Friday, December 24, 2010

Japan's Strategic Position

Dec 25, 2010

Don't shunt history into a corner

I REFER to the commentary by academic Heng Yee Kuang ('Best not to push Japan into a corner'; Tuesday).

Japan is not a landlocked country. It has access in all directions - by air or sea.

[Thus implying that Japan cannot be cornered and has strategic maneuverability. Which is stupid. Move where? So someone attacks from the east, and Japan moves it's entire force to the west? Someone invades your exclusive economic zone in the south, and you just move your fishing fleet to the north? Dumb.]

After the recent incident involving a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese patrol boat near the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, the 'sleeping giant' suddenly woke up and started announcing new changes in defence policy.

Its focus seems to be to ensure that this claimed territory in the East China Sea remains under Japanese control.

So, where did the writer find evidence of China trying to corner Japan?

[China making a big incident out of it, demanding the release of the Chinese captain charged with ramming the Japanese defence force vessel, demanding restitution, threatening sanctions, cutting off rare earth minerals exports to Japan, etc. And by the way, the article was not just about China. The article pointed out that Japan is being pressured by China and Russia, with N.Korea as a bit player. That the writer focus only on China shows a flawed and biased reading of the article. ]

The article quoted a Japanese academic's concern that 'Japan might be compelled to contemplate the possibility of re-fighting China once again'. Re-fight China? Who invaded whom in the past? Let us not forget history.

[And here the penny dropped. Yes, since Japan invaded China and committed atrocities such as the Nanking massacre, this now entitles China to get what's fair, eh?]

Chen Sen Lenn

Dec 21, 2010

Best not to push Japan into a corner

By Heng Yee Kuang

JAPAN'S announcement of sweeping changes to its defence postures last week reflects mounting strategic unease at being trapped in the increasingly rough neighbourhood of North East Asia. This sense of multiple threats bearing down on the nation from various directions was conveyed by Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, who said: 'Our country is encircled by severe security situations...'

To begin with, there were the 'pincer movements' by China and Russia ganging up to press home their advantage. A joint statement released by Presidents Hu Jintao and Dmitri Medvedev in September soon after the Senkaku/Diaoyu trawler incident had both sides agreeing to support each other's 'core interests', including national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity (code words for territorial disputes in Japanese eyes). Coincidentally or not, President Medvedev then became the first Russian leader to visit the disputed Kurile islands shortly afterwards. While unrelated, North Korea's shelling of the South's Yeonpyeong island further stoked the feeling of a Japan under siege.

Putting the squeeze on Tokyo not only has the potential to awaken the sleeping giant, but can also backfire on Moscow and Beijing. In my discussions with leading academics, military officials and students in Tokyo, I found there was apprehension about how the Japanese people will react to such pressure. One young student said to me that he was very concerned about the nationalist backlash from the younger generation frustrated at Japan's weakness.

Although young Japanese are usually depicted as more interested in anime and manga than high politics, one Internet opinion poll earlier this month of 500 teens in junior high school rated the Senkaku clash as the news story of 2010.

More than its gaffes, the Naoto Kan Cabinet suffers heavily from a perception of its diplomatic weakness. Plummeting opinion polls are front-page headlines on leading dailies like the Asahi Shimbun.

A Fuji News Network survey showed the Cabinet's approval rating plunging to 21.8 per cent early this month. Protests denouncing both China and the Kan government have attracted crowds in the low thousands, a relatively large number in Japan. Cabinet Office data released last Sunday indicates the number of Japanese who feel favourable towards China has reached a low of 20 per cent, dropping 18.5 percentage points in just a year.

China was once viewed as more an opportunity than a threat. The previous Hatoyama administration came to power peddling the notion of closer ties with China and distancing Japan from America. However, China's recent assertiveness has pushed Tokyo back into Washington's embrace.

The new National Defence Programme Guidelines document employs the strongest language ever used to describe China's military modernisation and maritime activities. 'These movements, coupled with the lack of transparency in its military and security matters,' the document asserts, 'have become a matter of concern for the region and the international community.' The previous guideline in 2004 merely said Tokyo would be 'attentive' to China's future intentions.

