Japan’s Exploring ‘Counterstrike Capabilities’ to Response to Growing China Threats in Indo-Pacific: Analysts

Indicating a potential historic shift, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 10 that Japan will reinforce its defense capabilities and is exploring the possibility of possessing counterstrike capabilities.This is to ensure that Japan plays a more responsible role in the region threatened by Chinese activities in the South and the East China Sea and by the insecurities arising after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to experts. “As the security environment surrounding Japan becomes increasingly severe, we will set out a new National Security Strategy by the end of this year. I am determined to fundamentally reinforce Japan’s defense capabilities within the next five years and secure a substantial increase of Japan’s defense budget needed to effect it,” said Kishida. He added that Japan “will not rule out any options,” including “counterstrike capabilities.” Strategic analysts told The Epoch Times that Kashida’s speech at Shangri-La Dialogue suggests a major shift in policy because it shows Japan’s willingness to shift from mostly playing an economic and development role in the region to playing a serious security role. Japan’s potential enhanced strategic capabilities will help it to deter adversaries by imposing costs and weakening their ability to conduct subsequent attacks, according to the analysts. “The acquisition of strike capabilities is part of Japan’s ability to conduct counterattacks that are seen as an essential step to deal with the growing missile threats posed by North Korea, fill the readiness deficit against China, and potential attacks by Russia,” Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi, project assistant professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, said in an email. Kishida has described the regional context as something that invokes a sense of urgency. The prime minister said he’s concerned that what happened in Ukraine may happen in East Asia in the future, and Japan should be prepared to face any emergency arising due to those countries who “trample” on the peace and security of other countries. Without naming China, Kishida said that international law is not being followed in the South China Sea, while in the East China Sea where Japan is located there are increased attempts to change the status quo by force. Peace across the Taiwan strait is also threatened, he said. Men wearing period Japanese Imperial Army and Navy uniform gather outside the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo on August 15, 2020, on the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. (Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images) Change in Policy Experts said the shift in Japan’s defense policy is due to the changing geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific where the United States wants other countries to share the responsibility to secure the region. “Why would Japan want to change the policy? The reason is in the U.S.,” said Satoru Nagao, a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute. Nagao noted that China has substantially increased its defense budget. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s report on World Military Expenditure over 2010-2020, China increased its military budget by 76 percent, while during the same period the United States decreased its defense budget by 10 percent though it still remains the highest in the world. “For a long time, when Japan needed strike capability, Japan relied on the U.S. If the U.S strike capability is enough, Japan does not need any strike capability,” Nagao said. “However, the situation of the U.S. has changed because U.S.-China military balance has changed. Still, the U.S. spent three times bigger military expenditure [than China] but the U.S. is also asking allies and partners to share the security burden,” he added. Under these circumstances, U.S. allies and partners including Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, and South Korea especially, and Quad members being India, Australia, and Japan, are enhancing their strike capabilities, said Nagao. If the United States, Japan, Australia, and India all possess long-range strike capabilities, their combined capability would force China to defend on multiple fronts, according to him. Grant Newsham, a senior fellow at Japan’s Forum for Strategic Studies, said that Kishida’s speech and appearance at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore are significant. Japan is more “active in asserting” itself and in taking a “leadership role” in the Indo-Pacific than it has ever had before in the modern era, according to Newsham. “He addressed ‘security’ matters and indicated that Japan was going to play its part in ensuring a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific.’ Of course, that means ensuring the region is free of Chinese intimidation and domination. He didn’t use quite those words, but his meaning was clear enough,” said Newsham. An aerial view of the remote islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi said

Japan’s Exploring ‘Counterstrike Capabilities’ to Response to Growing China Threats in Indo-Pacific: Analysts

Indicating a potential historic shift, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 10 that Japan will reinforce its defense capabilities and is exploring the possibility of possessing counterstrike capabilities.

This is to ensure that Japan plays a more responsible role in the region threatened by Chinese activities in the South and the East China Sea and by the insecurities arising after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to experts.

“As the security environment surrounding Japan becomes increasingly severe, we will set out a new National Security Strategy by the end of this year. I am determined to fundamentally reinforce Japan’s defense capabilities within the next five years and secure a substantial increase of Japan’s defense budget needed to effect it,” said Kishida.

He added that Japan “will not rule out any options,” including “counterstrike capabilities.”

