Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Japanese – Chuugoku no taitou

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Japanese, Rise of China

中国の台頭 (ちゅうごくのたいとう)

chuugoku no taitou

Relates to the ‘rise of China’

Remarkable achievements prior to World War II, coupled with Japan’s phenomenal post-war economic recovery, have given rise to a benign superiority complex vis-à-vis China among the Japanese people. In the context of already widespread concern about the relative decline of Japan’s global influence, Japanese apprehension about the implications of China’s current rise is sometimes rooted less in concerns about China’s absolute growth than in its expansion relative to Japan (In other words, it is based on fears that Japan will find itself relegated to its pre-modern era status as a subordinate power in East Asia). In the Ministry of Defense’s ‘National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2011 and beyond’ (released in December 2010), regarding the environment surrounding Japan, the document states:


Taikoku toshite seichō o tsuzukeru Chūgoku wa, sekai to chiiki no tame ni jūyōna yakuwari o hatashitsutsu aru. Tahō de, Chūgoku wa kokubō-hi o keizoku-teki ni zōka shi, kaku misairu senryoku ya umi kūgun o chūshin to shita gunji-ryoku no kōhan katsu kyūsokuna kindai-ka o susume, senryoku o enpō ni tōsha suru nōryoku no kyōka ni torikunde Iru hoka, shūhen kaiiki nioite katsudō o kakudai kappatsu-ka sa sete ori, kono yōna dōkō wa, Chūgoku no gunji ya anzen hoshō nikansuru tōmei-sei no fusoku to aimatte, chiiki kokusai shakai no kenen jikō to natte iru.

China, a growing major power, is beginning to play an important role for regional and global security. On the other hand, China is steadily increasing its defense expenditure. China is widely and rapidly modernizing its military force, mainly its nuclear and missile force as well as navy and air force, and is strengthening its capability for extended-range power projection. In addition, China has been expanding and intensifying its maritime activities in the surrounding waters. These trends, together with insufficient transparency over China’s military forces and its security policy, are of concern for the regional and global community.[1]

For many Japanese policy-makers, no one in the region or on the international stage seems to know how to respond to China’s diplomatic and military muscle flexing in Asia, for the extent of China’s ambitions remains utterly unclear. Many Japanese officials perceive their government as acting while the rest of the world ponders China’s motives. Therefore Japan sees itself as actually confronting and providing solutions to the more important question of whether China intends to remain peaceful when it gets there (as opposed to the question of whether China rises to great-power status peacefully). Just as the world confronted the ‘German Question’ 125 years ago, it is now confronting the ‘China Question’.

Terms used to convey ‘the rise of China’:

1. 中国の台頭 chuugoku no taitou – literally, ‘the rise of China’, it is a relatively neutral term, most often employed by the media to describe ‘the rise of China’ and the term does not include any judgment whether this rise is good or bad.

2. 中国の脅威 chuugoku no kyoui – literally, ‘the threat of China’, in contrast to ‘chuugoku no taitoo’ conveys the sense that a judgement has been passed that the rise of China is a risk and potentially threatens the stability

With budget and force decisions in mind, North Korea was the first and immediate factor shaping Japan’s security policy up until the issue of the National Defense Program Guidelines. However, now, China is the biggest factor and in the long run it will only grow bigger.

In terms of regional politics, China has been and will be the number one risk factor. Many Japanese security analysts even say that China is the only risk in Japan’s regional policy.  On 2 January 2011, The Asahi Shimbun’s national security correspondent, Yoichi Kato, reported on the improvement and installation of all kinds of sensors for missiles, aircraft, surface ships and submarines are continuing in Kyushu and the Nansei island chain. These Self Defence Force (SDF) preparations are explicitly targeted at China and guarding against the ‘Great Dragon swimming out of the nine gates [of the Pacific Ocean][2]’ (“泳ぎ出る巨龍 九つの門”).

