Japan yesterday approved a plan to increase defence spending by 5 per cent over the next five years.
The move, which includes the purchase of its first surveillance drones, more jet fighters and naval destroyers, is widely seen as reaction to China’s military expansion.
A revised five-year defence plan was adopted by the cabinet along with a new national security strategy that reflects prime minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to raise the profile of Japan’s military and participate more in international diplomacy and security.
The latest plans reflect a shift in Japan’s defence priorities from its northern reaches to the East China Sea, where it is in dispute with China over uninhabited islands in oil and gas rich waters. Japan wants to set up an amphibious unit to respond quickly to a possible foreign invasion there and to deploy an early warning system, submarines and anti-missile defences in the islands.
Analysts see the move as driven by China’s rise in power, but some Japanese fear it is part of a drift away from the post-war pacifist constitution.
“There’s a danger a greater role played by Japan means the rise of militarism in the long-term,” said Koichi Nakano, an international politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.
A ruling party politician who is a special adviser to Mr Abe on security affairs described the new strategy as progress toward Japan becoming a more “normal” country. Yousuke Isozaki said Japan should preserve the principle of pacifism, but had been too biased in that direction.
“We are only trying to shift closer to a normal country, and we have no intention whatsoever to become a military power,” he said. “We are not thinking about matching what America and Britain are doing.”
The previous five-year defence plan adopted in 2010 by the now-opposition Democratic Party of Japan cut military spending by 750 billion yen (£4.5bn), or 3 per cent.
Broader defence programme guidelines also adopted yesterday say Japan is “gravely concerned” about China’s growing maritime and military presence in the East China Sea, its lack of transparency and “high-handed” approach – including its new air defence zone – pose potential risks that could trigger problems. Late last month, China said all aircraft entering a vast zone over the East China Sea must identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions, although the US, Japan and South Korea have ignored its demands.
Japan reiterated its alliance with US was the cornerstone of its defence policy but intends to seek increased security co-operation with South Korea, Australia, the rest of South-east Asia and India.
“Up until now, Japan focused too much on Japan- US security alliance,” Mr Isozaki said. “I don’t think that alone is enough to protect the peace in this region.” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “We hope Japan will not just pay lip service to peace, but can make that a concrete reality and play a constructive role in preserving peace and stability in the region.”
From 2014 to 2019, Japan plans to buy three drones as well as 28 F-35A fighters, 17 Osprey aircraft and five destroyers including two with Aegis anti-ballistic-missile systems. The purchases would cost 24.7tn yen (£152bn), up 5 per cent from the previous plan.
The defence plan says Japan should “demonstrate its commitment to defence and its high capability,” upgrade equipment, increase troop activity and step up defence capability in both quality and quantity to raise deterrence levels amid an increasingly harsh regional security environment.