Japan, US risk losing military tech edge to China, Tokyo official says


Countries including Japan and the United States are on the brink of losing their military technological edge over China and should deepen bilateral defence cooperation to shore up their supremacy, a senior Japanese defence official said on Monday.

The stark warning, issued by Suzuki Atsuo, of Japan’s agency overseeing military research and development, comes as Washington embarks on its own defence technology-sharing pact with Britain and Australia, widely seen as a counter to China’s growing military presence in the Indo-Pacific.

Aukus, as the alliance is known, focuses on defence-related areas including artificial intelligence (AI), quantum technology, cybersecurity and underwater capabilities – all areas in which Tokyo, too, is keenly interested, Suzuki said.

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“China’s emergence as a tech giant means that democratic countries such as Japan and the US are on the verge of losing technological predominance,” said Suzuki, commissioner of the Japanese defence ministry’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency.

Suzuki made the comments during an address to the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, days after Japan’s participation in the first in-person meeting between leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – an alliance comprising the US, Japan, India and Australia.

Calling Beijing’s growing military prowess a “technological revolution”, Suzuki credited its strides in defence to its harnessing of civilian technology, its recruitment of overseas scientists and engineers via its Thousand Talents Plan, and alleged theft of technology.

With Japan facing a “deteriorating security environment”, Suzuki called for greater investment by the US and Japan in research and development (R&D), joint initiatives to shore up their respective defence supply chains, and further cooperation to develop new military technology together.

Japanese and US military contractors have collaborated before on state-of-the-art weaponry, including the latest variant of the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3, a ship-based surface-to-air missile system developed by Raytheon Industries and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

“We hope to follow this success and find the next ambitious collaborative development project,” said Suzuki, who later added that the two sides were in discussions but “nothing has been decided yet”.

Suzuki also suggested a joint initiative whereby the US and Japan would identify weaknesses in their defence supply chains and share that information with each other to “make up for each side’s vulnerabilities”.

If such an initiative were successful, the two sides could consider expanding the pact to include other “like-minded countries”, he said.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the proposal.

Any move towards deeper military cooperation between the US and Japan is likely to anger Beijing, which has previously dismissed the two countries’ security alliance – formalised in 1951 – as a Cold War relic that is a destabilising force in the region.

Japan is one of the world’s largest buyers of US arms, and sources more than 90 per cent of its defence imports from the US, according to the US state department. Its US$23.1 billion request to buy 105 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters from the US last year was the second-largest foreign military sale the state department had ever authorised.

A defence white paper released by Japan in July that raised the security risks it faced because of China’s increase in military exercises aimed at Taiwan stoked the ire of Beijing, which accused Tokyo of “grossly interfering in its internal affairs”.

Besides military matters, China has also castigated Tokyo over its increasing willingness to side with Washington on issues such as human rights, with Beijing’s handling of Hong Kong and treatment of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang featuring in a joint statement issued by US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga earlier this year.

On Monday, Suzuki said Japan, the US and other democratic countries must do more to promote universal values such as freedom and democracy.

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As Tokyo eyes deeper military collaboration with the US, it is also funnelling more resources into its own defence industry.

For the next financial year, the Japanese government is requesting 320 billion yen (US$2.9 billion) for R&D in the defence ministry, Suzuki said. That would constitute an increase of about 50 per cent on the current financial year’s allocation of 210 billion yen.

That money is going towards “game-changing” areas such as space, cyber and electromagnetic-related technology, AI, high-powered microwave systems and laser-based weapons, Suzuki said.

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