Japan faces increasingly serious threats to its security from an assertive China and an unpredictable North Korea, the Japanese defense ministry said in its first annual report since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office.
The report was harshly critical of China’s actions in waters near East China Sea islets claimed by both countries, and prompted a sharp response from Beijing, where a foreign ministry spokeswoman said Japan was exaggerating the threat to “artificially create regional tension and confrontation.”
Sino-Japanese relations have been strained by the territorial row as well as remarks from Abe suggesting he wants to cast Tokyo’s wartime history in a less apologetic tone.
“There are various issues and destabilizing factors in the security environment surrounding Japan, some of which are becoming increasingly tangible, acute and serious,” said the defense white paper, issued as ruling party politicians call for the Japanese military to beef up its ability to respond.
The general commanding a Japanese airborne brigade whose paratroopers would be among the first troops to respond to an attack on a far-flung island said his unit could benefit from better intelligence gathering tools, including drones.
“For any island operation, intelligence is crucial,” General Tadao Maeda, commander of the 1st Airborne Brigade, said in an interview.
At present, his unit relies on intelligence from ground or maritime forces. Japan has allocated funds in this year’s budget to look into possible acquisition of drones.
The defense ministry report said: “China has attempted to change the status quo by force based on its own assertion, which is incompatible with the existing order of international law,” echoing recent comments by Abe and his Cabinet.
“China should accept and stick to the international norms,” the report said.
The row over rival claims to tiny East China Sea islets flared up in September last year after Japan nationalized the isles, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Archipelago (釣魚群島) in China. Taiwan calls them the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台).
Patrol ships from Japan and China routinely shadow each other near the islands, raising concerns that an unintended collision or other incident could lead to a broader clash.
“Some of China’s activities involve its intrusion into Japan’s territorial waters, its violation of Japan’s territorial airspace and even dangerous actions that could cause a contingency, and are extremely regrettable,” the paper said.
Commenting on the Japanese report, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said that it contained “false criticisms” and followed growing calls in Japan to strengthen the military.
“The international community cannot but be concerned by Japan’s real intentions and its future development,” she said. “We hope that Japan can correct its attitude.”
Japan is already bolstering defence of the disputed islands and this year raised its defence budget for the first time in 11 years.
Japan plans to draw up a new defense plan by December, and Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party submitted recommendations to the government last month that included looking into acquiring the capability to attack enemy targets.