The consequences of Beijing's saber-rattling are emerging in quick succession around East Asia. One can only hope they convince Chinese leaders that bullying the neighbors was a strategic mistake.
On Tuesday Tokyo unveiled a new national security strategy and a plan to develop its military over the next five years, both aimed in large part at deterring China's aggressive moves in the East China Sea. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Vietnam Monday and the Philippines Tuesday offering $156 million in aid over the next two years to help grateful Southeast Asian nations defend their maritime territory against Chinese encroachment.
The Japanese documents signal a shift in resources toward defending Japan's southern flank against China. While the total number of military personnel will not increase, more of them will be trained, equipped and based to respond to challenges around Okinawa and the disputed Senkaku Islands. Japan will create an amphibious force comparable to the U.S. Marines, armed with drones, amphibious vehicles and vertical take-off aircraft.
An Osprey aircraft departs Iwakuni Air Base in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi prefecture, southern Japan Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. Associated Press
Japan will also spend about 5% more on defense over the next five years, or $12 billion. That is a tiny amount compared to China's annual military spending, which may be as high as $200 billion. China's official military budget, which is about one-half to two-thirds of its real spending, has grown at more than 10% per year since 2000, meaning it has more than quadrupled. Over that same period Japan's annual spending has held almost unchanged at less than five trillion yen, or $46 billion.
Japan has the capacity to spend much more if it needs to, which should give Beijing pause. Tokyo in the past adopted 1% of GDP as an unofficial limit for government spending, much lower than the U.S., which has historically spent around 4%. China's economy may have overtaken Japan's as the world's second largest, but Tokyo can call on deep reserves of technological know-how and manufacturing capacity.
Instead of trying to reassure Japan that it is not an enemy, Beijing continues to use the threat of force to coerce Tokyo into relinquishing disputed territory. The recent declaration of an air-defense identification zone over the Senkaku Islands has galvanized Japanese public opinion in favor of beefing up the military. Yet a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman put the blame on resurgent Japanese militarism Tuesday, saying "Asian countries and the international community, including China, cannot but pay high attention and stay on high alert to Japan's relevant moves."
The rest of Asia seems to be lining up with Japan despite memories of World War II. Even South Korea, often prickly toward its former colonizer, conducted joint exercises with Japan last week inside China's new air-defense zone. At a summit in Tokyo, Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations released a joint statement on Saturday affirming the importance of freedom of navigation.
At that same meeting, Tokyo pledged $19.2 billion in aid to the region over the next five years, including patrol boats for Vietnam and the Philippines. That dovetails with Mr. Kerry's offers over the last few days.
Beijing continued to signal its intent to restrict freedom of navigation when one of its naval ships last week stopped abruptly ahead of the cruiser USS Cowpens, nearly causing a collision. The incident occurred in the South China Sea, the same area where Chinese militia boats challenged the USNS Impeccable in 2009 and a Chinese jet fighter collided with an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance plane in 2001.
The emergence of a great power is always fraught with danger, as the world learned with Germany in the years before World War I. The new generation of Chinese leadership seems dangerously ignorant of this history and lacks self-awareness of how its aggressive moves could cause neighbors to band together against it. They had better catch on soon.