By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2010; 9:01 PM
TOKYO - Revising a defense strategy shaped by the Cold War, Japan will soon release a new military plan designed to address China's increased threat, particularly in waters surrounding southern Japanese islands, according to media reports.
Several Japanese newspapers this weekend outlined the main points of the National Defense Program Guidelines, to be released this month.
The guidelines will deemphasize the concern about a Russian invasion from the north, instead calling for mobile units that could move quickly to any spot where there's a threat, particularly in the event of a North Korean attack or a naval clash with China around the southern Nansei Islands. The guidelines also call for Japan's Special Defense Forces to coordinate more closely with allies, including the United States, Australia and South Korea.
Japan's new strategy jibes with recent thinking in Washington, where officials have urged Japan to increase its military role in the region, even participating in coming military drills with the United States and South Korea.
Recent months have proved the numerous security threats in Japan's neighborhood. A bitter diplomatic row with China grew in September from a dispute over territory in the East China Sea. More recently, North Korea has unveiled a new uranium enrichment facility - a potential path of weapons-grade material - and shelled a South Korean island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians.
According to an account in the Asahi newspaper, a major Japanese daily, the new defense guidelines will term North Korea a "major factor for instability" in the region. Chinese military actions, meantime, will be described as a "concern" for the region and the world.
For more than a year, Japan has looked at possible revisions in its defense strategy, but the rethink was delayed by a change in Japan's ruling party. Only in recent months has the Democratic Party of Japan smoothed its relations with Washington, stepping away from demands to relocate a U.S. Marine base off Okinawa.
In the meantime, Washington has held a trilateral meeting with Japan and South Korea, addressing concerns about Pyongyang. When Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Seoul and Tokyo late last week, he asked for greater military cooperation between South Korea and Japan, which still have an uneasy relationship based on Japan's pre-World War II occupation of the Korean peninsula.
South Korea sent observers to participate in a recent U.S.-Japan joint military exercise - something Mullen described as a "terrific first step."
Even so, tighter cooperation between South Korea and Japan won't come without obstacles. Shortly after Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan last week proposed the idea of dispatching Special Defense Forces to Korea in the event of crisis, South Korean officials called the plan "unrealistic," according to a report from South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
As part of the new defense guidelines, Japan will increase its submarine fleet from 16 to 22 and add several fighter jets. It will also reduce its number of tanks by more than 200. Savings from that cutback, according to one media account, will be used for more personnel and equipment in the southernmost islands.