The warning and surveillance capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces will be boosted to ensure security in the air and sea around Japan, according to a draft outline of new defense guidelines.
The draft, released Wednesday, also says the SDF needs to beef up its ability to defend remote islands from attack, as the Defense Ministry is considering the introduction of drones and amphibious forces to ensure Japan keeps control of the Senkaku Islands, which are coveted by a more assertive China.
The ability to carry out such a defense would depend on speedy gathering of intelligence, and cooperation with the U.S. military in surveillance and warning activities, according to the draft.
The Cabinet is expected to approve the guidelines in mid-December after final changes are made.
Japan’s concerns about security stem chiefly from China’s maritime aggressiveness and North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats. China announced Saturday it was establishing an airspace defense identification zone that overlaps Japan’s over the East China Sea, including the Senkakus, prompting a swift protest from Tokyo.
After taking office in December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered a review of the defense guidelines as part of efforts to rework the country’s defense posture. Japan is moving toward the launch of its own version of the U.S. National Security Council and lifting a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or defending an ally under armed attack.
The guidelines, currently based on an interim Defense Ministry report in July, were presented to the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito on Wednesday, before the administration finalizes them for Cabinet approval.
The finalized guidelines are expected to call for a review of the longtime ban on exporting arms and introducing high-speed combat vehicles that weigh less than conventional tanks, as well as high-speed small warships, according to a government source.
Since the central government’s effective nationalization of the Senkaku group in September 2012, China has repeatedly sent patrol airplanes and ships into the area.
The draft outline of the guidelines states that Japan will become a “proactive” contributor to regional and global peace, but not “a military power,” because its defense-oriented stance remains the same, a reference designed to counter concerns at home and abroad that Japan may be moving away from the pacifist Constitution.
But the draft still warns that China is “increasing and expanding activities in the sea and airspace around Japan” and destabilizing the security environment along with North Korea.
To prepare for potential missile launches by North Korea, the draft says Japan needs to enhance its ballistic missile defense shield.
There has been debate about whether Japan should be able to attack enemy bases to address missile threats, but the draft does not touch on this.
The draft does not mention collective self-defense at a time when the government has yet to make a final decision on the issue amid cautious views even within the ruling bloc.
Abe has vowed to enable Japan to play a greater security role to make contributions to peace, with a review of the arms export ban under consideration.