Tokyo, Japan. As tensions escalate with North Korean missiles falling in Japanese waters, China also eyes Japans rapid militarization with increasing concern, as it does not intend to repeat the mistakes of the past a second time.

There is growing support in Japan for a more strident response to Chinese military assertiveness around Japanese waters and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force has been increasingly active in the region.

The Izumo is the largest vessel built by Japan since the end of World War Two – and she looks very much like an aircraft carrier. Japan is planning for a more strident response to Chinese military assertiveness around Japanese waters and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force has been increasingly active in the region.

Widening of Japanese naval operations in the South China Sea is a response to a more pressing concern for Japan: China’s own relentless drive to dominate the waters around Japan.

Seen against the backdrop of China’s narrative of suffering and humiliation at the hands of Japanese imperial forces during World War Two, the transit of the Izumo through the South China Sea is particularly sensitive for China, since Japan has been very vocal in its support of a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration overwhelmingly against China’s claims to a large expanse of the South China Sea and its features.

The Izumo and the latest additions to the fleet are both a symbol of a new era of military expansionism under Prime Minister Abe’s administration and a painful reminder of China’s wartime suffering and the destruction wrought by Japan’s powerful carrier fleet of World War Two. Chinese critics of Japan’s naval modernisation will point out that with a few minor adjustments, this ship could carry vertical take-off and landing fighter jets, including the F-35 stealth fighter.

One focal point for rivalry are the disputed Senkaku islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese. Until 2012 when the Japanese government purchased the islands from their private owners, Chinese maritime law enforcement vessels seldom intruded into Japanese territorial waters.

Continued sustained presence of Japanese vessels throughout the region therefore underpins Shinzo Abe’s consistent demands for China to abide by a “rules-based international order”, which includes freedom of navigation through international waters.

However for China, the Japanese demand for a rules-based order is simply camouflage for the perpetuation of a US regional hegemony and what the Chinese leadership describe as “outmoded Cold War thinking”.China has its own vision for regional security and a new geo-strategic plan accompanying it in the form of the the ‘Belt and Road initiative’, providing an alternative to US dominance in the region.

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