ASIA-PACIFIC REGION: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
Japan set to expand its naval capabilities
, June 13, 2009
Japan's recent boost to its naval capabilities could lead to increased tensions with China. Joseph Poprzeczny reports.Mounting security uncertainties are prompting Japan to markedly boost its naval capabilities, according to a research paper released by Perth-based think-tank, Future Directions International.
The moves are seen as having beneficial outcomes overall for United States strategies and Australia.
Future Directions International (FDI) was founded early this year by former Western Australia Governor and one-time Australian Governor-General, Major-General Michael Jeffery (rtd).
A recent research paper by Scott Hobbs, "The Japanese maritime self-defence force set to sail further afield", in the FDI's Weekly Global Report
(Vol. 5, No. 17, May 11, 2009), predicts that a changing political environment and Japan's willingness to boost its maritime capabilities mean its navy will be able to project Japan's influence across the seas.Implications
The paper says: "The rise of Japanese maritime power has significant implications for the Asia-Pacific region. Firstly, an expanded role for Japan's navy would enhance the Japan-United States Alliance.
"Increased capabilities would mean Japan could become a greater player in regional security, relieving the US of some of this duty. The rise of Japan would strengthen the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region in favour of the US.
"This fits in well with the US overall strategy, which is wary of China, but focused predominantly on international terrorism. Furthermore, as the US is seen to maintain the status quo in the region, a strong alliance between the US and Japan helps to mitigate the fears of smaller Asian states who are concerned about the return of a militaristic Japan."
However, the paper concedes that a Japanese naval boost could lead to increased tensions with China. It says China continues to fear an increasingly militarised Japan and does not see the US as an effective check on such power.
However, the paper queries such Chinese complaints. It says: "These concerns are based on an emotional response to past Japanese aggression rather than an analysis of current conditions.
"While Japan is increasing its naval capabilities, it still retains an almost exclusively defensive maritime posture due to constitutional limitations which restrict its ability to project power or even purchase offensive weapons. Despite this, China could increase its own naval arsenal in response to Japanese action, potentially sparking a regional arms race.
"Regional fears of an increasingly aggressive Japan do not take into account public opinion within the country. The humiliating defeat of World War II, coupled with the US-imposed pacifist-constitution, has created a situation where the Japanese public is relatively unwilling to allow their government to engage in armed conflict.
"Therefore Japan should not be considered a threat in the short or medium term due to the express pacifist nature of its population."
The paper also sees benefits for Australia from a strong Japanese naval arm. It points out that the Australian and Japanese navies already conduct limited joint training exercises and fleet visits, and enhanced Japanese maritime capabilities may increase Japan's willingness to engage with Australia.
It says: "These developments would only serve to strengthen the Australia-Japan security partnership. Also, as Japan and Australia share common sea lines of communication, any measures Japan takes to secure these will benefit Australia."
Future Directions International notes that Japan's naval capabilities, although still requiring additional capabilities, are already sizeable. The paper says: "While Japan has only recently started to flex its maritime muscle, it has always possessed a formidable force. Japan's navy consists of 45,750 personnel and 3,800 civilian staff."
A 2006 aggregate tally showed that it has 16 advanced diesel-electric submarines, 54 principal surface combatants and 109 P-3C Orion long-range maritime surveillance aircraft. While their vessels are fewer than those of China's navy or the Russian Pacific fleet, they are of superior quality and arguably form the second strongest naval power in the region after the US.Japan's coast guard
In addition, Japan's coast guard, which is modelled on its American counterpart, has 84 armed vessels of over 500 tonnes, 56 of which have a displacement over 1,000 tonnes. Together this represents a sizeable naval fighting arm.
The paper observes that, while Japan's coast guard is not as capable as a modern navy, it has significant patrol capabilities and can use force more readily than Japan's navy. It says that in 2001, a coast guard vessels sank a suspected North Korean intelligence-gathering ship.
Japan's navy recently commissioned the first of the Hyuga-class of helicopter destroyer. While these are referred to as helicopter destroyers, they resemble a light aircraft-carrier, or amphibious assault ship, and provide its navy with limited force projection capabilities.
Clearly, the Rudd Government's recently-announced boost to Australia's naval arm will mean it will have to consider to what extent our country should integrate into the joint United States and Japanese capabilities.- Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based historian and freelance writer.REFERENCE:
Scott Hobbs, "The Japanese maritime self-defence force set to sail further afield", Weekly Global Report
(Future Directions International [FDI]: Australia's Centre for Strategic Analysis, Perth, WA), Vol. 5, No. 17, May 11, 2009.