TIPP: Tokyo’s pivot turns the Pacific balance


The year 2022 has turned out to be another landmark in world history. The year saw a war in a developed country, on the continent of Europe, after decades. North Korea boosted its missile capabilities. Iran inched closer to a nuclear weapon, dragging its feet with the Nuclear Deal revival. And China, under the third-term President Xi Jinping, continued its saber-rattling, breaching Taiwan’s airspace multiple times and stoking tensions in its neighborhood.

President Xi’s ambition to “unify” Taiwan is well known. Lesser known fact: beyond Taiwan lie a group of islands that China claims as its own. These mostly uninhabited atolls and isles are a bone of contention between Tokyo and Beijing. The rich marine resources and oil deposits make these specks of land coveted real estate. Chinese naval vessels have made their presence felt more frequently in the region.

Many believe that China now feels emboldened to move on Taiwan. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is seen as a rupture of the “world order.” Nations are paying closer attention to their territorial defense. The failure to present a unified front against the invader (Moscow) has made people aware of the need for robust national militaries and enemy strike capabilities.

Tokyo, for its part, believes that, after Taiwan, the contested islands will be next on President Xi’s agenda. Unwilling to be caught off guard, Prime Minister Kishida is making moves to shore up Japan’s defenses. Moving past its pacifist constitution that forbade Japan from maintaining a full-fledged military, plans are underway to establish a world-class force with first-strike capabilities. The island country recently announced a $320 billion defense plan, doubling the current spending to 2% of the national GDP over the next five years.

A close U.S. ally, Japan, has had an eventful year. Mid-year, the largely peaceful country was shocked by the assassination of its former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But, his work and vision are paving the way for the re-emergence of Japan as a military power. The third-largest economy in the world is looking to acquire missile systems and offensive cyber capabilities, adding fuel to the re-ignited arms race.

The modern military and updated naval force would deter another aggravating neighbor, North Korea. Recent arms tests by Pyongyang saw missiles land in the waters off the coast of Japan. In cahoots with China, North Korea has been augmenting its arsenal and achieving extended strike capabilities.

Ironically, Beijing responded that Japanese action “provokes regional tension and confrontation.” The Chinese spokesperson claimed that “the two countries are cooperative partners and do not pose a threat to each other.” But, Japan views Beijing’s aggressive moves as a threat significant enough to ignore its “peace constitution.”

While it is clear that Tokyo was compelled by recent developments, with the proposed militarization of the island nation, the world has lost a country that steadfastly eschewed war and advocated for peace.



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