With an eye on an increasingly tense territorial dispute with China and threats from North Korea, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet approved a plan that includes the purchase of additional Aegis-equipped anti-missile destroyers, submarines, fighter jets and other aircraft.
The new strategy entails a total of $240 billion in military spending over the next five years.
In contrast, China last March announced a 10.7 percent increase in its military budget, to $114 billion – for one year alone.
The Department of Defense says that from 2003 to 2012, China’s military budget grew by an average of 9.7 percent per year in inflation-adjusted terms.
Those figures apply only to its disclosed budget: The Pentagon believes China’s actual military spending is considerably higher than the amount it declares, estimating in 2012 for example that while Beijing announced a budget of $106.7 billion its real military-related expenditure that year fell somewhere between $135 billion and $215 billion.
In its most recent annual report to Congress on China’s military power, the Pentagon once again pointed to “poor accounting transparency” and the fact China’s announced budget does not include some major categories of expenditure, such as the procurement of foreign weapons.
In its new strategy, Japan raised this as a concern, saying that “China has been rapidly advancing its military capabilities in a wide range of areas through its continued increase in its military budget without sufficient transparency.”
In an assessment of the regional security situation, the document said China was trying to change the status quo in the South and East China Seas “by coercion,” in ways that were incompatible with international law.
It pointed in particular to China’s expanded activity in the seas and airspace around a chain of islands controlled by Japan since the late 19th century but claimed by China, and its declaration last month of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over a large area including the contested territory.
Looking beyond China, the document described North Korea as a “grave destabilizing factor” in the region, and said that its “nuclear and missile development, coupled with its provocative rhetoric and behavior, poses a serious and imminent threat to Japan’s security.”
The strategy, which incorporates a recently-established U.S.-style National Security Council, sees Tokyo move closer towards transforming its “Self-Defense Forces” into a fully-fledged military.
Abe and several of his conservative predecessors have long had a goal of shifting the country away from the pacifism enshrined in its post-World War II constitution and towards a more assertive regional security role. The new document calls it a policy of “proactive contribution to peace.”
Beijing criticized the plan, alluding to Imperial Japan’s expansionist aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
“Given all the negative moves taken by Japan on historical issues, Asian countries and the international community, including China, cannot but pay high attention and stay on high alert,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing.
“We urge the Japanese side to earnestly face up to and seriously reflect upon history, follow the trend of the times featuring peace, development and win-win cooperation, respect the just and reasonable security concerns of countries in this region and pursue the path of peaceful development.”
China’s official Xinhua news agency in a commentary scoffed at the “proactive contribution to peace” phrase, saying it was designed to “conceal Japan’s wild ambition of becoming a military power.”
The state-run China Daily published an editorial accusing Abe of “steering his country along a dangerous path.”
“[The new strategy] spells a radical break with Japan’s post-World War II tradition of keeping a distance from international conflicts and trying to build peace through nonmilitary means, which has earned Japan the trust of the international community,” it said. “Pacifism is one of postwar Japan’s central values many Japanese have accepted.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said Japan’s new strategy was a long-planned move, and not “anything that anybody should get particularly upset about.”
“Our belief is that with respect to the participation in the overall challenges of this region, Japan has an ability to play an increasingly more modern and engaged role,” he said during a visit to the Philippines.
“It seems to me that we’re only talking about constructive efforts within internationally accepted frameworks, and for peaceful and appropriate purposes.”
China’s conduct in the East and South China Seas, including the ADIZ, featured during Kerry’s visit to Manila and his previous stop in Vietnam.
China has territorial and maritime disputes with those two countries and several others in the region, and while U.S. policy is not to take sides in individual disputes, it has criticized Chinese actions seen as threatening freedom of navigation and the rule of law in international waters.
“The U.S. is hardly qualified to be a peacekeeper in the South China Sea,” an op-ed writer wrote in the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times on Wednesday. “In fact, it is more like a troublemaker.”