Japan Craving For A Course Correction

Threats & Confrontation

The recent visit by Japanese PM Fumio Kishida to New Delhi brought in greater understanding and partnership promises at the summit level. The details of the conversation ranged in width and depth reflecting ever growing closer ties, once described as the most natural relationship in Asia. Barring the Ukraine war, both sides displayed clear understanding of each other on plethora of issues. What drew greater interest was the discussion on regional security dynamics and need to ensure international laws are fully adhered to by all. Needless to say, the elephant in the room was China. While India has shared it’s concern over the recent Chinese behaviour, it’s a much serious affair for Japan.

China initially started with movement of it’s fishing vessels near Japanese claimed and administered island of Senkaku in East China Sea, which slowly grew into aggressive patrolling by it’s coast guard. China further upped the ante by keeping it’s regular presence in the waters around the island. The presence was soon overtaken by the issue of warning to Japanese fishing vessels, in No time Chinese patrol boats started confronting Japanese patrol crafts. While all these developments were being monitored by Tokyo it didn’t gather the depth of threat initially and took it as an isolated act which it thought can be managed with diplomatic protests. China clearly was playing a bigger game and categorically knew it’s objectives. China didn’t deceive, it simply out manoeuvred Japan!

Deteriorating Security

If one cannot defend it’s sovereignty, chances are very slim that it will be respected for it’s kindness. Today’s fierce global order is completely shaped by the power that one wields, while economy is a key ingredient, it’s No substitutes for raw strength of a nation. Morale of the story, Japan can learn from it’s much impoverished neighbour North Korea. Power is magnetic it just attracts and Japan after decades of domestic confusion appeared to shed it’s post World War 2 self defence only approach, enshrined in Article 9 of it’s constitution. Japan was among few nations in the world which has a declared self defence armed forces, it didn’t keep any aggressive armaments or develop offensive military capabilities. It kept it’s defence spending hovering around 1% of it’s GDP for decades. End state it’s defence forces were only executing policing duty for guarding Japanese borders.

Though Japan had security assurances from US post 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, the existing state of Japanese capability was always going to be inadequate in face of multiple security threats that it is faced with. China’s repeated intrusions, a hostile North Korea, China – Russia military exercise which is claimed to have violated Japanese ADIZ and Russian operations in Ukraine especially in the backdrop of it’s unresolved territorial disputes over it’s Northern territories have gravely undermined Japanese sovereignty. It has not only felt tremors of Chinese hostile presence but Russian missile deployments in Kuril Islands near it’s Northern territories have sent jitters down the Japanese security establishment. The trajectory of incidents are clearly indicating towards military confrontation in very near future and Japan in No way seems prepared for it. It won’t be an exaggeration to say the Chinese conduct was driven by history and the perceived damage Japan has done as an occupation force. Japan playing host to US 7th Fleet at it’s Yokosuka base hasn’t been lost on China which is contesting US presence across it’s neighbourhood almost on a daily basis. China saw an opening and they decided to hammer their way through.


Japan’s rush to alter the course of it’s nation from Self Defence Forces to regular armed forces was largely expected. It’s formal announcement on 16 Dec 2022 followed with unveiling of a $52 billion defence budget mostly focussed on procurements of offensive capabilities. Japan not only wants to shore up it’s armed forces to a respectable state to challenge Chinese in the waters around but want it to happen real quick. It’s a restless feeling inside Japanese security institutions. The war in Ukraine is continuously being analysed with an Asian prism, where China would replace Russia. The impact of that would be enormous on the continent and Japan realises that. It clearly understands safeguarding territory has to be own business and cannot be really outsourced and that is the war lessons from Ukraine.

The visit of Japanese PM to Kiev was No coincidence there is a larger messaging behind the whole exercise. First, comments of the Japanese disapproval of Russian actions were dropped in Delhi, which has so far appeared reluctant to get drawn into Russia – Ukraine debate and the next step was to land in Kiev and get some first hand understanding of how to stand-up to a Superpower. Japanese weren’t the first ones to visit Kiev, this trend has been seen from some time now. Countries whose Heads of State have visited Ukraine are in a shaky state themselves whether in Europe or Asia. It won’t be surprising to see Taiwanese leadership comes calling on Zelensky soon. That also explains Japanese urgency in developing strong military bonding with India, a country world has come to recognise as a centre of stability during this global turbulence.

New Realignment

India shouldn’t be faulted to sense an opportunity here. The strengthening of Japanese security paradigm will undoubtedly make the India – Japan coordination much relevant and aligned to current geostrategic reality. India itself looking to expand it’s influence further East thanks to Chinese abrasiveness, has been making almost futile effort with it’s Eastern neighbourhood including ASEAN countries to get them on board. Barring few isolated understandings, as a grouping ASEAN continues to play diplomatic balancing act. In an unprecedented move India invited all of ASEAN leadership as it’s Chief Guest for 2018 Republic Day aimed at giving a visible signal and it’s willingness to firmly step up as a relevant counter force to Chinese intimidation. Signalling is important in international relationship to make both your friends and foes clear of your intent and capability. It’s a strong driving force of international diplomacy. But ASEAN appeared too meek and divided by muddle to support India’s strong gesture, instead it opted a safer option to please all.

However, with Japan it will be a different dynamics. Japan has that calibre and strength of history behind it. The theatre of operations for both will be mutually complimenting and operationally overlapping. While India is progressively expanding it’s operational reach towards Western Pacific especially with recent commissioning of indigenous carrier INS Vikrant it intends to strongly propagate principle of Good Order at Sea. Something which critically address Japanese concern and this is the precise reason for Japanese leadership keenness to press ahead on dual front of military modernisation and deepening of security relationship with India. As Japanese security experts sees this evolving picture, it’s only India in the region which has the necessary wherewithal and military prowess’s to keep China under check.  What makes this emerging security alignment promising is the groundswell of goodwill and trust both countries carry for each other. But even good dreams have their limitations of reality. It’s time to replace the present symbolism in relationship with a strong security commitment which is unambiguous, forthright and spells out the contours of responses during highly complex security threats that will be key for a reassuring future ahead!


(This article has featured in a National Magazine!)

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7 Comments. Leave new

  • Shivam Nigam
    05/04/2023 07:00

    An excellent article which very lucidly throws light on an issue of great relevance …. fantastic as usual.

  • Its high time for Japan to wake up to the threat in its neighborhood. Very aptly brought about by the author that to be able to forgive and to be kind one must possess the ability for greatest destruction.

  • snadhiya
    05/04/2023 08:12

    An excellent writeup and comprehensive analysis of neighbourhood to gear up for the forthcoming challenge. The facts are well brought out by the author.

  • rajawatps0406
    05/04/2023 08:57

    Excellent article sir.

  • Anna Salome Dunna
    06/04/2023 12:21

    Along with its declining marriages, birth rate and military equipage which this article has brilliantly shined the light upon… Japan is surely needing a course correction… Very well researched…

  • This is a very detailed writing, Can you write on pros and cons about agniveer..

  • dhirenyadav8736
    07/04/2023 09:40

    Nice Sir, An excellent writeup and comprehensive analysis of neighbourhood to gear up for the forthcoming challenge. The facts are well brought.


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