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     Jan 13, 2005
China 'threat' strengthens US-Japan military ties
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - This is just the beginning of a war of nerves of military strategy among the world's three most powerful countries, based on real hardball politics, military hardware and spyware. The theater is the East China Sea, surrounding Taiwan and Okinawa. The actors are Japan, its ally the United States, and an increasingly powerful China that already is an economic powerhouse and is expanding and upgrading its military on the sea, on land and in the air.

This perceived Chinese "threat" - vehemently denied by Beijing - is a factor in the gradual transformation of Japan from a pacifist nation, with pacificism enshrined in the US-imposed constitution, to one that assumes a more powerful role on the world stage - and will not countenance a perceived threat from its formidable neighbor to the west. To handle this seeming "threat", Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is rushing to change Japan's traditional pacifist military posture - urged on by Washington to play a larger role and expand its military operations in the so-called "arc of instability" stretching from Northeast Asia to the Middle East.

Faced with China's strengthening military power, the United States and Japan are reinforcing bilateral security relations by changing Tokyo's pacifistic military posture for their common interest - to prevent an ever-stronger China from emerging as the global and regional superpower, especially militarily, in the coming decades. For the US, China is the only country that has high potential to threaten US global dominance in the 21st century. For Japan, China could jeopardize political and economic stability in Asia, threatening Tokyo's credibility as the leading economic power in the region. To cope with this "China threat", Tokyo is adopting a more muscular military posture, one that causes alarm to its neighbors in Beijing, Seoul, Manila and elsewhere.

A recent defense policy guideline by the Japan Defense Agency also for the first time names North Korea as a potential threat and cites the tensions in the Taiwan Strait that could draw in the United States, and quite possibly Japan.

China, of course, maintains that it is not a menace or a threat to anyone and that its much-touted "peaceful rise" is for the political, economic and security good and unity of Asia. Not everyone thinks so, especially not Japanese hawks and some hard-headed Japanese military planners and politicians who want Japan to assume its rightful role on the world stage.

Last month Japan adopted a new defense-policy guideline that for the first time names China as a possible threat. "China, which has significant influence on the region's security, has been modernizing its nuclear and missile capabilities as well as naval and air forces, and expanding its area of operation at sea," the new outline stipulated. "We have to remain attentive to its future course." (See US FY04 Report to Congress on PRC Military Power - note p 20 "Use of Force", p 46 "Taiwan Strait" - and Japanese Defense Agency website.)

It also said, "And we will also maintain destroyers and other assets to respond adequately to armed special-operations vessels in the peripheral sea and foreign submarines which navigate submerged in the territorial sea of Japan." This was a clear reference to the incident in November in which a Chinese nuclear submarine intruded into Japanese waters.

Aside from China, North Korea was also named as a security concern for the first time. The previous defense outline in 1995 had avoided referring by name to specific countries of concern.

The outline also specifically pointed out two new threats - ballistic missiles, presumably from North Korea or even China, and terrorism. It said Japan needs closer cooperation with the United States and should be ''proactive in bilateral strategic dialogue on security issues" with Washington.

The Koizumi cabinet earlier decided to relax Japan's arms exports ban to enable it to work together with the US to develop a missile defense system. Not all exports will be permitted, however, only high technology for joint Japan-US development of missile defenses. To achieve this objective, Japan plans to purchase from the US four Aegis destroyers for the installation of the Standard Missile 3 (SM3) system as well as a surface-to-air Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC3) system. These two-tiered systems are needed to shoot down any incoming ballistic missiles.

The new outline sets out Japan's defense policies for the next 10 years, effective from this April, and will be reviewed in five years or when a major change in security situations occurs.

In the latest development, early this month the Australian news agency Asia Pulse reported that Japan had been asked by the US government to boost the monitoring of the Chinese navy in the Pacific Ocean. The request was made at an unofficial vice-ministerial-level meeting in late December. The report said, and numerous reports confirm, that the US claimed China's navy was expanding its military presence in the region.

China's buildup of military power vis-a-vis Taiwan
It's very difficult for any country or organization to put together a true figure of China's recent strengthening of military power, as the Chinese Communist Party keeps real military operations and the actual buildup of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) strictly confidential - apart from what is released for public consumption to boost national pride and morale and to intimidate Taiwan. Still, the Pentagon's latest annual report on China's military power to the US Congress sheds some light on the subject.

According to this report, the US Department of Defense estimated "total defense-related expenditures for 2003, counting the large but difficult-to-calculate off-the budget financing, could be between $50 billion and $70 billion, making China the third-largest defense spender in the world, after the United States and Russia, and by far the largest defense spender in Asia, followed by Japan".

