New Japanese defense plan emphasizes China threat

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2010

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.

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