New Japan defense policy focuses on China

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TOKYO – 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 defense guidelines announced 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.

To bolster its forces, Japan will acquire new submarines and fighter jets, upgrade its missile defense 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 defense 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 defense 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 defense capabilities to protect itself from threats by China and North Korea, it said.

"We still have lots of tanks and Ground Self-Defense Forces on Hokkaido and we need to shift to the southwestern 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 defense posture from our Cold War days."

The guidelines said China's rapid military buildup 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 nonproliferation 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 southwestern islands and the Japan-U.S. security alliance in the long run," said Hideshi Takesada, executive director at the National Institute for Defense Studies. "The guideline addresses such concerns and developments in the region."

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 Sept. 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 southwestern islands. The troops will use mobile radar and fly reconnaissance aircraft to monitor the surrounding seas, according to a separate five-year defense 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 defense industry, which is largely limited to the domestic market.

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