In recent days, 13 Chinese coastguard ships, along with around 230 Chinese fishing vessels entered the contiguous zone around the Japanese-held Senkaku islands – claimed by China as Diaoyu – in the East China Sea.
Incidents like these are becoming increasingly commonplace and are among the litany of challenges that Tokyo faces in the security realm.
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Earlier, on August 3, North Korea fired a ballistic missile which travelled close to 1,000km before landing in Japanese waters.
In addition, though last month’s verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in favour of the Philippines in its territorial dispute with China made it clear that Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea region do not stand legal scrutiny, China is in no mood to back off.
Hence, in order to counter China’s growing influence, among other measures, Tokyo has ramped up its ties with countries such as India, Australia and the Philippines while moving to end its historical dispute with South Korea over the “comfort women issue”.
Also in February this year, Tokyo and Manila signed a landmark defence pact which envisages the transfer of defence weaponry and technology from Japan to the Philippines.
Ramifications of the new paper
Therefore, it is no surprise that the recent Japanese Defence White Paper 2016 – released on August 2 – terms China’s assertive military moves in the region as “dangerous”. It bemoans the lack of transparency surrounding Beijing’s military build-up.
This is also in line with statements and concerns emanating from the United States – Japan’s closest ally – on account of Beijing’s militarisation of the South China Sea, even though Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged that China would not militarise the artificial islands it has built in the area during his visit to the US in September 2015.
Last year, Tokyo had to scramble its military jets more than 570 times to fend off Chinese aircraft intruding into Japanese airspace.
In response to the publication of this new Japanese Defence White Paper, the Chinese defence ministry retorted that the “annual document is hostile to the Chinese military and deceptive to the international community”.
The Abe government has been toying with the idea of amending Japan's pacifist post-war constitution for some time now, but has been hobbled by repeated elections and concerns over the health of the economy.
The Paper notes that Pyongyang’s actions have led to increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and have become a “grave and imminent threat not only to Japan but also to the security in the region and the international society”.
However, on the North Korean issue, Tokyo is in a bind as it needs Beijing’s support to coax and cajole Pyongyang, given the fact that only Beijing retains a modicum of leverage on North Korea.
The White Paper devotes 50 pages to Japan’s alliance with the US, which has grown stronger since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assumed office for a second time in December 2012, while expressing concern over Russia’s growing military prowess in the Far East.
Even though Japan has been trying to reach out to Russia, things have not worked out between the two nations, especially in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The White Paper calls for Beijing to accept the recent ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in its dispute with the Philippines while making it amply clear that Tokyo is in no mood to let Beijing gain the upper hand in Japan’s immediate neighbourhood.
Soon after his re-election in 2012, Abe had given a strong message that “Japan is not, and will never be, a Tier-two country”.
Churning on the domestic front
Meanwhile, the elections in July to the Upper House of the Japanese parliament brought a clear majority for the Abe-led Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito.
The ruling coalition, therefore, has a commanding majority in both houses of the Japanese parliament. Abe has also upped the ante by nominating a new defence minister, Tomomi Inada, who is seen to be hawkish and like the prime minister, is on the same page with regards to the idea of a revision of Japan’s post-World War II constitution.
The Abe government has been toying with the idea of amending Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution for some time now, but has been hobbled by repeated elections and concerns over the health of the economy.
What lies ahead?
With the Japanese Emperor Akihito signalling that he wishes to abdicate in the near future it seems that Tokyo’s domestic and foreign policy milieu is in for quite a bit of a churning.
In September 2015, the Japanese parliament had passed new security legislation which will allow Japanese troops on foreign shores, even in cases where Japan is not directly under attack.
While the US-Japan alliance remains steadfast, Tokyo may also have to recalibrate its foreign policy if the Republican candidate Donald Trump is elected to the US presidency.
Trump has thrashed the US-Japan security alliance, and remarked recently that if the US is attacked, all Japanese would do is “sit home and watch Sony television”.
Prime Minister Abe, therefore, has some tough choices ahead. While his political fortunes are tied to the way he is able to put the economy back on track, for the moment it seems that Japan will have to devote an increasing amount of time, energy and resources to the turbulent security front. This is also what the new Defence White Paper advocates.
Rupakjyoti Borah is currently a research fellow with the Tokyo-based Japan Forum for Strategic Studies.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.