Strategic analysts told The Epoch Times that Kashida’s speech at Shangri-La Dialogue suggests a major shift in policy because it shows Japan’s willingness to shift from mostly playing an economic and development role in the region to playing a serious security role.

Japan’s potential enhanced strategic capabilities will help it to deter adversaries by imposing costs and weakening their ability to conduct subsequent attacks, according to the analysts.

“The acquisition of strike capabilities is part of Japan’s ability to conduct counterattacks that are seen as an essential step to deal with the growing missile threats posed by North Korea, fill the readiness deficit against China, and potential attacks by Russia,” Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi, project assistant professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, said in an email.

Kishida has described the regional context as something that invokes a sense of urgency. The prime minister said he’s concerned that what happened in Ukraine may happen in East Asia in the future, and Japan should be prepared to face any emergency arising due to those countries who “trample” on the peace and security of other countries.

Without naming China, Kishida said that international law is not being followed in the South China Sea, while in the East China Sea where Japan is located there are increased attempts to change the status quo by force. Peace across the Taiwan strait is also threatened, he said.

Epoch Times Photo
Men wearing period Japanese Imperial Army and Navy uniform gather outside the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo on August 15, 2020, on the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. (Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images)

Change in Policy

Experts said the shift in Japan’s defense policy is due to the changing geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific where the United States wants other countries to share the responsibility to secure the region.

“Why would Japan want to change the policy? The reason is in the U.S.,” said Satoru Nagao, a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.

Nagao noted that China has substantially increased its defense budget.

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s report on World Military Expenditure over 2010-2020, China increased its military budget by 76 percent, while during the same period the United States decreased its defense budget by 10 percent though it still remains the highest in the world.

“For a long time, when Japan needed strike capability, Japan relied on the U.S. If the U.S strike capability is enough, Japan does not need any strike capability,” Nagao said.

“However, the situation of the U.S. has changed because U.S.-China military balance has changed. Still, the U.S. spent three times bigger military expenditure [than China] but the U.S. is also asking allies and partners to share the security burden,” he added.

Under these circumstances, U.S. allies and partners including Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, and South Korea especially, and Quad members being India, Australia, and Japan, are enhancing their strike capabilities, said Nagao.

If the United States, Japan, Australia, and India all possess long-range strike capabilities, their combined capability would force China to defend on multiple fronts, according to him.

Grant Newsham, a senior fellow at Japan’s Forum for Strategic Studies, said that Kishida’s speech and appearance at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore are significant.

Japan is more “active in asserting” itself and in taking a “leadership role” in the Indo-Pacific than it has ever had before in the modern era, according to Newsham.

“He addressed ‘security’ matters and indicated that Japan was going to play its part in ensuring a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific.’ Of course, that means ensuring the region is free of Chinese intimidation and domination. He didn’t use quite those words, but his meaning was clear enough,” said Newsham.

Epoch Times Photo
An aerial view of the remote islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi said Japan’s strike capability till date was for its remote islands but now it’ll possess long-range strike capability. (Dong-A ILBO/AFP/GettyImages)

Long-Range Strike Capability

Experts said that Kishida’s indication of Japan’s interest in possessing “counter strike capabilities” means that Japan could produce and possess long-range strike capability designed primarily to defend and to deter an enemy.

Ryo said Japan’s strike capability to date was for its remote islands. However, if the country changes its policy Japan would need a strike capability of at least 621 miles (1000 kilometers) for effective counterattack operations.

“Japan is mulling a number of options, including the Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM-ER) with a range of 900 km [560 miles], and extending the range of the Type 12 surface-to-ship missile to 900 km [560 miles] and eventually to 1,500 km [930 miles],” said Ryo.

In the long term, Japan is also considering the production of cruise missiles with a reach of up to 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers), submarine-launched cruise missiles of 1000km, as well as hypersonic weapons, according to Ryo.

“However, to deal with the threats from China, Japan may need to consider medium-range ballistic missiles,” he said.

Newsham said that Kishida announced that the Japanese navy will conduct patrols, exercises, and other engagements in the region more than it has ever done before in the past 75 years and the Japanese Navy will be sailing a small task force throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

“I believe a submarine and a destroyer will also be going along. This would not have been thought possible, say, five years ago. Now it’s considered ‘normal’—and you’ll note nobody in Japan is complaining, nor is anyone in the region—except the People’s Republic of China,” said Newsham.


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Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.