Uotsuri-jima, part of the disputed Senkaku islands

Uotsuri-jima, part of the disputed Senkaku islands (Source: Sagittarius Arrow)

Another interesting read this morning was The Oriental Economist’s Richard Katz’s interview with Mike Mochizuki, a leading academic on Japanese politics and foreign policy. Asia Policy Point, for whom Mochizuki is a board member, reprinted the interview online for all to see.

Katz:Is this incident a turning point in the “threat perception” of China by Japan and by other countries? Or, is it just a bad incident whose impact will fade?

Mochizuki: Even before this incident, there was increasing concern, about China within Japan’s security policy community. They were concerned about China’s increasing military presence and activities. They were also concerned about activities of non-military actors, like fishing boats and survey ships. They saw this as increasingly assertive and, in some cases, aggressive. Japanese defense analysts linked this behavior to an overarching Chinese maritime strategy, of “anti-access” and “area denial,” i.e. the ability to prevent the navies of other countries from having access to the waters near China, especially in the East China and South China seas. The 2010 Japanese Defense White Paper has the most extensive analysis—not just of the Chinese military buildup and activities—but for the first time at attempt to provide some clear explanation or motivations for Chinese behavior.

So, the Senkakus incident basically reinforced a tendency that had already been growing within the Japanese security policy community. That’s not surprising to me at all. The real question for me is whether this incident will convince others in Japan: those that have, up to now, been less concerned about Chinese military activities, the people who were much more focused on the benefits that the Chinese market gives to the Japanese economy. These people wanted to promote community-building with the Chinese, much greater investments, and so forth. They are typified by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. If this incident has changed the perceptions of China among the latter type of people in Japan, that would be a sea change. We don’t know yet.

This incident may end up being seen as a turning point, as the point at which Japan reassessed its threat environment, and decided to develop a more robust defense response to China’s military modernization. Or, this incident could end up being seen as a problem of misperception, miscommunication and mishandling of a very sensitive issue, from which both sides will learn so as to avoid further such incidents.

Click here for the original article

In my day-to-day experience, the Senkaku incident might be the turning point that Mochizuki mentions. People seem genuinely upset by the collision and the government’s attempt to keep it secret, even if they agree that the coast guard member (most famous as YouTuber Sengoku38) was wrong to leak the video. With tourism and economic ties growing ever stronger between the two countries, this makes for a concerning tension between competing nationalisms and economic imperatives. The real question is to what extent the government and the bureaucracy have been affected by the general sentiment – and this blogger doesn’t believe that the recent December 2010 defense review is a significant enough sign that the government is yet on a collision course.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch