Beijing 'watching Japan closely' after Tokyo boosts its military

Region on 'high alert', Beijing warns as Tokyo agrees plan to buy planes, ships and spy drones for military shift of focus to the East China Sea

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 3:34am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 8:48am

Beijing said yesterday it was closely watching Japan's moves to boost its military after Tokyo announced it was buying its first surveillance drones, more fighter jets and naval destroyers.

The decision was announced in the face of simmering territorial disputes with China.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to spend 24.7 trillion yen (US$240 billion) in the next five years in a strategic shift to the East China Sea, where Tokyo and Beijing are embroiled in a territorial dispute over the uninhabited Diaoyu Islands.

The plan comes with the establishment of a US-style National Security Council as part of efforts by the Abe administration to normalise the military in Japan, which has been officially pacifist since defeat in the second world war.

This has triggered concern from China and Japan's other neighbours.

In Beijing, where memories of Japan's brutal military past refuse to fade, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the government was watching Tokyo carefully.

"Asian nations including China, and the international community, have no alternative but to be on high alert over Japan," Hua said.

"We urge Japan to respect the security concerns of other nations, and stick to the path of peaceful development."

Under the new plan, Japan's defence spending would be increased by five per cent in the years up to 2019.

Japan will set up a marine force to deal with island incursions and buy three drones, 52 amphibious vehicles, 17 Osprey aircraft and five destroyers including two with Aegis anti-ballistic-missile systems.

It will also seek more "proactive" security roles for the Self-Defence Forces abroad, and will set new guidelines on arms exports. Its new defence blueprint also places importance on the US-Japan security alliance as a counterbalance to stem security threats.

Abe said the shift would allow Japan's military to better shoulder its responsibilities on the global stage. "We hope to make further contributions to the peace and stability of the international community through pro-active pacifism," he said.

Regional tensions rose last month when Beijing declared a new air defence identification zone over the East China Sea, including over the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan.

Abe denounced the declaration on Saturday after a summit with Southeast Asian leaders.

A joint statement was issued calling for freedom of the air and sea. Beijing singled out Abe for "slanderous remarks".

Yue Gang , a Beijing-based military affairs commentator, said the defence plan was a move by Abe to make Japan a leading player in the Asia Pacific region.

"Japan feels unease about China's growth, and it wants to ensure it is a leading nation by building up its military," he said.

Professor Lin Xiaoguang , a specialist in international relations at the Central Party School, warned Japan had taken "confrontation with China" as its strategy.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse