Aimed in part at preparing the stage for the Fumio Kishida Cabinet's attempt to dramatically increase Japan's defense budget, the Defense White Paper the Japanese government approved on Friday painted an unusually gloomy picture of the security landscape for the country.
But it went too far in portraying China as a serious and growing security challenge to Japan and the region. Calling out China as a "strong security concern", the document claims the security risk Beijing allegedly poses has been "intensifying in recent years", and it lists as concerns China's policies regarding Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, its military development, "lack of transparency" in military activities, attempts to "change the status quo with force" in the East and South China seas, as well as the Chinese stance over the Ukraine conflict and China-Russia cooperation.
Like the United States' Interim National Security Strategy and NATO's 2022 Strategic Concept, the Japanese Defense White Paper clearly identifies China as the foremost security threat, and the Japanese government will no doubt seek to take advantage of such a judgment to make the series of security-related breakthroughs that it desires but would otherwise be extremely difficult.
That the 500-page document goes to great lengths to hype up alleged security risks posed by China is incompatible with the Chinese and Japanese people's shared wish for peace. And rather than improving the Japanese security environment, it will worsen it by further alienating a peaceful neighbor who has been dedicated to maintaining a friendly bilateral relationship.
Tokyo's official definition of China as a key security concern, along with its recent close interactions with Washington and NATO in the security field, and its attempts at enhancing targeted regional security alliances, will severely disrupt the security landscape in the Asia-Pacific and only invite greater potential threats to itself.
China has expressed "strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition" to the white paper, and has lodged "stern representations" to the Japanese side, according to a spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry.
From the perspective of Beijing's principle of non-interference in other's internal affairs, the document's comments on such topics as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang are gross interference in China's internal affairs. And what Tokyo has expressed concerns about are normal, legitimate moves by China to modernize its defense capabilities. The spokesperson urged Japan to "stop hyping up the security threats in its neighborhood to justify its own military buildup".
The diplomatic response aside, this incident is a fresh reminder for Beijing of the worrying changes taking place in its very own security environment.
With the US doubling down on its "Indo-Pacific strategy", NATO seeking to extend its reach into the region, and regional countries such as Australia and Japan latching on to Washington's pressure policy to see what can be squeezed their way, the potential security challenges China is confronting have hardly been harsher.
But the escalating confrontation will do no country any good and only increases the risks of a misstep.