The importance of stability in Asia is growing as the world moves forward in the 21st century. China continues to push its territorial land and sea boundaries, the DPRK continues to threaten the safety of its regional neighbors, and global terrorism is becoming a larger problem that requires all countries that have the ability to give support. To further strengthen and balance regional powers in Asia and to give Japan the means to protect Japanese citizens and interests, Japan must move forward with amending article 9 of its constitution. Long-term goals consist of strengthening Japan’s military capabilities and the JSDF, creating a peaceful power balance between China and Japan, easing tension in the South China Sea (SCS) and East China Sea (ECS), and further developing the bilateral partnership between the United States and Japan (1).
Article 9 was added into Japan’s constitution to create and maintain a peaceful balance in Asia following World War II. Seventy years later Japan is a regional superpower, but due to Japan’s inability to balance military power with other developing nations, new and dangerous dynamics have developed. Japan currently has the Japan Self-Defense Forces and in recent years these forces have been engaged in peacekeeping operations, including operations with the UN. Yet the JSDF do not currently have the ability to deal with the new dynamics that are causing problems and creating tension in the region. Even with the shift by the JSDF from Cold War goals to China and the Senkaku Islands, this division of forces will not be sufficient to achieve the goals and interests of Japan. Further development of Japan’s military will not only give Japan the ability to protect their territory and democratic interests, but also a larger role in multilateral peacekeeping operations around the world.
The reinterpretation and possible amending of article 9 has already caused increased tension between Japan and China. Tensions have grown significantly as Japan has continued this course of action by purchasing military ships, planes, and other defense weaponry; however, if Japan is to put an end to the bullying by China and remove the threat of the DPRK, a large and respected military force must be developed. Transparency and multilateral support missions with China are extremely important as they develop militarily. If China continues to feel threatened or perceives that Japan has intentions that would negatively impact the PRC, tensions will further escalate, leading to war. If Japan provides clear evidence that their intentions are nonthreatening and instead are for the development and protection of regional actors, the currently tense state of affairs with China should improve.
Within the last 15 years, China has continually pushed further and further into the territorial waters of nations that border or have territory in the East and South China Sea. The United States under the Obama Administration has made significant steps toward a pivot from the Middle East to Asia, including rotating US marines out of Australia and has made plans to base 60% of its naval ships in the Pacific by 2020. However, because the Trans-Pacific Partnership is unlikely to be ratified by the United States during Obama’s time in office, Japan needs to continue their development of self-defense to limit China’s ability of pushing military vessels into the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands and give Japan a larger role in defending developing nations in the SCS.
Under the Bush Administration and now the Obama Administration, the alliance between Japan and the United States has had significant positive growth. It will likely be under the next United States president that the United States, Japan, South Korea and other regional partners will have to deal with China’s claim to territory and the DPRK’s quickly developing missile program. Similar to China’s claim of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Macau, China disputes the United Nations Charter and claims ownership of the Japanese owned Senkaku Islands and also territorial waters and islands in the SCS. China is seemingly taking cues from Russia and Russia’s claim of Crimea, so it is likely that China will continue to assert and possibly escalate the situation by creating and developing structures on these islands. China has already laid claim to the Spratly Islands – developing airfields and lighthouses on the islands – and is currently blockading the Scarborough Shoal with military and dredging vessels. It is likely that China has similar plans to the Scarborough Shoal even after the Obama Administration and the ASEAN community has repeatedly stated condemnation of China’s actions and released statements of planned aggression against China if they continue to develop the islands (2).
China has continually pushed boundaries in the ECS and SCS over the last 15 years and if left unchecked by Japan, the United States and other regional actors, China will continue to lay claim and develop territory that is economically and militarily strategic for China. As the likely next President of the United States, Secretary Clinton will need to continue the counter push by the United States by sending naval vessels into the Pacific region, developing ties with ASEAN allies, and give further aid to Japan in support of the development of Japan’s self-defense forces. China is attempting to create a region that will make the United States and other nations reluctant to interfere, but through continued dialogue among the United States, Japan, China, and other regional actors, transparent development of Japan’s military, and further pivoting by the United States to Asia, China will be forced to compromise with its Asian partners. Japan’s role will continue to grow as the world's focus shifts to the Asian region, but it will take the cooperation of all of Japan’s allies to settle disputes with China in a peaceful and diplomatic fashion.
(1) CSIS. September 15, 2016. CSIS – Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved from https://www.csis.org/events/evolving-japan-us-alliance-keeping-asia-and-pacific-peaceful-and-prosperous-0
(2) Hunt, Katle and Qulano, Kathy. September 8th, 2016. CNN. South China Sea: China building more islands. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/08/asia/south-china-sea-scarborough-shoal-philippines-china/
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Mr. Westerfield graduated from James Madison University in 2014 with a bachelor of arts degree in international affairs and a minor in Mandarin Chinese language. After graduating, Eric moved to Chengdu, China where he lived for two years teaching English and developing his Mandarin Chinese language ability to a professional level at Sichuan University. He returned to the United States in July of 2016 and now works in Washington D.C. as a government contractor with Customs and Border Protection. His interests include U.S. Foreign Policy, U.S.-CHINA Relations, International Affairs, Intelligence Analysis, Law Enforcement, and Languages.