Article nine of Japan's constitution bans the country from engaging in armed conflict except for self defence. As a result, the Japanese have become bystanders as the world has suffered from a series of conflicts.

Japanese concerns

The Japanese government says it wants to more actively participate in UN operations around the world.

Due to its constitution it doesnt send armed soldiers to conflicts such as Iraq or Darfur in Africa. At present it has only 44 servicemen deployed in a total UN figure of 120,000.

Admiral Takashi Saito, chief of staff for Japan's ministry of defence, said: "It is important for us to participate in international peace operations, which brings about peace and stability around us, which in turn will bring about peace and stability in our own country."

Earlier this year Japan upgraded its defence agency to a ministry, which has led to speculation that the government may remove article nine and pave the way for Japan's military to more easily serve overseas.

Yoshioka Tatsuya, a peace activist in Tokyo, said: "If we abolish article number nine, a huge arms race will begin."

While Japan is acting to increase its military capacity, it is estimated that China is spending much more at around $100 billion a year.

Some analysts say that this is the real cause behind the development of Japan's military capabilities, despite its military alliance with the United States.

Hisahiko Okazaki, an analyst at the Okazaki Institute in Tokyo, said: "The US-Japan alliance has always been superior to the Chinese military capability ... But the Chinese build up is so rapid that maybe in the coming years we will have to review it and increase [it]."

"We may have to unless China stops," he said.

Historic visit

Cao, left, and Japan's 
Komura in Tokyo [EPA]
Cao Gangchuan, the Chinese defence minister, arrived in Japan on Wednesday, the first Chinese defence chief to visit Japan in nearly a decade. During his five-day visit, Cao met with Japanese leaders to discuss defence and other regional issues.

"We were able to deepen mutual understanding and strengthen friendship, and we also deepened understanding about defence co-operation," Cao said on Saturday as he visited Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto.

"My visit was of great importance to both China and Japan."

Cao's visit lifted a freeze in defence contacts between the two Asian neighbours, but Japan's concerns about China's military build up persisted.

On Friday, Masahiko Komura, the Japanese defence minister, said that Cao failed to address Japan's concerns over surging Chinese military spending and that Tokyo will keep pressing Beijing for more transparency.

Cao said Beijing was increasing transparency and that the growth in spending has largely gone to salaries, uniforms and modernisation of equipment.

Despite talk of a heightening arms race between Japan and China, the defence leaders of both countries have agreed to launch a working group to discuss setting up a telephone hot line between their armies and start reciprocal ports of call for the first time since World War II.