27 May 2014, 22:43

Japan growing military potential to counterbalance China in Asian region

Japan growing military potential to counterbalance China in Asian region

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a new foreign policy agenda, focused on accelerating maritime aid to Vietnam amid its growing confrontation with China and a forthcoming visit by Russian President, Vladimir Putin to Tokyo. Mr. Abe's broader strategy aims to rearrange the region's power balance and reinforce Japan's status quo.

"We will never tolerate a change to the status quo by force or coercion," said Shinzo Abe, quoted by the Wall Street Journal, in regard to Beijing's "unilateral drilling activities" for oil in waters claimed also by Hanoi. It should be noted that, during the past year, Japan has willingly been offering to help Southeast Asian leaders involved in territorial standoffs with China. For example, in December 2013 Japan provided 10 patrol vessels to the Philippine Coast Guard, and announced that it would provide Vietnam with similar aid. These moves, by the Japanese leaders, are politically motivated. Japan is itself drawn into a longstanding dispute over Senkaku (Diaoyutai), a small group of islands in the East China Sea as well as the surrounding airspace. The US supports Japan's territorial ambitions: in April 2014, Barack Obama proclaimed these islands a "sovereign territory" of Japan and promised to protect them from "China's occupation".

Meanwhile Shinzo Abe signals a desire to keep diplomatic ties with Russia alive, although Japan has joined the sanctions war, launched by the West, against Russia. The Japanese Prime Minister made clear that he also hoped "to maintain the dialogue he has intensified through five summit meetings with Mr. Putin, more than Mr. Abe has had with any other head of state," according to the Wall Street Journal.

"Regarding the visit to Japan by President Putin, I agreed with the president that we should carry it out in the autumn of this year," Mr. Abe said. The two leaders have agreed to continue their dialog over a peace treaty, still unsigned due to unresolved territorial disputes. Referring to an 1855 bilateral agreement, Japanese leaders lay claim to the two southern Kuril Islands, Iturup and Kunashir, as well as Shikotan and the Habomai islets. The Kuril Islands officially became a part of the Russian Federation after WWII. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, pointed out that Tokyo's sanctions against Russia surprised him and left him unsure about whether Japanese authorities were ready for talks.

The main leitmotif behind the Abe administration’s foreign policy agenda is that the region around Japan is becoming less safe, forcing Tokyo to increase its military power. In mid-May the Japanese Prime Minister announced plans to reinterpret Japan’s postwar pacifist constitution in a way that would allow the expansion of the nation’s military capability. According to Mr. Abe, his primary goal is to make Japan "a more equal partner with the US in policing Asia," a move the US leadership is praising in the face of the danger from China's growing military machine and additional Pentagon spending cuts.

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