Japan’s annual defense report focuses on Russia, China and Taiwan

The annual report from Japan’s Ministry of Defense helps people understand the country’s security priorities and how Japan views global affairs. NHK World policy expert Masuda Tsuyoshi puts the published analysis on Russia, China and Taiwan in the light of recent events.

The report, also known as the white paper, was published in July. It summarizes the activities and capabilities of the Department of Defense and the Self-Defense Forces, and takes into account international issues and conflicts.

Topping the list is a new section for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which the paper describes as a “grave violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations.”

“A violent unilateral change in the status quo has shaken the international order to its foundations not only in Europe but also in Asia,” it said.

The report’s authors note that Russia is believed to have suffered major military damage. They suspect that the country’s loss of power would likely lead to a change in military relations with neighboring regions.

Russian tanks, marked with the Z symbol, are advancing towards the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in March 2022.

China and Russia are growing closer together

Russia could step up cooperation with China to counter the United States, the report said. Closer ties between Moscow and Beijing – forged by shared security interests – are a concern for Japan.

Recent military maneuvers around Japan underscore this concern. These include reports of joint Russian and Chinese naval and air activity, with warships penetrating near Japanese waters and bombers flying along the Japanese archipelago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their bilateral meeting November 13, 2019 in Brasilia, Brazil.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greets Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) during their bilateral meeting November 13, 2019 in Brasilia, Brazil. Japan’s defense report says leaders could further step up cooperation.

Growing concerns about Taiwan

The report makes many references to Taiwan, noting the rising tensions between the Chinese leadership and the Taiwan administration, as well as US support for the territory.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has indicated that he does not rule out attempts to unify Taiwan by force. Beijing’s military advantage is widening, according to the defense paper.

Taiwan’s geographical importance is also emphasized: “Taiwan is very close to the southwestern islands of our country and is only about 110 kilometers from Yonaguni Island, our westernmost island.

“It lies at the crossroads of the South China Sea, the Bashi Strait and the East China Sea, facing Japan’s major sea lanes. For these reasons, the stability of the situation around Taiwan is important not only for Japan’s security, but also for the stability of the international community.”

A map showing Yonaguni and other Okinawa Islands, located about 100 kilometers east of Taiwan.

The report underscores that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is a real possibility and even outlines how it might play out.

First, China’s military would gather under the guise of a coastal drill and spread fake information to incite panic among the Taiwanese people.

The second stage includes missile and cyber attacks on key Taiwanese facilities. And in the third and last step, Chinese troops would land.

It is the first time that the Japanese government has included such a scenario in the annual document.

China has criticized the content of the report.

“Japan’s new defense white paper accuses and slanders China’s defense policy, market development and legitimate maritime activities,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a news conference.

He said the report exaggerates the so-called China threat and serves to interfere in China’s internal affairs regarding Taiwan.

Taiwanese soldiers with machine guns and grenade launchers run during a coastal defense exercise simulating defense against Chinese military incursion in Tainan, Taiwan, Nov. 11, 2021.
Taiwanese soldiers with machine guns and grenade launchers run during a coastal defense exercise simulating defense against Chinese military incursion in Tainan, Taiwan, March 11, 2021. Tensions are rising between Taipei and Beijing.

Japan’s Defense Structure

The Japanese government is planning major updates to its defense sector.

It will revise three key security-related documents, including the first revision of the National Security Strategy, written in 2013.

The government also wants to discuss ways to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities, emphasizing the need for so-called “counterattack capabilities” to repel an enemy in the event of a missile attack on Japan.

The white paper proposes an increase in the defense budget and provides an international comparison of national defense spending across major economies.

A chart for FY2021 defense spending, percentage by GDP

United States defense spending accounts for 3.12 percent of its gross domestic product. In South Korea, the number is 2.57 percent. In Japan it is less than 1 percent.

The main ruling Liberal Democratic Party is calling for an increase in the defense budget with a target of more than 2 percent of GDP, with discussions likely to be in full swing very soon.

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