TOKYO, (Reuters) – Japan unveiled a sweeping update of its national defence polices yesterday, prescribing a more flexible posture and refocusing its capabilities as it confronts China’s military buildup and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
The National Defence Programme Guideline approved by Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s cabinet stopped short of easing a ban on arms exports — a move opposed by a small pacifist party whose help Kan wants to pass bills in a divided parliament. But it left the door open to international joint development in the future.
Under the programme, Japan will allocate 23.49 trillion yen ($280 billion) for defence spending for the five years from next April, down 3 percent from a five-year spending cap to March 2010 due to constraints of a public debt twice the size of GDP.
The plan will bolster Japan’s defence posture to its southwest, where it shares a maritime border with China, by boosting the number of combat aircraft on the southern island of Okinawa and stationing troops on smaller islands.
The policy update is the first major revision in six years and the first under Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Democratic Party, which swept to power last year for the first time.
Japan’s military, which is bigger than Britain’s, has for years been pushing the limits of a post-World War Two pacifist constitution. But any signs Tokyo is further flexing its military muscle could upset Asian neighbours including China, where bitter memories of Japan’s wartime aggression run deep.