As such, Japanese analysts are occupied with the multitude of questions that have arisen from the consequences of China’s exponential growth. For instance, in an article in The Asahi Shimbun regarding the rise of China:


Shingapōru kokusai mondai kenkyūjo no saimon tei shochō wa ajia no genjō o `Chūgoku no taitō de ajia toyuu dōtai ni Nichi Chū no ryōyoku ga haeta’ to tatoeru. `Sekkaku ajia ga tobu chansunanoni, tsubasa ga betsubetsu no hōkō ni muitara, dō yatte massugu tobu no ka’

“The head of Singapore’s Institute of International Affairs, Simon Tay, describes ‘Asia as a body, and during the rise of China, Asia has grown wings in the form of Sino-Japanese relations’. Despite the chance of Asia flying with these new pair of wings, but if one wing turning towards different orientations than another, how does the body (Asia) fly straight?’[3]

Consequently, many in Japan are more occupied with determining Japan’s response to China – as opposed to purely examining the China’s true intentions of its ‘peaceful development’. That is, Japan designs its approach to China in a way in which both opportunities and risks are fully considered and addressed. However, this hedging approach, however, does convey the debate among Japanese officials, public and the media of the positive and negative effects “the rise of China”. During times of strategic crises, the Japanese government and press are often explicit in expressing their belief that China’s rise is a threat Japan’s interests. For instance, during the September 2010 Senkaku/Diaoyutai island dispute, The Yomiuri Shimbun released a survey analysis titled, ‘Distrust from “Expansionist China”, Coming to a head through “Senkaku”. ’ The release of polling data provided an outlet for an emotional assertion of Japan’s concern regarding China. For instance:


Chūgoku kyōi-ron no takamari totomoni, chōsa de wa keizai no tai Chū izon ni keikai-kan ga shimesa reta.”

“With the increasing threat of China, the survey showed wariness toward economic dependence on China.”[4]

Japan’s anzen (security) – or more specifically force and military budget size – has not simply been decided according to the size of its external threats. That is, if China grows another tenfold, Japan will not then spend tenfold more accordingly. However, if one does analyse the visible trends, Japan has taken many different approaches to answering the Chuugoku no mondai. On the one hand, Japan has taken visible steps in bolstering Sino-Japanese cooperation. For example, Japan’s commitment to Sino-Japanese defense exchanges and the leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) distancing themselves from the Yasukuni Shrine issue. On the other hand, Japan is also hedging against the Chuugoku no kyoui. For instance, Japan has decided to expand its submarine fleet, increase westward force allocation, is considering a larger budget for its Coast Guard, and supports the U.S.’s participation in the East Asia Summit (EAS).

One approach to answering the Chuugoku no mondai, is Japan’s building of a minimum denial and deterrence capability to prevent coercive attempts by China. Thus the alliance factor again comes into play. In order to address risks of large intensity conflicts, for instance a nuclear war, the U.S. security guarantee is central. However, in the case of lower and more likely instabilities, such as a dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, Japan intends to have self-reliant capabilities to take care of itself by itself. This division of roles in the alliance, means that Japan is attempting to control the risk of escalation, whilst deterring China, and if necessary taking any necessary operational actions. If Japan consistently invoked the U.S. security guarantee it would risk unnecessarily harder reactions from China that would in turn force greater responses on the part of Japan’s SDF. Lately, Japan has shown itself capable of addressing risks of lower intensity conflict by itself while signalling if the conflict escalates, the U.S. will aid Japan.

The second dimension of Japan’s approach to Chuugoku no taitou is its use of regional organisations. While committing itself to regional cooperative institutions, like the EAS and the China-South Korea-Japan trilateral summit, Japan also bolsters its cooperation with like-minded, mostly democratic countries like the U.S., Australia, India and South Korea, bilaterally and trilaterally. Moreover, Japanese leaders have demonstrated their fondness for regional cooperative mechanisms by proposing their own, for instance, Shinzo Abe’s ‘Asia Security Community’ and Yukio Hatoyama’s ‘East Asia Community’.

In this two-dimensional approach, Japan hopes that this response to the Chuugoku no mondai signals to China a strong and clear message that the doors are open for China to live peacefully and cooperate together with Japan and other countries in the current international order.

There is an additional issue of Japan’s relative economic decline. Japan’s was surpassed by China in 2010 as the world’s second largest economy. However, this fact has thus far played a rather minor role in shaping Japan’s approach to and perception of Chuugoku no taitou – at least in security terms – for two reasons. First and foremost, the balance of power in Japan’s strategic calculation is really about the U.S.-Japan alliance (Ampo) vis-à-vis other alignments. Therefore, as long as Ampo is strong, U.S. power, although in relative decline, remainsthe most definitive factor in Japanese decision-making, and U.S. and Japan’s approaches to Chuugoku no taitou are convergent. Consequently, China surpassing Japan in terms of economic size is not considered a big problem.




[2] Desmond Ball




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