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Japan strategy a threat to peace

Updated: 2013-12-17 07:15
By Zhang Junshe ( China Daily)

If Japan's immediate protest against China for establishing the Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea in late November was a knee-jerk reaction, its approach over the past three weeks (and likely moves in the days ahead) has been one of playing up the China "threat" theory. Japan's moves, needless to say, are a prelude to its diplomacy toward China in 2014.

Not surprisingly, China, although uninvited, topped Japan's agenda of the Dec 13-15 special summit between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Tokyo. However, the joint statement without mentioning China's ADIZ indicated Japan's "China threat" card didn't play well.

The Japanese cabinet could endorse a draft of its first national security strategy as early as this week, confirming Tokyo's commitment to building a stronger military to counter perceived security threats from China. When the near-final draft was released last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe termed it "historic", saying it would form the basis of Japan's defense policies to be devised by the newly established National Security Council.

Conservative hawks have, as expected, defended the controversial state secrecy bill - railroaded through the Diet recently against overwhelming public opposition - claiming it is vital for making the US-style body negotiate with Japan's allies over possible sharing of intelligence.

These moves reflect the rightist tilt in the Japan's foreign and defense policies, which are steps toward strengthening the country's military using the China "threat" theory and China's ADIZ as pretexts. But Japan should know that China's ADIZ cannot be used as a pretext for its military buildup. As a sovereign state, China has done nothing illegal; it has not violated the Charter of the United Nations or any other international law in following a globally acceptable practice.

The United States and Canada took the lead in setting up ADIZs in the 1950s. Today, more than 20 countries and regions, including Japan, have ADIZs in place, although their regulations vary. For instance, Washington claims that it does not apply ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter US airspace, but Ottawa does even if foreign aircraft have no intention of entering Canadian airspace.

Despite the lack of unified ADIZ regulations, ADIZs have been set up by many countries to defend national security, and China's ADIZ is no different. The fierce reaction of Japan, therefore, reveals a certain degree of ignorance, if not a deliberate attempt to distort the nature of China's ADIZ. That the freedom of over-flight in the region remains unaltered even after the establishment of China's ADIZ refutes Japan's alarmist talks.

In urging Beijing to withdraw its ADIZ and spreading baseless alarm, Tokyo is conveniently ignoring the fact that it is the one that altered the status quo last year by "nationalizing" parts of the Diaoyu Islands.

As one of the first countries to establish an ADIZ (in 1969), Japan incorporated three-fourths of the airspace over the East China Sea into its ADIZ, which is just 130 kilometers from the Chinese mainland's coastline. And in 1972, Japan widened the scope of its ADIZ to include the Diaoyu Islands, which has been an integral part of Chinese territory since ancient times.

In recent years, it has become typical of Tokyo to accuse Beijing of intruding into its ADIZ and to dispatch warplanes to monitor China's routine exercise and patrol activities. Those, in the words of Abe, are exactly what could "invite an unexpected situation". Abe got the wording right but the usage wrong; Japan, not China, might "invite an unexpected situation".

Despite the huffing and puffing, Tokyo has failed to make ASEAN back it against China at the Tokyo special summit. Even the US, which sent a pair of B-52 bombers to fly over the zone without informing China in an act of defiance last month, has come to its senses and asked its airlines to comply with the Chinese ADIZ regulations. Since the establishment of the ADIZ, more than 50 foreign airlines have submitted their flight plans to China. Therefore, Japan's adamant stance - advising its airlines not to comply with Chinese regulations - can be seen as an unwarranted provocation.

Although Beijing hopes Tokyo would stop playing dirty politics and serve the larger interest of regional stability, Japan's recent attempts at military buildup and its defiance of the post-war order strike a discordant note at a time when the world is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Cairo Declaration.

For a glimpse into Abe's militarist streak, one just has to recall a scene from earlier this year when he put on military uniform and posed inside a training jet numbered 731, a reminder of the notorious Unit 731 that undertook lethal human experimentation before and during World War II. This is shocking, more so because Japan's gaffe-prone Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso has said that Japan could learn from Nazi Germany to revise its pacifist constitution on another occasion.

Such militarist rhetoric and posture should set the alarm bells ringing in the region and beyond. And Japan's national security strategy, although seemingly targeted at China, should be viewed by one and all as a threat to world peace.

The author is a Beijing-based military expert.