Water Wars: New Year’s Resolutions
In a cabinet meeting on Dec. 18, the government of Japan adopted new National Defense Program Guidelines that call for the “drastic strengthening of Japan’s defense capabilities.” The new guidelines adopt a “multidimensional joint defense force” strategy, based on investment in technological advancement.
The new guidelines include the largest-ever increase in Japan’s defense budget and $240 billion over the next five years to improve weapons and defense equipment. Among the most controversial of these new weapon systems is a set of upgrades to the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s largest destroyer, the JS Izumo, to allow it to act as an aircraft carrier.
Japan plans to buy many of these new weapon systems from the United States. It has already committed to buying Aegis Ashore missile-defense systems, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, and the new budget will add 105 more F-35 fighter jets to Japan’s arsenal. In total, the new budget will include $6.4 billion of spending on American military hardware, up from $3.7 billion for this year.
Other key priorities in the guidelines include the establishment of a new space operations command and upgrades to Japan’s cyber capabilities.
Japan’s Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, in a press conference, justified the new security policy by citing the need to adapt novel military technology, as well as the rapidly-changing security situation, including the increase in North Korea’s missile capabilities and China’s expansion in the South and East China Seas.
These new guidelines come as the United States has brought increasing pressure on Japan to shoulder a larger share of its security burden. Japan’s Constitution renounces war as well as standing military forces, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has interpreted the Constitution to allow for joint defense with other countries, and has consistently increased the size and budget of Japan’s military since coming to power in 2012. Japan’s government continues to emphasize that these military upgrades will only be used for defensive purposes, in accordance with the Constitution.
In Other News
In the Yellow Sea
China has significantly advanced the capability of its submarine-launched nuclear missiles with the successful test of the Julong-3 missile (JL-3), which has a flight range of up to 5,600 miles. While this range is less than that of American and Russian submarine-launched missiles, as well as China’s current land-based systems, it is much higher than its predecessor, the JL-2, which has a range of about 4,400 miles.
The Washington Free Beacon, which first reported the story, noted that U.S. intelligence had detected the test-missile’s launch, and was able to monitor it as it took place. This new missile, once deployed, would allow China to target most of the United States from waters off China’s coast.
China currently operates four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines equipped with the current-generation JL-2 missiles, according to a 2018 Pentagon report on China’s military capabilities. By the mid-2020s, the report predicts, China will build and put into operation its next generation of nuclear attack submarines.
In the South China Sea
The United States is requesting that its allies in the Asia-Pacific region increase their military presence in the South China Sea in order to better challenge China’s claims.
In an interview with The Australian, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Randy Schriver noted that Australia, Britain, France and Canada have all been conducting more operations in the region, but that they should join the United States in further naval maneuvers such as joint patrols and presence operations.
“I think what could potentially bring more pressure on the Chinese is other partners and allies joining in these activities,” Schriver told The Australian.
One senior official within China has adopted highly-aggressive rhetoric in response to America’s increasing naval operations in the South China Sea.
As quoted in China’s Global Times, Air Force Colonel Dai Xu, President of the Institute of Marine Safety and Cooperation said at a recent conference: "If the U.S. warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it… In our territorial waters, we won't allow U.S. warships to create disturbance."
Dai also suggested that conflict in the South China Sea could be positive, by creating a strategic opportunity to reunify with Taiwan.
Dai was not speaking on behalf of the China’s government, which has led to some debate between experts regarding whether the coverage of his remarks in the state-backed Global Times was meant as an endorsement or merely as bait to provoke foreign audiences.
Commentary and Analysis
The Center for Strategic and International Studies has conducted a satellite analysis of China’s Jiangnan Shipyard at the mouth of the Yangtze River. This satellite analysis shows that the shipyard has grown 64 percent since 2011, with most of this growth centered on building the Shipyard’s industrial capacity. The analysis also includes a description of the military vessels that have recently been visible at the shipyard. Diving deeper into the details of China’s new military capabilities, Liu Zhen at the South China Morning Post provides an overview of the weapon systems China plans to put into operation in the next year, including a new aircraft carrier and upgraded destroyers and stealth fighters.
The Economic Times also turned its attention to China, publishing an overview of its relations to the rest of the region in 2018, including its military growth and diplomatic maneuvering in the South China Sea. Cautioning against China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, the Economic Times recalls Deng Xiaping’s axiom, “Hide your strength, bide your time.”
In the Diplomat, Mercy Kuo interviews risk consultants Eufracia Taylor and Hugo Brennan to discuss the geopolitics of China’s search for oil and gas in the South China Sea. According to the interview, China is concerned about the security and reliability of its energy sources, while other countries in the region such as the Philippines have chosen to work with China to develop resources despite their conflicting sovereignty claims. Also in the Diplomat, Franz-Stefan Gady looks ahead to the security outlook for Asia in 2019. Gady lists several potential flash-points including the South and East China Seas, as well as China’s pressure on Taiwan, and reviews expected military modernization expenditures by the powers in the region, but predicts that the risk of military confrontation will lessen in the new year.