Hawkish Tomomi Inada, just installed as Japan’s defense minister, will be watched closely by China and South Korea, where Japan’s legacy of military aggression before and during World War Two remains an open wound.
Japan has already said it is upgrading its missile defenses in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games to counter more advanced North Korean weapons, part of increased military spending in the region that reflects worsening ties.
China is North Korea’s main ally, although Beijing disapproves of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Japan, and Inada, may reach out to China and others as they seek to neutralize the threat to security posed by North Korea.
Japan and China both claim jurisdiction over islands in the East China Sea. Rather than confront China directly by sailing warships past its man-made island bases in the sea, Japan is providing equipment and training to the Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines and Vietnam, which are most opposed to China’s territorial ambitions.
Lastly, Beijing’s most powerful adversary in Asia is the United States, with its Seventh Fleet operating from bases in Japan and South Korea.