Japan's defence plans focus on China and islands dispute

Japan's defence plans focus on China and islands dispute
File photo of the city government of Tokyo's survey vessel sailing around a group of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea.

TOKYO - Japan will set up a new amphibious military unit and deploy unarmed surveillance drones in its southwest, where it faces a row with China over disputed islands, according to drafts of the nation's latest defence plans seen on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the defence policy review after returning to office last December, pledging to strengthen the military and boost Japan's global security role.

The new defence guideline and military build-up plan, to be approved by the government next week, follow China's declaration in November of a new air defence identification zone in an area that includes the disputed isles, triggering protests from Tokyo, as well as Washington and Seoul.

The drafts of the two plans were made available at a meeting of ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers and shown to reporters. Final versions of the defence guideline, which lays out Japan's defence policy for the next 10 years, and the build-up plan, called the mid-term defence programme and covering a five-year period, will be unveiled next Tuesday.

Citing Japan's concerns about what it calls Beijing's attempts to change the status quo with force, the guideline says Japan will "respond calmly and resolutely to the rapid expansion and step-up of China's maritime and air activities."

Underlining the tensions between the world's second and third-largest economies, China's Foreign Ministry said China was not a threat to any country and that it was watching Japan's moves. "China is closely watching Japan's security strategy and policy direction. Japan's unreasonable criticism of China's normal maritime activities and its hyping up of the China threat has hidden political motives," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.

Japan plans to set up an amphibious unit designed to take back the remote islands in case of invasion and boost the number of fighter jet squadrons at its Naha base on Japan's southern island of Okinawa to two from one to maintain air superiority.

One squadron usually consists of 20 fighter jets.

It also plans to procure unmanned surveillance planes and establish a unit of E-2C early warning aircraft at the Naha base, the draft of the build-up plan said.

E-2Cs, routinely used to keep watch in the area surrounding the disputed islands called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in china, are currently based in northern Japan's Misawa base.

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