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Japan mulls China threat

Julian RyallMarch 29, 2013

Tensions in Northeast Asia have rarely been higher. A report by Japan's National Institute for Defense Studies has identified Beijing as the biggest threat to its national interests.

Chinese honour guards applaud their comrades as they rehearse for the National Day parade in Beijing (Photo:AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Getty Images

The vast technological advances in the areas of defense and security have led to a worrying proliferation in Northeast Asia of advanced missile systems, better-equipped surface, air and naval assets and states armed with nuclear weapons.

Since 1996, it has been the task of The National Institute for Defense Studies, a think-tank affiliated with Japan's Ministry of Defense, to monitor threats posed by neighbors.

The institute's latest report, released on March 29, made sobering reading when it was unveiled.

The study, for the first time examined the security and foreign policies of India and Australia as they increasingly become enmeshed in the military affairs of the region, but inevitably it was China and North Korea that attract the greatest attention and concern.

Islands heighten tension

The report admits that tensions that exist today between Tokyo and Beijing were triggered in April last year by the announcement by the then-governor of Tokyo that he intended to purchase the Senkakus, known in Chinese as the Diaoyus. But the NIDS analysts believe a diplomatic assault on the sovereignty of the islands was already being plotted by China.

"There had been signs of the rising tension even before Ishihara's announcement," it said.

"The actions that China subsequently took clearly reveal that it was already meticulously planning measures for advancing its claim over the Senkakus from a very early stage," the study said.

Dr. Eiichi Katahara, director of the Regional Studies Department of the NIDS and editor-in-chief of the report, said that Japan's responses had been measured and appropriate.

"The Japanese government's stance is that long-term, strategically mutual relations will benefit both sides," he said.

Containing North Korea

Issues such as containing the threat posed by North Korea fall into this category, he suggested, and should be dealt with "appropriately," in a calm and determined way.

The Senkaku islands (Photo: Kyodo/MAXPPZ)
The study suggested that China was preparing a diplomatic assault over the Senkakus before the recent spatImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Dr. Katahara added that he believed dialogue between the leaders of the two nations could lead to a resolution of many problems that bedevil the relationship, pointing out that the efforts Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made to improve ties the last time he was leader of Japan.

A Sukhoi Su-35 supermaneuverability multirole fighter performs a test flight as the 2011 International Aviation and Space Salon (MAKS 2011) in Zhukovsky town near Moscow is about to kick off. (Photo ITAR-TASS/ Marina Lystseva)
China has been trying to acquire Sukhoi-35 fighters from Russia, which is wary of Beijing's intentImage: picture-alliance/dpa

At the same time, Abe has already stated that he will revise the National Defense Program Guidelines drawn up by the previous Democratic Party of Japan administration.

The report states that "the strengthening of Japan's defense posture in the southwestern islands will continue to be one of the most important issues."

In addition to improved intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, a strengthening of mobile deployment capabilities was recommended.

Beyond that, it was judged that Japan's military required improved amphibious capabilities and enhanced air defenses.

Russian weapons systems

The report touched on suggestions that China is attempting to build closer relations with Russia and access advanced technology, such as the recently reported deal to purchase Sukhoi-35 fighters. However, an NIDS analyst suggested that there is a long way to go before Moscow, wary of China's ambitions, agrees to the transaction.

North Korea similarly took up a large part of the annual study. Hiroyasu Akutsu, a North Korea analyst at the institute, expressed concern that, while Beijing appeared to be taking a "strict stance" with Pyongyang over its recent missile and nuclear tests, there is no guarantee that will last.

"China has acted strictly in the past, such as in 2009 when North Korea carried out a missile launch and its second nuclear test," he pointed out. "China at that time signed resolution 1874 in the United Nations Security Council, but five months later it was back supporting North Korea again.

"For China, the top priority is the stability of the region and they do not want to take any actions that will lead to the collapse of North Korea, so they are being very careful," he suggested.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) watches soldiers of the Korean People's Army (KPA) taking part in landing and anti-landing drills (Photo: REUTERS/KCNA)
Chinese policy on North Korea was judged to be difficult to predictImage: Reuters