Japan plans marine force and drone fleet

Pacifist nation says new defence assets necessary to protect outlying islands as tensions simmer with China and N Korea.

The Japanese government has said it needs to create a US Marines-style force and a fleet of drone aircraft as it faces territorial threats from China and North Korea.

In a draft defence document published on Friday, the pacifist nation’s defence ministry said it was necessary to boost the strength and range of forces that could be used to protect Japan’s outlying territories.

“To deploy units quickly in response to a situation, it is important… to  have an amphibious function that is similar to US Marines,” it said.

The paper has been published as tensions continue to rise with China over the ownership of the Tokyo-administered Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyu islands.

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister, called on Friday for a leaders’ summit or a foreign ministers’ meeting between his country and China as soon as possible.

Citing the importance of relations between Asia’s two biggest economies, he said the talks should not have any

Japan’s interim report, which was approved by a high-level defence meeting on Friday, also advocates the introduction of a drone reconnaissance fleet that could be used to monitor distant islands.

‘No first strike

The paper also stressed “the need to boost a comprehensive capability of containment” as part of anti-ballistic missile measures against North Korea, but steered clear of any mention of “first strike”.

“We are not talking about pre-emptive attack. That’s not good,” a defence official said.

“We have this awareness that given changes in the security environment  surrounding Japan, we have to discuss whether it is enough for us to depend on US forces in terms of capability to attack enemy territory,” he told reporters.

Japan and the US have a security treaty stemming from the Second World War that binds Washington to coming to Tokyo’s defence if it is attacked.

Experts say North Korea, through the UN-banned tests of ballistic missile  technologies and nuclear weapons, has improved its offensive capabilities.

Island dispute

China has become increasingly active in the seas surrounding Japan.

The row over the ownership of the Senkaku Island, which began decades ago, erupted last September when Japan nationalised three of the islands.

It has taken another turn this week. 

China said on Friday that ships from its newly formed coast guard confronted Japanese patrol vessels in waters surrounding East China Sea islands claimed by both sides.

The State Oceanic Administration that oversees the service said that four of its ships “sternly declared” China’s sovereignty over the islands called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China, and demanded they leave the area. It was not clear if any action resulted from the Chinese declaration. 

Chinese coastguard vessels sailed through nearby waters for the first time on Wednesday.

Later in the day Tokyo scrambled fighters to shadow a Chinese reconnaissance aircraft that flew in international airspace in between two Okinawan islands.

It was the first time Beijing had sent a military plane through the gap and out to the Pacific Ocean, Tokyo officials said, adding they saw it as a sign of  “China’s ever-growing maritime advance”.

Abe’s administration decided to review the current long-term defence outline which was drafted by the now-opposition Democratic Party of Japan in 2010.

The hawkish premier this year boosted Japan’s defence budget for the first time in over a decade against the backdrop of growing concerns among many countries in the region about China.

Source: News Agencies