Be wary of Japan's militarism despite warming bilateral relations

By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/29 12:02:44

Japan has approved its new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and the accompanying Mid-Term Defense Plan on December 18, according to an Asahi Shimbun report. The guidelines, approved by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet, involve considerable weapon procurements, the upgrade of Izumo, a self-defense force ship, into what would effectively be an aircraft carrier, along with highlighting the "China threat theory". The revised plans display Abe's reckless efforts to expand armaments and focus on perceived threats.

NDPG, revised every 10 years, is one of Japan's essential defense documents. But the latest one comes just after five years. Together with the Mid-Term Defense Plan, it guides the country's Self-Defense Force construction and defense policy trend from 2019 to 2023.

Through this new version of NDPG, it is foreseeable that the Defense White Paper will maintain a similar tone in the next five years and continue to advocate a "China threat" theory. Such long-standing positions will not be conducive to further developing bilateral ties.

The new NDPG came within the context of mended China-Japan relations and a 90-day truce in the China-US trade war. The timing seems to be intentional. Japanese society and a segment of Chinese society believe that China has to woo Japan to avoid falling into isolation during a trade war, therefore China is highly likely to ignore Japan's plan to strengthen its defense capabilities. Perhaps it is because of this estimation that Japan issued the new NDPG.

Nonetheless, such a standpoint is completely wrong. China-Japan relations have nothing to do with the China-US trade war. It is even more groundless that China needs to form cliques. The academic and press circles of both countries widely accept that the presence of Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May 2017 marked the warming trend of China-Japan ties, but the trade war had not begun yet then. If there are any connections between the two, it might be that US trade protectionism has accelerated the recovery of China-Japan relations.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated that China urges Japan to keep its commitment to the "purely defensive defense" strategy, stay committed to the path of peaceful development and act cautiously in the area of military security. This statement has shown China will not tolerate any aggressive actions of Japan to upgrade its military technology. After all, compared with China-Japan ties, regional peace and stability is of greater importance.

This new NDPG reveals Abe's military expansion intention. Along with the rise of trade protectionism on a global scale, many countries have prioritized maintaining the free trade system to ensure free trade development. Japan has indeed made a certain contribution in this regard, which is worth encouraging.

However, the new NDPG reminds the world that Japan is still covertly improving its defense while advancing the world's multilateral free trade. Therefore, Japan's future armament expansion deserves the attention and vigilance of neighboring countries including China, and even the entire international community. 

China and Japan should be comrades-in-arms to jointly address trade protectionism and safeguard the world's multilateral free trade system. Nevertheless, China must be wary of Japan's petty actions regarding military matters. Trade protectionism, which goes against the trend of the times, will definitely not last long. 

China and Japan are long-lasting neighbors though. We ought to join hands to maintain regional peace and stability. The current international disorder is not an opportunity for some countries to fish in troubled waters.

The author is an editor at the Global Times and a research fellow on Japan issues.

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