Japan promotes China as bigger threat than North Korea

Vastavam web: China’s growing military might has replaced North Korean belligerence as the main security threat to Japan, Tokyo’s annual defence review indicated on Thursday, despite signs that Pyongyang could have nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. The document’s security assessment on China comes after a section on Japan’s ally, the United States, the first time Beijing has achieved second place in the Defence White Paper and pushing North Korea into third position.

“The reality is that China is rapidly increasing military spending, and so people can grasp that we need more pages,” Minister of Defence Taro Kono said at a media briefing. “China is deploying air and sea assets in the Western Pacific and through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan with greater frequency.” Japan has raised defence spending by a tenth over the past seven years to counter military advances by Beijing and Pyongyang, including defences against North Korean missiles which may carry nuclear warheads, the paper said.

To stay ahead of China’s modernizing military, Japan is buying U.S.-made stealth fighters and other advanced weapons. In its latest budget request, Japan’s military asked for 115.6 billion yen ($1.1 billion) to buy nine Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters, including six short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variants to operate from converted helicopter carriers.

The stealth jets, U.S.-made interceptor missiles and other equipment are part of a proposed 1.2% increase in defence spending to a record 5.32 trillion yen in the year starting April 1. Once largely confined to operating close to the Chinese coast, Beijing now routinely sends its air and sea patrols near Japan’s western Okinawa islands and into the Western Pacific.

China has frequently rebuffed concerns about its military spending and intentions, including a ramped-up presence in the disputed South China Sea, and says it only desires peaceful development. The Defence White Paper said Chinese patrols in waters and skies near Japanese territory are “a national security concern”.

The paper downgraded fellow U.S. ally, South Korea, which recently pulled out of an intelligence sharing pact with Japan amid a spat over their shared wartime history. That could weaken efforts to contain North Korean threats, analysts said.