TOKYO — North Korea has been firing missiles into Japanese waters for years without major incidents. But an increasingly powerful and aggressive China doing the same, as it did on Thursday as part of military exercises, has sparked concerns in political and security circles from Tokyo to Washington.
Analysts say Beijing’s launch of five missiles into waters east of Taiwan, which is part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, has been linked to supporting Taiwan in the event of a conflict there. It issued a warning to both the United States and Japan, analysts said. .
Beijing wants to remind Washington that it can attack not just Taiwan, but U.S. bases in the region, such as Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, as well as any maritime invasion forces, said Thomas G. Mahnken, now a former Pentagon official. said. Director of the Center for Strategic Budget Evaluation in Washington.
It also reminds the Japanese that the US military presence on Okinawa is targeting Japan, he added.
Daniel Snyder, an expert on Japan’s diplomatic relations at Stanford University, said the Chinese “want to prove they are capable of imposing a blockade on Taiwan, and they are sending a very clear message to those coming to Taiwan’s aid.” I would like to send a Taiwan — the United States and Japan — could also be targeted. ”
“If anyone in Japan thought they could avoid getting involved in a dispute in the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese have proven otherwise,” Snyder added.
Analysts have also suggested that Chinese military exercises in the waters around Taiwan are likely to change the status quo in the region, just as the 1995 and 1996 exercises obliterated the Taiwan Strait’s central line.
Tetsuo Kotani, a professor of international relations at Meikai University and a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, said, “Although this exercise lasts only three days, this kind of large-scale exercise could become routine in the next few years. There is,” he said. ”
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose visit to Taiwan this week has sparked tensions in the region, will arrive in Japan on Thursday night and will meet top Japanese politicians, starting with breakfast with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday. be.
Some analysts argue that if Beijing’s intention is to intimidate Japan, the missile launch could have the opposite effect on Japan’s leaders.
Yuki Tatsumi, director of the Japan program at the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, said, “When things like this go on and you see Chinese missiles landing in Japan’s economic zone, it’s actually a big threat to the defense. It could accelerate the debate for a more rapid increase in spending,” he said.
Japan, which has been wary of its neighbor’s growing power for years, has launched a plan to work more closely with its allies to counter China, reduce its reliance on Washington, and take more responsibility for its own defense. is doing.
The post-war evolution from a pacifist orientation gained new momentum with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after which the ruling Liberal Democratic Party recommended doubling military spending to 2% of gross domestic product.
More hawkish politicians are pushing Japan to develop a first-strike capability with conventional missiles, and have even suggested that Japan could one day possess US nuclear weapons as a deterrent. A story like this would have been unthinkable ten years ago.
Located just 100 kilometers from the Japanese military base on Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture, Taiwan lies at the center of Tokyo’s security concerns.that is One of Japan’s largest trading partnersa major source of advanced computer chips, and straddles a narrow strait through which nearly all of Japan’s energy resources are shipped.
Policymakers believe that any military confrontation over the islands will inevitably gravitate toward Japan, which hosts a US military base in nearby Okinawa and has a disputed territorial dispute with Beijing over the Senkaku Islands. I’m afraid of
In its latest white paper, Japan’s defense ministry warned that Japan should have a “sense of crisis” about possible confrontation between the United States and China.
In preparation for such an event, military planners have stepped up coordination with U.S. forces, moving more troops and missile batteries to islands in southern Japan that could be on the front lines of the conflict.
In December, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated last month, said in remarks to Taiwanese policy groups, “Taiwan’s crisis will become Japan’s crisis. In other words, it is a crisis of the Japan-US alliance.”
In an April opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, he urged the United States to clarify its policy of “strategic obscurity” over the islands, which he said “would lead to the Indo-Pacific by encouraging China to underestimate it. “It’s contributing to regional instability,” he said. American determination. ”
In recent years, the Japanese public has taken a strong interest in Taiwan’s security issues. This is due to growing concerns over supply chains, China’s regional military activities, China’s treatment of Uyghurs, and hostility to Hong Kong’s democratic rule. Since the pandemic began, public opinion has turned categorically against China, but support for Taiwan has grown rapidly.
Shortly after the missile landed, Tokyo filed a formal protest with China, asking it to immediately halt military exercises near Taiwan, Japan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters that the incident was a “grave issue affecting our country’s security and the safety of our people.”
On Thursday before the missile was launched, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, told reporters that Beijing was not aware of the Japanese economic zone where the missile landed.
China also called off a meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi after a statement by a group of seven industrialized nations expressing concern over Beijing’s “threatening behavior” around Taiwan.
The missile incident is, in some ways, a familiar routine for Japan, which has seen ten North Korean ballistic missiles land in its own economic zone since 2016. In the short term, Japan’s reaction to Beijing should follow the same strategy as Pyongyang, according to analyst Tatsumi. Diplomatic protest and more vigilance.
“Japan definitely does not want China to blame them for overreacting,” she said.
But in the long run, she said, China should expect Japan to build up its military power.
“We will not delay Japan’s discussion on increasing defense spending,” she added. “If anything, it will probably accelerate, and the dialogue between Japan and the United States will also accelerate.”
Hisako Ueno and Makiko Inoue from Tokyo and Eric Schmidt from Washington contributed reports.