White paper cranks up Japan-China tensions

By Michele Penna Jul 12, 2013 Already tense relations between Japan and China took a turn for the worse this month. On July 9, Japan published its 2013 defence white paper, painting a grim picture of its relationship with Beijing. Concerning Chinese military forces, the paper notes that China has been rapidly expanding and intensifying its maritime activities. More relevantly, the document points out that “in the waters and airspace around Japan, it [China] has engaged in dangerous acts that could give rise to a contingency situation, such as Chinese naval vessel’s direction of its fire-control radar at a JMSDF destroyer in January this year. In addition, Chinese aircraft and surveillance ships affiliated to China’s maritime law enforcement agencies have intruded into Japanese territorial waters and airspace.” The analysis also addresses the problem of transparency in China’s military budget – a topic which has already stirred debate in the past – highlighting that Beijing’s figures may not include all the equipment procurement costs and research and development expenses.

The Chinese surveillance ship Haijian No. 51, front, sails ahead of a Japan Coast Guard vessel in waters near disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea during a spike in tensions last year. Pic: AP. That tensions are rising in East Asia is not news, and that Japanese authorities would somehow stress their country’s sovereignty over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands does not really come as a surprise either. But the language used in the paper strikes a chord, and a gloomy one, especially as it states: “China has attempted to change the status quo by force based on its own assertion which is incompatible with the existing order

of international law. The attempts have been criticized as assertive and include risky behaviours that could cause contingencies.” The tone is all the more striking when compared with last year’s version of the document. The Wall Street Journal observed that in 2012 the China section of the summary digest was just one page, while the new version features “two full pages to China, with a 10-point essay detailing Beijing’s ‘assertive’ attitude, branding its actions ‘extremely deplorable,’” and that the part on defending territorial waters and airspace has more than doubled from three to seven pages. The difference may reflect a new approach by Shinzo Abe’s administration, which is widely assumed to be rather hawkish. The Prime Minister has announced he wants to modify his country’s peaceful Constitution, which has been in place since the aftermath of the Second World War, and in 2013 Japan’s military expenses will rise for the first time in 11 years. In any case, the white paper fans the flames of the longstanding dispute and opens another crack in the relationship with China.

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has introduced a more hawkish foreign policy. Pic: AP. Beijing has not pulled its punches. Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Wednesday that “the new edition of Japan’s defence white paper deliberately ignores basic facts and maliciously plays up the ‘China threat,” with the goal of creating “an excuse for its military buildup and break away from post-World War II international order.” Ms Hua invited Japan to reflect on its own actions: perhaps a reference to Mr Abe’s plans, or a hint to the invasion of China in the first half of the 20th century. History, after all, is never far away when it comes to the two neighbours. An op-ed published by the Global Times – under the authorship of the Global Times

itself – was not particularly light-handed either: “estrangement and confrontation between China and Japan have deepened. The conflicts are moving from historical and island disputes, which are supposed to be controllable, to strategic hostility. Japan doesn’t mind the dangerous trend, as seen in its release of the white paper.” The Chinese paper also warned that Japan “is creating momentum to overwhelm China despite an absolute decline in its national strength.” An important point which the Chinese side has been quick to pick up is the directness with which Japanese authorities refer to the United States as balancer in the region. “The presence of the U.S. military remains extremely important in order to achieve regional stability. Accordingly, Japan and other countries, such as Australia and South Korea, have established bilateral alliances and friendly relations with the U.S., and allow the stationing and deployment of U.S. forces in their territories,” reads the paper. “They are making themselves the pawn of Washington,” replied the Global Times. In June, the Japanese military took part in a large scale military drill in California, while China has run operations with Russian forces, one of which concluded just yesterday off the Russian Pacific coast. As the war of words goes on, real action is being taken by both parties to reaffirm their sovereignty over the islands. On July 7, Xinhua News Agency reported that Chinese ships continued their regular patrols in territorial waters of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. At the end of May, Japanese activists and fishermen went on a tour of the area. Earlier this year, as mentioned in the defence paper, a Chinese vessel locked a radar used to direct weapons on a Japanese ship close to the rocky islets and another spat opened. Needless to say, these maneuvers significantly increase the risks of accidents which may then spin out of control, turning the verbal clash into a serious crisis. Posted by Thavam

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