Japan needs to focus on the rise of China and not the Cold War threat of Russia in defining its security goals, according to new defence guidelines announced on Friday.
The guidelines, which were approved by the Cabinet, also call for a stronger alliance with the U.S. - Japan’s biggest ally - and expanded security networks with regional partners, including South Korea and Australia.
China immediately slammed the guidelines as “irresponsible.” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said China is a force for peace and development in Asia and threatens no one.
To bolster its forces, Japan will acquire new submarines and fighter jets, upgrade its missile defence capabilities and make its ground forces more mobile so that they can quickly respond to emergencies in southwest Japan.
The guidelines paint China as a bigger threat than Russia and say Japan is shifting its defence emphasis from the northern island of Hokkaido to islands in the south, such as Okinawa and territories claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing that have recently led to diplomatic tensions.
The Japan-U.S. alliance remains “indispensable” to Japan’s security, the guideline said, calling for stronger cooperation between Japanese and the 47,000 U.S. armed forces based in this country. It also urged Japan to use its diplomatic and defence capabilities “more proactively.”
But the guidelines cited “changes in global power balance” and noted a relative decline of America’s strength and rise of emerging countries such as China and India. Japan, meanwhile, should pursue its own efforts to enhance missile defence capabilities to protect itself from threats by China and North Korea, it said.
“We still have lots of tanks and Ground Self-Defence Forces on Hokkaido and we need to shift to the south-western islands,” a senior government official said on condition of anonymity before the official release of the guidelines. The official said the goal is to “modernize our defence posture from our Cold War days.”
The guidelines said China’s rapid military build-up and lack of transparency are matters of concern.
It said North Korea’s military activity is a “pressing and serious destabilizing factor” for Japan and causes grave problems for international non-proliferation efforts.
“The Korean Peninsula and North Korea are imminent and concrete threats to Japan, while China is more of a medium-term threat ... It is a major risk factor for Japan’s security in the south-western islands and the Japan-U.S. security alliance in the long run,” said Hideshi Takesada, executive director at the National Institute for Defence Studies. “The guideline addresses such concerns and developments in the region.”
In Beijing, officials said Tokyo was wrong in seeing China as a threat.
“Individual countries have no right to represent the international community and make irresponsible remarks on China’s development,” Ms. Jiang said.
China insists on following the “road of peaceful development” and upholds a military policy that is entirely defensive in nature, she said.
Relations between Tokyo and Beijing deteriorated quickly over a longstanding dispute over islands in the East China Sea called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan after a September 7 collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard vessels, an incident that has raised public and government concern over China’s military strength.
Washington has urged Japan to play a greater security role in the region, and proposed a three-way military alliance that would include South Korea.
Regarding specific deployments, Japan plans to send more ground troops to its south-western islands. The troops will use mobile radar and fly reconnaissance aircraft to monitor the surrounding seas, according to a separate five-year defence plan through March, 2015, also approved Friday by the Cabinet.
The plan did not specify the location but Japanese media have said 100 ground troops will be sent to Yonaguni, in Okinawa prefecture, where Japan currently has no troops. Placing them on the island that is closer to China, Taiwan and the disputed islands could be contentious.
Japan will also increase its submarines to 22 from the current 16 and add a destroyer, bringing the total fleet to 48, including six Aegis radar-equipped warships. Tanks will be reduced to 400 from 600 but the number of ground forces maintained at roughly the current level of 150,000.
The guideline also proposed joining in international arms development or production to bolster the defence industry, which is largely limited to the domestic market.