Defense strategy says China's rise is a 'concern'
A new 10-year defense plan approved by the Cabinet on Friday describes China's burgeoning military power as a "matter of concern" for other countries in East Asia, and calls for more mobile and flexible Self-Defense Forces to respond to the new threats facing Japan.
The National Defense Program Guidelines document maps out Japan's grand strategy for the 2010s and is the first such strategy to be penned by a Democratic Party of Japan-led government.
It calls the military emergence of China as a "matter of concern both for the region and the international community" and, despite the DPJ's oft-repeated criticism of previous Liberal Democratic Party administrations for following the United States, it places greater emphasis on the U.S. alliance than its predecessors.
The Kan Cabinet also approved the Mid-Term Defense Program, a projection of defense spending over the next five years, on Friday.
In that period, total defense spending is estimated at 23.49 trillion yen ($276 billion). Average annual defense spending is expected to increase by about 0.1 percent, compared with the fiscal 2010 budget. The 2005-2009 Mid-Term Defense Program saw cuts in annual defense spending.
The new strategy emphasizes "dynamic defense capabilities" that stress mobility and rapid response by the Self-Defense Forces. It also calls for strengthening of the defense of the Nansei island chain that lies off the south of Kyushu and extends to close to Taiwan. Both are clear reflections of concerns about China's emerging military presence in the region. The disputed Senkaku Islands, which were the focus of a spat with China in September, are in the Nansei region.
The guidelines propose increasing the deployment of submarines in the area and the use of surveillance units to keep an eye on shipping in the area.
In April, a total of 10 Chinese naval vessels moved through waters that separate the main Okinawa island from Miyakojima island as part of a maritime military exercise that extended from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean. A Maritime SDF destroyer monitored the exercise from a distance of 4,000 to 5,000 meters.
Ship-based helicopters on two occasions veered dangerously close to the destroyer. On one occasion, a helicopter hovered about 90 meters horizontally and at a height of 30 meters.
After that incident, the governments of Japan and China resumed discussions to establish a maritime communications system to avoid accidents between the MSDF and the Chinese navy in the East China Sea.
However, one high-ranking Defense Ministry official expressed doubts that an agreement can be reached.
"The Chinese want to place restrictions on Japan's surveillance because they consider it a bother," the official said. "On the other hand, the United States does not want any restrictions on Japan."
China's increasing assertiveness is also the primary reason the guidelines call for a comprehensive review of the "Basic Defense Force Concept," which long served as the cornerstone of Japan's defense policy.
A key element of that concept was an even and uniform deployment of the SDF across Japan's territory, but the shift to the south of Japan's defense focus and the emphasis on rapid deployment may force a rethink.
The guidelines talk about units being deployed away from their assigned bases to respond to terrorists and to defend outlying islands. These passages appear to be referring not only to North Korea, which continues with nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development, but also Beijing, which has rapidly expanded its activities in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
The focus on China partly reflects the policy of the United States. In the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) released by the U.S. Defense Department in February, concerns were raised about how China's increasing military capabilities were threatening the projection of U.S. power in the western Pacific.
The United States could be prevented from operating in the region if China's submarines expanded their activities in the Pacific or if China developed anti-ship ballistic missiles that could hit aircraft carriers.
To achieve closer cooperation with the United States, the guidelines call for greater cooperation in ballistic missile defense, joint military training exercises and joint surveillance activities.
But the guidelines also state that the influence of the United States is changing relative to the growing power of nations such as China, India and Russia, and indicate that Japan will have to shoulder more of a defense burden.
The guidelines also call for greater cooperation with Australia and South Korea, two other American allies.
The new strategy does not, however, deliver the review of Japan's ban of weapons exports for which Washington has long been asking.
The guidelines do state that a major trend among advanced nations is international joint development and production of weapons because of the higher costs and functions of the most advanced weapons, and call for discussion about how to respond to the trends. But there is no attempt to reverse the ban.
A statement was released under the name of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku Friday saying that the government would continue to abide by the three principles on weapons exports.
The statement also called for the compilation of a medium- and long-term strategy to maintain and bolster defense production and technology.
China on Friday blasted Japan for singling out Beijing in its new defense guidelines and raising concerns about its emerging military presence.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement, "An individual nation has no right to make irresponsible statements about China's development, acting as though it represents the international community."
There has been strong interest in China about the new defense guidelines, with one Chinese expert on Japan urging caution against worsening friction between the two nations.
Jiang added, "China's national defense policy is for defensive purposes only, and China has no intention of becoming a threat to anyone."
One reason for the criticism by Beijing is that U.S. strategy toward China is reflected in the defense guidelines. The QDR focused on China's military strategy in the western Pacific, and the proposals in the defense guidelines about strengthening the defense of the Nansei island chain are influenced by the QDR.
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Gist of the new National Defense Program Guidelines
- North Korea's military movements are a major element of instability. The modernization of China's military power and strengthening of its capabilities are matters of concern for the region and the international community.
- Highly mobile forces capable of rapid deployment should be developed.
- Cold War-era weapons and personnel deployments should be phased out. Surveillance, maritime patrol, air defense and ballistic missile defense capabilities should be improved.
- Units should be deployed to outlying islands where there is now no presence.
- Defenses against cyber attacks should be strengthened
- A unit in the prime minister's office to coordinate policy among Cabinet ministers and to provide advice to the prime minister should be set up.
- Measures to avoid friction due to U.S. military bases in Japan should be introduced.
- Japan should debate how to deal with the trend toward the multinational development and production of weapons.