Japan has begun taking a more aggressive approach to its national defense and to its partnership with the US in regional defense. This may be spurred by the People’s Republic of China’s naked aggression in the South China Sea against the Republic of the Philippines and their threats against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam over the latter’s activities in the Sea. This may be spurred by northern Korea’s attempted launch of an ICBM—Japan had already announced they’d attempt to shoot it down if its path were over/toward Japan. This may be spurred by the fact that the PRC said last March that it plans to increase defense spending over 11% in 2012, making their defense spending second highest in the world after the our own.
Adding to this is the US talking more aggressively about our own self- and regional-defense responsibilities. A newly appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia and Pacific affairs will give “serious consideration” to the sale of F-16 C/D fighters to the Republic of China (recall that this administration last September acquiesced to PRC demands that we not sell the RoC these models—instead we agreed to sell markedly less capable A/B models). Bloomberg reports our administration’s bigger talk, now: A jet sale
“warrants serious consideration given the growing military threat to Taiwan,” Robert Nabors, the White House’s director of legislative affairs, said in a letter [26 April] to Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.
On top of this, the administration is working a deal to base a small number of American troops at a location on Australia’s northern coast.
So far, though, little Japan, with its constitutionally mandated limits on its military posture, seems to be taking the more aggressive action. As The Wall Street Journal reports,
“Japan will promote…enhancement of its defense posture in the area, including the Southwestern Islands, in coordination with the US strategy of focusing on the Asia-Pacific region,” [Prime Minister Yoshihiko] Noda told [the paper], referring to a chain of islands in the East China Sea over which China and Japan have clashed.
It’s also useful to note that the Southwestern Islands loosely bound the East China Sea, and they are part of a longer island chain that loosely connect Japan with the Republic of China.
The WSJ cited Mr Noda further as describing
…a number of concrete measures that would spread Japan’s military presence throughout the region.
The two nation will develop the American-controlled Pacific island of Guam as “a strategic hub” and consider building joint training facilities there and on nearby islands—a move that would establish for the first time a permanent Japanese military presence on US territory. Mr Noda said one possible location would be the Northern Mariana Islands.
We’ll see in time whether our own moves are just more of a piece with President Obama’s foreign policy technique—idle chit-chat—or whether it’s serious. Still, it’s a promising beginning. In an election season.