China's rising strength to sway Japan's strategic choice
Published: Feb 15, 2023 09:31 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

The US has taken a substantial step in encouraging Japan to rearm itself. Japanese Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada said on Tuesday that Japan plans to order Tomahawk cruise missiles in one go from the US within the 2023 fiscal year, rather than the initial plan that will take several years.

The Japanese media, citing government sources, said that the Japanese government is considering buying as many as 500 Tomahawk cruise missiles. The munitions, which have a strike range of about 1,600 kilometers and would cover China's coastal areas, will be used to develop counterstrike capabilities until Japan deploys home-developed ones.

Japan's enhanced long-range strike capabilities are intended to deter China. Its defense budget plans to reach 2 percent of GDP within five years. This ratio not only breaks through the original 1-percent limit set by its Pacifist Constitution, but also exceeds China's ratio of less than 1.5 percent of its GDP. The US allows Japan to rearm itself and is helping Japan to acquire long-range attack capabilities to turn Japan into a more important pawn against China, while Japan wants to help the US to fight China in a bid to realize the "normalization" of its national defense force and achieve large-scale military expansion.

Therefore, it is foreseeable that Japan's long-range striking capability will continue to increase, which means that China will not only face the military forces deployed by the US in the Western Pacific in the future, but also Japan, which is constantly expanding its war capabilities. In view of Japan's aggressive attitude on opposing the Chinese mainland's reunification with Taiwan, Japan may play a more active role in the future if a conflict truly occurs in the Taiwan Straits.

The reality that China is facing is severe. I think first, China also needs to further accelerate its national defense development and investment. It is imperative that China's military expenditures are increased to account for 2 percent of its GDP. The goal of NATO countries is that the military expenditure of all member countries should reach more than 2 percent of GDP. Last year, the US was 3.4 percent, Russia was about 4 percent, India was about 2.6 percent, and China was 1.4 percent. 

This ratio obviously is insufficient to support China's response to growing security risks in the long run. The conventional military capabilities of the Chinese mainland must exceed the combined military power that the US, Japan, Australia and Taiwan island can deploy in the Western Pacific in the future.

Second, it should be seen that although Japan has purchased 500 Tomahawk cruise missiles, its strategy toward China is generally defensive in nature, and it dares not to go ahead of the US in terms of intervention and involvement in the Taiwan Straits situation. China's military advantage over Japan is systemic, and the gap will only widen. Therefore, we need to remain determined and patient about handling China-Japan relations, and don't need to treat Tokyo now as Beijing's inevitable enemy in the future. It is strategically beneficial for China to try to stabilize its relations with Japan.

While the US continues to incite forces neighboring China to increase their hostility toward Beijing, we must build up strategic confidence as a great power. That is, none of the neighboring forces dare to fight China one-on-one. They have their own calculation on being pawns in the US' anti-China strategy: They actually want to use Washington to achieve faster development or expand their own strategic space. 

This is a very complex geopolitical game, and China needs to become increasingly adept at navigating it. In this way, Beijing can avoid becoming the center of geopolitical shock and prevent the US from doing more with less in containing China.

Japan is a strategically highly snobbish country. China is accelerating development to get closer and eventually surpass the US in terms of comprehensive strength. This is the key lever that will ultimately pry Japan's strategic attitude. In the end, time is on China's side.

The author is a commentator with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn