By David Pilling, Financial Times, January 20, 2005
Japan on Thursday stepped up its campaign to brand China as a potential military threat in the region, saying it opposed the proposed lifting of an arms embargo against Beijing by the European Union. Nobutaka Machimura, foreign minister, told Jack Straw, his UK counterpart, that lifting the arms export ban would be of concern to all east Asia countries, including Japan.
In a five-year military review late last year, Japan said China - along with North Korea - needed close scrutiny. Its decision to name China explicitly, against the advice of some Japanese government officials, came after its maritime defence forces chased a Chinese submarine from Japanese waters. Tokyo has become more vocal in its criticism of Beijing following the promotion of several ministers and bureaucrats who argue that Japan has danced around China for too long.
This week, the Liberal Democratic party, the dominant member of the ruling coalition, formally expressed its support for visits by Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister, to the Yasukuni shrine. Mr Koizumi’s frequent visits to the shrine, a nationalist symbol that enshrines 2.5m war dead including 14 Class A war criminals, has enraged Beijing. Tokyo has also stepped up its opposition to Chinese oil and gas exploration operations in disputed areas of the East China sea and this week staked its own claim by giving the go-ahead for Japanese oil companies to drill.
Defence officials say China spends far more than it admits on its armed forces, possibly eclipsing Japan. Using the North Korean threat as an excuse, Japan recently signed up to a joint missile defence system with the US. Privately, some defence officials admit that the real reason for missile defence is to block the projection of Chinese power. During his visit, Mr Straw confirmed that British troops would protect the security of Japanese ground forces stationed in Samawah, southern Iraq. Because of Japan’s pacifist constitution, which Mr Koizumi is pressing to change, its forces have only a limited ability to defend themselves.