Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces a major political warfare campaign as he labors to defend Japan’s security interests through the normalization of the status of its armed forces.

However, there is a very small but powerful radical-left minority in Japan that desires a weak and neutralized military; nearby, hostile totalitarian regimes benefit from and support these emasculating radicals.

The world would benefit from an assertive, proactive and militarily capable Japan, one that could more effectively counterbalance China’s fast rise. Taiwan, or the Republic of China (ROC), especially needs this from its northernmost neighbor.

Japan and Taiwan both exemplify greater individual liberty, consensual government, and rule of law than most countries in the world. They demonstrate how free peoples can govern themselves and prosper in a very tough neighborhood – in close proximity to two of the world’s most ruthless authoritarian regimes, China and North Korea.

Further, Taiwan benefits from a Japan that works effectively with its only treaty ally, America. While the relationship looks good on paper, there are vexing shortcomings in the security alliance and with Japan’s defense structure that could in time have devastating consequences.

Japan still has not implemented a coherent national defense strategy and its armed forces face major shortfalls in funding, manpower, communications, doctrine, training, and weapons and equipment.

Just as important, US-Japan-Taiwan strategic communications efforts need to be better led and coordinated to help fight the efforts by both radical activists within Japan and China’s “political warfare” operations designed to disintegrate its perceived enemies.

A Tough Neighborhood

Japan faces security challenges from all of its immediate neighbors. The most imminent challenge is China – by any objective assessment an expansionist, coercive, hyper-nationalistic and repressive state.

Japan is reminded daily through China’s bombastic propaganda organs that it is now militarily and economically powerful, and eager to avenge Japan’s brutal past imperialism. Its media proclaim intent to take both the disputed Senkaku Islands and the entire Ryukyu chain in the East China Sea.

Also in the neighborhood is North Korea, a de facto slave state whose crimes against humanity are well documented by the United Nations and which also has intense historical grievances against Japan.

Two other neighbors occupy lands and adjacent waters claimed by Japan: Russia seized Japan’s northern islands (“territories”) at Japan’s surrender in World War II, and South Korea seized Takeshima in 1954. As nuclear powers, Russia and North Korea are each capable of destroying Japan as a civilization within minutes.

The status of Taiwan also poses a serious challenge for Japan, in that China’s possible occupation of the island it considers a “renegade” province would severely compromise Japan’s southern flank and lead to increased pressure on its territorial integrity.

Members of a Taiwanese independence group march with flags around the group of pro-China supporters holding a rally calling peaceful reunification, in Taipei, Taiwan in this file photo dated May 14, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
Members of a Taiwanese independence group march with flags around a group of pro-China supporters holding a rally calling for peaceful reunification, in Taipei, Taiwan, May 14, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

Economic, psychological and other damage from Taiwan “going Red” would also be grave. Given the existing political environment dictated by Beijing, Japan is limited in its public cooperation with Taiwan on common and increasingly pressing security issues.

China’s threat to Taiwan, of course, is well known. In the name of a so-called “China Dream”, Beijing is engaged in an all-encompassing campaign to bring Taiwan into its embrace. In its relentless psychological campaign on Taiwan, China employs economic, informational, political and military warfare on a daily basis.

All these means are destabilizing and demoralizing, but it is the military aspect that is of most concern. Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) to be able to invade and secure Taiwan by the year 2020.

Under these circumstances, Japan’s security is inextricably linked to Taiwan’s security, and vice versa. Consequently, Taiwan needs a militarily capable Japan, one with improved military interoperability with the United States.

Abe, Japan’s strongest premier in decades, recognizes the threats facing Japan and has taken substantial steps to address shortfalls within his limited political maneuvering space.

He has ordered two revised National Defense Program Guidelines, revised the US-Japan Guidelines for Cooperative Defense, spearheaded the 2015 Legislation for Peace and Security, and pledged to amend Article IX of the Constitution to codify Japan’s Self-Defense Force’s (JSDF) existence.

In addition, Abe has begun preparing a significant new Midterm Defense Plan that will guide defense projects and acquisitions essential to high-end warfare.

Abe’s Japan: Neither Fascist nor Pacifist

While there are some genuine pacifists in Japan who sincerely question the need for defense reform, it is Japan’s radical leftist activists (kagekiteki katsudoka) that generate the most hysteria.

In their worldview, Abe’s efforts will upend Japan’s “pacifist” tradition and lead it once again to fascism and rapacious regional conquest. But Japan is not pacifist, nor is Japan’s kagekiteki katsudoka.

Japan is now by all standards a peaceful nation. After a particularly vicious era of near-genocidal rampage followed by US military occupation and democratic reform, Japan has not fought in a foreign war in 73 years.

It has been a role model in international aid, foreign direct investment and humanitarian actions. Japan’s post-1945 pacifism is a curious mix of moral posturing buttressed by a large defense establishment and reliance on the nuclear-capable US military to protect against any country that threatens it.

Despite its “peace constitution”, Japan quickly built a real military after North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. At the request of UN forces, Japan dispatched minesweepers to support the fight.

Japan's economy under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken a new twist. Reuters/Toru Hanai
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a file photo. Reuters/Toru Hanai

From early on, then, the JSDF was an armed force in the sense most nations understand the term, even if it has been subjected to increasingly restrictive interpretations since.

In Japan, communists and other far-left activists protested Tokyo’s support for the UN forces fighting North Korean, Russian or Chinese aggression during the Cold War.

The Korean War set the kagekiteki katsudoka’s narrative for the rest of the Cold War and its aftermath: attack and undermine liberal democracies and provide support for communist dictatorships. They have always accused the democracies of militarism and fascist aggression, while ignoring or defending hyper-nationalistic, fascist aggression from communist dictatorships.

The Japan-America Security Alliance (JASA) has provided security and prosperity to the Asia-Pacific region for nearly 60 years, and enabled the Western-led free world to win the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

However, the JASA presently lacks a unified strategy to meet the rising threat from China and to support an increasingly imperiled democratic Taiwan.

Regarding Taiwan’s security, Japan and the US could help Taipei defend itself by addressing the suffocating isolation that China is now inflicting on its embattled democracy. Overcoming this isolation requires authorizing considerable leeway for JASA’s military forces to engage with Taiwan’s military.

JASA forces can do this separately and bilaterally, and can also conduct trilateral or even multilateral engagements, such as the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) joint military exercise.

Concurrently, JASA military forces must work better together and the JSDF must become more effective. The JASA looks good on paper, but there are significant shortcomings in Japan’s defense structure in alliance management.

For instance, Japan still has not implemented a coherent national defense strategy and its forces face major shortfalls in funding, manpower, communications, doctrine, training, and weapons and equipment.

Further, there is not yet an alliance coordination mechanism that allows Japanese and US forces to interoperate effectively as there is in Korea and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

A solidly-linked JSDF and US military (with the strong political ties that come with such a relationship) that works with Taiwan’s military would send a tremendously strong message to Beijing that it cannot successfully coerce or threaten force against it.

This potential trilateral strength is one major reason why pro-China radical activists work so hard to undermine the alliance.

‘Faux Pacifists’ Enable China’s Political Warfare

Reasoned debate is desirable in any democracy. But faux pacifist attacks directed against Japan’s overdue defense efforts amounts to simple “political warfare” that supports China’s larger drive for regional and, arguably, global hegemony.

If, as military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote, “war is the extension of politics by other means”, then it’s fair to say that China’s “political warfare” is “an extension of armed conflict by other means.”

A useful definition of “political warfare” in this context is “those operations that seek to influence emotions, motives, objectives, reasoning, and behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals in a manner favorable to China’s objectives.”

It is important to note that China’s “political warfare” is all encompassing. It is “total war” that goes beyond traditional liaison work of building coalitions into a “united front” to support China and counter enemies, and the “three warfares” (strategic psychological warfare, overt and covert media manipulation, and use of “lawfare”) to include the use of violence and other forms of destructive attacks.

China’s “political warfare” has been especially effective over the past decade, particularly in weakening America’s already faltering status and alliances in Asia during the Barack Obama administration.

Anti-U.S. base protesters shout slogans at a rally in front of the Diet building in Tokyo, Japan on June 19, 2016. Protests over the US military presence in Japan have grown more intense over past days due to previous incidents including the alleged rape of a Japanese woman and drunk driving in Okinawa by American military personnel. (Photo by Alessandro Di Ciommo/NurPhoto)
Anti-US base protesters shout slogans at a rally in front of the Diet building in Tokyo, Japan on June 19, 2016. Photo: NurPhoto via AFP/Alessandro Di Ciommo

In Japan, it has successfully exploited “anti-defense” and “anti-bases” organizations in Japan to obstruct military reform and paralyze the long-delayed relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma from crowded mid-Okinawa island to the less- populated northwest part of the island.

The pattern is well established, predictable and blatantly hypocritical. Radical activist news media and anti-defense groups always find fault with any efforts by Japan to strengthen its defensive posture.

However, they will never utter a word of criticism about China’s massive military buildup, illegal occupation of disputed islands and ecological terrorism in destroying the South China Sea to build massive naval and air bases that threaten Asia and Oceania.

Another “political warfare” example is the contrived hysteria regarding Japan’s recent activation of a small JSDF amphibious brigade. This unit can land only perhaps 600 JSDF soldiers to re-capture a Japanese island occupied by a hostile force: 600 people is less than the number of passengers inside a single Tokyo subway train at rush hour.

