July 9, 2013 2:35 AM
By YUKA HAYASHI
TOKYO—The Japanese government, citing a tense territorial dispute with China and growing North Korean belligerence, said it anticipates greater threats to national security that require enhanced military capabilities and a further strengthening of ties with the U.S.
In the first defense white paper released under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Tokyo used more nationalist rhetoric and adopted a far more vigilant tone than in previous years in describing the regional security challenges the country faces and how it plans to respond to them.
In the foreword to the white paper, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the issues and destabilizing factors in Japan’s security environment “have become pronounced, acute and more problematic,” adding somewhat forcefully that Japan will “protect our people’s lives and assets, and our territorial land, sea and sky, till the end.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power last December with a pledge to stand firm against regional provocations—particularly the intensifying dispute with China over a chain of uninhabited East China Sea islands and the growing threats of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program. His administration’s doorstop-size white paper offers detailed analyses of those regional security issues and Japan’s own defense capabilities and strategies, using a large number of photos, maps and charts.
Mr. Abe’s government has implemented the first increase in Japan’s defense budget in 11 years, pushing up the annual spending by 0.7% to ¥4.68 trillion yen, or $46 billion, and is conducting a review of its long-term defense policy guidelines that will set the course for the nation’s defense strategy for the next decade, the white paper said. The guidelines are expected to be released by the year-end.
While the white paper gave few details about what the guidelines may include, it highlighted two new areas under discussion that could significantly change the nature of the role of the Japanese military as a self-defense force: developing the ability to launch preemptive attacks on enemy bases abroad and the creation of an amphibious force similar to the U.S. Marine Corps.
The white paper’s most significant shift in tone came in its description of China’s soaring military influence and growing territorial assertiveness.
Tokyo said that China “resorts to tactics viewed as high-handed, including attempts to use force to change the status quo, as it insists on its own unique assertions that are inconsistent with the order of the international law.” It added: “Among them are dangerous actions that could lead to unintended consequences. In a way, this makes us concerned where we are headed.”
The statement—made in reference to January encounters in which Japan claimed Chinese ships locked weapons-guiding radar on Japanese self-defense forces targets near the disputed East China Sea islands—includes far more confrontational expressions, compared with a similar section seen in last year’s white paper. The previous wording simply said that China “uses tactics viewed as high-handed, and that in a way makes us concerned where we are headed.”
Japan also complained that intrusions by Chinese ships and aircraft into what it considers its territorial waters and airspace were “extremely deplorable” and asked Beijing to “share in and observe the international order.”
In Beijing Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying described the threat as an attempt to play up the “China threat,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.
“We hope that the Japanese side can adopt a more proper attitude and make efforts to improve political trust and enhance regional peace and stability,” Hua said, according to Xinhua
Regarding territorial disputes, Ms. Hua said China has always insisted on resolving such disagreements through dialogue. “At the same time, China will never allow any country to infringe on its territorial integrity,” she said.
As for North Korea, Tokyo described its development of ballistic missiles, combined with its growing nuclear-weapons capabilities, as “having become a more realistic and pressing issue for the broad international community” and a cause for “extremely grave concern.”
As the growing regional animosities prompt Japan to intensify its defense cooperation with the U.S., the white paper stressed the importance of the bilateral alliance in the nation’s overall national-security framework. The U.S. and Japan have recently started the review of a bilateral defense guidelines with a goal of giving a greater role to Japan in the defense of its own nation and regional security.
Tokyo is also concerned about pressure in Washington to cut U.S. defense spending even as the U.S. seeks to “pivot” its policies toward Asia. “We will be closely monitoring how the severe fiscal constraints might impact the implementation of such policies.”
Another distinctive feature of the latest defense paper is the greater number of mini essays written by members of the Self Defense Forces, an effort apparently aimed at raising the profile of SDF troops. Some of the writers were soldiers involved in the preparation of missile defense at the time of recent North Korean weapons tests. Others included those patrolling and monitoring the front lines of the island dispute with China. There were also essays by those who participated in the increasingly frequent joint military exercises with the U.S., including island-landing drills that elicited angry protests from Beijing.
“We wanted the broad public to hear the voices of the troops who are on the front lines and responding with vigilance,” Masayoshi Tatsumi, press secretary for the defense ministry said.