The “three musketeers of the sky” – the J-20, J-16 and J-10C – fly in formation in a real-combat scenario training session. (Photo Credit: Screenshot from China Central Television)

Yang Yi-zhong

Authors: Yang Yi-zhong& Hu Yong-heng*

On July 16, Japanese government issued “The White Paper” on national defense. As usual, Japanese government accordingly announced that due to “Uncertainty over the existing order is increasing, and inter-state competition is becoming prominent across the political, economic and military realms,” Japan will do all its efforts to promote a “hybrid warfare” which is a military strategy to blend conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyber-warfare. In addition, hybrid warfare is used to describe attacks by nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, improvised explosive devices and information warfare. Obviously, as an already highly-developed country, Japan aims to continue to take a lead in the domains of space, cyberspace, and electromagnetic spectrum. Strategically, Japan also argues that considering emergence of security challenges which cannot be dealt with by a single country alone, Japan will be need to secure stable use of new domains: space and cyberspace; need to ensure security of maritime traffic; response to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs); and response to international terrorism.

Then Japan was not hesitated to argue that China has sustained high-level growth of its defense budget in order to fully transform the people’s armed forces into world-class forces by the mid-21st century. Accordingly, China has consistently and persistently engaged in broad, rapid improvement of its military power in qualitative and quantitative terms with focus on nuclear, missile, naval and air forces. In doing so, Beijing has attached importance to strengthening its operational capabilities in order to steadily acquire information superiority, and also enhanced its capabilities in the domains of space, cyberspace and electromagnetic spectrum. For example, it argues that Beijing’s efforts to bolster these capabilities will definitely reinforce China’s “Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD)” capabilities and lead to the establishment of operational capabilities further afield. According to this analysis, Japan insists that China is striving to develop and acquire cutting-edge technologies that can be used for military purposes, and improve its operationalcapabilities. All these efforts have been guided by the elite’s awareness that “intelligent warfare is on the horizon.” In light of China’s recent efforts aiming to build up capabilities for operations in more distant waters and airspace, including those to project armed forces to waters including the so-called second island chain, beyond the first island chain. China has been continuing activities viewed as training of maritime and air forces making forays into the Pacific and the Sea of Japan, being suspected of intending to regularize these activities. In the South China Sea, China is moving forward with militarization, as well as expanding and intensifying its activities in the maritimeand aerial domains, thereby continuing unilateral attempts tochange the status quo by coercion to create a fait accompli.

Needless to say, considering both geopolitical concept and strategic concerns, Japan has kept a line with the United States since 1951 when the two countries signed the treaty of security and alliance. This is why we should have no doubt that Japan will be encouraged to be a strong or one of the key military powers in East Asia and the world as well.Although some people argue for the reasons why Germany which was also a “defeated” power at the end of the WWII has been so cautious to move towards a military power, but Japanhas been able to advance its defense capabilities beyond the defense of itself at all. By making a long history into a short story, we can say that Japan was the first non-European great power in the contemporary age in terms of military and industrial modernization based on the Western norms. Yet, the first half-part of the 20th century saw Japan’s ambition to challenge the West, including its final war against the U.S. and Britain in order to dominate the entire East Asia and beyond. Yet, after the tremendous cost and sufferings during the WWII, Japan’s postwar posture was frequently seen as a new pacifism; in fact it was considerably more complex. As Henry Kissinger argued, the postwar policy pursued by Tokyo has reflected an obvious fact that the governing elite in Japan has accepted the constitution drafted by American occupation authorities—with its stringent prohibitions on military action, acquiesced in American predominance and assessment of the strategic landscape and then to decide or co-decide the imperatives of Japan’s security needs and long-term national goal. As a result, Japan has closely followed the lead of the United States. In terms of national security, Japan has invited American forces to deploy in its territory in substantial numbers, and thus defense commitment were solidified into a mutual security treaty, deterring potentially hostile powers including Russia, North Korea and China particularly.

Since the rise of China has been seen as the dramatic changes in the balance of power in East Asia, the strong national leadership under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has given Tokyo new latitude to act on its assessment. As early as 2013, Japanese government white paper concluded that “as Japan’s security environment becomes even more severe … it has become indispensable for Japan to make more proactive efforts in line with the principle of international cooperation, such as strengthening Japan’s capacity to deter and, if needed, defeat threats. Surveying a changing Asian landscape, Tokyo increasingly articulates a desire to become a “normal country” with a military not constitutionally barred from a war and an active alliance policy. Consider this, Japan is supported and even connived by the United States to rearm itself to meet the so-called challenge in terms of the rise of China. This has been the guideline of Japanese foreign/security policy: continued emphasis on the American alliance; adaptation to China’s assertive policy and reliance on an increasingly national foreign policy. As former U.S. deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter observed, there would be two new strong military powers rather than only one in East Asiathat is China and Japan are equally powerful in the next decades.

Accordingly, a new arm race between China and Japan will be inevitable. In world politics, arms race is termed as intense competition between states in the acquisition of more or superior weaponry in an anarchic world system. At first, arms race appear to take that psychological reaction into account. Then the states proceed by assuming that their own armaments would gain them respect rather than arouse suspicions about their assertive policy and moves. In light of history, a new arms race between the two tigers in East Asiais normal even though it is by no means leading to a total war. Yet geopolitically a Cold Peace between China and Japan is sure to surge on the horizon regionally and then globally. As the United States has badly accused China’s claims as “completely unlawful, including it’s seeking to create a “maritime empire” and a “bullying campaign” in Southeast Asia, Japan is sure to stand by its ally. As the White Paper of 2020 defined three key pillars of national security as follows: Japan’s own architecture for national defense forces; the Japan-U.S. Alliance; and international security cooperation.

It is self-evident that Japan will take all efforts to strengthen capabilities necessary for cross-domain operations, to advance capabilities in the new domains of space, cyberspace and electromagnetic spectrum, and meanwhile to promote capabilities in the traditional domains, such as capabilities in maritime and air domains, stand-off defense capability, comprehensiveair and missile defense capability, and maneuver and deployment capability. Be aware of the vital role of high-technologies in the military operations, Japan openly argues for strengthening core elements of defense capability by reinforcing the human resource base, technology base, and defense industrial base. All these efforts have been fully or partially supported by the United States since it has rapidly and openly recognized strategic competition with revisionist powers, namely China and Russia, as the central challenge to U.S. security.Especially, the United States and Japan rank China at the top of its list of priorities and places the greatest emphasis on the security of the Indo-Pacificregion to strengthen deterrence against China. This is exactly welcome by Japan.

In sum, China is a rising power in a strong position, but meanwhile it is also a developing country. Due to this, China has no will or even capacity to replace the United States and its allies’ core interests. Meanwhile, considering that China has not accomplished its national rejuvenation as a great power, Beijing is sure to increase its military capabilities by all means. In this sense, China is a more status quo power than a revisionist power simply because Japan is more ambitious to be regarded as a “normal” power. As a result, China and Japan have to compete with each other in much broader terms. The question arises that if the ruling elite in Beijing and Tokyo can learn the vital lessons from the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After all, it is the key for China and Japan to be aware of the nature of the Cold War: the confrontation without hot war. Given this, it is hopeful that a new arms race between Beijing and Tokyo should be turned into a cold peace.

*Hu Yonghengis a correspondent majored in Diplomacy at SIPA, Jilin University