Japan lays out 10-year defense plans

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Japan lays out 10-year defense plans

Japan approved a new national security strategy yesterday to bolster its military and defense, a move guaranteed to both worry and annoy neighbors Korea and China, which are already embroiled in territorial and historical disputes with Tokyo over its militaristic past.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet adopted its first national security strategy and revised five- and 10-year defense plans yesterday that included a military buildup and plans to increase defense spending by 5 percent over the next five years. The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday expressed regret that Japan continues to claim the East Sea Dokdo islets, which Tokyo calls Takeshima, in its new national security guidelines.

The new strategy calls for Japan to play a greater role in maintaining international stability and harden its defense posture, especially amid concerns about China’s military buildup and beefed-up protection of the maritime and air space around its disputed territories.

The strategy claimed that Japan plans to “build future-looking relations and bolster security cooperation” with South Korea but was critical of Beijing’s lack of transparency on military affairs.

The plan made specific mention of the Dokdo islets issue and said Tokyo will put in its “utmost diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve the issue.”

Cho Tai-young, Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, yesterday expressed “extreme regret that the Japanese government continues to claim Dokdo as its territory despite repeated expression of our position.” Korea states there is no dispute since it effectively controls the Dokdo islets.

“It is difficult to understand [Japan’s] acts, which are based on a lack of historical understanding,” Cho added, “while it talks of friendly relations between Korea and Japan.”

Regarding Tokyo’s adoption of the national security strategy, Cho said it “should not cause a hindrance to security in the region.” He added that any revision of Japan’s pacifist Constitution or moves toward gaining the rights to “collective self-defense” - being able to come to the aid of an attacked ally - should go forth in a “transparent” manner.

The Abe administration has pushed for Japan to regain its right to collective self-defense, alarming neighbors still feeling the scars of colonial rule and past invasions. Japan recently formed a U.S.-style national security council, which will make decisions on foreign and defense policies.

It convened for the first time last week. In its national strategy guidelines, Japan claimed China is threatening to change “the status quo” in the East China Sea and South China Sea through its growing military presence. Beijing and Tokyo both claim the Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu by China. Japan also voiced concern that China lacked “transparency” and was critical of its “high-handed approach.” Last month, Beijing unilaterally declared an East China Sea air defense identification zone (ADIZ) that raised a backlash from Tokyo and Seoul because it overlapped with disputed areas.

In response, Seoul last week declared an expanded Korean ADIZ to overlap with its flight information zone and include its remote islands and Ieodo, a submerged reef in the East China Sea. Korea informed relevant nations beforehand of the expanded air defense zone, which took effect on Monday, and there was little backlash since it was in compliance with international law.

Abe called the national strategy a “historic document” that was necessary because of threats in the region imposed by China and North Korea.

In its 2014-19 military buildup plan, Japan set a five-year budget of around 24.67 trillion yen (239.6 billion yen), up by a trillion yen from the previous five-year defense plan. Military spending had been on the decline in the past decade. The plan includes the acquisition of surveillance drones, submarines, fighter jets, anti-missile destroyers and other military hardware and calls for stronger maritime surveillance capabilities to better defend its remote islands, especially the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands.

It also calls for setting up an amphibious unit as part of ground defense forces that would be able to respond quickly in case of a foreign invasion of its islands. Japan is also calling for a revision of its restrictions on arms exports, which was self-imposed in 1967 and loosened in 2011.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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