Japan Gov't Paper Calls for Strengthened Military

By Mari Yamaguchi

TOKYO (AP) -- A defense paper released Friday by Japan's hawkish new government calls for an increase in the country's military capabilities and a more assertive role in regional security due to increased threats from China and North Korea.

If implemented, some of the changes outlined by the interim Defense Ministry paper would be a major shift in policy for a military that is currently limited to self-defense and is banned from operating in overseas combat zones under a pacifist constitution.

Now that he is back in power, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants the previous defense policy of the more moderate Democratic Party-led government revised to give Japan's military more freedom and strength.

The report repeatedly cited China's military and maritime activity as threats to regional peace and stability, and urged Japan to step up its capability to respond.

"China's military trend includes high-handed actions that could trigger unforeseen situations, and has become security concerns to the region and international society including our country," the report said. "National security environment surrounding our country is increasingly aggravating."

The paper said Japan should increase its surveillance capability and consider using drones, or unmanned surveillance vehicles capable of wide-range, high-altitude monitoring around the clock. The paper also proposed creating a marine force with amphibious functions to defend disputed islands in the East China Sea.

It said the Japan-U.S. security alliance remains "the cornerstone" of Japan's defense policy and urged Japan to step up its ability to respond to ballistic missile attacks amid concerns about North Korea's nuclear and missile development.

A final report is expected at the end of this year.

"This will guide the focus of the direction that the Self Defense Forces should be heading going forward," said Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said, outlining key components such as boosting warning and surveillance capabilities, amphibious functions, integrated transport, and anti-ballistic missile response.

On Thursday, Tokyo expressed unease over Chinese military and maritime activity near a group of islands that Japan controls but China also claims.

Japan had scrambled fighter jets Wednesday to keep watch on a Chinese early warning plane flying over international waters between Japan's southern Okinawa island and an outer island relatively close to the disputed area. Around the same time, Japan's Coast Guard reported the appearance of four Chinese coast guard vessels near the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

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Mari Yamaguchi
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