Wed, Jul 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Japan growing wary of China's military buildup

GETTING BETTER The PLA has long been a joke as a fighting force but, with new technology and serious training, it might be becoming formidable

REUTERS , Tokyo

China's increasingly high-tech military capabilities need to be watched closely, along with Beijing's marine research near Japan's exclusive economic zone, the Japanese government said in a defense white paper yesterday.

"China is seeking to shift the emphasis in its military forces from `quantity' to `quality,' moving to a position where it will have a nucleus of regular forces capable of coping with modern warfare," the annual report said.

"China has been modernizing its nuclear and missile forces as well as its naval and air forces. Careful deliberation should go into determining whether the objective of this modernization exceeds the scope necessary for the defense of China, and future developments in this area merit special attention," it added.

Japan has repeatedly expressed concern about China's marine research near waters Tokyo says are its exclusive economic zone.

Diplomatic sparring between the two Asian neighbors over an island group in the East China Sea -- known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyutai in China -- flared up in March, when Japan arrested and detained seven Chinese who had landed on one.

The report -- which comes as Japan's military marks the 50th anniversary of its postwar restructuring -- reiterated that North Korea's missile and nuclear programs posed a security threat.

Outlining Japan's plans to introduce a missile defense system, the report said Tokyo might need to review its decades-old self-imposed ban on weapons exports as the result of technical research with the United States in that area.

Japan's military is undergoing the most sweeping review of its forces in five decades to cope with new threats and a report is due out later this year.

Japan needed to develop effective responses to such threats, re-examine traditional notions on infrastructure and equipment, and seek to modify the scale of its forces while bearing in mind the capabilities needed to meet a full-scale invasion, the white paper said.

On North Korea, the report noted efforts by the US, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programs, including a uranium enrichment programme which the North has denied exists.

Analysts have said a door creaked open at talks in Beijing last month, with the first real sign of negotiations after Washington offered security guarantees and South Korea aid if Pyongyang agreed to dismantle its nuclear programs.

The report said North Korea was a threat not just to Japan.

"Taken together with its suspected nuclear weapons program, North Korea's development and deployment of ballistic missiles constitute a destabilizing factor for the international community as a whole and have generated intense anxiety," the paper said.

In 1998 North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan, prompting Tokyo to improve its missile defense and intelligence gathering capabilities, leading to the launch last year of its first two spy satellites.

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