The new missile systems China displayed in its national day parade last month will add to “global anxiety” about its rising military power and Beijing needs to explain itself to the world, Japan’s defence minister has warned in an interview with the Financial Times.
Taro Kono, who moved from the foreign ministry to defence in September, said China has not outlined its military budget, strategic goals or doctrine. Beijing’s new ballistic and hypersonic cruise missiles are thus a cause of alarm for its neighbours.
But Mr Kono heavily downplayed the chances of Japan playing host to US intermediate range missiles, which Washington wants to deploy in Asia, and said Japan does not intend to forge military ties with Taiwan.
His comments highlight Tokyo’s delicate position as it seeks to maintain its security against China’s growing military might, while avoiding becoming a proxy for a US confrontation with Beijing.
“[China’s] budget, doctrine, weapon systems, the whereabouts of their weapon systems and their organisation are not transparent,” said Mr Kono. “We have been urging them to explain . . . but we really haven’t seen an improvement in their transparency. So, these new weapons systems simply add to the global anxiety.”
At a military parade on October 1 to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing displayed four new missile systems, including hypersonic weapons that are hard to intercept and could be used to strike land targets or warships in Japan.
The hardware was unveiled amid rising tensions in the region, from ballistic missile tests by North Korea to the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. The treaty banned land-based missiles with ranges of between 500km and 5,500km and the US is now keen to deploy such missiles in Asia. Some experts fear that could spark an arms race with China, which was not party to the INF treaty.
Mr Kono said there were no discussions with the US about basing conventional intermediate range missiles in Japan and the deployment of nuclear weapons on Japanese soil was inconceivable.
“The US doesn’t have non-nuclear missiles that can be deployed yet. Maybe they’re in the phase of development,” he said. “We have not been discussing any of it. We know that China needs to be included in the next round of a missile treaty and they need to be included in nuclear disarmament negotiations. I think the whole world needs to push China into it.”
Mr Kono said his three top priorities were to improve Japan’s readiness by rolling out new equipment and cyber space capabilities; improve conditions for troops, given the difficulty of recruiting in Japan’s ageing society; and to strengthen the nation’s defence industrial base.
He insisted that was possible despite increased spending on US equipment such as F35 stealth fighters and the Aegis Ashore missile defence system. Donald Trump, the US president, has put pressure on Japan to buy weapons to reduce the trade deficit.
Mr Kono said Japan will buy ready-assembled F35s from the US to save money but wants to develop a next-generation fighter at home to replace its ageing F2 aircraft, working jointly with a foreign partner. Tokyo has an experimental test aircraft, known as the X-2 “Shinshin”, but it is still a long way from being able to produce a fully-fledged fighter.
The defence minister said he was open to co-operation with a European programme, such as the UK’s proposed Tempest fighter, but hinted Japan would prefer to develop a new aircraft with the US.
“Well, I think we’re going to explore all the possibilities. But definitely we need to secure interoperability between US forces in Japan and the Self-Defence Forces,” Mr Kono said. “We are now studying it and we would like to start the actual development process in the next fiscal year.”