Japan: Britain of the Far East?
Image Credit: US Navy

Japan: Britain of the Far East?


Following is the third in our series on Understanding Asia-Pacific Sea Power. In this installment we look at the motivations behind development of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force.


Sea power isn’t a natural attribute of statecraft. Nation states may, of course, decide to develop potent fleets to boost national power, dispute control of maritime spaces and enhance international status—just take the examples of the ‘treasure fleets’ of the Ming dynasty or the High Seas Fleet of Imperial Germany. But generally speaking, a government’s commitment to continuously funding, expanding and modernising the naval core of its military capabilities is tied to how much the country’s economic survival depends on doing so. For such nations, naval forces safeguard crucial economic interests ferried at sea, meaning the pursuit of sea power isn’t a political choice, but a strategic imperative.

Japan is one of these nations. Resource poor and with an export-oriented economy, it relies on energy shipping and maritime trade to fuel its industrial might. For Japan, a maritime strategy based on constant access to sea routes is a matter of national security. It’s a lesson the country learned the hard way in the second half of the Pacific War, when the US submarine campaign against shipping crippled its war machine and brought the nation to the brink of economic collapse.

Before the war, Japan had built up its fleet with the intention of annihilating peer competitors on the high seas as a way of shielding the country’s ambitions first on the Asian mainland, and later in the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. In its aftermath, the forerunners of Japan’s post-war navy—the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF)—made sure that the service would be the primary tool for tackling structural vulnerabilities and defending economic activity. Meanwhile, Japan’s new constitutional prohibition on using force to settle international disputes provided a suitable framework for a palatable maritime strategy based on sea lane defence.

But despite the constitutional restraints of Article 9, naval rearmament plans started gaining momentum by the end of the 1960s, and early post-war policies created the conditions for a wider awareness of naval matters. At the outset of the Cold War, Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru had prioritised economic rehabilitation in a formula that came to be known as the ‘Yoshida doctrine’—a strategy that aided the recovery of the 1950s and rapid economic expansion of the 1960s. Maritime transport was central to this economic growth, and influential Japanese academics adopted the term ‘maritime state’, orkaiyō kokka,to explain the distinctive features of Japan’s successful industrial recovery.

But it was the 1973 oil crisis that really proved the dependence of Japanese economic and social life on maritime activities, helping sea lane defence become recognised as a strategic priority beyond naval circles—especially as attention was by then starting to shift to the increasing size and capabilities of the Soviet fleet in the Pacific. By 1976, when the National Defence Programme Outline that defined the guidelines for the rest of Japan’s Cold War defence policy was officially adopted, a growing consensus existed on the role sea power must play in national security. It was already clear that maritime strategy and national defence were now bonded.

Under the defence programme, the Japanese fleet’s target was set at about 60 surface vessels for conducting anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations, 16 submarines and some 220 patrol aircraft. Two years later, the adoption of the Guidelines for US-Japan Defence Cooperation offered the MSDF a clear framework for implementing the content of the national naval strategy, enhancing operational experience, testing equipment and refining doctrines. In 1981, Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki’s pledge to commit Japan to the protection of its sea lanes out to 1000 nautical miles further reinforced the choices made in the NDPO. For the remainder of the Cold War, sea power constituted the first line of defence for the country’s economic interests. Against this backdrop, the navy developed into a professional, technologically advanced, highly-trained force—a central piece of the country’s national security and alliance commitments with the United States.

By 1995, fleet targets had been met, and Japan now possessed the most powerful and advanced Asian ASW force. Organised in 4 escort flotillas, it included the first of 4 Kongō class AEGIS destroyers, the 3 Towada class of ocean-going fast combat support ships, 16 very quiet submarines with the lead boat of the new generation of ‘leaf-coil’ hull design Oyashio on the way to completion, all integrated with a little under 100 P3-C patrol aircraft. At a time when regional actors like South Korea and China were considering the naval capabilities necessary to operate beyond coastal waters, the Japanese were fielding a fleet ready to secure key strategic objectives in the region and beyond (albeit with some deficiencies in fleet air defence).

But throughout the following decade, a series of domestic and systemic factors affected Japanese security and maritime strategy. Domestically, Japan entered a period of economic stagnation, known as ‘the lost decade,’ and saw a political shift marked by the end of the decades-long dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party. Internationally, the increase in the number of unstable areas around the world was coupled with unresolved regional tensions across the Strait of Taiwan, on the Korean Peninsula and in the disputed islands of the East China Sea.

To understand how Japan responded to this post-Cold War world, it’s important to consider two documents—the 1995 National Defence Programme Outlineand the 2004 Defence Programme Guidelines. Both sought a blend of capabilities to meet a more pro-active international military profile, but one that wouldn’t undermine Japan’s ability to address nearby sources of military (and naval) concern in North-east Asia. Indeed, North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship and 1998 missile tests, along with China’s military modernisation and naval activities in the East China Sea and in the vicinity of the Ryukyu Islands, were uppermost in the minds of those devising Japan’s new strategy.

One thing was now clear—the Japanese armed forces had to restructure, and the inherent flexibility of naval assets enabled the MSDF to be at the forefront of defence transformation. Expeditionary capabilities were regarded as a key area for meeting new international missions, although in the face of emerging potential naval competitors like China, the defence of adjacent seas and the safety of maritime traffic remained essential to national survival. As a result, reductions in the pennant list conformed to the economic atmosphere of the time, even though the fleet’s overall tonnage increased from 346,000 tons in 1995 to 426,000 in 2004.

The MSDF offered something both practical and symbolic for Japan. For example, the 1991deployment of minesweepers to the Persian Gulf and the 2001 refuelling operations in the Indian Ocean, redefined Japan’s willingness to participate in efforts to ensure international stability. For the Indian Ocean mission, which lasted for 8 years, Japanese units refuelled coalition vessels close to 1000 times. Meanwhile, three Ōsumi class amphibious ships proved their usefulness, enabling the deployment of personnel and equipment in high profile activities such as the 2004 reconstruction mission in Iraq and the 2005 disaster relief operation to the tsunami-affected population of Sumatra.

Closer to home, operations in 1999 and 2001 against suspicious vessels saw Japanese commanders engage in situations where they acquired the authority to use weapons if necessary, while guidelines for joint patrolling with the Japan Coast Guard were also established. Flat-nosed shells and machine guns were introduced on board of major surface vessels and six 44-knot capable Hayabusa missile patrol boats were procured; a special boarding unit was also established. Such moves allowed the MSDF to gain experience of security and interdiction operations that could be utilized in the Proliferation Security Initiative and the recent anti-piracy mission off the Somali coast.

By 2007, the lead boat of a class of two 13,500-ton flat-top helicopter destroyers, JDS Hyuga, had empowered the fleet with more independent air defence cover, enhanced ASW capabilities and command functions for overseas deployments in international relief operations. Shortly after, the retrofitting of the first three Kongōdestroyers with missile defence capabilities and the addition of two improved AEGIS Atago class destroyers confirmed the advantages of a maritime strategy for addressing defence, deterrence and international status. In 2009, the 2,900-ton submarine Sōryu, a stealthier and more operationally flexible boat propelled by an Air Independent Propulsion system, ensured that the MSDF had the credentials to be a major naval force in North-east Asia.

As 2009 dawned, theJapanese naval leadership decided to embark on a reassessment of the first two post-Cold War decades and drafted a new maritime strategy. It articulated the role of Japan’s seapower into a ‘commitment’ and a ‘contingency response’ strategy. The former reaffirmed sea lanes defence as the ultimate goal of Japan’s maritime strategy and identified two different approaches for pursuing it.

Within the Tokyo-Guam-Taiwan triangle—an area where sea lanes overlap with disputed maritime and resource-rich spaces—the MSDF was expected to undertake a wide range of missions, from maritime security to missile defence and sea control. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities were regarded as the minimum additions necessary to allow Japan to patrol and deter effectively (at affordable costs), this core area. Indeed, last year’s tensions following a Chinese trawler collision with Japan Coast Guard patrol boats in the disputed Senkaku (or Diaoyu in Chinese) Islands were just the latest example of how closely these missions are related.

This ‘commitment strategy’ restated the value of the partnership with the United States in preserving the naval balance in North-east Asia. However, outside the TGT area, it pointed to an increase in ad hoc forms of naval cooperation with key actors like Australia, India and South Korea, renewed efforts in the capacity building of regional naval forces in South-east Asia, and interventions in key strategic flash points such as the Gulf of Aden. The capabilities needed to pursue the commitment strategy were to offer a pool of resources to serve in ‘contingency responses’ to international crises in which the Japanese government decided to contribute militarily.

So where do things stand now? The release in December of a new NDPG rewarded the navy’s strategic approach and reaffirmed its centrality to national security. Core capabilities—notably the navy’s submarine assets—are set to expand (although there was no substantial corresponding boost to the budget).

The force of 16 boats (18, including 2 training submarines) is to expand to 22 units by 2015, a goal that will be achieved by leaving the current procurement process unaltered and extending the life of each submarine to 25 years. Off-shore island-based signal intelligence facilities, satellite and maritime air surveillance and two additional 19,500-ton DDH flat-tops (capable of operating 14 helicopters, and with the potential to operate naval unmanned combat air systems or sky-jump, short vertical take-off and landing aircraft), form the other pieces of the Japanese defensive trident.

All this underscores the fact that the Japanese post-war navy is no child of regional armament races—for Japan, sea power is simply the kind of strategic necessity you’d expect of a maritime country. And, unlike other Asian state actors, Japan isn’t in the process of amassing hardware to raise its naval status. The MSDF is the child of an export-oriented post-war economy and of a naval leadership’s desire to take advantage of an insular geography to address longstanding strategic vulnerabilities. Cuts affecting defence budgets for the past two decades and the constant need to ‘tailor’ capabilities to meet strategic goals highlight the fact that Japan can’t be regarded as an emerging naval power.

The MSDF also isn’t the child of post-Cold War militarization. It developed across six decades into one of the world’s finest fleets and today it fields a surface component more than twice the size of Britain’s Royal Navy’s and a submarine force twice that of the French Navy. Its weak spot, fleet air defence, has been studied for the past two decades. However, a blend of helicopter carriers, missile destroyers and the next generation of DDH vessels (which look capable of accommodating a fixed-wing air component—manned or unmanned) are poised to address this issue, increasing operational mobility in the East China Sea vis-à-vis emerging peer competitors.

So what does this say about Japan’s place in the world? Based on the nature and purpose of its navy, Japan is a maritime middle power, with an established professional force. Some have argued that Japan should become the ‘Britain of the Far East,’ although this analogy lost favour when it became clear the transatlantic relationship wasn’t going to provide a good template for the US-Japan security alliance.

Yet the reality is that Japan is becoming increasingly similar to Britain. Like Britain, Japan has a military posture with a strong maritime balance, one in which naval forces provide the operational flexibility to deter, defend and intervene in the region and beyond. Like Britain, Japan allocates naval means to achieve strategic ends against an austere economic climate, seeking to maintain a range of capabilities to effectively defend its own core interests and wider bilateral and ad hoc partnerships. Like Britain, Japan endorses a maritime strategy in which the safeguard of crucial sea lanes sits at the heart of national security, and in so doing, naval forces empower the government with the choice to deploy forces wherever core economic interests demand.

Over the coming years, as Japan implements its new national defence outline, sea power will continue to inform national policy, while a blend of capabilities for localised sea control in the East China Sea—and maritime security and operations around strategic flash points—will continue to underpin what exactly Japan develops.

So actually yes, Japan really is becoming the Britain of the Far East.

September 25, 2013 at 05:10

There is almost no chance that China will start a war now or within the next 10 years. China does not yet have overwhelming advantage over Japan, to say the least. The economists and enginners in the Chinese leadership are not that stupid or lacking in confidence; China's great advantages over Japan will likely come, be it in 2040, 2050, or longer. The motivation to wait is very high for China, as chances are that China will eventually win by mere status quo.

