Dec. 18 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. backs Japan’s efforts to expand its military as it becomes more engaged in Asia, a move that shouldn’t upset its neighbors, Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Japan yesterday approved a plan to boost defense spending with purchases of military hardware and further investment in anti-missile systems to better protect its territory at a time when China is flexing its military muscle. Other nations won’t tolerate Japan becoming a major military power and challenging international order after World War II, China’s People’s Daily said in a commentary today.
“Our belief is that with respect to the participation in the overall challenges in this region, Japan has an ability to play an increasingly more modern and engaged role,” Kerry said yesterday at a press conference in Manila. Calling the Japanese expansion of its defense a long-planned move, Kerry said, “This is not a sudden response to something or anything that anybody should get particularly upset about.”
The Japanese defense plans adopted yesterday are the latest step in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to promote a more active security stance amid a deepening territorial dispute with China. The move comes weeks after China established an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea that encompasses a chain of islands claimed by both countries, ratcheting up tensions with both Japan and its ally, the U.S.
Kerry reiterated yesterday that the U.S. does not recognize the China air zone and won’t comply with demands that all aircraft flying in the area seek approval. Kerry also said that the U.S. did not want rising tensions with China.
Kerry spoke in Manila after meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario. The Philippines, like Japan and Vietnam, is in dispute with China over maritime territory. Kerry urged China not to declare a similar air zone over the South China Sea and pledged $40 million to help improve Philippines’ maritime security and provide assistance for counter-terrorism efforts. A day earlier, Kerry visited Hanoi and offered maritime assistance to Vietnam, including $18 million to provide five fast patrol vessels in 2014 to the Vietnamese Coast Guard.
In Japan, Abe’s cabinet yesterday endorsed the purchase of drones, amphibious vehicles and vertical take-off aircraft to boost defenses around its remote islands, which included the disputed chain known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
The government will also consider obtaining the means to counter ballistic missiles at the point of launch, according to new security plans which set total five-year defense spending of 24.67 trillion yen ($239 billion), up about 1 trillion yen on the previous five-year plan.
“This shows our foreign and security policy with great clarity and transparency to the people of Japan and to the world,” Abe told reporters after the cabinet decision.
Even with the increased military budget, the $239 billion Japan will spend on defense over the five-year period will be dwarfed by China, which had $120 billion in military spending this year.
“All of this is fairly limited giving the extent of the Chinese problem,” said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple in Tokyo. “I’m sure what Beijing will do is to try to portray Japan as aggressive, militaristic, the usual stuff, but that’s really uncorrelated with the reality.”
Abe has already established a National Security Council to bring foreign and defense policy under tighter cabinet control and passed an unpopular law on the protection of state secrets that the government said will improve Japan’s ability to cooperate with other nations. The government is also plans to revise existing restrictions on arm exports.
Abe is also considering reinterpreting the pacifist constitution to allow Japan to defend its allies. The U.S. supports Abe’s efforts to reinterpret the constitution that it imposed on the country after the war.
“We urge Japan to face up to its history, and to stay on the path of peaceful development,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing yesterday. “It should not make empty calls for peace.”