Japan boosts military spending amid growing tensions with China


Japanese nationalists, on the left, and Chinese nationalists, on the right, protesting over the disputed islands in the East China Sea on September 18, 2012. Japan knows them as the Senkaku Islands and China calls them Diaoyu.



Japan on Tuesday announced a significant increase in military spending over the next five years, along with national security and defense strategies aimed at countering the growing assertiveness of China in the region.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has championed a greater role for the country’s military, agreed to spend around 24 trillion yen ($232 billion) to acquire state-of-the-art defense equipment including surveillance drones, stealth aircraft, fighter jets and submarines.

That compares with the present budget of 23.5 trillion yen over the five years to March 2014. It marks a reversal of a decade of military spending cuts. 

New defense and security strategies also approved by the cabinet call for the creation of an amphibious unit modeled on the US marines that would capable of retaking islands captured by an enemy, better air and sea surveillance, a stronger missile defense system to counter a "grave and imminent threat" from North Korea and closer ties with allies such as the US.

The plans, which Abe described as "proactive pacifism," come a few weeks after China unveiled an expanded air defense zone over a vast area of the East China Sea, including a group of islands administered by Tokyo but coveted by Beijing.

The move angered China's neighbors, including Japan and South Korea, and fuelled tensions in the region. It also added to concern that a military or political misstep by either Beijing or Tokyo, which have been waging a war of words over the islands known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, could trigger a full-blown conflict. 

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“China is attempting to change the status quo by force in the skies and seas of the East China Sea and South China Sea and other areas, based on its own assertions, which are incompatible with the established international order," Japan’s national security strategy document said.

"China's stance toward other countries and military moves, coupled with a lack of transparency regarding its military and national security policies, represent a concern to Japan and the wider international community and require close watch."

Abe told reporters the new defense plans did not mark a departure from the country’s post-war pacifism that restricts its military to a narrowly defined self-defence role.

"The strategy is designed to make our foreign and security policy clear and transparent both at home and abroad," Abe told reporters. "We will do our part in contributing to global peace and security further."

Not surprisingly, China didn’t see it that way, accusing its foe of “big-power geopolitics.”

"If Japan really hopes to return itself to the ranks of a 'normal country', it should face up to its aggression in history and cooperate with its Asian neighbors instead of angering them with rounds and rounds of unwise words and policies," the state-run Xinhua news agency said.