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Troubling trends demand that Japan take action at sea

26 4 3
03.06.2020

Uh oh.

There really isn’t a better way to respond to Toshi Yoshihara’s troubling new study of Chinese views of Japanese seapower and the shifting balance of power between Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force and China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). This transition has profound implications not only for the defense of Japan but regional stability as well, given the vital role that Japanese maritime superiority has played in assuring U.S. military dominance in the Asia Pacific.

“Dragon against the Sun: Chinese Views of Japanese Seapower” is the latest in Yoshihara’s long line of work on maritime security in Asia. A senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis (CSBA, which published the study last month), he taught strategy for over a decade at the Naval War College and has written some of the definitive works on Chinese naval policy. In other words, his conclusions are not to be taken lightly.

His analysis draws deeply on history and begins with the especially contentious relationship that Japan and China have had for over a century. A “historical consciousness about power” — one in which wealth and power provide a “mutually reinforcing formula for national triumph and greatness” — is the foundation of thinking about national security in both countries. Both see prosperity as the critical enabler of military strength, which is in turn the means to assert national greatness. In a region in which Tokyo and Beijing view the other as its primary rival, the result is a zero-sum competition that is extremely sensitive to long-held grievances.

Given that worldview, the “dramatic shift” in the balance of naval power in Asia that Yoshihara observes isn’t just worrying but is actually dangerous. A “massive” Chinese naval buildup that began in the 1990s allowed the PLAN to overtake the MSDF “in critical measures of power, including fleet size, aggregate tonnage, and firepower.”

The total tonnage of the Chinese surface combatant fleet doubled in the 29 years after 1990, even as the number........

© The Japan Times