China and Japan overreact to increased military spending

Tokyo is increasing military spending for the first time in a decade. Beijing has reacting angrily, with the Chinese Defense ministry saying on their website:

Japan, on the one hand, claims to be a peace-loving country, exclusively adhering to a defense policy. Yet on the other hand, it peddles a so-called ‘active pacifism..Where is Japan’s military security policy actually going from here? This cannot but arouse strong concerns in its Asian neighbors and the international community.”

Given the history of Japanese imperialism – and the current escalation of the territorial dispute between China and Japan – Chinese concerns about a re-militarized Japan are understandable. However, the proposed increase of the budget of Japan’s military is fairly small at just 2.6%.

China’s fears over Japan’s increasing military budget mirror similar concerns in Japan. In October Japanese Prime Minister Abe criticized China when he decried “an immediate neighbor” for swelling its military budget by more than 10% annually.

The problem with these criticisms is that these increases in military spending an in line with general economic growth. Japan’s increase in its military budget comes at a time when its economy appears to be on the mend. Meanwhile, the rapid expansion of Beijing’s military budget has largely matched China’s economic growth.

China spends 2% of its GDP on its military. Japan spends only 1%. This is largely because Japan is protected by the security umbrella of the United States (with a military budget roughly four times larger than China’s).

The Chinese government’s criticisms of Japanese military spending – just like the denouncements of China by the Japanese – are based more on domestic politics than they are on strategic fears. Economic ties between the two countries are vital. Toyota’s deliveries to China are up 41% in a single year.

Tensions between Beijing and Tokyo are rooted in the politics of fear. Many Chinese are extremely distrustful of Japan in the wake of the invasions and atrocities of the last century. Japanese citizens, on the other hand, are worried about a rising China. Japan dominated Asia politically and economically for a hundred years, and is now being supplanted by their biggest rival. Leaders on both sides play up these fears for domestic political purposes.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s recent visit to Yasukuni Shine (which houses the remains of war criminals along with common Japanese soldiers) has added fuel to the current dispute.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, recently warned, “Japan-China relations now face their grimmest situation since the two countries normalized their diplomatic ties in 1972.”

Meanwhile, an article in today’s People’s Daily brags of Chinese strategic bomber’s ability to cover the entirety of Japan.

Nevertheless, in the absence of a tragic accident, Sino-Japanese conflict will remain but a battle between conflicting currents of hot air.

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