TOKYO – Japan on Tuesday approved a plan to increase defense spending by 5 percent over the next five years to purchase its first surveillance drones, more jet fighters and naval destroyers in the face of China's military expansion.
The revised 5-year defense plan was adopted by the Cabinet along with a new national security strategy that reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive to raise the profile of Japan's military and have the country play a bigger role in international diplomacy and security.
Experts say the strategy and the defense plans are in line with a power shift that has been continuing for several years. But Japan's neighbors — and some Japanese citizens — worry that the new reports push the country away from its pacifist constitution adopted after World War II.
"Many people worry inside Japan and outside that maybe Abe hasn't really learned the lesson from the wartime history of Japan and that there's a danger that a greater role played by Japan actually means the rise of militarism in the long-term," said Koichi Nakano, an international politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.
The previous 5-year plan beginning 2011 adopted by the now-opposition Democratic Part of Japan slashed the defense budget 750 billion yen, or 3-percent. It also cut forces by 1,000 troops, while the current plan maintains current troop levels.
The strategy also reflects a shift in Japan's defense priorities from its northern reaches to the East China Sea, where Tokyo and Beijing are embroiled in a territorial spat over some uninhabited islands.
The new defense plan calls for setting up an amphibious unit similar to the U.S. Marines as part of the ground defense forces to respond quickly in case of a foreign invasion of those islands. It will also deploy early warning system, submarines and anti-missile defense system to step up intelligence in the area.
Broader defense program guidelines also adopted Tuesday say China's growing maritime and military presence in the East China Sea, its lack of transparency and "high-handed" approach — including its recent imposition of an air defense zone in the area — pose potential risks that could trigger problems. Late last month, China said all aircraft entering a vast zone over the East China Seat must identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions, although the U.S., Japan and South Korea have ignored those demands.
The guidelines said Japan is "gravely concerned" about China's such military activity.
Abe said the national security strategy shows Japan's diplomatic and security policy to people in and outside Japan "with clarity and transparency."
During the 2014-2019 period, Japan plans to buy three drones, likely a Global Hawk, as well as 28 F-35A fighters, 17 Osprey aircraft and five destroyers including two with Aegis anti-ballistic-missile systems. The purchases would cost 24.7 trillion yen ($247 billion), up 5 percent from the previous plan.
The defense plan says Japan should "demonstrate its commitment to defense and its high capability," upgrade equipment, increase troop activity and step up defense capability in both quality and quantity to raise deterrence levels amid an increasingly harsh regional security environment.
Narushige Michishita, a national security expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said that the strategy and defense plans set the stage for Japan to come out of its postwar isolationism.
"Isolationism was very convenient and comfortable, but now China is rising rapidly and the U.S. commitment to Asia is not growing, so maybe we should be a little more proactive," said Michishita, who helped develop the previous defense guidelines in 2010.