The Chinese are fully expected to be confident about China's future. I think the logical non-Chinese should be as well.

At this point, China has to be assertive to the extent of demonstrating the dispute, and China's seriousness toward this dispute.  The international community, including the USA, will continue to shelve the issue and avoid siding with Japan; otherwise, the chance of war will be greatly increased. The whole world fears the most is a hot war between the two, so non-recognition will continue indefinitely, while China gains on Japan.

The ultimate fate of the much smaller Japan cannot be doubted. It will be just a matter of time. China's correct extent of assertiveness will give it the time.

This issue is not about the present, but the quite predictable future, in 30-50 years.

September 24, 2013 at 08:09

First, there is the hurdle of Japanese internal politics, in order to greatly increase military spending.

Second, one has to accept that Japan is a much smaller country than China, if China is the reason to increase military spending. For have many decades can one pretend that China is going to implode? If China does not implode, and grows at 5-6%, for how many more decades can one not resigned to inevitable Chinese dominance? The population ratio is 11 to 1. No matter what Japan does, until when can Japan hope to match China in military spending?  2050? 2060?

Third, will China need to start any war to apply pressure on Japan? Japan is very vulnerable to trade erosion due to Chinese consumer animosity toward Japan, per se.  China will easily roil up anti-Japanese sentiment in China to the extent of concerted national boycott of Japan products. China could open the floodgate of angry and unarmed Chinese willing to attempt to land on the island, to roil up animosity of the Chinese consumers.

Japan is basically quite myopic. In the long run, as long as the Chinese people do not forgive Japan, it will suffer the consequences somehow indefinitely.

The USA will not and cannot help Japan indefinitely, especially in a situation where a destructive war has not happened but is possible. This will be the crux. US role will likely be quite limited.

Y Chan
March 14, 2011 at 10:14

Yeh, you are right, Japan is the Britian of the Far East, and just like the British Empire whose sun had already set, Japan’s sun has set too.

February 3, 2011 at 00:44

Yo, China at this time could not try to conquer Taiwan. The USA has demonstrated it’s commitment to defence Taiwan during the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1996. And you said that such an action would precipitate the fall of the communist government because of internal pressure? I’m not so sure. Although there is regional unrest in parts of mainland China, I would not expect there to be widespread discontent over the actions to reclaim Taiwan. The general feeling I get is that Han Chinese do want Taiwan to be reunited … however this doesn’t necessarily mean by force. Taiwan and mainland China are closely economically tied. Given time, perhaps a Hong Kong type arrangement may be arranged for Taiwan. But as things are, this would only appear desirable for mainland China rather than for Taiwan itself.

February 3, 2011 at 00:31

@ John Chan. You said that Japan hasn’t apologised properly for it’s actions in WW2 and it’s growing navy worries it’s neighbours. I’d suggest that Japan today has changed and that it no longer has any trace policy of aggression. Firstly, the country has renounced aggression as policy. Securing shipping lanes, preventing piracy and it’s maritime surroundings is reasonably desirable for an island state. Furthermore, it’s defence spending as percentage of GDP remains comparably low and it’s mostly focusing on developing ships with flexible or supporting capabilities.

I will omit however that Japan has been playing a supporting role to the Iraq coalition forces, but would not call this aggression in it’s own right. As mentioned in the article, Japan is also building submarines. However rather than judging Japan alone, could this not be deemed reasonable given China’s growing navy. As Alessio says, this shouldn’t be seen as an arms race or sudden build up on Japan’s behalf, but instead a steady and reasonable policy for an island state.

So what I’m trying to say is that Japan’s military development should not appear directly threatening.

February 2, 2011 at 02:41

Japan has always stockpiled ships and nuclear capability, far outspending late to the game China so the Japanese media outcry of an increasingly aggressive China is just the Marco Polo Bridge incident all over again. So what, I doubt anyone has forgotten their true colors. Comparing themselves to an idea of an aristocratic and superior Britian just infuriates the English. Australians hate them, not just for the bombing of Oz. Do you really think that America allowed China to first steal missile tech from a deported scientist (Silk Worms) and now stealth jet fighters from wreckage in Yugoslavia?