As a result, Japan will now re-deploy forces to the remote south-west Nansei Shoto island group where China has territorial claims, abandoning its Cold War focus on a Soviet invasion of northern Hokkaido. More submarines, early warning radar systems and surface-to-ship missiles will be stationed closer to the disputed Senkaku islands to fill what the document calls a 'defence vacuum'. A second squadron of warplanes will also be added at Naha, Okinawa.

Despite its pacifist outlook, Japan's military is in fact larger than Britain's. It deploys the most advanced naval forces in the Pacific after the US Navy's Seventh Fleet. Japan also has one of the highest military budgets in the world. Deployments overseas have for years been testing the limits of the country's post- World War II pacifist Constitution.

Further provocation from Pyongyang, Beijing or Moscow will only provide more ammunition to those Japanese who are seeking to loosen the constitutional constraints on their country's military power. While no one seriously expects Japan to once again rampage across Asia, an expanded role for its technologically advanced Self-Defence Forces and a paradigm shift where Tokyo abandons engagement and confronts China directly is hardly in the interest of Beijing and Moscow.

Already, the latest guidelines hint at Japan's desire to break out of its 'encirclement' by courting allies such as Australia and South Korea. It should not be forgotten that Japan is considered widely to be a so-called 'virtual nuclear weapon state'. It can produce nuclear weapons relatively quickly.

A leading Japanese academic told me privately of his concern that Japan might be compelled to contemplate the possibility of re-fighting China once again. Do China and Japan really need several major wars, like the European powers did, before finally establishing structures for peace and cooperation? Full-blown conflict is certainly not yet on the cards but driving Japan into a corner would be a short-sighted and counter-productive move.

The writer, a Singaporean, is assistant professor of international relations at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. He is now a visiting scholar at Waseda University in Tokyo.

[The basic point of the article as I understand it is that extra-legal (or outright illegal) strategies regarding disputed territories will only raise the temperature of the issues, and may eventually spill over into confrontation. The proper approach is to use established international dispute resolution processes to sort out disagreements. However, that is not route being taken at the moment. Attitudes and postures "backed" by historical grievances as implied by the letter-writer serves little purpose, except to perhaps justify those extra-legal activities and strategies.

Still, there is a right and wrong way to go about protecting one's interest... ST Editorial below summarises.]

Japan right and wrong on defence posture

ANY Japanese government would be mindful that raising the nation's military preparedness, however justified, will cause unease. First is the arms buildup in North Asia extending to the subcontinent and South-east Asia. Japan's latest defence review stressing a rapid-response capability will accelerate the race. A buildup is inevitable anyway to keep trade routes open, but this is slight mitigation when productive spending should have priority in societies moving towards middle-income status. Second, countries that bore the brunt of the Japanese imperial advance during the last war will wonder whether the post-war pacifism, which held when Japan was peerless in Asia, is starting to unravel with China having displaced it. Unlike in Germany, militarist instincts are alive among sections of the Japanese elite. Thus, the incomplete atonement for wartime acts and denials of history.

And yet, and yet. Japan may end up looking not unduly aggressive for the new defence doctrine of meeting contingencies rather than imagining an old-fashioned invasion, from Russia for instance. The surprise of the military reassessment out last Friday was that it had not been updated sooner. In the six years since the last review undertaken by the Liberal Democrats, economic strides made by other Asian nations concurrent with force modernisation had left Japan looking under-invested. Maritime and territorial disputes in the East and South China seas in which Japan is involved have been longstanding. But North Asia is a changed theatre with China and South Korea more at odds as they progress, and North Korea defying norms of rational conduct as it prepares for leadership change. Then there is China's unstoppable growth in all fields of contest. Japan's treaty linkages with the United States oblige Tokyo to relook its defence posture in the light of what is spoken of as China's 'assertiveness', as if this is not a natural progression of gathering strength.

This is all very clinical on paper. In practice, Japan has needlessly got off badly with China by declaring that its realignment of forces to the south near China, and its spending on surveillance and missile systems are on account of its neighbour. In helping the US retain mobility in the Pacific, Japan should be emphasising it is defending the peace. And that this is essential for economic growth and recovery across the world. Then there will be no cause for fresh Beijing-Tokyo tension, which has arisen as China has objected to being targeted. Japan ought to take an all encompassing approach in relations with China, to stress also political and cultural collaboration. And military ties need not be a contradiction.

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