Japan yesterday labeled the military build-up of rival China a global “concern” and said it would strengthen missile defenses against the threat from North Korea as part of a major strategic review.
The changes would also see Tokyo boost its southern forces and submarine fleet, and upgrade its fighter jets as part of a shift in its defense focus from the Soviet Cold War threat to southern islands nearer China.
The Cabinet of officially pacifist Japan approved the National Defense Program Guidelines months after a territorial row flared up with China and weeks after North Korea launched a deadly artillery strike against South Korea.
Beijing called Japan’s stance “irresponsible.”
“No country has the right to appoint themselves the representative of the international community and make irresponsible comments on China’s development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said in a statement.
The new guidelines labeled North Korea — which in recent years has fired missiles over Japan, staged two nuclear tests and last month unveiled a new uranium enrichment plant — an “urgent, grave factor for instability.”
Japan, like its top security ally the US, again voiced concern over China’s recent military build-up and increased assertiveness in what Beijing sees as its ancestral waters in the East China and South China seas.
“China is rapidly modernizing its military force and expanding activities in its neighboring waters,” the guidelines said.
“Together with the lack of transparency on China’s military and security issues, the trend is a concern for the region and the international community,” said the paper, which sets out strategic planning for the coming decade.
Security analyst Akira Kato, a professor at Tokyo’s Oberlin University, said: “The guidelines underline Japan’s clear shift of focus to counteracting China’s growing naval power, which is a major threat to Japan and the United States.”
Pledging a more nimble defense capability, the guidelines said: “We will build a dynamic defense force backed by sophisticated technologies and intelligence, with readiness, mobility, flexibility, sustainability and multiple disciplines.”
The outlook moves away from the perceived Cold War threat of a Soviet invasion. Instead, it says Japan will boost its ground, air and naval forces on the far-southern Nansei islands that take in Okinawa, a major base for US forces, and are closer to remote flashpoint islands near Taiwan.