Japan to Approve New China-Centric Defense Posture

Tokyo showed reporters drafts of the new National Defense Program Guidelines and National Security Strategy.

Japan to Approve New China-Centric Defense Posture
Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Japan allowed reporters to review three important defense plans it is set to approve next week, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, on Tuesday the Japanese cabinet intends to approve revisions to the country’s National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) as well as a new Mid-Term Defense Program. The NDPG outlines Japan’s defense posture over the next decade while the Mid-Term Defense Program sets out a five-year plan for procuring the necessary capabilities to fulfill the NDPG. Tokyo last approved a NDPG in 2010 but Prime Minister Abe Shinzo decided to revise the document upon taking office earlier this year, citing the “tense” regional security environment and singling out the threats from North Korea and China in particular.

The Reuters report indicated that the defense plans continue to emphasize the dual threats Tokyo faces from Pyongyang and Beijing. The NDPG reportedly says that Japan sees China as trying to change the status quo in the region and pledges to “respond calmly and resolutely to the rapid expansion and step-up of China’s maritime and air activities.”

In practical terms this amounts to Japan shifting some of its defense forces from the northern part of the country to islands in the south which are closer to the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands that Japan and China both claim sovereignty over. For example, the report says that Japan will station an additional fighter jet squadron at an air base in Okinawa. Tokyo also plans on shifting E-2C early warning aircraft from its northern Misawa Base to its southern Naha Base on Okinawa. This will provide Japan with better surveillance near the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

As expected, the reports also direct Japan’s Self Defense Forces to establish an amphibious unit modeled on the U.S. Marines. This will allow Tokyo to deploy troops to where they are needed more quickly, and they also could be used to retake islands that China has seized.

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The draft document also said that North Korea is a “grave and imminent threat” to Japan’s security and calls for empowering the Self Defense Forces to better respond to ballistic missile attacks from Pyongyang. However, in a somewhat surprising move, the document does not call for acquiring a preemptive strike capability, which would have stoked fears that Tokyo is abandoning its purely defensive military posture.

A draft of Japan’s first-ever National Security Strategy was also shown to reporters at the meeting on Wednesday. Whereas the NDPG focuses on military capabilities alone, the NSS is expected to take a more holistic look at Japan’s strategic situation. Although less information was made available about the contents of this document, Reuters did note that it is heavy on stoking nationalism in Japan, including calling for an all-out effort to cultivate “love of country” among Japanese citizens. It will also loosen restrictions on arms exports, which will give Tokyo more leeway in building up the military capabilities of Southeast Asian states that also have sovereignty disputes with China.