Japan ‘gravely concerned’ by China and Russia’s military co-operation

Japan has warned that deepening military co-operation between China and Russia is of “grave concern” for its security, in the country’s first defence white paper since it set out plans to expand defence spending last year.

Beijing and Moscow kicked off their largest joint naval and air exercise in the Sea of Japan earlier this month, underscoring how their collaboration has gained pace following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The white paper, which was approved by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet on Friday, also noted that the overall military balance between China and Taiwan was “rapidly tilting” in Beijing’s favour.

The paper reaffirmed Japan’s stance that China’s rising military aggression posed “an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge” — a phrase adopted when Tokyo unveiled an ambitious military build-up as part of the national security strategy released in December. 

“The repeated joint exercises by China and Russia are clearly intended as a show of force against our country, and pose a grave concern for the country’s security,” the new paper said, in a strengthening of Tokyo’s language on the co-operation between its two larger neighbours.

In June, Chinese and Russian bombers jointly patrolled the airspace above the Sea of Japan, where Tokyo and Moscow have territorial disputes. They also patrolled over the East China Sea, where Tokyo has disputes with Beijing.

Japan and South Korea scrambled fighter jets after the Russian-Chinese formation entered their air defence identification zones during this month’s drills. It was the sixth time the two countries held joint bomber patrols in the area since 2019.

China’s foreign ministry said the joint strategic air patrol with Russia was “carried out in accordance with international law and norms” and did not target any country.

In light of increasing drills near its territorial waters, the white paper said Japan had expanded joint exercises and co-operation between the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) and the Japan Coast Guard. The government has also compiled new guidelines that allow the defence minister to take command of the coast guard in an emergency.

The paper noted that a recent relaxation of restrictions on the SDF would allow it to use weapons against balloons and drones that violate Japan’s airspace. The move follows incursions of what are believed to have been Chinese military balloons in recent years.

Most of the security threats regarding China and Russia and from missile launches and military activities by North Korea were similar those outlined in last year’s white paper.

But this year’s report devoted a section to the increasing impact of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, warning of rising cyber security risks and the spread of fake information.

New chapters also explained Japan’s upgraded security strategy, which marked one of the biggest shifts from its postwar pacifist stance and included the acquisition of counterstrike capabilities and strengthening of space and cyber defence capabilities.

Over the next five years, Tokyo plans to spend ¥43tn ($307bn) to strengthen its defence capabilities, bringing military expenditure to roughly 2 per cent of its current gross domestic product. Since the 1960s, Japan has maintained a self-imposed cap on military spending of about 1 per cent of GDP.

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