TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan flagged as a potential risk a possible rise in China’s military’s role in shaping Beijing’s foreign policy in its latest defense white paper on Tuesday, and said North Korea remained a serious regional threat under its new leader.
Following are some facts about Japan’s military.
Japan has a standing military of about 225,000 personnel, about one-tenth of China’s and one-fifth of North Korea’s, but bigger than that of Britain.
Japan’s military is equipped with advanced and costly combat gear such as destroyers fitted with the Aegis ballistic missile defense system, which were deployed earlier this year in response to North Korea’s rocket launch.
Its latest procurement includes Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter jets, which cost 10.2 billion yen ($123 million) apiece.
But Japan’s military, known as Self-Defence Forces (SDF), is untested in battle, as the country has not engaged in armed conflict since its defeat in World War Two.
Japan, the only nation to have suffered nuclear attacks, has a self-imposed ban against owning nuclear weapons and relies on the nuclear umbrella of the United States, its close security ally. Operating under a pacifist constitution, the SDF does not own attack-oriented aircraft carriers or long-range bombers.
Japan’s defence budget fell for the 10th straight year to 4.65 trillion yen ($59 billion) for the current fiscal year ending in March 2013, reflecting the constraints of Japan’s huge public debt, which is the worst among industrialized nations at twice the size of its annual economic output.
In contrast, the defence budget of China nearly doubled to 650 billion yuan ($102 billion) over the past five years.
Article 9 of Japan’s 1947 Constitution renounces the right to wage war to resolve international disputes and bans the maintenance of a military.
But the article has been stretched not only to permit the maintenance of armed forces for self-defence, but to allow overseas military activities — including deployment in 2004 of troops on a non-combat mission to Iraq.
Conservative politicians want to change Japan’s gun-shy policies, a desire that has intensified due to concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and China’s emergence as a regional power.
Washington has also pressed Tokyo to take a bigger role in ensuring global security.
Japan last year eased its self-imposed ban on arms exports, in a step to create new markets for its defence contractors and facilitate cross-border cooperation in development of military equipment and technology.
Following a sweeping update of its national defence policy in 2010, Japan is bolstering its defence posture to its southwest, where it shares a maritime border with China.
China is rapidly building up its military might and increasing naval activities in Asian waters including the East China Sea, where Beijing and Tokyo have conflicting claims over uninhabited islets called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Tensions have heightened since Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said this month the government was considering buying the disputed islands from their private owners to prevent Tokyo’s conservative governor and a harsh critic of China proceed with a similar plan.
Japan is also wary of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, with its archipelago sitting within the range of Pyongyang’s medium-range Nodong missiles.
In April Japan and the United States agreed to shift 9,000 U.S. Marines from the Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam and other Asia-Pacific sites as part of Washington’s strategic rebalancing, or “pivot”, toward the region.
But in recent months the planned deployment by the Pentagon of the Osprey helicopter-plane hybrid on Okinawa stirred up strong local protests, in the latest snag in U.S.-Japan security ties.
The Osprey can fly faster and further than conventional helicopters, making it easier for U.S. forces to respond to contingencies in areas away from Okinawa, such as Senkaku, but crashes in Morocco and Florida this year fanned safety concerns. ($1 = 78.6300 Japanese yen) ($1 = 6.3807 Chinese yuan)
Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Linda Sieg; Editing by Jeremy Laurence