Why Is Japan Boosting Its Military Capabilities?

The second Sino-Japanese war lasted from 1937 until 1945 and was a protracted conflict between China and Japan. When Japan was finally defeated in 1945, China was on the winning side but lay in ruins. There had been approximately 15 million casualties, significant industrial infrastructure and agricultural production losses, and the Nationalist government’s hesitant modernization efforts had all but been destroyed.

However, times had changed: the governments of Japan and the People’s Republic of China established a neutralizing partnership on Sept. 29, 1972. The partnership between these nations was established on the basis of equality, mutual cooperation, non-aggression, respect for sovereignty and territory, non-interference in internal matters, and peaceful coexistence in order to maintain peace and stability in Asia and the international community.

That attempt was the beginning of their friendship relationship; nevertheless, experts argue that this relationship has always been in a paradox. The normalization would commemorate its 50th anniversary in September 2022. But in the past 50 years, Japan’s optimism toward China has significantly decreased. More than 90% of the Japanese populace had a negative opinion of China, a level not seen since 2005, according to survey data provided by Genron NPO and China Net in the fall of 2021.

Japan has increased its defence budget by more than a quarter in 2023, to ¥6.82 trillion ($51.4 billion), a 20% rise, as it launches a five-year effort to stiffen its security posture in response to growing threats from China, North Korea, and Russia. Indeed, this year’s military expenditure has been the highest since the Second World War. This is a component of a disputed new national security strategy (NSS) that seeks to raise Japanese defense spending to 2% of GDP by 2027.

In fact, the plan seeks to give Japan a “counterstrike capability or the ability to hit enemy bases” so that it can foresee adversary strikes and defend itself against mounting threats from North Korea, Russia, and China, which they believe may try to invade Taiwan. Japan adopted a defensive strategy following the Second World War, but as its defense spending has increased, the approach has changed from defensive to offensive. Tokyo will play a crucial role in the anti-China coalition in Asia by strengthening its defences and collaborating with the Western countries of the G-7 and NATO.

Since China has grown stronger and more confrontational with its neighbors over the past decade or so, Japan has amplified the size and might of its de facto military, the Japan Self-Defense Forces. The threat from China is of particular concern to Japan. More frequent Chinese military drills have taken place near territories claimed by Japan, often in collaboration with Russia.

According to NSS, Japan’s “biggest strategic challenge” is China. Likewise, North Korea poses a “more severe and immediate danger to Japan’s national security than ever before.” Similarly, due to its close ties with China and invasion of Ukraine, Russia is classified in the NSS as a “high security concern.” According to analysts, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has significantly influenced Tokyo’s decision to adopt a more assertive foreign policy.

Under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Japan has been at the forefront of an international campaign to penalize Moscow for its war. According to recent polls, the general public supports both that strategy and Japan’s defense development. Mainly, to defend the rising power of China and threats from North Korea and Russia, Japan is making stronger ties with the US and its allies. According to Tetsuo Kotani, senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, “Japan is much more eager to ally with the United States and other similar democracies to fight with those autocracies and antagonistic nuclear states.”

Japan is changing its approach in an effort to emerge as a new military superpower. Japan is about to reemerge as a global superpower, claimed Kenneth Waltz in his piece from 1993. The structure and conduct of the Japanese military provide evidence of this. It is expected that Japan would become not only a regional but also a global military power in the long run.

To date, a large number of analysts have been hesitant to acknowledge Japan as a global military power comparable to the UK or France. Japan will nevertheless carry out its global military aspirations without the United States. The previous strategic position has changed to achieve this goal. Thomas Wilkins, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Department of Government and International Relations, said, Japan is obviously not yet a military superpower comparable to those of the United States, United Kingdom, or France. It is ineligible for this position because it lacks offensive force projection tools such as aircraft carriers, long-range bombers, and nuclear weapons. Japan’s worldwide military footprint is still small despite its increasing horizons, making it only a partial great power.

Global times, a Chinese media, says, “Since World War II, the Asia-Pacific region and the global community have faced unfathomable hazards due to Japan’s geopolitical proclivities and Washington’s self-serving approach to China. While still claiming to support the “rules-based international order,” the US and Japan are really undermining it.”

The tension is, therefore, growing in the Asia-Pacific region owing to Japan’s increasing defense budget. China, North Korea, and Russia all denounced Japan’s statement, as was predicted. Since every country is currently undergoing its own military modernization, such comments risk coming off as hypocritical. Experts say, these are all countries that have substantial stocks of long-range missiles.  Considering this, they don’t think it’s fair to criticize Japan for taking a more methodical and moderate approach to altering its security posture.

[Photo by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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