In recent years, China is believed to have deployed about 500 DF-11 and DF-15 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) in the Nanjing Military Region directly opposite Taiwan. The missiles' range is about 600 kilometers. The report said, "Some can attack US bases on Okinawa. Longer-range conventional medium-range ballistic missiles are expected ultimately to join the inventory."

Besides this, China has purchased Russian-built Su-27 and Su-30 fighter aircraft in bulk, as well as Kilo-class submarines and Sovremenny destroyers, AA-12 air-to-air missiles, SA-10, SA-15 and SA-20 surface-to-air missiles and other weapons.

Some experts, however, are more skeptical. "There [is] lots of political spin in that report and the language matters," said Douglas Ramsey, consultancy managing with Jane's Information Group, affiliated with Jane's Defence Weekly. He is a commentator on security and defense issues, including those in Asia. He pointed out, for example, that the number of deployed DF-11 and DF-15 SRBMs remained unchanged in the past couple of years, but the report seems to emphasize that the number has increased significantly.

From Washington's and Tokyo's perspectives, these military acquisitions by China apparently are targeted at Taiwan and enhance China's ability to attack Taiwan by preventing any military intervention by the US troops in Japan, Guam, Hawaii and elsewhere by sea and air. China’s shopping trip especially targets the operations of US aircraft carriers. Beijing calls Taiwan a renegade province; many in Taiwan, however, consider themselves distinct from China and a separate, sovereign nation or entity. China has not ruled out the use of force to reunify Taiwan and the mainland, especially if Taiwan declares independence.

Meanwhile, China issued late last month the White Paper, which outlined the country's new national defense policy. The document, the fifth on national defense since 1995, described Taiwan relations as "grim" and made clear that any attempt at independence would be dealt with harshly. "Should the Taiwan authorities go so far as to make a reckless attempt that constitutes a major incident of Taiwan independence, the Chinese people and armed forces will resolutely and thoroughly crush it at any cost," China's 85-page White Paper said. "The Taiwan authorities under [President] Chen Shui-bian have recklessly challenged the status quo ... and markedly escalated the Taiwan independence activities designed to split China."

It also accused the US of worsening the situation and supporting separatist elements by selling arms to the island. The United States "continues to increase, quantitatively and qualitatively, its arms sales to Taiwan, sending a wrong signal to the Taiwan authorities", it said. "The US action does not serve a stable situation across the Taiwan Strait." The US says the arms are strictly defensive, mandated by the US Taiwan Relations Act.

The Chinese White Paper described Japan's proposed constitutional changes as a threat, since they would allow the Japanese military to use force in international missions.

The rapid rise of a self-sufficient strategy
Japan has been unable to respond adequately to military issues and to retool the nation's military machine for the new security environment for many years. There are many reasons. One is that Tokyo has not been required to take security matters into its own hands, as it has enjoyed security under the US nuclear umbrella. Second, ordinary Japanese have been so allergic to any military issues since the end of the devastating World War II that the government has mainly focused national interest and resources on economic growth. The situation changed, however, in the early 1990s when Japan was severely criticized by Americans about its cash diplomacy - opening its wallet and not sending troops - during the first Gulf War. Coupled with this trauma of Japan-bashing from Washington, North Korea's provocative actions since that time also forced ordinary Japanese to think about security issues for the first time since the end of World War II. Those actions include the firings of Nodong and Daepodong missiles years ago, spy-ship incidents, and the persistent nuclear crisis.

A Japan-US joint security statement is expected to be released as early as next month.

The two countries are facilitating the realignment of US forces in Japan and will likely call for greater cooperation between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and US troops stationed in Japan to address threats jointly in the Asia-Pacific region. It will surely provide the underpinnings for transferring the US 1st Army Corps in the state of Washington, whose operation areas may extend beyond the Far East, to Camp Zama in Kanagawa prefecture, as well as consolidating the 5th Air Force in Yokota, Tokyo, and the 13th Air Force headquarters in Guam.

Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin once said, "By the middle of the 21st century, when the People's Republic celebrates its centenary [in 2049], the modernization program will have been accomplished by and large, and China will have become a prosperous, strong, democratic and culturally advanced socialist country."

Almost no experts, except for neo-conservatives, believe China will start actual combat against Taiwan, drawing in the United States, in the near term. But concerns over China's emergence as a strong military power are bringing cataclysmic changes as well as crucial movements in Asia's political and economic situation, especially in Japan. Concerns over China's mounting military power could be responsible for a new security architecture involving Japan and its Asian neighbors in the 21st century.

Kosuke Takahashi is a former staff writer at the Asahi Shimbun and currently is a freelance correspondent based in Tokyo. He can be contacted at kosuke_everonward@ybb.ne.jp.

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