January 25, 2011 at 00:29

I do believe that as an individual country, Japan already has the second largest navy after the USA.
Japan also has a national debt of 200% of GDP. Another decade of economic mismanagement and declining demographics and Japan will be in the same economic league as Britain.

John Chan
January 23, 2011 at 03:29

@JB, based on Japan’s WWII notorious human right violation records, and Japan has not shown remorse about their WWII war crimes like the Germans. Their current excessive navy strength makes all Japan’s former WWII victims very nervous. Japan’s naval might is a constant reminder to its WWII victims that the hell Japan that has plunged them into in the past can be repeated any time. Alessio’s article is simply exacerbating that fear.

Alessio article is stirring up the pot in the name of freedom of speech without regarding the horrible consequence it may bring, particularly at the time when there are a lot of disturbances in the NE Asia. There are clean water, food shortage, and clean energy problems threatening human survival, Alessio will be more helpful to spend his energy on ways to save the world instead of coming out ideas setting the earth on fire.

All Japanese propulsion engines are licensed from European; Japanese only add their improvements to the engines. All major systems are done in the similar fashion. Everything you said in item 1 is just a claim without proof, a typical arrogant and ignorant behaviour of anti-China bigots that their brag is supported by hot air. If there is an arm embargo imposed on Japan like China, Japan even cannot put out a complete destroyer or submarine by itself. The US supplies Japan advanced weapon systems because it needs a good cannon folder to encircle China, without those advance weapon systems, I wondered how good the JMSDF would be.

The comment from Mikhail in “China’s 19th Century Agenda” said Kilo SSK (operated by PLAN) is so quiet that it could scare hell out of Pentagon if it runs out from Cuba to outside of Washington. Mikhail also said “Especially since USN ASW capabilities have greatly atrophied while Kilos are extremely difficult to detect.” PLAN submarine also managed to surface near “Kitty Hawk ” without being detected, is the world’s premier maritime force supported by hot air as well? Have you read the article “Underestimating China”? I just wondered who is living in the Cloud of Cuckoo Land.

Hegemonic behaviour of the US is the root of all the acrimony in Asia right now; this is a topic for another day.

January 21, 2011 at 22:32

Japan has a modern and very capable Navy. I wish it would continue maintaining such modernity among its fleet to ensure peace and not for war.

January 21, 2011 at 21:51

Hong Kong for its part needs to independent from China, lest it will collapse. The word need is a necessity for it to be viable and existing. Take that away and Hong Kong will be no more. Your premise that every Chinese yearns to be under Communist China is most flawed. It does not mean that the sum of all Chinese all over the world wants to be under the current political structure of the mainland. Why have the others veered away from the mainland. Every Chinese yearns to be reunited with the mainland but not with communism. China is China it is great by itself. proud of it’s history. Don’t mix that ideology with communism. Communism is a foreign concept adopted by Chinese autocrats. I wish to see China to be great without its hands bound and its eyes blind folded.

January 21, 2011 at 19:58

” it is the aspiration of all Chinese to see Taiwan to be reunited to the mainland again one day.”

This may be true once communism is abolished from the mainland. But currently that it is not the aspiration of Taiwanese Chinese. Not all Chinese aspire to be under communism. That may be true to 200 million Chinese but not all of them. What about the remaining 800 million, the Ulghurs, the Tibetans? How many Chinese out of 1 billion are experiencing economic prosperity.

January 21, 2011 at 18:54

Okay man if you say so. That is why there are lot of sites banned in China.

January 21, 2011 at 15:19


I disagre to what you said if China will to invade Taiwan, it will be the demise of the Communist Party and there are alot of movement to topple the regime.

I am a frequent traveller to China and I still have relatives living there.You are fabricating and distorting the true picture.
Are you aware most Chinese support the present Government and it is the aspiration of all Chinese to see Taiwan to be reunited to the mainland again one day.

Please don’t recite what you read in the Western media who are generally biased against China.

January 21, 2011 at 00:15

JMSDF’s premise is self defense and not force projection. The author may have gave the wrong interpretation of Japan being like Britain. In the current economic and political atmosphere an aggressor country will look bad in the eyes of the international community which will rouse the ire of the United Nations. Japan for it’s part should never play the Imperialist role again as it will loose a lot if they do so. Besides their constitution does not allow them to be on the offensive. On the other hand China can ill afford to be an aggressor right now. If it invades Taiwan it will mean the demise of China’s communist party and there are a lot of movement right now in China that would topple it’s regime. For Japan it should acknowledged the atrocities committed by it’s Imperial Army. I know they have apologized a lot for the past 50 years but I guess wounds still run deep. China will be like Japan post World War 2 era if it invades Taiwan or even if it uses force and military adventurism inside or outside the mainland. But the good thing if that happens is that it would mean the abolition of the communist party, freedom and equal rights among all Chinese in the mainland….. China should at least respect Taiwan and Tibet if the communist autocrats wants to keep their thrones.

January 20, 2011 at 18:35

Unsurprisingly most of the people commenting here having completely misread the article.

Alessio is simply explaining the strategic thinking behind the JMSDF and showing the ‘Japanese re-militarization’ narrative to be a load of nonsense (which it is). The major point here is that a very capable JMSDF isn’t a new thing, its been a strategic necessity for Japan for decades.

John Chan, I’m afraid you are particularly at fault here so I’ll go point by point.

1. If you think ‘all things are equal’ between Japan and China in maritime terms, then you’re delusional. Japan is still generationally ahead on the surface in things like missile defence/fleet air cover, but more importantly it is (and has been for many years) on the cutting edge of submarine technology. China still can’t build a submarine that is quieter than Russian designs of the 70s, whereas Japan’s submarines are world class and they train with (and have interoperability with) the USN, who are still I’m afraid the world’s premier maritime force in both equipment and PARTICULARLY doctrine.

2. I’ll agree that Japan’s history does cause it significant problems in the area. However, as the article conclusively demonstrates, Japan has been the biggest local naval power (behind only the US) for decades and still is for now, but I’m yet to see any concrete examples of the hostility you’re talking about.

3. I think you need to look at the German submarine blockades of Britain during WW1 and WW2. Those are just two examples that come to mind quickly.

It’s not a call for anything, its an explanation and prediction. Japan doesn’t have to enter an arms race with China, even with the improvement of the JMSDF they’ll still be spending a very small proportion of GDP (about 1%) on their military. Their security alliance with the US ensures this. Nonetheless, they can’t only rely on the US to guarantee their SLOCs because there are situations that could seriously damage Japan without invoking US military support, they need some independent capability. They have this in the form of a world class navy.

John Chan
January 20, 2011 at 12:38

Japan and Britain have a lot of similarities. As island nation, poor in natural resources and with a high population density, a navy is essential to its national security. However, the author’s arguments for Japan building a dominant navy in Asia, like Britain’s navy in Europe in the current diplomatic environment are misguided and ill thought. There are some major differences between Japan and Britain.
1. Britain faces a fragmented Europe, and it was one of bigger nations in Europe, so Britain had the numerical advantages over many of the nations in Europe. On the other hand, Japan faces a united China, which has an overwhelming resource advantage over Japan. The current China is not the Qing Dynasty, so now we can consider all things being equal; therefore the numerical advantage decides the winner in a conflict between two opponents with similar technology capabilities and competencies.
2. Britain was interested in commerce dominance, so it didn’t ransack Europe, therefore the European nations did not worry over their sovereignty being threatened by Britain’s control of the seas. Yet Japan is totally opposite to the Britain. History has proven that Japan is only interested in enslaving their neighbours. The atrocities the Japanese have brought upon their neighbour will not be forgotten for a very long time by anyone else in Asia. Japan has yet to show remorse for their war crime, and this further enforces their neighbours’ hostility to Japan’s naval strength.
3. The sea battles of 1894 proved that control of the seas between Japan and its neighbour is the crux of a battle for national survival, and a key factor in staving off genocide and enslavement. The severity and consequences of loss of control of the seas between Japan and its neighbour has never existed in the naval contests of Europe.

