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August 5, 2014 6:30 am
Japan took aim on Tuesday at what it called “profoundly dangerous” Chinese efforts to exert control of waters between the two countries, in its annual defence white paper.
The yearly defence review was the second published by the government of Shinzo Abe, the conservative prime minister, who is seeking to loosen constraints on the Japanese military that were imposed after the second world war.
The Abe government’s tough language on China, while not new, could frustrate Mr Abe’s efforts to meet Xi Jinping, China’s president, and to turn round one of the more bitter periods in Japan-China relations since the end of the war.
Mr Abe has indicated he would like to meet Mr Xi at a gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders in Beijing in November, in what would be the first summit between the two leaders since relations broke down over a group of disputed islands in 2012.
Yet the defence review reiterated the government’s view that the security environment surrounding Japan was becoming more “severe” and called for swift implementation of several controversial initiatives being pursued by Mr Abe.
These include expanding arms exports and allowing Japanese forces to fight in defence of allies in areas outside Japan, something previous administrations had deemed incompatible with the country’s anti-war constitution.
Last year’s Japanese defence white paper was issued before China’s declaration of the air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over much of the East China Sea, including the disputed islands. That move, last November, inflamed Asian maritime tensions.
Japan then accused China of using force in a “risky” effort to change maritime boundaries, a reference to stepped-up surveillance by Chinese ships and aircraft of Japanese-claimed waters around the islands, called the Senkaku by Japan, which administers them, and the Diaoyu by China.
That prompted an angry rebuke from Beijing, which accused Japan of making intentionally provocative “unfounded accusations”.
China has clashed with other neighbouring countries over maritime territory, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
In its latest white paper, Japan said of the ADIZ that it was “deeply concerned about such measures, which are profoundly dangerous acts that unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea, escalating the situation, and that may cause unintended consequences”.
Since taking office at the end of 2012, Mr Abe has increased Japan’s defence spending for the first time in a decade – albeit by less than 1 per cent, a small rise compared with the rapid expansion of China’s capabilities in recent years – and lifted a decades’ long ban on exporting weapons and their components.
The ban was seen as an impediment to Japan’s participation in multinational projects to develop expensive advanced weaponry, which the white paper praised as the “primary means within the international community for responding to soaring costs, yet achieving higher performance”.
Last month Mr Abe announced that his government would change its interpretation of the constitution in order to allow for so-called collective self-defence, a departure from decades of precedent that surveys suggest is opposed by a majority of Japanese. The white paper reiterated the government’s intention to update legislation governing the deployment of the self-defence forces, as the Japanese military is known, within a year to reflect the change.
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