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Home > 2021 > China threatens to nuke Japan | Rajaram Panda

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 36, New Delhi, August 28, 2021

China threatens to nuke Japan | Rajaram Panda

Friday 27 August 2021, by Rajaram Panda

Little over a month ago, on 13 July 2021 Japan issued the Ministry of Defense’s “Defense of Japan” white paper. Before analysing its content, it may be instructive to know its significance and what does it mean in the context of Japan’s Self Defense Forces and the nation’s security. Briefly put, it is the Defense Ministry’s report explaining the current state of Japan’s defense, military situations in countries around the world, policy issues and so on.

The first edition was published in 1970 under the direction of then-Defense Agency chief and later Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. The white paper has been issued annually since 1976. While the first edition was about 100 pages, the 2021 edition runs little over 500 pages, implying thereby that the range of topics has increased because of an expansion of security-related fields, such as space and cyber security, in addition to China’s military build-up and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

As the regional security environment has been changing at a fast pace, Japan’s defence white paper has been reflecting the government’s views on other countries’ military situation. While the 2019 report included for the first time the government’s acknowledgment that North Korea had achieved miniaturised nuclear device production, the 2021 edition mentioned for the first time the need for stability in Taiwan as Taiwan’s security was “directly connected” to that of Japan.

Though the Japanese government publishes more than 40 white papers, including the Cabinet Office’s on the economy and public finance, Justice Ministry’s on crime, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s on manufacturing, and so on, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ report is called Diplomatic Bluebook, and not white paper, as an exception. It is published with a blue cover almost every year.

China has always reacted whenever Japan has made any comments on either China’s military build-up or Taiwan. This time, Japan felt that China’s series of threats to Taiwan has turned the island nation into a flashpoint with serious implications to Japan’s security. Earlier in May when Kyodo News had hinted that unprecedented language on Taiwan was planned for the annual defense report, Beijing lashed out at Tokyo for the agency’s “irresponsible and wrong” comments. Beijing also did not forget to notice that Japan’s Defense Minister wrote a preface in the white paper for the first time of such instance. Beijing in particular was miffed over Tokyo’s decision to put a ‘warlike’ image of an equestrian samurai on the cover, perhaps in a bid to resurrect perceptions of Japan’s prior militarism.

Besides the Taiwan issue, China has territorial problems over the Japan-administered Senkaku islands, which it claims as its own. Deploying of coast guard ships and military naval vessels by China in South China Sea, Taiwanese waters and around Senkaku are routine and on regular basis. The latest in this narrative is the threat to nuke Japan “continuously until Japan declares unconditional surrender.” These are serious threats, which could trigger domestic debate both in Japan and South Korea to revisit their nuclear options. Taiwan also might follow suit, making the north-east Asia as the most nuclearised part of the world. If Beijing really implements the threat, it would expose itself before the world that its claim of “peaceful rise” is just a hoax.

Even if we keep aside China’s threat to nuke Japan for the time being, Beijing’s military and coercive measures to subjugate Taiwan with the possibility of forced seizure of Taipei would escalate tensions dangerously with immediate implications on the security postures of neighbouring countries such as Japan and South Korea.

Even before Japan issued its 2021 Defense white paper, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Xi Jinping had issued a war cry in his July 1 speech at the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP. Subsequently, the CCP’s military channel carried a televised address in which it brazenly threatened to launch relentless nuclear strike against Japan. The visual commentary stated: “When we liberate Taiwan, if Japan dares to intervene by force, even if it only deploys one soldier, one plane, and one ship, we will not only return reciprocal fire, but also start a full-scale war against Japan.” The commentary went on: “We will use nuclear bombs first…and use nuclear bombs continuously until Japan declares unconditional surrender for the second time. What we want to target is Japan’s ability to endure a war. As long as Japan realizes that it cannot afford to pay the price of war, it will not dare to rashly send troops to the Taiwan Strait.”

Does it mean that China is going to abandon its no-first-use (NFU) in its nuclear journey? Ever since China went nuclear in 1964, its nuclear journey’s intentional uncertainty has been a consistent feature. With XI’s remarks, this could be at risk of being buried. There is a lack of transparency about China’s actual nuclear assets and there is always a variance between what China reveals and what actually it possesses. Viewed from this perspective, the CCP military channel report is a milestone revelation, demonstrating Beijing’s real intentions.

In 1964, Beijing had announced that it would adhere to a strict policy of NFU of nuclear weapons (bu shouxian shiyong) at any time and in all circumstances. It made the unequivocal commitment that under no circumstances will it use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states, or nuclear-weapon-free zones. The latest message coming from Beijing reveals that that stance is open for an overhaul. The CCP military channel’s documentary clearly indicates Beijing’s intentions to make limited adjustment to its nuclear policy.

Further the commentary talked about “Japan ExceptionTheory” by which Japan was identified as an exception. According to this theory, the commentary warned Japan and informed the world that if Japan interferes militarily in China’s domestic affairs, including the unification of Taiwan by the mainland, China will surely use nuclear weapons against Japan and “will be used continuously until its unconditional surrender”. China also threatens that if peace talks do not result in any positive outcome, China shall take back Diaoyu Islands and Ryukyu Islands. There is every reason to believe that the military channel’s statement could not possibly have gone out without official approvals or endorsements from the highest levels. The signals are pregnant with dangerous consequences.

(Author: Prof. Rajaram Panda is Senior Fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.)

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