Placed in the actual context of politics, history, and diplomacy of Asia; this article seems less like an encouragement for Japan to improve its naval forces, but more like an urging for Japan to become better cannon fodder for the Americans aggressive Asia-Pacific hegemony policy to encircle China.

I would argue against the author that the geographic location of Japan is its advantage. On the contrary it is their curse. Japan and Taiwan are the same; their geographic locations can only make them serve as outposts of larger nations due to their inherent disadvantages of limited resources and sustainability.

If Japan is smart, they should have listened to the political analyst Ohmae Kenichi 8 years ago (ISBN 957-0395-81-8). As a Japanese, he advocated Japan should be content with its secondary role in Asia like Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium. They have good modern living standards, and are not ashamed of their secondary roles in Europe. Everybody respects them. Ohmae Kenichi advocated that Japan should latch on to China’s rise. Japan should provide an enhancer to China’s rise in exchange for the appropriate benefit for itself.

If Japan takes the route as advocated by the author, Japan is only going to bankrupt itself like the USSR in a fruitless arm race. In fact Japan was about to go bankrupt in the arm race against the Qing Dynasty before the war in 1894.

January 20, 2011 at 10:34

Agree with Singaporean’s view. But there is no need to exclude Vietnam. They will follow China’s lead if confronted with the choice of Japan vs. China.

It is re-assuring to have China’s presence (in terms of geographical size, population, resources and now military) to over-whelm Japan. Historically in the last 3000 years, except brief period of 150 years in 19th century this balance was upset. Japan must be treated as the global aggressor, not a peacemaker at all time and keep them in a tight leash.

A Singaporean
January 19, 2011 at 22:46

Mishmael is correct. I think the author of this piece misses the mark completely and don’t really understand East Asia. Countries in the region are more fearful of Japan’s than China’s military. For one thing, Japan has never owed up to its history of conquest and have never apologized wholeheartedly for the war. For another, it has a long history of having warrior caste in power. This samurai mentality is very different from the Chinese, which had a mandarin ruling caste.

Even in trade the Japanese don’t elicit confidence. Their leaders have staunchly resisted free trade until recently. Japanese companies have always treated those in East Asia and Southeast Asia–not as equals, but as poor cousin. Ever since the Meiji Restoration Japan has looked up the West but down on Asia. This is illustrated by the fact that the Japanese have military pacts with the US and Australia but not with anyone in its region.

Japan re-militarization if done in any big way, will only serve to push every single country in East and Southeast Asia closer to China, save perhaps Vietnam.

January 19, 2011 at 03:54

There are those who would argue that the modern state of Japan should not posses weapons of any kind, that its past effectively tarnishes its reputation such that no cooperative scenarios can be realistically expected. This is based not only upon the events of WW2, where the Imperial Japanese military invaded its neighbors and committed acts of destruction, but upon the goals of the modern Japanese state in general, which is to secure a preeminent position within Asia.

While British power is relatively uncontroversial in Europe, Japanese power is not in Asia. To make the former an analogy would overlook those aspects peculiar to Japanese interests. The British, for instance, were primarily focused upon securing the 5 “keys” to international trade (Suez, Panama, Singapore, Gibraltar, and the straits of Dover) This meant that large areas of ocean were open and uninhibited to other great powers. Notice for instance the ability of German warships to sail to South America and the Pacific even on the eve of WW1. Japanese control of waters is much more territorial, and constraining. It is specifically designed to prevent a rival (ie China) from getting into a particular area. This is because Japan does not have to secure international trade, as one of its best friends already does that.

Japan’s economic preeminence in Asia is already diminished. Politically, it possesses few avenues of influence over neighbors. One cannot help but think that maintaining naval control over a significant area of the world is desperately maintained as a last vestige of imperial glory.

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