Japanese Defense Panel Calls for Expanded Regional Role
TOKYO — Japan must strengthen its defense and seek a larger regional role as the balance of power shifts with the rise of China and the decline of American influence, according to a draft of a new national security strategy released Wednesday.
The new strategy did not call for a sudden buildup in forces, and it appeared to be consistent with the gradual increase in Japan’s willingness and ability to defend itself in recent years, especially since a dispute over islands has heated up with China. Still, it offered a glimpse of how far Japan has come from a firmly pacifist nation that just two decades ago had seemed loath to even admit that it had a military.
Mr. Abe has vowed to give Japan an even stronger security posture, though he still emphasizes that Japan’s forces must remain purely defensive. Speaking to the group of experts, Mr. Abe called the draft a “historic document” because it is Japan’s first attempt at creating a national security strategy, and comes as Japan has created a new American-style national security council to strengthen its response to the changing regional environment.
The draft cited China’s rapid military expansion as well as North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities as major causes of this shifting balance. It also specifically cited China’s “intrusions” into waters around disputed islands claimed by both nations, and its recent creation of an air defense zone, as concerns for Japan’s security.
At the same time, the draft called on Japan to “work even harder to become a major player in international society” by building alliances with other nations including Australia, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries. It also recommended easing self-imposed restrictions on arms exports to allow Japan to join the United States and other nations in jointly developing new weapons.
The document was released along with a draft of a new defense policy that calls for Japan to strengthen its ability to defend its southwestern islands, which would include the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea at the center of the territorial dispute with China. While the defense policy draft contained few specifics, Japanese defense officials have talked of acquiring American-made drones to patrol the East China Sea and tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft to ferry its troops to remote islands more quickly.
The cabinet is expected to approve both drafts next week, local news media reported.