China Power

China Blasts Japan’s Defense White Paper

China’s state media wasted no time in offering withering criticism of Japan’s latest defense document.

China’s state media struck out at Japan after Tuesday’s release of their 2013 defense white paper, which accused China of—among other things—using force and coercion to push its territorial claims.

While many of Japan's neighbors are taking exception with the new defense paper, China was particularly scathing in its criticism. Xinhua, for instance, ran a commentary under the headline "Japan runs risk of playing with fire," while the Global Times, a particularly nationalist newspaper, piled on with "Defense paper shows Tokyo's hysteria."

The latter headline – by far the most vitriolic – has run on the front page of Global Times' English website for two days. The editorial, which was overseen by China's controversial Hu Xijin, states: "The hysteria of some Japanese politicians is a result of their country's anxiety and fear," and "Japanese officials take turns to show their toughness on China, and they use the white paper to provoke us."

A great deal of China’s ire, communicated through state-run media, has been directed at Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, accusing him of stirring-up things with China to solidify his right-wing base.

Xinhua, for instance, opined that: "Abe intends to cater to rightists at home in a bid to seal a victory at the upcoming elections in the Senate." The editorial also accuses Abe of trying to "distort Japan's history of aggression in a bid to challenge the post-war international order" and to "distort facts to blacken China, play up [the] so-called ‘China threat’ and ignite the tension between the two countries to justify the expansion of Japan's military powerhouse."

This report is in no way new, but it is the first under the Shinzo Abe government to express serious international policy shifts. The main changes in the report were a 0.7 percent increase in military spending, the first such increase in 11 years; a more nationalistic tone; and an emphasis on China's role as an aggressor. As the paper states, China's actions "could lead to unintended consequences. In a way, this makes us concerned where we are headed."

Within hours of its publication, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying commented that the report (which the Wall Street Journal described as "doorstop-sized") was nothing more than Japan hyping the "China threat,” echoing Chinese state-run papers. She added, "We hope that the Japanese side can adopt a more proper attitude and make efforts to improve political trust and enhance regional peace and stability." 

While the response from China’s state media is clear, it was somewhat mitigated by the fact that China was already in gear for an Abe takedown after his comments on Fuji TV on Sunday, July 7th. During that interview, the Japanese premier accused China of changing the "status quo by force" regarding the Senkaku Islands and twisting the "pride" he takes in Japanese history.

Therefore, before the defense paper even appeared, Xinhua was already throwing punches at Abe with headlines like, "International community needs to be on alert to Abe's distorted attitude toward history." The article reads: "Abe turned the spotlight on the 'pride' every country takes in its history…Japan, whose barbarious (sic) militarist policies during World War II brought disasters to its neighbors, is by no means entitled to take pride in its wartime history."

China's media often accuses Abe of historical revisionism, meaning that, regardless of the subject matter, WWII is a regularly mentioned grievance against Japan because China and other Asian nations resent the lack of acknowledgment and remorse Japan has shown for its WWII war atrocities. In this case, the Xinhua editorial called out Abe on taking "pride in the atrocities that Japanese aggressors committed to neighboring countries in the Second World War."

To be fair, although obviously less rancorous than China’s famously nationalistic media, the defense white paper– overseen by Japan's Defense Minister, Itsunori Onodera – does not mince words when it comes to who is responsible for the two countries' maritime troubles. For instance, the report states that China, "resorts to tactics viewed as highhanded, including attempts to use force to change the status quo, as it insists on its own unique assertions that are inconsistent with the order of the international law."

 Of course, China isn't the only country to take issue with Japan’s report. Japan amped up rhetoric on North Korea and reiterated its claim to the Kuril Islands and Takeshima (Dokdo) Islands, which have been disputed by Russia and South Korea respectively. South Korea requested that the offending portion of the white paper be deleted immediately and never added again. And, of course, there were a few objections on the domestic front as well.

Nevertheless, the ebb and flow of relations between China and Japan has ostensibly led to a diplomatic deadlock in which the slightest changes are viewed as major policy shifts, and are regarded with suspicion and often anger by both sides. While China's editorial line has barely changed – in many ways unchanged for decades – Japan's new defense report has done little more than provide China with fresh column fodder.

Tyler Roney is a columnist for China Power and an editor at the Beijing-based magazine, The World of Chinese.