Japan: The emerging superpower
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - July 1, 2017 - 4:00pm

Japan’s Self Defense Forces just celebrated its 63rd anniversary at a time when the country is re-examining its constitutional mandate to remain strictly as a homeland security force. The main factors that may ultimately force Japan to once again become a major global military power are the increasing dangerous aggressiveness of the North Korean regime; and, the rise of China and its increasing assertiveness in building bases on the maritime lanes that threaten Japan’s economic security.

Japan’s Self Defense Forces

After the Second World War, Japan was deprived of any military capability by the Allied Powers. Its only protection against external threats was the presence of American forces in the country. The trauma of WWII led to strong pacifist movements among its people. The result was a provision in its constitution that said Japan would never maintain “land, sea or air forces or other war potential.” The realities of the Cold War led the United States to encourage Japan to assume responsibility for its own protection. In 1954, Japan unified all the different military forces and set up the Self Defense Force.

Today, in the 2017 Global Firepower Index (GPI), which ranks the world’s military powers, Japan is in 7th place. The top ten military powers, in the world, according to their respective ranking in the GPI are: United States, Russia, China, India, France, United Kingdom, Japan, Turkey, Germany and Italy. However, according to military historian Professor John Kuehn: “Pilot for pilot, ship for ship Japan can stand toe to toe with anybody.” Even though it remains defense focused, Japan’s military has also developed the capability to move troops and military hardware to operate around the world. For example, they now have a 3,000 “amphibious rapid deployment brigade” which is really the equivalent of a US Marine Brigade. 

In 2016, Japan already ranked among the top ten nations in terms of military spending. The top ten countries with the highest defense budgets were: United States, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, South Korea. But one of the most remarkable features of Japanese defense spending is that its defense budget was only 1 percent of GDP compared to the USA 3.3 percent; China 1.9 percent; Russia 5.3 percent; India 2.5 percent; France 2.3 percent; and United Kingdom 1.9 percent.

If Japan can increase its defense spending to two percent of its GDP – roughly equivalent to China, India France and the UK – it would have the third largest military budget in the world next only to the USA and China. Japan’s defense budget would then be 50 percent bigger than Russia. This would make Japan’s Armed Forces as the third most powerful in the world. 

Japan and China

After World War II, and throughout the Cold War era, Japan was able to pursue its foreign policy without providing its own defense and security forces. The United States protected Japan from all external threats. It focused on looking for economic cooperation and strengthening its economic competitiveness as the bedrock of its foreign policy. But times have changed. Japan’s neighbor, China has risen to become the world’s second largest economy and the most powerful nation in Asia. North Korea is now poised to become an existential threat to the heartland of Japan. Increasingly, Trump’s America has become more isolationist and is demanding that its allies should now assume the burden of defending themselves. 

Analysts have forecasted that the next decade will be a period of difficult economic stress for China. The country will have to shift from economic dependence on low wage manufacturing exports and heavy infrastructure spending to an economy based on domestic consumption, high value added manufacturing and service oriented industries. China will also need to stabilize the extremely high levels of government and corporate debt. The extreme gap in wealth between the coastal and the interior regions together with one of the world’s highest income inequality gap needs to be addressed to prevent any political and social unrest. At the same time, the Communist Party and Xi Jinping seem intent on further centralizing powers to manage all these socio-economic changes.

The global think tank Stratfor recently said in a report about China’s need to radically reform its economy: “ Beijing’s task is not impossible, but it will need to perfectly coordinate several complex maneuvers to achieve success. To manage these shifts, the government will drastically centralize power, essentially becoming a dictatorship – a process that is already underway. China’s new order might also entail promoting nationalism as a means of maintaining social cohesion, likely at Japan’s expense. China shares its sea  lines of communication with Japan and the Chinese military has already become increasingly proactive in defending its territories. For Japan, this is a fearsome prospect.”

Japan and the Philippines

For the past 70 years, Japan has not asserted itself in both regional and global affairs. The rise of China and the decline of America will inevitably lead to Japan’s need to re-establish itself as a leading power. If the Philippines, in the next decade, pursue a truly independent foreign policy, this change in the geopolitics of East Asia could be beneficial. Japan could become a counterbalance to China’s dominance and restore the balance of power in East Asia.

Japan is also facing an economic time bomb due to its declining population and by 2030, it is estimated that people over 65 will account for 32 percent of its population. This demographic problem will require Japan to recruit more overseas workers. The Philippines will continue to have an increasing population which could become the major source of the manpower Japan will need to sustain its economic recovery.

Japan’s emergence as a superpower may ultimately prove to be politically and economically beneficial for the Philippines. 

Creative writing classes for kids & teens

Young Writers’ Hangout for Kids & Teens on July 22, August 5 and August 19  (1:30-3pm/independent sessions).  All sessions are at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street. For registration and fee details text 0917-6240196 or email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com


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