Japan warns Security Threats from China and North Korea

Eurasia News

Japan alarmed on Tuesday on the rising security threats in Northeast Asia, warning in a government report of a potential military confrontation with China over maritime disputes, as well as North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons program.

Japan’s annual defense paper, the first since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December, also raised concerns that budget cuts in the United States and a range of other distractions would hinder Washington’s “pivot to Asia,” a strategic reorienting of American interests from Europe and the Middle East toward East Asia.

Mr. Abe, a conservative, has been keen to revamp Japan’s military strategy to offset China’s growing military power and the continuing instability on the Korean Peninsula.

In January, he ordered his government to replace its five-year military spending plan and to review guidelines adopted in 2010 by the left-leaning Democratic Party, which would have shrunk the military’s ranks. Mr. Abe plans to increase military spending for the first time in a decade.

Mr. Abe has also sought to bolster military cooperation with the United States. But Japan has struggled to hold America’s attention. President Obama skipped a meeting with Mr. Abe on the sidelines of the Group of 8 summit meeting in Northern Ireland last month.

Even as Washington has remained distracted by other matters, the report warned, the security situation in Northeast Asia has turned increasingly volatile.

Officials in Japan are particularly worried by what the report called Chinese intrusions into waters around islands claimed by both countries. Since last year, Japanese and Chinese patrol ships have been engaged in a tense face-off near the Senkaku islands, uninhabited islets that China calls the Diaoyus.

Though no clashes have occurred, some experts have warned that a clash at sea could inadvertently set off a wider military confrontation between the two powers. In January, Tokyo accused a Chinese military vessel of aiming radar used to help direct weapons on a Japanese naval vessel near the islands. That came after Japan scrambled fighter jets in response to a Chinese military surveillance plane that had entered what Japan considers its airspace.

The report cited what it said were China’s “intrusion into Japan’s territorial waters, its violation of Japan’s airspace and even dangerous actions that could cause a contingency situation, which are extremely regrettable.” It continued, “China should accept and stick to the international norms.”

The Japanese government has also been rattled by renewed belligerence from North Korea, which fired off a long-range rocket in December and conducted its third nuclear test in February. Those moves suggest that it is pushing ahead with plans to develop more advanced and longer-range missiles that could ultimately carry nuclear warheads.