China Overtakes North Korea as Japan’s Top Security Concern

Japanese people are more concerned about China’s increasing military strength and assertiveness in the region than any other security issue, according to a public opinion poll released by the government Saturday.

More than 60 percent of respondents to the survey conducted in January said China concerned them, compared with 46 percent in a similar poll three years earlier. The number worried about nuclear-armed North Korea fell to about 53 percent from around 65 percent.

Asia’s two largest economies are at loggerheads over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, with ships and planes from both countries criss-crossing near the disputed area on a daily basis. The row has escalated with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeking to strengthen the country’s Self-Defense Forces, partly in response to China’s expansion and modernization of its military.

“There is a lack of transparency in China’s military and security policy, including about the budget,” Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters on Friday. “We want to continue to seek disclosure from China.” The two countries are set to hold security talks on March 19 in Tokyo, the first of their kind in four years.

When asked in the survey about defense ties with countries other than the U.S., the proportion seeing benefits from military exchanges with China and South Korea fell by about a third. Southeast Asia was the partner most commonly cited as useful to Japan.

While 59 percent said the current size of Japan’s armed forces was appropriate, a growing minority favor a military build-up. Almost 30 percent said they wanted an expansion, up from 25 percent in the previous poll and 14 percent six years ago.

A record 71.5 percent said they were interested in the SDF, and more than 92 percent had a good impression of the armed forces.

The Cabinet Office interviewed 1,680 people between January 8-18. The survey was first conducted in 1969.

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