However, the faux pacifists never mention that China currently deploys a 30,000-strong Marine Corps, and is building it to 100,000 Marines in the near future.

Current and former US and Japanese officials, who requested anonymity, paint a grim picture of the faux pacifists’ pursuit of their anti-defense agenda.

Radical Japanese activists (often joined by outside Chinese supporters) have violently attacked women and schoolchildren in vehicles driving on and off US military bases, physically harassed and verbally threatened Japanese and American base employees, and their families; fired mortars against JSDF and US bases, to include Yokota Air Base, home of the headquarters for the US 5th Air Force and the United Nations Rear Area Command for Korea.

They have also attempted to cause aircraft to crash with lasers, balloons, kites, and construction cranes raised in front of aircraft landing approaches; booby-trapped military facilities such as fence lines; caused traffic accidents in front of base gates; and blocked off gates to interfere with essential emergency base functions.

They have also obstructed construction of new facilities needed for training and operations to include delaying construction of vital aviation facilities in northern Okinawa for nearly two decades.

According to Grant Newsham, a former US diplomat in Tokyo and a research fellow with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, perhaps the most well-known of the extreme leftist groups is Chukaku-ha, or the Japan Revolutionary Communist League.

Still calling for world Marxist revolution, Chukaku-ha might be considered a descendent of Japan’s violent leftist groups active from the 1950’s into the early 1990’s such as the well-known Japanese Red Army.

Other anti-alliance organizations include Japan’s Socialist and Communist Parties, which are by doctrine anti-military, anti-American, and even pro-China. And there are scores more that include labor unions, leftist lawyer groups, university academic groups and radical student groups such as Kakumaru, the Shimagurumi Kaigi, the Okinawa Peace Action Committee and Henoko Shinkichi Kensetsu O Tomeyo.

To an extent, extremist ideology permeates Japanese politics, news media, and the educational system, says Newsham. One reason: the influential Japan Teachers Union is dogmatically anti-defense, an ideology it brings daily to classroom instruction nationwide while providing no context of external threats.

Fix the Alliance, Fight the Radicals

One outcome of the resultant anti-defense ideology is that the JSDF has not developed effective capabilities, and Japan’s security policies have been stunted.

OKINAWA, JAPAN - JUNE 19 : Anti-U.S. airbase demonstrators pray for a rape victim and protest the U.S. Airbase relocation to Henoko at Ohnoyama General Athletic Field at the Ohnoyoma Park and Sports Complex in central Naha, Okinawa on June 19, 2016. Around 65,000 people gathered at the rally. Protests over the US military presence in Japan have grown more intense over past days due to previous incidents including the alleged rape of a Japanese woman and drunk driving in Okinawa by American military personnel. Richard Atrero de Guzman / Anadolu Agency
Anti-US airbase demonstrators in central Naha, Okinawa, June 19, 2016. Photo: AFP via Anadolu Agency/Richard Atrero de Guzman

The faux pacifists’ actions thus actively support China against both Japan and Taiwan. Accordingly, China invests heavily in Japan to support a pro-Beijing, anti-defense campaign. Beijing’s tactics in Japan (also seen in Taiwan, Australia, and other countries) include entertaining and funding pliable politicians and hosting lavish visits to China by eager officials.

Other strategies include establishing direct linkages between Japanese news media organizations and universities to Communist Party-directed Chinese counterparts, and heavy Chinese investment in Hokkaido and Okinawa to develop political and economic leverage in what some have termed “a North-South Pinch.”

In Okinawa, tactics include “educating” Okinawans that they are “from the same womb” as the Chinese; that is, their allegiance is to China and not Japan, and support for a separatist Okinawan “independence” organization,

Just as it is past time for Japan and the US to fix the impediments that detract from the military effectiveness of the alliance, it is long overdue for Japan to more openly confront its China-aligned radicals in terms of public information and in exposing their financial and other ties to Beijing.

As Abe works to pass legislation for necessary security reforms, Japan, the US, and Taiwan should take the first steps to coordinate counter-political warfare activities. An immediate action would be to establish a Japan-Taiwan-US coordination mechanism that would act like a political campaign “war room” to identify and develop strategic communications and other responses to China’s ever-evolving threat.

Then each country could begin their own “political warfare” counter-offensives that emulate Australia’s recent successful public exposure of China’s “united front” influence operations in its midst. It’s all key to getting the message right and building a more effective counter to China’s political warfare.

Professor Kerry K Gershaneck is currently a scholar at the Graduate Institute of East Asian Studies, National Chengchi University, ROC; a guest lecturer at the ROC National Defense University; a senior research associate with Thammasat University’s Faculty of Law (CPG); and the Distinguished Visiting Professor at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, Thailand. He is a former U.S. Marine Corps officer, with extensive operational and security policy-level experience pertaining to Northeast Asia