New Japan defense, close to US, labels China threat

Japan's new national defence polices labels the military build-up of China a global "concern" while it pledges closer ties with US.

New Japan defense, close to US, labels China threat

Japan unveiled a sweeping update of its national defence polices on Friday, labelling the military build-up of China a global "concern" while it pledges closer ties with US.

The National Defence Programme Guideline approved by Prime Minister Naoto Kan's cabinet kept a ban on arms exports -- a move lauded by a small pacifist party whose help Kan wants to pass bills in a divided parliament -- but it left the door open to international joint development.

Under the programme, Japan will allocate 23.49 trillion yen ($280 billion) for defence spending for the five years from next April, down 3 percent from a five-year spending cap to March 2010 due to constraints imposed by a public debt twice the size of gross domestic product.

The plan will bolster Japan's defence posture to its southwest, where it shares a maritime border with China, by boosting the number of combat aircraft on the southern island of Okinawa and stationing troops on smaller islands.

The policy update is the first major revision in six years and the first under Kan's Democratic Party, which swept to power last year for the first time.

"I think we have been able to put forth a defence policy that is appropriate for the tough security environment and the new era," Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told a news conference.

The report refers to China's rising military spending and growing maritime activities.

"These movements, coupled with the lack of transparency in its military and security matters, have become a matter of concern for the region and the international community," the government said in the report.

It also dubbed North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes "a present and grave destabilising factor to the security of our country and the region".

Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply in September, when Japan detained a Chinese skipper whose trawler collided with Japanese patrol boats near a chain of disputed islands.

"Chinese response"

The defence guideline also urged efforts to build better two-way ties while encouraging China to act as a "responsible" member of international society.

China responded by focusing on the positive aspects of its growth into a major power.

"We do not wish to constitute a threat to anyone," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement on the ministry website.

"The fact is that China's development since its reform and opening up has brought huge opportunities for shared prosperity to all countries in the world, including Japan.

"Certain countries have no right to cast themselves as representing the international community, engaging in irresponsible naysaying about China's development."

Japan's defence capability has traditionally been focused on the north with a large fleet of tanks, a legacy of the Cold War era, when they were deployed to respond to potential threats from the former Soviet Union.

Under the new guideline, which covers the next 10 years, the number of tanks will be cut by a third to 400 and the official head count of the army will be cut by 1,000 to 154,000, although the actual headcount is already below the official figure.

In contrast, Japan plans to raise the number of submarines to 22 from 16 by commissioning new vessels and keeping existing ones operational longer, while boosting the number of warships fitted with the Aegis ballistic missile defence system to six from four.

A study will be conducted to address whether to relax a decades-old ban on arms exports.

"Closer ties with US"

Besides the strategic shift in military resources, Japan also aims to boost its defence capability through closer ties with the United States while seeking to fortify cooperation with regional partners such as South Korea, Australia, India and the Association of South East Asian Nations.

"The Japan-U.S. alliance will remain indispensable to secure the peace and safety of our country," it said.

It added, though, that it was necessary to reduce the burden on communities hosting U.S. forces, whose residents often associate the bases with accidents, crime and pollution.

However, the Democrats took office last year, pledging "more independent foreign policy" from US and then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama sought to keep a pledge to move a U.S. Marines air base off Okinawa, host to about half of the nearly 50,000 U.S. forces in Japan.

Agencies

Last Mod: 17 Aralık 2010, 16:37
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