Japan retools military to face China fears



Japan has ordered a historic refocusing of its military forces to strengthen the defences of southern islands seen as threatened by China's rising power.

The new National Defence Policy Guidelines promise a more mobile military with additional submarines but fewer tanks, a move based on the view that Japan faces a greater threat from China.

Japan's Self Defence Forces, as the military is known in a nod to the country's US-imposed pacifistic constitution, has long maintained substantial armoured army units in northern Japan designed to defend against invasion from the Soviet Union.

The military has resisted previous attempts to revise its Cold War posture despite the virtual evaporation of such a threat with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The guidelines – the first new defence framework since the left-leaning Democratic party won power last year – highlight China's rise as a "great power".

They express concern about the rapid expansion and modernisation of the Chinese military, and its increasing ability to project force far beyond its shores.

"The insufficient transparency of China's military affairs and security guarantees is becoming a cause for concern in the regional and global community," the guidelines say.

They stress the need to strengthen island defences to better secure in particular the south-western Nansei chain that runs from Japan's main islands down to near Taiwan.

Defence planners worry that China could challenge Japanese and US military dominance in the area.

These fears have been recently fuelled by Beijing's fierce reaction to the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain by Japanese coast guard near the Japanese Senkaku islands.

The guidelines, which set the framework for defence policy for the next decade, also lay out plans to ensure the military is better able to take part in international "peace co-operation activities" and to respond to any threat from North Korea.

The number of submarines is to be increased from the current 16 to 22, while tank forces – many of which are based on the northern island of Hokkaido – are to be cut from the current 830 tanks to just 400.

However, implementing the cuts could prove a challenge given an apparent lack of urgency among commanders at the Ground Self Defence Force, the Japanese army, for achieving the target of 600 tanks set out in the policy guidelines issued in 2004.

Pressure is growing on the military, though, for cost savings, given that the refocusing of forces will not be accompanied by any significant budget increase.

A separate midterm defence plan approved by the cabinet on Friday anticipates military spending of about Y23,490bn ($279bn) over five years, suggesting that Japan is going to maintain defence spending at broadly current levels.

The US defence budget for next fiscal year alone is $567bn, excluding operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defence officials believe Japan could cut the cost and raise the effectiveness of its military procurement by easing a ban on arms exports.

That would allow joint development of sophisticated weapon systems with allies and their sale to friendly nations.

Strong political opposition prevented such a move being included in the guidelines.
But the government kept the door open for a shift by promising to "examine" policies to respond to the fact that such international co-operation had become "mainstream among advanced countries".

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Jun Azumi, a senior defence official, called for "full and open" discussion that could allow an easing of the restrictions while ensuring arms exports remained within the "bounds of a peaceful nation".

0 件のコメント: