Key takeaways from Japan's new defense white paper

China Military Online
Lin Congyi
2023-09-07 18:16:36

By Wu Minwen

The 2023 Defense of Japan white paper recently released by Japan's Ministry of Defense is an authoritative document released annually to expound on the country's judgment about the surrounding security environment and its short- and medium-term defense policies. The 2023 white paper, the first after the three strategic documents released in December 2022 –the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy and the Defense Buildup Program – marking an about-face in Japan's defense policy, has captured close and extensive attention.


The new, 510-page defense white paper, consisting of 17 sections in four chapters, has the following major characteristics.

First, it continues to hype up the "China threat". The document says "Japan faces the most severe and complex security environment since the end of WWII", with the main "threats" coming from China, Russia and DPRK.

China is mentioned in 31 of the 510 pages, which is a lot considering that most of the document is allocated to descriptions such as the distribution of defense expenditure and equipment development, while references to a country are only made when judging a situation or presenting a strategic vision.

Hyping up the so-called China threat is a cliché in the annual white paper, but some new expressions are used this year. It represents a major turning point for postwar defense policy and views 2023 as the first year of Japan's so-called "fundamental reinforcement of defense capabilities". In addition to taking China as Japan's greatest strategic challenge, the white paper links the Taiwan question with Japan's security by clamoring that "a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency", which is a glaring provocation to the postwar international order.

Second, it substantially increases defense spending. Japan's defense spending remained under 1% of GDP for a long time since 1960 – 0.93% in 2017, for example, but it reached that limit in 2020 and further increased to 1.24% in 2021, the first time surpassing the 1% line in more than half a century. In 2023, Japan's defense spending exceeded 6.82 trillion Yen, 1.26 times as much as the original budget of around 5.4 trillion Yen in 2022.

Third, it demonstrates Japan's wishes to become a military power. With America's strong support, Japan quickly recovered its economy and went on to become a major economic and technological power after WWII, and was the world's second-largest economy for a long time before being overtaken by China. During this time, however, its dream to also become a military and political power has remained a dream despite its unreserved efforts.

After putting forth its so-called "Indo-Pacific strategy", the US has loosened its control over Japan's defense capability development out of consideration for its own strategic needs, and this has given Japan a renewed hope to realize its military and political ambitions. It has not only strongly supported and joined the "Indo-Pacific strategy", but also taken big steps forward on its way to become a military power, as indicated by the latest defense white paper.


On the basis of a security situation analysis, 2023 defense white paper sets objectives for defense buildup and lays out measures to achieve the objectives.

First, Japan will continue to leverage America's support. Echoing the Biden administration's definition of China as the "greatest geopolitical challenge", Japan's defense white paper calls China the “greatest strategic challenge” while underscoring the importance of the Japan-US alliance. In the meantime, as Washington increasingly plays the Taiwan card as a strategic tool to contain China's development, Tokyo also blatantly and grossly interferes in China's internal affairs on the Taiwan question to show allegiance to the White House.

Second, Japan will develop comprehensive defense capabilities. According to the new white paper, JSDF will work on seven areas in the next five years – stand-off defense capabilities, integrated air and missile defense capabilities, unmanned defense capabilities, cross-domain operation capabilities, command and control and intelligence-related functions, mobile deployment capabilities/civil protection, and sustainability and resiliency.

Third, Japan will significantly reinforce its offensive capabilities. As a losing party in WWII, Japan has always been restricted in its military buildup, with the development of offensive capabilities being especially sensitive. However, to become a military power, the country has constantly broken the restrictions under America's connivance and indulgence as well as various disguises. For instance, JSDF has developed offensive capabilities in the name of the "ability to attack enemy base" and "defense and counterattack".


The 2023 defense white paper is Japan's latest move to follow America's so-called "Indo-Pacific Strategy". It is also the first of its kind after the Kishida administration formulated a brand new defense strategy. The document is sure to exert great influence on Japan's defense policies, development of defense capabilities, trends of state policies, and regional situation.

The US was the main occupant of Japan after WWII and the main party that brought the pacifist Constitution into existence. Yet with the change in the international situation, it began to connive at and even indulge Japan's challenge to and hollowing out of the Constitution in order to serve its own strategic interests. Now, all that's left of the pacifist Constitution of Japan is just a shell with little inside.

Japan has hollowed out its pacifist Constitution slowly but surely with salami tactics to escape its restriction. For instance, the Japanese government, through various walk-arounds and ambiguities, has de facto bypassed the Three Principles of Arms Exports of Japan. According to the pacifist Constitution and the "defense only" principle, JSDF's missile range should be no more than 200km, yet the missiles purchased and developed by Japan all have a range much longer than that. Moreover, the high-speed gliding missile and hypersonic missile being developed by Japan need to be supported by a StarLink-like cyber network, and such development of space forces by Tokyo is not only against the requirement of peaceful utilization of space, but is a stark breach of its commitment to non-military use of space.

Japan's new defense white paper will aggravate the regional situation. The so-called "counterstrike capabilities" are mainly deployed in the Southwestern Islands, obviously targeting the Taiwan Strait. Japan has stationed its type-12 anti-ship missiles and other weapons and equipment at Miyako-jima, Ishigaki-jima and other islands to control the Miyako Strait, apparently to block China's operations beyond the first island chain.

At the same time, the white paper also lays out plans to invest hugely to stock up the arsenal, accelerate the construction of key command centers underground, and reinforce the attack resistance of barracks – all solid steps of quickened war-preparedness. China and Japan are two major countries in the region. Japan's targeted military buildup and war-preparedness against China is sure to take a serious toll on the regional situation.

(The author is from the College of Information and Communication, National University of Defense Technology)

Editor's note: Originally published on, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of

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