What can the Kaga really carry to Japan?

What can the Kaga really carry to Japan?

04/2017  | Reading time: 6 minutes

As Japan’s brand new helicopter carrier enters service, concerns are emerging in mainland China for the possibility of returning militarism in Japan. With the carrier “Kaga”, the Maritime Self Defense Force now have two helicopter carriers, strengthening Japan’s otherwise relatively weak defense capabilities. According to Vice Minister of Defense, the reason for the expansion is that “China is attempting to make changes in the South China Sea with bases and through acts that exert pressure is altering the status quo, raising security concerns among the international community”. 

The dynamics between China and Japan have almost always been hectic. The recent Chinese emergence deals a great pressure on Japan’s security and therefore military capabilities, but Beijing’s adversarial dealings are not exclusively of expansionist origin. World War II left a great, seemingly unhealable scar on the Chinese nation, which continues to inform political relations. The atrocities did not only include institutionalized sex slavery, but the Nanjing Massacre and tests in the field of biological warfare also constitute a basis for the Chinese to act the way they do towards the Japanese nation. Making matters considerably worse is the Nippon Kaigi doctrine, by which the revisionists downplay or downright deny facts about the Nanjing Massacre. Regarding nationalism in Japan, one cause is the emergence of China’s aggression, but in a way, it is having the opposite effect. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? There is no denying that these events are affecting one another.

Japan’s defense spending 2000-2015, in billion yen. 
Source: Fábián, 2015

As seen in the chart above, defense spending changes with every administration, but keeping it around 1% of the GDP has become a dogma for Japanese politics. The Abe administration has longed to increase the spending since its inauguration, but before the reshuffle in August, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry counteracted the effort at every turn. However, the new, 2016 Abe cabinet does not include the former Economy Minister, as Abe switched him for Seko Hiroshige, a close ally. Thus, the eventual aftermath was evident. Just a few months later, a new defense spending plan was introduced, with a record-breaking 5 trillion yen (42,5 billion USD) of annual spending: a 1,4% increase. The budget hike involves raising the coast guard budget, thereby improving security around the much-disputed Senkaku Islands. This amount was further amended with a special spending package directed exclusively to ballistic missile defense. While the former was explained with the tensions over the island disputes with China, the latter was justified by the government with the North Korean threat. 

The handover ceremony of the helicopter carrier Kaga. 
Source: South China Morning Post

The new carrier appears to be the result of the defense spending increase. As the U.S. pivot to Asia has seemingly come to an end, it is difficult to determine the future of the Far Eastern regional balance, but it is apparent that militarism will have a slightly bigger role in national defense policy among the Eastern nations. 

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