Japan to boost defence spending as China row simmers
In this Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 file photo, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's P-3C Orion surveillance plane flies over the disputed islands in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. (AP Photo/Kyodo News, File)
Published Tuesday, December 17, 2013 6:57AM EST
TOKYO -- Japan on Tuesday approved a plan to increase defence spending by five per cent over the next five years to purchase its first surveillance drones, more jet fighters and naval destroyers in the face of China's military expansion.
The revised five-year defence plan was adopted by the Cabinet along with a new national security strategy that reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive to raise the profile of Japan's military and have the country participate more in international diplomacy and security.
Experts say the strategy and defence plan is in line with ongoing global power shifts, but Japan's neighbours -- and some Japanese citizens -- worry the new strategies push the country away from its pacifist constitution adopted after World War II.
"Many people worry inside Japan and outside that maybe Abe hasn't really learned the lesson from the wartime history of Japan and that there's a danger that a greater role played by Japan actually means the rise of militarism in the long-term," said Koichi Nakano, an international politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Abe said the national security strategy shows Japan's diplomatic and security policy to people in and outside Japan "with clarity and transparency."
A ruling party lawmaker who is a special adviser to Abe on security affairs described the new strategy as progress toward Japan becoming a more "normal" country. Yousuke Isozaki, in an interview with The Associated Press, said Japan should preserve the principle of pacifism enshrined in its constitution, but the country has been too biased in that direction.
"We are only trying to shift closer to a normal country, and we have no intention whatsoever to become a military power," he said. "Peace policy is Japan's most important value, and I think we should keep that. But parts that have been too restrictive should be modified so that Japan can make international contributions. But again, we are not thinking about matching what America and Britain are doing."
The previous five-year defence plan adopted in 2010 by the now-opposition Democratic Party of Japan cut military spending 750 billion yen, or 3 per cent.
The latest plans reflect a shift in Japan's defence priorities from its northern reaches to the East China Sea, where Tokyo and Beijing dispute each other's claim to some uninhabited islands. Japan wants to set up an amphibious unit to respond quickly to a possible foreign invasion there and to deploy an early warning system, submarines and anti-missile defences in the islands.
Broader defence program guidelines also adopted Tuesday say Japan is "gravely concerned" about China's growing maritime and military presence in the East China Sea, its lack of transparency and "high-handed" approach -- including its new air defence zone -- pose potential risks that could trigger problems. Late last month, China said all aircraft entering a vast zone over the East China Seat must identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions, although the U.S., Japan and South Korea have ignored those demands.
While Japan's alliance with the U.S. remains the cornerstone of its defence, Japan also should seek increased security co-operation with South Korea, Australia, Southeast Asia and India, the guidelines say.
"Up until now, Japan focused too much on Japan-U.S. security alliance," Isozaki said. "I don't think that alone is enough to protect the peace in this region."
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Japan's aggression in World War II raises questions about Tokyo's latest intentions. "We hope Japan will not just pay lip service to peace, but can make that a concrete reality and play a constructive role in preserving peace and stability in the region, she said.
From 2014 to 2019, Japan plans to buy three drones, likely a Global Hawk, as well as 28 F-35A fighters, 17 Osprey aircraft and five destroyers including two with Aegis anti-ballistic-missile systems. The purchases would cost 24.7 trillion yen ($247 billion), up five per cent from the previous plan.
The defence plan says Japan should "demonstrate its commitment to defence and its high capability," upgrade equipment, increase troop activity and step up defence capability in both quality and quantity to raise deterrence levels amid an increasingly harsh regional security environment.
Narushige Michishita, a national security expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said that the strategy and defence plans set the stage for Japan to come out of its postwar isolationism.
"Isolationism was very convenient and comfortable, but now China is rising rapidly and the U.S. commitment to Asia is not growing, so maybe we should be a little more proactive," said Michishita, who helped develop the previous defence guidelines in 2010.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.