China is Transforming its Growing Economic Strength Into Military Power

Seiji Fuji

China wants to dominate the Pacific Ocean

 On January 6, The Sankei Shimbun Morning Edition included an article entitled, “China Strengthens South China Sea Bases: Dialogue Framework With Philippines, Keeping the United States Away.” It read:

President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met on January 4, and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a joint statement the following day. There are territorial disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. Regarding this, the statement says the two countries will “establish a direct communication mechanism” between foreign affairs authorities to avoid collisions and strive for “peaceful means” to resolve this. However, China does not intend to stop building military bases, and it seems this will not actually solve conflicts in the South China Sea.
Marcos is trying to interact skillfully with both China and the United States, much like former President Rodrigo Duterte. China’s military bases in the South China Sea are becoming a fait accompli. Under the title, “Intimidation Using Maritime Militia, Expanding Interests,” the article continues:
China is building artificial islands for military purposes in the Spratly Islands area. These are actively used by the Chinese maritime militia, which is normally engaged in pursuits such as commercial fishing. An American expert said that several hundred ships with militiamen are routinely deployed in the adjacent seas. The expert sees this as problematic and believes some of these are reclaiming land to build islands, while some are working to obstruct the vessels of other countries.
A research group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an American think tank, shared its satellite image analysis results last November. They were able to confirm that the number of ships peaked at approximately 400. Their conclusion was based on the characteristics of ship hulls typically used by paramilitary groups.
According to the CSIS and institutions in other nations, the maritime militia is actually composed of civilians such as fishing industry workers and employees of marine product manufacturers. However, they receive orders and instructions from authorities like the China Coast Guard (CCG), the authority in charge of maritime safety. The militia’s movements may lead to conflicts, such as their actions impeding other countries’ ships from traveling in the ocean near the islands (a disputed territory).
The CSIS says the Chinese government is giving subsidies to build ships and for equipment required by the maritime militia. Local governments are also proactively utilizing these militiamen – disguised as private citizens – to expand maritime interests, including paying expenses for militia organizations moving to outlying islands in the Spratly Islands.
The Japanese National Institute for Defense Studies released its China Security Report 2023 last November. It points out that the CCG is enhancing its coordination and integration with the maritime militia.
The Chinese authorities are working to expand their maritime interests in a “gray zone” outside of the navy, including its use of militiamen. It has also been pointed out that the maritime militia tends to take actions contrary to the authorities’ orders and control. There is growing concern that these increasingly active militia actions will trigger conflicts with countries in disputed ocean areas.

 China is expanding while transforming its growing economic strength into military power. It is advancing into the China Sea and using diplomatic negotiations to win over the Philippines and other countries with which it is engaged in territorial disputes. China is also using militiamen to reclaim land. Its final goal is to gain control of the Pacific Ocean. Looking back at history, China initially determined its borders by fighting with land neighbors such as Russia, the Korean Peninsula, and India. China and Russia have traditionally been continental states that mainly wage wars on land, and have faced off with the United States, a maritime nation that controls the oceans. The Vietnam War and Korean War (fought by North and South Korea) brought these continental and maritime states into contact. Afterwards China started opening up and reforming its economic policy, using as a labor force its population of 1.4 billion people (which is more than 10 times larger than Japan). It also became a massive market that helped rapidly grow China’s economic strength and expand its military power. The result is that China has begun embarking into the ocean, causing new conflicts in the South China Sea.
 The Chinese navy used to be weak, but today it is being rapidly built up so China can expand into the ocean. China purchased from Ukraine the Varyag, an aircraft carrier built by the former Soviet Union, and brought it into commission in 2012 as the Liaoning carrier. By studying these technologies, China was able to commission its first domestic carrier, the Shandong, in 2019. Fujian, its second domestically produced carrier, was launched in 2022 and is currently being outfitted for commissioning next year. The Chinese navy is said to have more combat vessels than the U.S., meaning that it is the world’s largest navy. As China seeks to dominate the Pacific Ocean, is clear that these naval forces will come into contact with Japan in the East China Sea. Japan must be fully prepared for this so it does not end up as a vassal state of China.

Japan should implement a denial strategy with long-range counterstrike capabilities

 A Cabinet decision was made on December 16, 2022 regarding three defense documents: the National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and Defense Buildup Program. The Japanese government set forth this ground-breaking security policy to reinforce Japan’s defense abilities within the next five years, including by raising defense spending to 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and gaining counterstrike capabilities. Keio University Faculty of Policy Management Professor Ken Jinbo penned an article on this topic for Toyo Keizai Online, which was published on December 26, 2022, “Three Defense Documents: The Reality of Defense and Competitive Strategy in an Inferior Position to China.” The subtitle was, “Raising Defense Spending to 2% of GDP is an Important Point, But This is Not Enough.” In his article, Jinbo explains how Japan has changed its China strategy. He says China is widely acknowledged as the biggest challenge to Japan’s national security. While the two countries spent similar amounts of money on defense expenditures in 2005, some predict that Japan’s defense spending will be just one tenth of China’s in the 2030s. The conventional armed force balance between the U.S. and China is tilting in China’s direction as it expands its area of military influence in the western Pacific. In other words, Japan and the U.S. are inferior to China in the realm of military strength. Jinbo states that Japan needs a defense strategy premised on this awareness. He writes, “Rather than competing in the realm of military strength, we should strive for capabilities that can make an enemy aware of the damages and costs that would result. This makes it impossible for them to unilaterally change the present condition through military means. In other words, this is known as a ‘strategy of denial,’ which targets the enemy’s ability to carry out its tactics.” Jinbo also writes, “The key to this is obtaining the capability to obstruct and eliminate an enemy’s ability to invade from a distance. ‘Asymmetric superiority’ must be obtained through predominance in cross-domain operations. The defense objective is to make the enemy abandon its intentions of invading, according to Japan’s ability to continue waging war founded on sustainability and resilience. Japan should prevent and eliminate the possibility of invasions until 2027. Over the next 10 years or so, Japan should drastically enhance its defense capability to prevent and eliminate the possibility of invasions at an earlier stage and from remote locations.”

