Friday, December 17, 2010

Japan to strengthen defences against China

Japan has labelled the military build-up of rival China a global "concern" and said on Friday it would strengthen missile defences against the threat from North Korea as part of a major strategic review.

The changes would also see Tokyo boost its southern forces and submarine fleet and upgrade its fighter jets as part of a shift in its defence focus from the Soviet Cold War threat to southern islands nearer China.

The cabinet of officially pacifist Japan approved the National Defence Program Guidelines months after a territorial row flared up with China and weeks after North Korea launched a deadly artillery strike against South Korea.

Beijing called Japan's stance "irresponsible".

"No country has the right to appoint themselves the representative of the international community and make irresponsible comments on China's development," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement.

The new guidelines labelled North Korea - which in recent years has fired missiles over Japan, staged two nuclear tests and last month unveiled a new uranium enrichment plant - an "urgent, grave factor for instability".

Japan, like its top security ally the US, again voiced concern over China's recent military build-up and increased assertiveness in what Beijing sees as its ancestral waters in the East China and South China seas.

"China is rapidly modernising its military force and expanding activities in its neighbouring waters," said the guidelines.

"Together with the lack of transparency on China's military and security issues, the trend is a concern for the region and the international community," said the paper, which sets out strategic planning for the coming decade.

Security analyst Akira Kato, a professor at Tokyo's Oberlin University, said "the guidelines underline Japan's clear shift of focus to counteracting China's growing naval power, which is a major threat to Japan and the US."

Under the guidelines, Japan will increase its submarine fleet from 16 to 22 and modernise its fighter jets but scrap more than 200 tanks and 200 artillery pieces.

Japan also plans to double from three to six its land-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor missile systems and increase from four to six the number of sea-based Standard Missile-3 interceptors on its Aegis destroyers.

The outlook moves away from the perceived Cold War threat of a Soviet invasion and calls for drawing down troop strength on northern Hokkaido island.

Instead Japan will boost its ground, air and naval forces on the far southern Nansei islands that take in Okinawa, a major base for US forces, and are closer to remote flashpoint islands near Taiwan.

The guidelines called the Japan-US alliance "indispensable".

They also say Japan will enhance security ties with South Korea, Australia, Southeast Asia and India and "promote confidence and cooperation with China and Russia" while also enhancing ties with the European Union and NATO.

The defence guidelines are usually revised every five years but came a year late following Japan's 2009 power shift in which the centre-left Democratic Party ended a half-century of almost unbroken conservative rule.

Japan's new leaders initially quarrelled with the US about the 50,000-strong American troop presence in the country, but that row subsided as tensions grew sharply this year between Tokyo and Beijing.

The Asian giants argued early in the year over what Japan regarded as provocative Chinese naval manoeuvres off its far southern islands.

Then, in September, the war of words escalated when Japan's coast guard arrested a Chinese trawler captain after two collisions in disputed waters, a row that for months plunged diplomatic ties to their lowest point in years.

Regional tensions spiked again after North Korea's November 23 shelling that killed four South Koreans. China has since then resisted calls by the US, South Korea and Japan to publicly condemn its ally North Korea.
Agence France-Presse

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