This article—the last in a 4-part series—has been updated from its original version in the March 2017 issue of Seiron Magazine.
US Losing Ground in the Pacific
The United States military bases on Okinawa are the target of ongoing reductions. In the event that the bases are moved from the Japanese island, they would likely be transferred either to Guam or to Darwin in northern Australia.
The base transfer plan is under consideration for two reasons. First is the rapid improvement in the attack capabilities of Chinese missiles. In the event of war, the US bases on Okinawa could be completely leveled by a Chinese missile attack. It is therefore necessary to move the main American forces beyond the reach of these missiles. The second reason is that the US military has grown weary of the anti-US-base campaign in Okinawa.
It was for both of these reasons that a US Marine outpost was set up in Darwin in April 2012. Darwin is Australia’s gateway to Asia, and is also close to the Straits of Malacca and the Indian Ocean, both key sea lanes for transporting energy and foodstuffs. For the US, keeping a permanent presence in Darwin by rotating out Marine detachments was done with an eye towards China, which is seeking to extend its authority over these crucial sea lanes.
However, in October 2015, Australia announced that it had granted long-term lease rights over the Port of Darwin to Chinese infrastructure and energy firm Landbridge Group Co., Ltd., for approximately AU$500 million. The US military was incensed that the administration of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would strengthen economic ties with China by leasing to a Chinese company a port which is also home to a US Marine base.
The anti-US-base struggle is underway on Guam as well. China is suspected to be behind this, too. Because of these anti-base operations, the plan to move US forces in Japan to new homes in Darwin or Guam is facing formidable opposition. To make matters worse, the governments of the US and Japan have agreed to continue to shrink the US military base footprint on Okinawa.
Defense system: Ryukyu Islands, Tsushima Strait, Hokkaido
Under the present arrangement, the US military is paying renewed attention to the Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture. A Mainichi Shimbun report from January 5 said:
On January 5th, the US military in Japan announced that, as part of its force restructuring program, it would begin moving the aircraft carrier air wing stationed at Atsugi Air Base (near Yamato, Kanagawa Prefecture) to Iwakuni base (near Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture). When the transition is complete, the Iwakuni base will be home to a force of 120 US military planes, making Iwakuni the largest military base in the Far East…. The US Navy continues its ‘rebalancing’ policy of emphasizing naval presence in the Asia-Pacific region with an eye to China and North Korea. A Navy spokesperson explained that the base transfer would be ‘in accordance with the rebalancing policy designed for the defense of Japan as well as to bring security and stability to the region.’
As the US military presence in South Korea shrinks, and as the Chinese navy works to build a base on Jeju Island, it seems safe to assume that the US military is hurriedly shoring up the Iwakuni base in anticipation of the Tsushima Strait becoming the line of defense for Japan.
At the end of January 2016, the Abe administration deployed the newly-formed 9th air wing to Okinawa in order to help defend the Ryukyuan Islands. Abe also doubled the number of fighter planes. There are also plans to deploy Self-Defense Forces to Ishigakijima and Miyakojima in the near future.
If, however, the Mun Jae-in administration in South Korea turns out to be as anti Japanese and anti American as expected, then Tsushima Strait will likely become the line of defense. In this case, it will not be enough simply to have strengthened defenses in the Ryukyus—it will also be necessary to reinforce the base at Iwakuni. In terms of the defense of the Tsushima Strait, the US military’s reinforcement of Iwakuni will be a win for Japan as well.
Japan must also keep watch on the north, west, and south, and find a way to deal with the placement of Russian military bases in the Japanese Northern Territories.
Investing in Defense: A Question of Will
Unlike the Obama administration, which had no answer to the covert Chinese invasion of the Asia-Pacific, the Republican administration of Donald Trump is responding to the military rise of China and Russia by trying to prevent military conflicts from breaking out around the world. This is why Trump’s policy is to increase defense spending to 4% of GDP. Understandably, Trump is also asking allied countries to raise their defense budgets to 2% of GDP.
In Japan, defense spending is paltry—less than 1% of GDP. Trump is also asking Japan to double its spending on defense. But Japan should not have to be asked by the US to do this. Japan must make an across-the-board reassessment of its defense posture, in part to strengthen its ability to fight a prolonged war in accordance with the changes in military balance between the US and the People’s Republic of China.
At the very least, Japan should double its military spending for the sake of shoring up its tri-directional defense arrangement projecting out to the Ryukyu Islands, the Tsushima Strait, and Hokkaido. In other words, Japan should be spending an additional 10 trillion yen on self-defense.
In the end, all of this depends upon the answer to this fundamental question: Does Japan have the will to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Trump administration against the Chinese Communist Party’s invasion of the Asia-Pacific?
Ezaki Michio was born in Tokyo in 1962, and graduated with a degree in literature from Kyushu University. He has been the editor of a weekly magazine, an association employee, and on the policy staff of a representative in the Japanese Diet. Ezaki writes widely about politics, diplomacy, and security. His books include The Falsehoods of the Tokyo War Crimes Trial: View of History, as Seen from the American Side.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese)