Japan on Tuesday adopted a new national security strategy, pledging to beef up defenses against an increasingly assertive China to protect its territory, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to boost Tokyo’s standing as a contributor to global peace and security.
In the national security policy approved by the Cabinet, the government states Japan will seek more “proactive” security roles for the Self-Defense Forces abroad, and will set new guidelines on arms exports, signaling a major shift from the country’s previous restrictive policy.
With China’s influence growing in the region relative to that of the United States, the strategy puts importance on a strong Japan-U.S. security alliance as a counterbalance to stem security threats to Japan. It also calls for steps to tackle threats in cyberspace and outer space.
The strategy, compiled at the order of Abe, will serve as the basis for the new national security council to make decisions on foreign policy and defense. The Cabinet also approved Tuesday medium- and longer-term defense plans that will strengthen surveillance over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and bolster the capabilities of the SDF.
Security concerns about China’s activities in the region have stayed at the forefront under Abe, who is trying to redefine Japan’s defense posture and revise the U.S.-drafted pacifist Constitution. The government is expected to make a decision next year on whether to lift its self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense.
The strategy cites as regional challenges China’s assertive activities in the East and South China Seas, and warns that Beijing has been laying claims that are “incompatible with international law” and could lead to a confrontation.
To build relations that are mutually beneficial, Japan will continue to urge China to exercise restraint, and deal with the issue in a “calm and resolute manner” so as not to escalate tensions, the strategy states.
Bilateral tensions have heightened since China’s abrupt declaration in late November of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea, stoking fears of unplanned emergencies. Tokyo and Beijing have been at loggerheads over the sovereignty of the Senkakus, with patrol planes and ships from both countries shadowing each other.
Japan is also mired in a dispute with South Korea over islets in the Sea of Japan. Disagreements over the ownership of the South Korean-controlled Dokdo islets, which Japan claims and refers to as Takeshima, have prevented the two countries from holding talks at the summit level since Abe returned to power in last December.
As Tokyo has repeatedly said the door to dialogue is always open, the strategy states that Japan will continue to make diplomatic efforts to solve the issue “in a peaceful manner.”
Japan’s stance over North Korea remains consistent. Tokyo urges Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arms and missile programs and return Japanese nationals its agents abducted in the 1970s and 1980s, an issue that Abe has pledged to resolve during his time in office.
“It is important to closely monitor the internal situation in North Korea” as the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un takes hold, the strategy says after the recent execution of his once-powerful uncle, Jang Song Thaek, raised international alarm.
In what would be a major departure for Abe from his predecessors, Japan will seek to participate in joint development and production of defense equipment, and set new rules on arms exports to keep up with the times without giving a time frame.
Japan adopted “three principles” on arms exports in 1967, with the rules tightened into a virtual blanket ban in 1976. Under the principles, Japan prohibits weapons sales to communist states, countries subject to embargoes under U.N. resolutions, and those involved in international conflicts.
Abe’s government has been weighing a review of the three principles as exports and joint development of weapons with foreign countries will help grow the domestic defense industry.
But New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, has been more cautious about the move, and the government toned down the wording to say Japan will “participate in,” rather than “promote” joint development.
In 2011, under the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, Japan eased the rules to make it possible to participate in joint weapons development and production with other countries for peaceful purposes.