Unless Japan Increases Its Defense Budget to 5% of GDP, It Will Give in to a “Murderer”


Retired Captain of the U.S. Navy

Captain James E. Fanell

Fanell graduated from San Diego State University, received his M.A. from the University of Hawaii and was a National Security Affairs Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is currently a Government Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in Switzerland where he lives with his wife. His last assignment in the U.S. Navy was as the Director of Intelligence and Information Operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet where he warned of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region.


——China dispatched its maritime forces near the Senkaku Islands for over 100 days.

This is a real concern, especially with the PRC’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy operating just “over the horizon” in support of these “grey zone” actions of the PRC’s maritime forces. These forces also pose a threat to Okinawa because any PLA effort to take the Senkaku Islands would most likely include neutralization attacks against Japanese and U.S. forces on Okinawa.

The people of Japan and the U.S. should be very worried because the PRC is now at the point where they could take administrative control of the islands and could announce their control at any time. For two decades, I’ve recommended that Japan should establish a non-military presence on the Senkaku Islands, like building a lighthouse or a meteorological weather station, and placing environmental or fisheries experts on the island to study the effects of the weather, the fishing environment and overall nature of the islands.

If Japan had taken these actions 20 years ago, the situation would be much different today and the PRC would be less likely to act. Despite Japan’s failure to act for the past two decades, I still submit that Japan must demonstrate sovereign control over the islands in order to ensure the PRC and the international community unambiguously understand Japan’s commitment to these islands. To do otherwise, simply feeds the PRC’s counter narrative that the islands belong to China.

I am not Japanese, but I understand the threat from the PRC, and I believe the Japanese people are going to have to decide if they’re going to defend Japan’s territory. If the answer is yes, then the people of Japan are going to have to work hard. This does not mean that the Japanese people would be the aggressors, it simply means they would be defending Japan’s sovereign territory and resisting the PRC’s larger strategy of global hegemony. Fighting to defend the Senkaku Islands is not offensive mindedness, it is responsible behavior that the rest of the international community will understand in the face of the bullying behavior from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). I know the USA will understand and approve of such defensive actions.

——You actually gave speeches in 2013 about the “Short, Sharp War,” a military invasion plan by the PLA.

That speech was based on a statement from PLA Navy PLA(N) Rear Admiral Yin Zhou speaking on Beijing TV in January 2013 during a period of heightened PRC naval training in the East China Sea. The admiral stated “The battle to take over the Diaoyu Islands would not be a conventional operation…. The real fight would be very short. It is very possible the war would end in a couple of days or even in a few hours…The keys to winning the war are quick actions, and good planning…” “Short, sharp war” is a standard translation of the Chinese phrase “短暫且激烈的戰爭”.

The PRC has been quite open about their strategy and plans. It is time for Japanese politicians and the Japanese media to have frank and open discussions about defending Japanese territory and its citizens. Hiding from the truth of the PRC’s ambitions will not make the task of defending oneself any easier. It is time to confront the reality of the threat from the PRC.


China Will attack Taiwan and Okinawa at the Same Time

The fact that we are seeing the PLA fly and sail military aircraft and ships around Taiwan is another very dangerous indicator for the instability of the region. The possibility of a conflict breaking out in the South China Sea, the East China Sea or an all-out invasion of Taiwan is higher than at any other time in the history of the PRC.

What the people of Japan need to understand is that the CCP is working according to a timeline for the Great Rejuvenation of the PRC. I believe the PRC is working on a strategy, and a very detailed timeline where the PRC will have taken sovereign control of all of the territory it assesses is theirs by Oct. 1, 2049.

In 2012, the PRC took sovereign control of Scarborough Shoal without firing a single shot by using what the CCP calls “comprehensive national power” (CNP). Over the past 40 years since Deng Xioping’s “Reform and Opening Up”, the CCP has used the various elements of CNP, like diplomacy, economy and information warfare pressures, the “non-kinetic” tools, to pressure adversaries to achieve its strategic goals. But this does not mean the CCP will not use the military introduction of power to get what they want. The CCP has been planning to use military force if the non-kinetic forms of power fail to achieve national restoration on the timeline they desire.

As such, the PRC has a “Counter Intervention” strategy (which is called Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2Ad) by U.S. and Japanese defense planners) which is designed to keep U.S. and Japanese military forces away from the Taiwan theater as much as possible. That is why they built ballistic missiles (like the DF-21D or DF-26) to sink large aircraft carriers from the U.S. Navy and JMSDF. China has also developed anti-ship cruise missiles to be fired from their surface ships, from their submarines, from their aircraft, and from the shore. In the South China Sea, they built seven islands with three major bases, controlling the region.

