Japan-PIC defense meeting 'exposes Tokyo's ambition to expand military presence'
Published: Mar 20, 2024 10:03 PM
Japanese Self-Defense Force ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptors are seen in position on the grounds in Ishigaki, Okinawa prefecture on February 7, 2016.Photo: AFP

Japanese Self-Defense Force ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptors are seen in position on the grounds in Ishigaki, Okinawa prefecture on February 7, 2016.Photo: AFP

As Japan hosts a defense ministerial meeting with Pacific Island countries (PICs), Chinese experts warn that Tokyo's true intention is to support the US' Indo-Pacific strategy in containing China, while also seeking to advance its own military expansion. 

However, PICs will not be easily swayed by short-term benefits offered by the West, experts said. They are well aware of the tangible benefits in cooperating with China, in contrast to the West's high-profile "aid," which is actually a means of instilling their ideological influence.

Japan on Tuesday began a ministerial-level defense meeting with Pacific Island nations in Tokyo, aiming to "counter China's expanding military clout and maritime assertiveness in the region," Japanese media The Mainichi reported on Tuesday. 

It is the second such meeting following the first in September 2021. Fiji and Papua New Guinea have sent their defense ministers to the talks, and officials from the US and Australia also participated in the two-day talks through Wednesday.

The meeting stems from several pressing factors the Japanese government is facing. For one thing, the Kishida government is mired in a domestic trust crisis in recent months, particularly from elements within his party. Therefore, he is eager to change the status quo by making diplomatic achievements to salvage his image, Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Center at East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Japan is facing mounting pressures from the US to coordinate with its Indo-Pacific strategy, in which the South Pacific is regarded a crucial strategic area to counter China, the expert said.

According to a report by the South China Morning Post last week, the talks could also involve Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and police taking part in local and regional responses as well as training, signifying "a dramatic departure from previous post-war policies."

It reveals Japan's true intention of breaking through the restrictions from the Japanese Constitution on the SDF, and expanding its military presence, observers noted. 

"The move will be in direct violation of the Japanese Constitution, which limits the activities of the SDF to participation in mostly UN peacekeeping missions, and with primary focus on support services such as logistical and medical tasks," Chen said.

Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that while initially focused on coastal defense, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has now become one of the world's most powerful navies, straying far from its original purpose.

He noted that from the participation of the SDF, it is clear Japan's assistance to Pacific island countries comes with selfish motives.

Despite Japan's vigorous incitement of the "China threat theory," PICs are not buying it. "They do not agree with nor care about the so-called China threat theory, but instead, China helps them address their biggest problem - poverty," Chen noted. 

China's investments in local projects, including road, bridge and airport construction, have significantly improved local infrastructure and boosted employment. Additionally, given the lower education levels among island nations' populations, China has provided computers, internet access and other resources to enhance local education standards. 

In contrast, Western investments and aid in these regions often come with political conditions that require compliance with their agendas. Furthermore, the touted assistance from Western nations is primarily aimed at promoting institutional development, essentially replicating Western political systems. However, this approach only leads to disconnects with the local realities, Chen explained.

A few days before the defense meeting with Japan, Fiji maintained a police cooperation deal with China despite mounting pressure from former colonial powers such as the US and Australia. The move reflects that such cooperation, fundamentally different from that with Western countries, stems from the strong demand of the PICs.