In September, a Chinese fishing boat collided with two Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the Senkaku Islands. Those islands are administered by Japan, but are claimed by China. The incident set off a war of words between the two nations after Japan arrested fishing boat captain Zhan Qixiong. At the time China warned of “consequences” if Qixiong was not quickly released.
Citing increased tensions between the two nations, Japan released the fishing boat captain on September 25 and he returned home to China on a plane chartered by the Chinese government. But tensions in the region, though contained for the moment, still simmered.
They have begun to flare again in the wake of an announced realignment and repurposing of Japan’s Self Defense Force. Over the last several decades, the bulk of Japan’s military was focused on defense of Northern Japan from an expected Soviet invasion in the event the Cold War turned hot. Deployments in the north consisted of tank and artillery units on the Island of Hokkaido. Now, Japan is shifting focus to the South where, encounters like that in September between the Chinese fishing boat and the Japanese Coast Guard suggest to analysts that a confrontation with the growing military might of China is more likely. In fact, the new Japanese defense policy noted, in unusually strongly worded phraseology, that China’s military is “a matter of concern for the region and the international community.” China, meanwhile, called Japan’s new defense policy “irresponsible.”
Japan’s new doctrine calls for an increase in the size of the nation’s submarine force to 22, up 6 from the current 16. That growth is to be offset by a reduction of tank forces. Japan also intends to increase its mobile forces and design them to be able to move quickly to defend far-flung islands.
Speaking of the new policy, Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said, “Our country is encircled by severe security situations and I believe that we were able to lay out a security and defense policy appropriate for the new era.”
The Japanese realignment comes amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula and news that China may launch its first aircraft carrier in 2014. The South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo notes: “China is believed to be building two 50,000-60,000-ton aircraft carriers at Changxingdao Shipyard, the world’s biggest, in Shanghai and is expected to launch one in 2014.”
China also acquired the incomplete Soviet-era carrier Varyag and appears to be near to completing work needed to make the vessel sea-worthy. The PLA Navy’s growth in carriers is in keeping with current military thinking in Beijing that puts greater emphasis on seapower.
But with the growth of naval power in China, and Japan’s apparent determination to counter Chinese ambitions around disputed islands at sea, as well as North Korea’s continued threats of aggression, the Eastern Pacific looks to become the locus of a new Asian Cold War.
Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, Dennis Behreandt, is the Founder and Editor In Chief of the American Daily Herald, the former managing and senior editor at The New American, and the author of hundreds of articles on subjects ranging from natural theology to history and from science and technology to philosophy. His research interests include the period of late antiquity in European history as well as Medieval and Renaissance history. Visit his blog and article archive at DennisBehreandt.com.