In the waters of the East China Sea, a daily show of aggression is displayed around the uninhibited Senakaku/Diaoyutai Islands. Coast guards from China and Japan play a dangerous game of cat and mouse as both sides try to lay claim to the disputed resource-rich territory. The concern is – that the two powers are riding towards war.
Steve Chao takes a trip to the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands, 200km from Taiwan and 2,000km from Tokyo. This region is home to rich fishing grounds and potential gas deposits.
With China’s growing hostility and nuclear missile threats from North Korea, Japan’s newly-elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vows to strengthen the country’s military power to defend the islands at all cost. And that task falls on Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF), made up of ground, maritime and air units.
During this time of heightened tensions, Japan’s Self-Defense Force granted 101 East rare and exclusive access into its operations to showcase the depth of its military prowess. No other media outlets have had this level of openness. We are allowed deep into the inner workings of the force and speak to commanders and soldiers who – for the first time in generations – are preparing to put their lives on the line to protect the country.
Japan’s Self-Defense Force was formed in 1954. It is Japan’s first defense unit since the country was forced to end its aggressions after World War II. Under government guidelines, the force is meant to be defensive, not offensive, and leaders have so-far prevented labeling it, as a military – although it is increasingly seen as such internationally.
In order to understand the strength of the force, we went onboard the Hyuga-class carrier. It is a 13,500 tonne contradiction – the constitution forbids the building of an aircraft carrier. Instead it is reclassified as a destroyer class vessel.
We also visited the F15 Squadron at the Naha airbase in Okinawa. It is the closest airbase to the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands. In the past year, they scrambled 306 times against foreign incursions.
In January this year, an F15 incepted a Chinese aircraft headed for the islands. Japan’s ally, the US have since sounded warnings to China about the intrusions.
On the ground, Japan’s elite force, the 1st Airborne Brigade holds wargames and military exercises as a very public demonstration to China. The mission – be prepared to retake the islands if necessary. In a potential armed conflict, the unit is expected to be the first deployed as a rapid reaction force. We speak to the commander and elite paratroopers of the 1st Airborne Brigade and they have very bold answers on how the SDF should be changed, and China’s perceived threats.
As Japan begins to reshape, rename and transform what many consider its “military power”, constitutional advisors, like Setsu Kobayashi worry that a change in the hands of its current leaders will restore militarism, going against longheld and cherished ideals of pacifism for which Japan stands for.
Katsumoto Saotome, the director of the Tokyo Air Raid Museum, is also hesitant of Japan changing its constitution to allow for a full military. The museum, he says, is a reminder of love and peace for the next generation, a place where the Japanese can learn from their past mistakes. The photographs displayed there paint a picture of devastated Tokyo after the US bombing raids in the late 1940s.
Considering its past aggression in World War II, is Japan ready to revive its military might?