Japan sees ‘grave concern’ in Beijing’s East China Sea actions

Japan believes China could use its global BRI to push its People’s Liberation Army into the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions

TOKYO • China’s projection of its military might into Asian waters and North Korea’s modernisation of its ballistic-missile arsenal pose risks to Japanese and regional security, the Japanese Ministry of Defence said.

In its annual white paper released yesterday, the ministry accused China of “relentlessly’ pushing its way toward uninhabited East China Sea islands claimed by the two countries, saying it was becoming “a matter of grave concern”. The ministry also accused China of spreading disinformation about Covid-19.

The Defence of Japan white paper comes after fresh ripples between Japan and its sole military ally, the US, following Tokyo’s decision last month to drop deployment plans for a US$5 billion (RM21.3 billion) Lockheed Martin Corp missile- defence system. The Trump administration has sought more money from Japan and other countries that host US troops.

Despite those hiccups, the US has still found Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to be one of the staunchest supporters of President Donald Trump’s security policies, including those for China and North Korea. Abe has spent much of his almost eight-year tenure trying to repair ties with China while maintaining Japan’s post-war alliance with the US.

China said it had lodged a “stern representations” to Japan.

The defence paper “is full of bias and disinformation against China”, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily briefing in Beijing. “It paints China as a threat. It is named a white paper, but it is indeed a paper of accusations, which exposes certain forces’ ill intentions in Japan.”

The Japanese report follows a Pentagon assessment that determined China to be advancing military and territorial footholds in the South China Sea. On Monday, the Trump administration rejected China’s expansive maritime claims in that water body, reversing a previous policy of not taking sides in such disputes.

“We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them,” US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said. “The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.”

Japan reiterated that it believed China could use its global Belt and Road infrastructure (BRI) to push its People’s Liberation Army into the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions.

The US earlier this month sent the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz aircraft carriers to the South China Sea for military exercises as China held its own drills in the area. Beijing’s moves have drawn protests from Washington amid worsening relations between the world’s two biggest economies.

Japan and Australia have also jointly criticised China’s militarisation of the disputed waters as they face souring relations with their largest trading partner, while Beijing has faced criticism from leading democracies for its new security law seen as eroding autonomy in Hong Kong.

Japanese ruling party lawmaker Akira Amari said he was concerned over China becoming too powerful in a post-pandemic world if it sets global standards for economic and social infrastructure. “Looking at the case of Hong Kong, for example, or how China controls its entire society, it could be a new genre of social system: Surveillance capitalism,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Ties between China and Japan deteriorated to their worst point in decades after Japan purchased part of a disputed island chain from a private owner in 2012. Relations slowly returned to a relatively even keel, but coast guard and military vessels from both countries continue to follow one another around the islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

Japan was also worried about a series of new, solid-fuel ballistic missiles that North Korea began testing last year. Japan already believes that Kim Jong-un’s regime can miniaturise a nuclear warhead to place on a missile, and the new series of rockets are designed to avoid defence systems. — Bloomberg