Sat, Jul 07, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Japan names North Korea and China as security concerns

AGENCIES , TOKYO

Japan kept up the pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons and missiles and expressed concern about the lack of transparency on China's burgeoning military spending in a government defense paper published yesterday.

The annual report warned that North Korea is improving its missile system to cover all of east Asia and potentially reach the northern tip of Australia as well as part of Alaska.

The report, approved by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet, was the first to be published by the Defense Ministry since it was upgraded from agency status in January.

"In particular, North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile problems are becoming even more serious," the report said.

Pyongyang's launch of a ballistic missile that flew over Japan in 1998 pushed Tokyo into devoting a growing chunk of its annual defense budget to ballistic missile defense -- ?160 billion (US$1.3 billion) in the current financial year, up 4.4 percent from the previous fiscal year.

Japan's first ship equipped with ballistic missile interceptors is set to come into service in December, following on the deployment of ground-based interceptors near Tokyo in March.

China also came in for criticism, an indication that tensions remain despite Abe's efforts to restore rocky ties.

"There are fears about the lack of transparency concerning China's military strength," the paper said, echoing similar sentiments expressed by Australia in a paper published on Thursday.

"In January this year China used ballistic missile technology to destroy one of its own satellites. There was insufficient explanation from China, sparking concern in Japan and other countries about safety in space as well as the security aspects," the paper said.

The report noted that China was building up its navy and air force in such a way as to be able to project force further outside its boundaries, including its interest in acquiring aircraft carriers.

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