Opinion / Featured Contributors

Japan's plot to contain China with US, Australia not viable

By Pang Zhongpeng ( Updated: 2015-07-23 16:30

The United States and Australia kicked off a two-week “Talisman Sabre” exercise, a massive joint biennial military drill, on July 5 in northern Australia, with Japan and New Zealand taking part for the first time. The exercise involves 30,000 personnel from the US and Australia, as well as some 40 personnel from Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force, practicing operations at sea, in the air and on land.

Although not a major force in the group, the 40 Japanese soldiers belong to the core JGSDF company which was designed to defend Japan’s southwest islands and capture those under the control of “enemies”. Incidentally, they openly practiced the island capturing at the Fog Bay in Northern Australia over the weekend.

Given such “well-designed” training session with more than one implications embedded in it, it is hardly convincing that Japan’s maiden participation in the US-Australia drills is “not targeted at a third country”.

For starters, to pass the new security bills in the Diet as the legal basis for exercising the right to collective defense, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe needs to stir up military tensions in his country. In other words, it is a feasible and less controversial solution to assign a Japanese elite troop to the joint exercise held by Japan’s close ally (the US) and regional friend (Australia).

Amid the mounting oppositions against the new security bills, Abe is still bent on seeking evidence that can make the passage a just and righteous course. Taking part in a regional drill is conducive to stoking fears among Japanese people that their country is on the verge of war as latent dangers approach its neighborhood.

Second, as a former observer of the US-Australia drills, Japan aims to contain China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road strategy and stop it from reaching the Northern Australia area, which is also not far from the South China Sea. In fact, the trilateral talks held by leaders from the US, Australia and Japan last November witnessed a consensus of reinforcing security cooperation between them. Japan has partly disclosed the technological information about its high-performance submarines, and decided to help Australia build its new submarines.

A clear signal that the latest joint military exercise has sent is that the three countries are forging a strategic encirclement to contain Beijing, with the Japan-Australia coordination being a distraction as well as a boost to Japan’s military muscle. For long, Japan has seen itself as a major maritime power in the Pacific Ocean, and the incumbent Abe administration is determined to relive its “glorious” past - a major military power especially at sea - by expanding the SDF.

Straddling both the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, Australia is a born oceanic power that Japan would seek to partner in military cooperation. More importantly, a better Japan-Australia relationship may even serve as a breakthrough in the pursuit of a trilateral alliance which also involves the US, pushing Japan closer to being a quasi military power.

Whatever purposes are embedded in Japan’s active participation in the joint practice, things may not work out as wished. On the one hand, being neither a squire nor a follower of Tokyo, Canberra is unlikely to pander to Abe without considering the negative outcomes of cooperating to contain China.

On the other, Abe’s personal ambition of reviving militarization will not easily get its way, because his country is yet to accept a square consensus in terms of its wartime history. Instead, some right-wingers are strenuously denying Japan’s invasion in many Asian countries, including China before and during the World War II. As the world watches its militarizing attempts, Japan has little chance to contain a rising China with the outdated Cold War mentality.

The author is a researcher at the Japan Studies Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Most Viewed Today's Top News