Last week, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) released its annual evaluation of the international environment, which included a review of 2011 and forecasts of dynamic challenges for the country for the remainder of 2012. The condensed diplomatic text, nicknamed the “Blue Book,” is MOFA’s annual policy statement and helps to drive Tokyo’s international engagement.
The “Blue Book” predictably targets North Korea as the chief international security threat to Japan, with its maverick nuclear weapons program and its determination to continue missile tests in the region. The text refers to the new leadership in the North under Kim Jong-un as “unpredictable.” Pyongyang and Tokyo have been at loggerheads over the former’s announcement of an Unha-3 rocket launch that is slated to take place sometime between April 12 and 16. North Korea claims that the launch is a satellite and will be used for its space program. Japan, as well as the United States and South Korea, has condemned the test as a poorly camouflaged ballistic missile test that contravenes U.N. Security Council resolutions.
On a more strategic note, the book points to China as a challenge and opportunity for Asia. Japan appears especially concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding China’s spending on defense and its increasingly aggressive maritime posture in the East China Sea. In response to this, the guide advocates for a “dynamic defense force” in order to “minimize the risks and maximize the opportunities for growth within the Asia-Pacific region.” This includes a realignment of the Self-Defense Forces to reflect new geopolitical realities in the region. The policy statement also reaffirms the importance of strengthening Japan’s strategic relationship with the United States to meet these challenges.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The release has received its annual dose of criticism from South Korea and Russia as a result of Japan’s competing territorial claims. In Seoul, a senior Japanese diplomat was summoned by the South Korean Foreign Affairs, which lodged a formal protest over Tokyo’s sustained claim of the Dokdo islets (referred to as Takeshima by Japan). Russia, meanwhile, has also reacted negatively to Japan’s insistence that the Southern Kuril Islands be returned.