Japan, like Britain, is an island nation and is naturally sensitive to the balance of naval power. This is what makes Japan particularly sensitive to the Chinese military buildup.
The Chinese defense budget has climbed by 750% since the start of the decade and one third of that (public as opposed to clandestine) budget is being devoted towards augmenting the Chinese navy. The most worrisome aspect of this buildup from the Japanese perspective is the addition of a carrier fleet. This is starting soon with a second hand Russian carrier but will be joined in a decade by four home-built flat tops.
This is why the Japanese Defense White Paper predicts that China will pose an increasing threat to Japan. "With the modernization of China's naval and air forces in recent years, its sphere of influence is likely to grow beyond its neighbouring waters," it said.
"China plans to expand its sphere of maritime activities, carrying out operations and training as an ordinary routine practice in waters surrounding Japan."
The Chinese threat, claim the Japanese, must be taken seriously in light of China's "overbearing behavior" in the territorial disputes in the Pacific, including a dispute with Japan.
In response, Japan intends to build up its submarine force and radar capability, particularly in the area of Taiwan. Japan would deploy troops on islands close to the area.
The paper harped on the importance of the Japan-US defense treaty. This is an interesting development, considering that the Japan Democratic Party that is currently in power has been traditionally more neutralist and pro Chinese. Now the overwhelming majority of Japanese support the alliance as a bulwark against China and a North Korea that is testing a new missile.
It is, however, unfortunate for Japan that precisely at this moment a territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea heated up over Islands that the Koreans call Dokdo and the Japanese Takeshima. Japan boycotted the South Korean airline for a month because it made a demonstrative pass over the islands. This week the Koreans created an incident when they denied three Japanese parliamentarians, on their way to "inspect" the disputed islands, entry into South Korea .
Such a dispute drives the United States to distraction because it would like to present a common Japanese- South Korean front with the United States on the North Korea issue.
The Americans are issuing the usual calls for restraint. Editorialists in South Korea and Japan have also weighed in emphasizing the need for mutual self-control "with both Japan and South Korea facing a direct threat to their national security from North Korea."