By Jiang Feng, a researcher with the Huazhi Research Center, Nanjing University
Japan’s Defense Ministry recently announced in a high-profile manner its plan to upgrade and remold its crack Izumo-class helicopter destroyer. In this regard, the Japanese media also unabashedly pointed out its intention of building an “aircraft carrier”.
As it is well-known that once the Izumo-class helicopter destroyer is thoroughly remolded, it would be Japan’s first aircraft carrier after its tragic defeat in World War II, which will be a major event with special meaning both politically and militarily, and will undoubtedly have a profound impact on Japan and the surrounding areas.
It should be noted that Japan decides to “break the abstinence” in the current changing international situation once in a blue moon after its “abstinence” after WWII, which is inseparable from three moves that have been elaborately and stealthily promoted by the long-serving Abe administration.
The first move is to focus on alleviating the trade conflict between the United States and Japan and even the "Japan-US trade war". The US President Donald Trump is waving the tariff stick against China as well as its traditional allies including Japan, making itself an unreliable ally. Although Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has patiently persuaded the US to agree to carry out trade negotiations on TAG, Japan still faces strong pressure in such deeply concerned areas as automobiles and agricultural products.
However, the upgraded Izumo is expected to be loaded with the latest US F-35B stealth fighters, involving an arms trade deal of more than 60 billion yuan with the US. The Japanese government intends to disclose its defense spending in recent years to the US in January, 2019, showing that it is willing to respond to Trump-proposed reduction of the trade deficit with Japan. Shinzo Abe’s approach of “spending money to eliminate disasters” reflects his pacifying as well as flattering attitudes towards the US President Trump.
The second move can be seen as an attempt to counter China’s ever-growing marine military strength. Defense of Japan 2018 emphasizes that China is accelerating the construction of aircraft carriers with the aim of building an ocean-going combat system.
With a guilty conscience, Japan is vigilant and aims to enhance its self-defense ability at accelerated speed. With the further consolidation and stability of the Shinzo Abe regime, Japan is eager to find new outlets, with the rhetoric of “hoping that its hard-to-acquire good equipment can be fully used for multiple purposes,” and consequently carries out its plan under the context of upgrading its Izumo-class helicopter destroyer.
In the view of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the China-Japan relations has recovered and returned to the normal track, which does not conflict with its grand strategy.
The third move is to continue paving the way for constitutional amendment with strong intention. The revision of Japan’s constitution is one of the important goals of Shinzo Abe. He has repeatedly stated that he will “speed up” the amendment process in Japan’s parliament. Although the Commission on the Constitution in the House of Representatives has failed to meet his expectations, and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) may even be forced to wait until the election of the House of Councillors in next summer to proceed forward the constitutional changes, this does not affect Abe’s “resolution” to amend Japan’s Constitution.
Instead of sitting and waiting, it is better to act now. In Abe’s view, swords are better than words. On the one hand, the reconstruction of the Izumo-class helicopter destroyer would lead to many doubts, including those among Japanese opposition parties; while on the other hand, it would signal that Abe wants to change the status of “purely self-defense” desperately and upgrade and justify Japan's Self-Defense Forces, which might hopefully become his best advertisement for carrying forward the constitutional amendment.
On the whole, the background, influence, and significance of the transformation of a Japanese helicopter destroyer into an aircraft carrier have surpassed the pure military scope. It is a comprehensive chess game that the Shinzo Abe government has seized the current opportunities to play, which is bound to affect China-Japan relations and the China-US-Japan triangular relations. China must make necessary responses after calmly analyzing.
Disclaimer: The author is Jiang Feng, a researcher with the Huazhi Research Center, Nanjing University. The article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn. Chinamil.com.cn does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. If the article carries photographs or images, we do not vouch for their authenticity.