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Japan has the guts to call a spade, a spade

JS Izumo ship’s company fly the Japanese Naval Ensign next to the Australian White Ensign on completion of Replenishment at Sea approach training during a regional presence deployment. Photo: LSIS Jarryd Capper

Japan doesn’t mess around or mix words in their newest Defense of Japan 2023 white paper.

Japan doesn’t mess around or mix words in their newest Defense of Japan 2023 white paper.

It’s crystal clear from the recently released strategy document that the country is pursuing new priorities in long-distance counter-defence, proactive diplomacy, and increased defence spending.

It’s also obvious that those priorities are aimed at concerns it has about China, Russia, North Korea, and the potential threat of invasion. In fact, it mentions China more than 60 times across the briefing.


That’s certainly something to be admired of in Australia where our very own Defence Strategic Review (DSR) names China a measly nine times and skirts around the issue with a well-practiced “Australia will continue to cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must” company line.

From the DSR’s wording, perhaps we are not justifying a military build-up in the Indo-Pacific and it’s simply the case that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese would just really like to have a few conventionally armed, nuclear-propelled submarines sitting in the backyard?

Alternatively, Japan’s white paper directly confronts North Korea’s military activities as a grave and imminent threat to Japan’s national security, Russia’s military activities in the Indo-Pacific as a strong security concern, and China’s external stance and military activities as a matter of serious concern and the greatest strategic challenge.

In particular, the report outlines concerns about continued Chinese attempts to change the status quo of the Senkaku Islands and the modernisation of Russian military equipment in Japan’s northern territories and the Chishima Islands.

“States that do not share universal values nor political and economic systems based on these values are expanding their influence, and unilateral changes to the status quo by force and such attempts, including Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, represent a serious challenge to the existing international order,” the report said.

“The international community is facing the greatest post-war trial yet, and has entered a new era of crisis. In addition, changes to the power balance have brought about interstate competition across the political, economy, military, and other spheres, and the competition between the United States and China is growing particularly intense.”

The white paper is much more focused as it sets out Japan’s three defence objectives to shape a security environment that does not tolerate unilateral change by force, deter and respond to unilateral changes, and take primary responsibility to deal with aggression should deterrence fail and an invasion of Japan occur.

Japan sets out three approaches to realise its defence objectives by strengthening architecture for national defence, strengthening deterrence and response of the Japan-US alliance, and reinforcement of collaboration with like-minded countries.

Japanese Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada said the report outlines the security environment surrounding Japan and the activities and efforts of the Ministry of Defense and Self-Defense Forces.

“It is important above all that initiatives for defence of Japan have the understanding and cooperation of the people and are highly transparent to the international community,” he said.

“In this regard, this white paper has played a critical role. We sincerely hope that Defense of Japan 2023 will be read by as many people as possible and help increase their understanding of the activities and efforts of the MOD/SDF.”

Defence capabilities listed in the document include stand-off defences such as the development of upgraded Type-12 surface-to-ship missiles and acquisition of Tomahawk missiles, with an increased budget of five trillion yen from 2023 to 2027.

Enhancement of space, cyber and electromagnetic cross-domain capabilities is budgeted at eight trillion yen and Integrated air and missile defence with a budget estimate of three trillion yen.

Other initiatives include command and control and intelligence-related functions, rapid manoeuvring and deployment of maritime and air transportation, unmanned defence capabilities for combat support and intelligence gathering, build-up of sufficient ammunition, guided missiles, and fuel at an early stage, counterstrike capabilities with a missile defence network to deter missile attacks and armed attack itself.

In total, defence spending of 17.2 trillion yen from 2019 to 2023 will increase to a necessary expenditure of 43.5 trillion yen over the next five years.

“The international community is presented with greater difficulties to rally together in taking on common challenges. Furthermore, rapid development in science and technology are fundamentally changing the paradigm of security,” the report said.

“Countries are striving to develop cutting-edge technologies that prove to become ‘game changers’ and that are resulted in fundamental changes to the way the military is organised as well as the way warfare is prosecuted, and the security sphere is expanding into the economic sphere, encompassing areas such as the competition for control over advanced technologies.

“In addition, risks in cyber and other domains are becoming more serious. It is highly likely that information warfare, including the dissemination of disinformation, will be conducted on a regular basis, and that hybrid warfare combining military and non-military methods will be employed in an even more sophisticated manner.”

The document outlined a standalone section regarding the People’s Republic of China and concerns regarding around 1,500 nuclear warheads it is expected to possess by 2035.

“China’s current external stance, military activities, and other activities have become a matter of serious concern for Japan and the international community, and present an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge to which Japan should respond with its comprehensive national power and in cooperation and collaboration with its ally, like-minded countries and others,” it said.

PRC Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Senior Colonel Tan Kefei said the defence white paper smears China’s regular military development and activities and intentionally hypes up a so-called “China military threat”.

“Japan’s newly released defence white paper, the Defense of Japan 2023, grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs and provokes regional tensions. China is firmly opposed to this and has lodged stern representations with the Japanese side,” he said.

We urge the Japanese side to draw lessons from history, stop irresponsible words and deeds, and abandon the beggar-thy-neighbour mentality of zero-sum confrontation.

“Japan should establish a correct understanding of China, stay to its commitments on Taiwan question and other major issues, be cautious in words and actions in the military and security fields, and take concrete actions to bring bilateral relations to the right track.”

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