Saturday, July 27, 2013

• Japan military 'needs marines and drones'

Tensions between China and Japan over East China Sea islands remain high

Japan should bolster its marine force and introduce surveillance drones, a defence review paper says, highlighting concerns over China and North Korea. The paper also called for better defences against missile attacks and the potential to attack enemy bases. Japan's military is constitutionally limited to a self-defence role.

But PM Shinzo Abe is looking to expand the scope of its activities - potentially a highly controversial move that would anger its neighbours. Japan is embroiled in a bitter row over islands with China and is deeply concerned by North Korea's nuclear ambitions. The interim report is part of a defence review ordered by Mr Abe, with final proposals due by December. On Sunday, Mr Abe won back control of Japan's Upper House, meaning he now controls parliament and would be in a stronger position to reshape Japan's current defence strategy.

'Deter and respond'
Under Article 9 of its post-war constitution, Japan is blocked from the use of force to resolve conflicts except in the case of self-defence. But Mr Abe has indicated he wants to re-examine the role of Japan's military to meet the changing security environment in the Asia-Pacific region.

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The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes... land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained”

Article 9 ,
Japanese constitution
"This will guide the focus of the direction that the Self Defence Forces should be heading going forward," Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said of the report.

Amphibious units that could be dispatched quickly to remote islands were needed, the report said, and surveillance equipment to detect "at an early stage signs of changes in the security situation".

The report also called for a strengthened ability to "to deter and respond to ballistic missiles".
"Japan needs to enhance its ability to respond to ballistic missile attacks in a comprehensive manner," Kyodo news agency quoted the report as saying.
But officials have been keen to emphasise that this does not mean Japan is eyeing pre-emptive strikes on enemy targets.
"It is necessary to consider whether we should have the option to strike an enemy's missile launch facilities," an unidentified defence ministry official told Reuters news agency.

"But we are not at all thinking about initiating attacks on enemy bases when we are not under attack."
The move comes amid a raft of tensions and potentially challenging security issues.
North Korea conducted what was widely seen as a long-range missile test in December 2012 and followed up with its third test of a nuclear device in February 2013.

China, meanwhile, is locked in a dispute with Japan over East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Japan controls the islands but Chinese ships have been sailing in and out of what Japan says are its territorial waters since late last year, as tensions increased.
On Wednesday Japan scrambled fighter jets after a Chinese government plane flew in international air space near the islands.
China said it was on a routine training mission; Mr Abe said it was "an unusual action that we have never seen before".
Japan has also voiced concern over increases in China's military spending, accusing Beijing of a lack of transparency.


Chinese coastguard ships entered waters disputed with Japan for the first time Friday, straining an already tense situation as Tokyo mulled plans to establish a US Marines-style force to protect its islands.

TOKYO: Chinese coastguard ships entered waters disputed with Japan for the first time Friday, straining an already tense situation as Tokyo mulled plans to establish a US Marines-style force to protect its islands.

Four vessels spent three hours in the territorial waters of a Tokyo-controlled archipelago, where they traded warnings with their Japanese counterparts. The move -- by vessels whose crews were likely to be armed, according to academics -- marks an upping of the ante in the blistering row over ownership of the Senkakus, which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyus.

It came the day Japan's defence ministry recommended establishing amphibious units and acquiring surveillance drones to protect outlying islands.

"To deploy units quickly in response to a situation, it is important... to have an amphibious function that is similar to (the) US Marines," capable of conducting landing operations on remote islands, it said.

The recommendation was part of an interim report approved by a high-level defence meeting on Friday, which said more hardware was needed to monitor distant islands.

"Our country has some 6,800 islands," and one of the world's largest areas of sea to patrol, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters. "So protecting the islands is an enormous task, especially if it only relies on manned aircraft as we do currently." Asked if there was a specific target for the moves, Onodera demurred. "We don't have a particular country in mind," he said.

The report will be reflected in Japan's long-term defence outline that is expected to be published towards the end of this year, but which a defence official said would not include any reference to a "pre-emptive strike" capability. Japan's constitutionally-mandated pacifism is cherished, but East Asia's shifting power structures are testing received wisdom in Tokyo.

"We have this awareness that given changes in the security environment surrounding Japan, we have to discuss whether it is enough for us to depend on US forces in terms of capability to attack enemy territory," a defence official told reporters. Japan and the US have a security treaty that requires Washington to come to Tokyo's defence if it is attacked. The pact is part of a post-war settlement that left tens of thousands of American troops and much advanced weaponry in Japan, sometimes euphemistically referred to as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier".

A decades-old row over the ownership of the Senkakus came to a head in September when Japan nationalised three of the islands. Since then, China has become increasingly active in the seas around them.

But the presence Friday in the islands' waters of four possibly-armed Chinese coastguard vessels could take the dispute up a notch.
Although Chinese government ships have been in and out of the waters for many months, this is the first time they have ventured there since Beijing combined several agencies under the coastguard flag this week. The official Xinhua news agency said the vessels had "patrolled the country's territorial waters". Chinese media reported that the unified coastguard agency integrated marine surveillance, the existing coastguard -- which came under the police -- fisheries law enforcement and customs' anti-smuggling maritime police.

Chinese academics were reported as saying that the move would mean more armed ships in the region, while Arthur Ding, a Taipei-based researcher at the National Chengchi University, told AFP China's patrols were likely to become "more frequent and more forceful". "As it is named the coastguard, (its ships) are likely to be authorised to carry light weapons so that they can enforce the law," he said. Observers warn that the Senkakus are a potential flashpoint that could even lead to armed conflict.

They say the presence of a large number of official vessels, some of them armed, increases the likelihood of a confrontation since a minor slip could quickly escalate.
In one of the most serious incidents of the row so far, Japan said a Chinese battleship locked its weapons-targeting radar on one of its vessels. Beijing denied the charge, accusing Tokyo of hyping the "China threat". While Japan's coastguard is a civilian organisation, it is well equipped and well funded, and some officers aboard the vessels are believed to carry sidearms.

- AFP/nd

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