Neighboring countries have condemned a sharp increase in defense spending in Japan and significant changes to the nation’s long-standing security policies, with even nominally allied governments raising concerns about a burgeoning arms race in Northeast Asia.
The Japanese government announced on December 16 that it intends to dramatically increase defense spending in the coming years, allocating 43 trillion yen (296 billion euros/323 billion dollars) over the next five years and raising the annual defense spending at 2% of the country’s GDP. by 2027.
Additional investment includes the purchase abroad or domestic development of new advanced combat aircraft, drones, a new class of sophisticated diesel-electric submarines, long-range missiles and additional surface warships.
The investment will also be channeled into better logistics capabilities, a lesson learned from the Ukraine conflict, and better cyber and space warfare capabilities.
Along with increased spending, critics suggest Tokyo is moving away from a commitment enshrined in its constitution, enacted after the nation’s defeat in World War II, which explicitly prohibits the use of force in international disputes.
A key element of Tokyo’s new military development will be the development and deployment of weapons capable of attacking an enemy base if an attack on Japan is determined to be imminent.
Growing security challenges in Northeast Asia
“Unfortunately, in the vicinity of our country, there are countries carrying out activities such as enhancement of nuclear capabilities, rapid military buildup, and unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. announce the spending increase on December 9.
North Korea, which has launched a slew of new long-range advanced ballistic missiles in recent months, is likely to launch a new missile-equipped submarine in the near future and plans to carry out a seventh underground nuclear test.
China continues to fortify disputed islands and atolls in the South China Sea, despite international condemnation. Beijing has insisted that Taiwan be incorporated into mainland China, by force if necessary, and is embroiled in a series of territorial disputes with several of its neighbors, including Japan, India, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines.
North Korea responded quickly to Japan’s defense spending announcement, with a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang declaring that Tokyo was “bringing a serious security crisis to the Korean Peninsula and East Asia.”
Accusing Japan of being “a war criminal state” and of being in “wanton violation of the UN Charter,” the statement claims that Tokyo “seeks to gratify its ruthless intent.” [and] accumulation of weapons for the reinvasion” of Korea. The ministry threatened that North Korea will respond with “real action”, although it did not specify its intentions.
In a statement issued through its embassy in Tokyo, the Chinese government said Japan’s move “causes regional tension and confrontation” and called on Tokyo to stop using what it called the “China threat” to excuse its own expansion. military.
Last Thursday, Russia joined the chorus of criticism, alleging that Japan was abandoning decades of pacifist politics and replacing it with “unbridled militarism.” A statement from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said the decision “will inevitably spark new security challenges and lead to increased tension in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Yakov Zinberg, a professor of international relations at Tokyo’s Kokushikan University, said the criticism from Japan’s regional rivals “is in line with what I expected before the announcement.”
Fears of an arms race in the region
“My fear is that we are close to spiraling into an arms race in the region, and maybe that has already started,” he told DW.
“North Korea’s response was largely rhetorical and they will not actually attack Japan, but this response is symptomatic of our time,” he said. “We have to be more concerned about China and Russia, which this week started joint military exercises in the East China Sea and that can only be seen as a message to Japan.”
Japan is also closely watching the movements of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, which is conducting landing exercises on Japan’s southern islands of Okinawa prefecture, while three Chinese government patrol boats entered Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. . China claims the uninhabited islands as its own territory and refers to them as the Diaoyutai Archipelago.
Zinberg said he was most puzzled by Seoul’s reaction to Japan’s increased defense spending, with President Yoon Suk-yeol’s government saying it is “a serious matter” and warning that Tokyo should consult with Seoul on any security concerns. to involve the Korean Peninsula.
The South Korean media has been even more strident, with the times of korea in an editorial demanding that Tokyo “do not forget the lessons of the Pacific War,” which ended nearly 80 years ago, and declaring that “Japanese right-wing groups have one goal: to regain their country’s former military and political influence.”
Another editorial, in The Korean HeraldHe said Japan’s plans to develop a counter-attack capability “mark a dramatic policy shift.” He hinted that Tokyo could use its newfound military might to “carry out more provocative acts” to recapture the South Korean-controlled islands halfway between the peninsula and Japan, over which Tokyo claims sovereignty.
The islands are occupied by a South Korean police unit and are known as Dok-do; Japan insists that they should be considered part of Japan and known as Takeshima.
Eunjung Lim, associate professor of international studies at South Korea’s Kongju National University, noted that relations between Japan and South Korea are “very complicated” due to the two nations’ shared histories.
Question of trust between Japan and South Korea
“There are two main reasons for South Korea’s response,” he said. “The first is simply the scale of the increase, which will give Japan the third largest military budget in the world. South Korea cannot compete with that, as our GDP is about a third of Japan’s, so the People here think it’s too much.” .”
“But a more fundamental reason is that this goes against Japan’s peace constitution,” he added. “Japan now says it has the right to carry out a counteroffensive against an enemy military base when it detects a threat, but under our constitution the North is still considered part of Korea, so it could be considered an attack against the South Koreans.”
Lim believes that the root of the problem is trust.
“I think that given the growing power of China and even the challenges posed by Russia, Japan had no choice but to review its national security policies,” he said. “But Koreans have traumatic memories of Japan’s colonial rule on the peninsula, and many people feel that Japan simply cannot be trusted to be a reliable partner.”
“Those concerns are now being amplified by conservatives and nationalists in the media and until their concerns are fully addressed, then it might be hard to trust Japan again,” he said.
Edited by: Keith Walker