Japan takes defence policy into uncharted waters

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Japan takes defence policy into uncharted waters

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In Japan the government of Shinzo Abe has approved a new defence policy designed to meet the challenge posed by a rising China.

It is the latest step towards Abe’s longstanding and publicly-stated desire to change Japan’s pacifist constitution, drawn up after the Second World War, and redefine Japan’s ‘Self-defence force’.

The defence budget will be boosted by five percent for the 2014-19 period, with a total of 174 billion euros available.

The shopping list is impressive; 52 amphibious vehicles, five submarines, 17 VTOL aircraft, 28 stealth F-35 fighters, three spy drones, and two Aegis anti-missile destroyers.

Abe is trying to sell his defence policy as one of positive and pro-active pacifism, offering more transparency to both Japan and its neighbours.

“Through international cooperation and our proactive peace policy, we will continue our effort to make even more of a contribution to international peace and stability,” he said recently.

The vertical take-off Osprey is typical of the equipement Japan wants; flexible and clearly destined to protect faraway maritime possessions.

Japan’s current thinking is that the danger no longer comes from the USSR and the north with the end of the Cold War; now it is China and a nuclear North Korea that preoccupies Tokyo.

Last March China decided to boost its annual defence spend by 10 percent or 86 billion euros. That increase alone is more than double Japan’s 35 billion euro annual defence budget. China can and does spend a lot more than Japan.

Sino-Japanese relations have been at rock bottom for the last year because of the territorial dispute over the Senkaku islands, or Diaoyu in Chinese.

Situated in the China Sea, these and other islands are claimed by several countries. On November 22 Beijing unilaterally declared an “aerial identification zone” over a large swathe of the East China Sea, overlapping Japanese airspace, and casting a giant cloud of doubt over the region.