Japan Shifts Defense Policy to Counter China's Rising Military Influence

Japan will shift the focus of its national defense toward China and away from Russia, three months after Coast Guard vessels collided with a Chinese fishing boat and re-ignited a territorial dispute.

Japan will deploy troops to its southwestern islands and strengthen its air force in Okinawa, according to military guidelines approved by Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Cabinet today. Personnel and tanks will be moved from the northern island of Hokkaido, close to Russia, which were put in place to counter Cold War threats.

"China is continuously increasing its defense budget, modernizing the military power of its naval and air forces including nuclear and missile capabilities," today’s report said. "These kinds of movements are, along with China’s lack of transparency in military and security, becoming a concern to the region and the international community."

The government will order 10 patrol planes from Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. under the five-year plan. The administration put off deciding whether to relax a ban on exporting weapons as sought by manufacturers including Kawasaki and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., in the face of opposition from a small party Kan is courting to help pass his budget.

China Military Concerns

Japanese officials have repeatedly expressed concern that China’s growing military might poses a threat. China in March said it will boost defense spending by 7.5 percent this year to 532.1 billion yuan ($80 billion), following a decade of annual increases of at least 10 percent. The U.S. Defense Department says China’s actual military outlay may be almost twice the published budget. In 2009, it exceeded $150 billion, according to the Pentagon’s annual Congressional report on China’s military.

In contrast, Japan’s defense expenditures for the next five years will total 23.4 trillion yen ($279 billion), plus a contingency budget of 100 billion yen. The total number of troops will fall by 2,000 to 246,000 although Air and Maritime Self-Defense Forces will remain the same.

Today’s report is the first one compiled by the Democratic Party of Japan, which came to power in September 2009 after ousting the Liberal Democratic Party from half a century of almost unbroken government control.

For budgetary reasons, the submarine fleet will increase to 22 from 16 by extending operational time, while the number of Aegis-equipped vessels will be increased to six from four. Tank strength will be reduced to 400 from 600.

South Korea Cooperation

The guidelines also call for increased security cooperation with South Korea and Australia. Japan and South Korea this year have sent military observers to each other’s drills with the U.S., a move praised last week by U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Keidanren, Japan’s biggest lobby group, released a report in July calling for relaxing the weapons export ban to allow companies to participate in projects such as Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Successive governments have upheld the restrictions introduced in 1967 prohibiting the exports of weapons to communist countries, those involved in international conflicts or under United Nations embargoes. The ban was broadened to other countries in 1976, and the DPJ proposed returning to the 1967 policy.

Today’s guidelines said Japan will continue to maintain the "principles" of the ban, adding that the government will study measures on the global trend of international joint weapon programs that Japanese firms are prohibited from joining.

Keidanren Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura reiterated the group’s call for reviewing the ban.

"It’s a step forward that a consideration to respond to international changes in defense equipment was included," Yonekura said in a statement. "We call for concrete review that will open a way to join international joint projects."

To contact the reporters on this story: Sachiko Sakamaki in Tokyo at ssakamaki1@bloomberg.net Takashi Hirokawa in Tokyo at thirokawa@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bill Austin at billaustin@bloomberg.net

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