By Dr.Jianli Yang

The reports of spying and surveillance by Chinese companies in Europe, North America and Africa purportedly on the direction of Beijing have made Japan concerned about its safety. Japan has begun screening of land purchase near the county’s security installations and stopped purchasing Chinese defense equipment including drones. There are justifiable fears that Chinese-built infrastructure and technology can be used to photograph and tap Japan’s sensitive information for espionage. The development comes in the wake of Japan planning to join the Five Eye intelligence network and China’s expansionist actions in territorial rows—in Japan’s Senkaku Islands, Okinawa Prefecture as well as in South China Sea and in Himalayas.

In a survey, Japanese Ministry of Defense came across investments in properties near the defense facilities in Hokkaido and Nagasaki Prefecture by foreign nationals and businesses. A government official had said “There is the possibility that Chinese nationals may have acquired properties near U.S. military and SDF bases or purchased such property from other foreign nationals.” It has led Tokyo to mull measures to that would restrict investment in land dealings by foreign nationals, particularly, by China.

Moreover, the Defense Ministry revealed that Chinese military aircrafts violated the country airspace, forcing Japanese jet fighters to scramble for 675 times in just one year—April 2019- March 2020. Japan’s air force deployed superior Mitsubishi F-15J/Kai fighters, F-2 multirole fighter jets, a Mitsubishi license-produced variant of Lockheed Martin’s F-16, and F-4EJ/RF-4 Phantom II fighter aircraft for interception missions.

Japanese reform minister Taro Kono slammed China for its proactive, aggressive actions on borders when the entire world is grappled with coronavirus pandemic, for which it is solely responsible. “China is trying to further strengthen their influence against the background of this coronavirus infection,” said Kono, who held defense portfolio earlier. “As defense minister, I must say China has become a security threat to Japan.” 

With economic boom, many wealthy Chinese nationals and companies are investing in real estate in Japan. Many of these dealings had gone unnoticed. However, the Japanese become suspicious after the land buying started happening near sensitive installations, including one near air force base in Chitose. Japanese Military found that as many as 80 plots close to security installations were bought by Chinese companies in past one decade. Interestingly, the trend is rising. “We first started closely monitoring these sales seven years ago, but the situation has become much more acute in the last few years, “a Japanese official said. “We do not have a clear understanding of the buyer’s objective, but we do not believe it can be a coincidence that the land is close to sensitive military sites.”

The Japanese were alarmed after a Chinese company tried to buy 4 hectares of land on the remote island of Taketomi, which was just 170 km from the disputed Senkaku Islands. These Islands are controlled by Japan but China lays claim over it calling it the Diaoyus.Defence Expert GarrenMulloy said the investments by Chinese companies are worrisome since they are ultimately beholden to their government. “For any country in the world, when you have a foreign firm that appears to be a shell company or some other entity that is buying land close to your defense establishments, then you have cause for concern,” said Mulloy, who is professor of international relations at Japan’s Daito Bunka University.

Japanese media giant Nikkei newspaper has detailed how China is building as well as exporting “an Orwellian dystopia, supported by a network of ubiquitous security cameras and advanced facial recognition technology”. It said China’s Artificial Intelligence-powered system of public surveillance has threatened human rights in many parts of the world and it could create serious geopolitical challenges. “China’s efforts to expand its global influence through the power of AI to monitor and control people should not be taken lightly,” he said.

Apprehensive of Chinese making inroads into important technologies and sensitive information, Japan has come up with new foreign investment rules to protect its industries that are core to its national security. Japan has revised the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act that would make any foreign company planning to buy even 1 percent stake in a Japanese company from 12 specified sectors subjected to pre-screening by the government. These sectors include military and related equipment, nuclear power, gas, telecom and information technology, cybersecurity, water supply, railways and oil industries.

All these measures are aimed at making security and economic stronger and leakage-free strategically and legally as Japan is set to join the bandwagon of Five Eyes intelligence alliance of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand and make it Six Eyes. And the Five Eyes being perceived as a network detrimental to China’s interests, Japan has all the more reasons to boost its defender wall to address safety and security threats to its critical security infrastructure.