A major reversal of fortunes at sea has gone largely unnoticed. Over the past decade, the Chinese Navy sped past the Japanese maritime service across key measures of material prowess. The trend lines suggest that China will soon permanently displace Japan as the leading regional naval power in Asia. This historic power transition will have repercussions across the Indo-Pacific in the years to come. It behoves policymakers to pay attention to this overlooked but consequential shift in the naval balance between two great seafaring nations.
The growing power gap between the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) is stark and will widen at an accelerated pace. China already boasts the largest navy in the world with more than 300 ships and submarines. By comparison, the JMSDF’s naval strength in 2019 included four light helicopter carriers, two cruisers, 34 destroyers, 11 frigates, three amphibious assault ships, six fast-attack missile boats, and 21 submarines. By 2030, the PLAN could have more than 450 ships and close to 110 submarines while the JMSDF will likely not be much larger than it is today.
By Toshi Yoshihara – CIMSEC