——Do you think it is possible for China to launch an invasion on Taiwan?

While the PRC prefers to not use military force to achieve their goals, if they assess they cannot gain sovereign control of Taiwan by 2030, it is very likely the CCP will launch an invasion. If the PLA launches an invasion of Taiwan, it is expected that they will also attack Japanese and U.S. military forces that would come from Okinawa. Further, it is assessed that an attack on Taiwan will necessarily include attacks on the Nansei Shoto, including Okinawa.


The Trump Administration Switched Policies Towards China

The Trump Administration has broken from the past 40 years of “blind engagement” with the PRC and embarked on what I believe is a much more realistic policy of confronting the aggressive expansionism of the PRC.

The Trump Administration’s efforts to confront the PRC’s bad behaviors in the past three and a half years is a whole of government “China Strategy”, which is a significant difference from previous U.S. administrations. The Trump Administration laid down the foundation of this China Strategy with its National Security Strategy in 2017, National defense Strategy in 2018, the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report in 2019 and The United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China in 2020, which has been reinforced by numerous public statements from high-ranking officials from the current U.S. government. The whole of government approach is very comprehensive and well thought-out.

——Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized the difference in ideology between the U.S. and China in his statement in July, calling for “a new grouping of like-minded nations—a new alliance of democracies,” to stand together against the PRC.

The above speech is not just words, it has been backed up by real actions across all elements of national power. The U.S. Navy and Air Force have increased their operations in the South China Sea, while the U.S. has announced it will assist the government of Japan in monitoring the PRC’s actions in and around the Senkaku Islands. I have long recommended this kind of support, but it wasn’t until the Trump Administration that these recommendations were acted on.

This is a very good sign for the people of Japan and should dispel partisan political criticism that falsely asserts the Trump Administration does not have a China Strategy or can be counted on to defend its allies, like Japan. In my assessment, and from my experience, the Trump administration has done more in 3.5 years to confront the PRC’s bad behavior than the Obama Administration and previous administrations accomplished over the last thirty years.

My concern is that if President Trump were not re-elected, we would see a return to the failed policies of “blind engagement” from the Obama Administration. More specifically to Japan, in the eight years of the Obama Administration, Japan’s national security eroded faster than at any other time since WW II. My concern is the foreign policy advisors who failed to confront the PRC would be brought back into a Biden Administration, which I believe would be a disaster for the safety and security of the people of Japan.


Japan Should Allocate 5% of GDP to Defense Spending

——Can you give us some advice for Japan?

There are some so-called “experts” in America and Japan’s national security communities who assert that “if you stand up to the PRC, it will cause a war with China.” I reject this assertion and believe this faulty thinking has been disproven over the past 40 years of history.

I humbly submit that the Japanese people should ask the government to do the following: increase the Japanese Self Defense Force budget. Why? Imagine this analogy. If you knew a murderer with an axe was coming after you, to attack you, and kill you, then how much would you be willing to pay to save you and your family’s lives? If you understand this analogy, then my question is, why should it be any different when the PRC is seeking to attack the Senkakus and the Nansei Shoto (or possibly more)? The people of Japan must understand, and believe, that the PRC is planning on taking the Senkakus one way or another. Failure to recognize the murder wielding an axe, does not mean the axe will not cut you in half. It is the same for the PRC and the PLA.

What is the right amount of funding? Well, I can only say that it must be more than these small incremental increases that have happened over the past few decades. Rather, I’d recommend putting a target out there, say somewhere around 5% of GDP (around 26 trillion yen or 240 billion dollars) which is really what is needed to help the U.S., Taiwan and other nations to deter the PRC’s aggression. Yes, I know that is a shocking number that some will say is unachievable, but what is the alternative? Yes, if you think 5% is so dangerous, then what is the cost of not deterring the PLA and being invaded and made slaves to the PRC? Which is worse, a 5% increase in defense spending or being invaded and made subject to the whims and dictates of the CCP?

If the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, India and Australia (the Quad) partner together, and use their combined forces to train together, and have common systems and common tactics, techniques and procedures, then this combined force could present an equal or greater force to the PRC.

Each nation needs to have their own anti-ship cruise missile systems to deter the PLA Navy and be able to defeat it in the event of a conflict. So if the PLA Navy ships get underway from the East China Sea or South China Sea, this combined force of the Quad nations must be able to convince the PRC that if one of their ships even leaves its port, that our combined forces will sink it. If the CCP understands this, then maybe they will change their behavior.

The U.S. and Japan and the other allies have much work to do to present a credible deterrent threat to the PRC. And Japan needs to start today to defend itself.

Unless Japan Increases Its Defense Budget to 5% of GDP, It Will Give in to a “Murderer”
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