navy surface ship) and Coast Guard vessels (equipped with a gun-like armament) around the Senkaku Islands that attempted to approach Japanese fishing vessels in Japan's territorial waters has been increasing almost three time from 2012 until 2023 which highlight the sensitive nature of the territorial dispute between Japan and China.

Additionally, China's intensified activities around Taiwan, including the landing of 5 Chinese ballistic missiles in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone and an increase in Chinese aircraft entering Taiwan's airspace, have raised alarm over potential regional instability and security threats as its affecting local Japanese citizens in that region. Because of this threat, Japan has increased expenditure in stand-off defense forces, integrated air and missile defense, unmanned defense capabilities, and technologies R&D to contain the threats and monitoring these developments closely, as they have implications for its own security and regional stability.

Overall, the increasing China’s activities in the region has encouraged Japan to respond strategically to safeguard its national interests and security. Japan's launching Defense White Paper as new framework for defense policies and cooperation with like-minded countries are likely to be influenced by the evolving dynamics of China's assertiveness, aiming to strike a balance between managing regional tensions and promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Japan, along with other concerned countries, must carefully balance diplomatic engagement with assertive deterrence measures to safeguard their interests and maintain stability in the region. As tensions continue to evolve, it is important to approach this matter cautiously while seeking engagement or dialogues to mitigate potential conflicts and promote peaceful resolutions.

Last but not least, the Uyghur issue also can become part of Japanese security concerns due to its potential implications for regional stability and Japan's broader security interests. As China intensifies its assertive actions in the region, including its increasing military activities and territorial claims, the treatment of Uyghurs in East Turkistan adds an additional layer of complexity to Japan-China relations. Japan has consistently demonstrated its commitment to human rights and humanitarian issues with the initiative under this White Paper as part of the “Collaboration with Like-Minded Countries and Others” objectives which highlighted for more active engagement in ‘International Peace Cooperation Activities’ and ‘Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation’.

By engaging with Uyghur issues, Japan can show support for the Uyghur cause and advocate for the protection of Uyghur rights, especially given the ongoing concerns about the treatment of Uyghurs in China (East Turkistan). At the same time, Japan can enhance its reputation as a country that values human rights and promotes social justice as it showcases Japan willingness to address human rights issues globally, which can positively impact Japan's standing in the international community. Supporting Uyghur’s cause aligned with Japan's efforts to forge partnerships with like-minded countries and organizations. Collaborating with Uyghur diaspora community can deepen ties with other nations that share similar concerns about human rights abuses and regional security challenges. Finally, it can be a form of soft power diplomacy for Japan because allows Japan to use its influence and resources to support a just cause, further enhancing its global image and influence.

Prepared by,

Farhan Suzaki
1 August 2023