Tokyo officials are relying on retirees and aging ships to fill a temporary shortfall in coast guard manpower -- a move that reveals the broader limits of Japan's capabilities.
As China keeps extending its interests abroad, some predict that neighboring countries will form a coalition to counter it. Any of three states could take the lead on building such an alliance: India, South Korea, or Japan. Each has a different mix of technological, economic, and diplomatic power that -- when combined with the resources of other states -- might keep Beijing hemmed in, or so the theory goes.
But if there's one leading state that could be eliminated from this possibilities matrix soon, it's Japan. That's because it lacks another kind of capital -- human capital.
Japan has a population of 128 million, not even a tenth the size of China. This wouldn't be a huge problem, except that the Japanese are also a lot older: the median age there is 44.6 to China's 35.2. Even the median South Korean is much closer in age to the median Chinese than to her Japanese counterpart.
Technology can help shore up people deficits -- automation and complex electronics beget efficiency. But only to a point. Beyond that, the need for more manpower begins to eat away at Japan's technological and industrial advantages.