Japan must identify China’s weaknesses, without providing windows of opportunity

 The important points of this strategy include uncovering the weaknesses of the Chinese armed forces through “highly maneuverable assets such as drones, anti-ship missiles, and ground-to-ground missiles.” Jinbo describes these weaknesses as follows: “China lacks sufficient anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, as well as naval and air defense capabilities to protect warships from aerial and underwater attacks. It would be particularly difficult for China to carry out an integrated landing strategy, the core of a land invasion.” He writes, “We must not give China any windows of opportunity for military movements.” It would be challenging to gain superiority for conventional land, sea, and air forces at the same time, but as Jinbo says, “It is still possible for Japan to demonstrate asymmetric superiority by strengthening its underwater fighting abilities (mainly submarines) and cross-domain operation capabilities. These combine new fields, such as preeminence in electronic warfare, space, cyber warfare, unmanned weapons, and directed-energy weapons.” Japan is focusing on a denial strategy for maintaining the status quo over the next ten years and to realize a stable strategic environment in the 2030s. To that end, emphasis will first be placed on things including “counterstrike abilities and gaining advanced stand-off defense capabilities.” Namely, the ability to strike distant targets would expand the airspace where Japan can execute a strategy of denial. The second point of focus is strengthening cross-domain operation capabilities combining new fields, enhancing fortifications, and having alternate facilities. This would “drastically enhance sustainability, resiliency, and survivability (the ability to limit damage, survive, and maintain functions when a base or facility is attacked by an enemy).” The third point is, “Further enhancing the Japanese-American alliance and expanding security cooperation with partner countries in the Indo-Pacific along with the objectives of a competition and denial strategy.” Regarding number three, Japan sees Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, and Singapore as important partners. Jinbo concludes as follows: “By continually executing this denial and competition strategy, Japan should strive for security policy that goes beyond its own defense, but also impedes unilateral changes and attempts by powers in the Indo-Pacific. This would by extension create a security environment that does not accept such actions.” Some criticize this as meaningless, saying Japan’s long-range counterstrike capabilities are much too weak to provide deterrence by punishment against China – the concept of showing that Japan will retaliate if it is attacked. However, these counterstrike abilities should not be a way to gain deterrence by punishment, but rather deterrence by denial, which makes the enemy aware of potential military costs. We must not be mistaken on this point.

Japan should strengthen its military to maintain peace through a balance of power

 Because of Article 9 of the constitution, Japanese people have felt secure in the past and have believed the U.S. would protect us in an emergency according to the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. All nations want to be allied with strong countries, but no one wants alliances that make them simply protect weaker nations. Alliances should be agreements of mutual, not one-sided, protection. If not, the weak nation might be influenced by the stronger one to take an incorrect path. Things have changed throughout history and the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) have cultivated defense capabilities, not fighting power, along with Article 9. Now, the three defense documents provide a clear vision for strengthening Japan’s actual abilities and coming closer to achieving a genuine alliance with the U.S.
 As the world’s number-two economic power, Japan was previously able to strike a balance with China. But today China has a GDP nearly four times larger than Japan’s and a population 10 times bigger than ours. These differences are only growing. China is using its economic strength to enhance its military power and intimidate surrounding countries. Some people assume there is no point in strengthening Japan’s ability to oppose China with military force, since they think China would not benefit in any way from invading Japan. However, this is incorrect. What would happen if China carried out diplomatic negotiations against the backdrop of its powerful armed forces? When there is even the slightest possibility of military action, the weaker country must submit to the demands of the stronger one. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown the world the importance of the right to collective defense, including alliances. There were high barriers to Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but it certainly would not have been invaded if it were a member. This is why Japan must strengthen its alliance with the U.S. We should establish a framework in which a more powerful JSDF would fight against invasions with support from the U.S. Armed Forces – that would be a true alliance. With Japan-U.S. collaboration, we could maintain peace via a balance of power and military equilibrium with the expanding China.
 The Ukraine war has also demonstrated the functionality of nuclear deterrence. Russia cannot use nuclear weapons because it fears a nuclear counterattack by NATO. NATO is not directly intervening because it is scared of escalating the situation to a nuclear war. Deterrence is significantly impacted by the presence or absence of nuclear weapons, but should Japan simply believe in the American “nuclear umbrella,” or should we take steps down the path to procuring our own nuclear weapons? I believe we should at least abolish the Three Non-Nuclear Principles, which officially state that Japan will not have nuclear weapons, and adopt a policy of not clearly stating if we have these weapons, whether they are Japanese or American.
 It is a fantasy to believe that peace will come just by wishing for it. Instead, I desire peace founded on a balance of power, not the peace achieved by toppling enemies or being ruled by others. This is why I am hugely in favor of Japan’s change of course in the recent defense documents. In addition to increased defense spending, I hope many citizens will understand the importance of this and start thinking about promptly revising the constitution to transform the JSDF into a defense army.

January 16 (Monday), 6:00 p.m.