UPDATE 2-Japan drops Cold War defence to face new threats

* Japan prescribes flexible posture, cites concern on China

* Defence plan leaves door open to joint arms development

* U.S.-Japan alliance key, cooperation with others urged

(Adds China reaction, link to new factbox)
By Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO, Dec 17 (BestGrowthStock) – Japan unveiled a sweeping update
of its national defence polices on Friday, aiming for greater
flexibility and refocusing its capabilities as it confronts
China’s military buildup and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The National Defence Programme Guideline approved by Prime
Minister Naoto Kan’s cabinet stopped short of easing a ban on
arms exports — a move opposed by a small pacifist party whose
help Kan wants to pass bills in a divided parliament — but it
left the door open to international joint development.

Under the programme, Japan will allocate 23.49 trillion
yen ($280 billion) for defence spending for the five years
from next April, down 3 percent from a five-year spending cap
to March 2010 due to constraints imposed by a public debt
twice the size of gross domestic product.

The plan will bolster Japan’s defence posture to its
southwest, where it shares a maritime border with China, by
boosting the number of combat aircraft on the southern island
of Okinawa and stationing troops on smaller islands.

The policy update is the first major revision in six years
and the first under Kan’s Democratic Party, which swept to
power last year for the first time.

“I think we have been able to put forth a defence policy
that is appropriate for the tough security environment and the
new era,” Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told a news
conference.

Japan’s military, which is bigger than Britain’s, has for
years been pushing the limits of a post-World War Two pacifist
constitution. But any sign Japan is further flexing its
military muscle could upset Asian neighbours including China,
where bitter memories of Japan’s wartime aggression run deep.

The report, reflecting Japanese anxiety about its giant
neighbour, pointed to China’s rising military spending and
growing maritime activities.

“These movements, coupled with the lack of transparency in
its military and security matters, have become a matter of
concern for the region and the international community,” the
government said in the report.

It also dubbed North Korea’s nuclear and missile
programmes “a present and grave destabilising factor to the
security of our country and the region”.

Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply in September,
when Japan detained a Chinese skipper whose trawler collided
with Japanese patrol boats near a chain of disputed islands.

SHIFTING RESOURCES

The defence guideline also urged efforts to build better
two-way ties while encouraging China to act as a responsible
member of international society.

China responded by focusing on the positive aspects of its
growth into a major power.

“We do not wish to constitute a threat to anyone,” Foreign
Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement on the
ministry website.

“The fact is that China’s development since its reform and
opening up has brought huge opportunities for shared
prosperity to all countries in the world, including Japan.

“Certain countries have no right to cast themselves as
representing the international community, engaging in
irresponsible naysaying about China’s development.”
In a bid to boost overall Japanese defence
capability despite budget constraints, the plan outlines a
shift in resources from the army to the air force and navy.

Japan’s defence capability has traditionally been focused
on the north with a large fleet of tanks, a legacy of the Cold
War era, when they were deployed to respond to potential
threats from the former Soviet Union.

Under the new guideline, which covers the next 10 years,
the number of tanks will be cut by a third to 400 and the
official head count of the army will be cut by 1,000 to
154,000, although the actual headcount is already below the
official figure.

In contrast, Japan plans to raise the number of submarines
to 22 from 16 by commissioning new vessels and keeping
existing ones operational longer, while boosting the number of
warships fitted with the Aegis ballistic missile defence
system to six from four.

A study will be conducted to address whether to relax a
decades-old ban on arms exports.

“It is becoming mainstream among developed countries to
boost the capability of defence equipment and cut costs by
taking part in international joint development and
production,” the government said in the guideline.

“We will consider measures to respond to this major trend.”

The self-imposed prohibition is an almost blanket ban on
arms exports and on the development and production of weapons
with countries other than the United States, making it
difficult for defence contractors such as Mitsubishi Heavy
Industries to reduce costs and keep up with
cutting-edge arms technologies.

Besides the strategic shift in military resources, Japan
also aims to boost its defence capability through closer ties
with key security ally the United States while seeking to
fortify cooperation with regional partners such as South
Korea, Australia, India and the Association of South East
Asian Nations.

“The Japan-U.S. alliance will remain indispensable to
secure the peace and safety of our country,” it said.

It added, though, that it was necessary to reduce the
burden on communities hosting U.S. forces, whose residents
often associate the bases with accidents, crime and pollution.

U.S.-Japan ties frayed after the Democrats took office
last year and then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama sought to
keep a pledge to move a U.S. Marines air base off Okinawa,
host to about half of the nearly 50,000 U.S. forces in Japan.

Japan and the United States agreed in May to stick to a
2006 deal to move the base to a less populous area on the
island, but the plan is facing stiff opposition from residents.
($1=83.97 yen)
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Huang Yan in
Beijing)
(Editing by Linda Sieg and Michael Watson)

UPDATE 2-Japan drops Cold War defence to face new threats