JAPAN - Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said Friday that the Self-Defence Forces will focus more on protecting remote islands to cope with the dramatically changing security environment, through such measures as establishing an amphibious unit able to rapidly deploy to the nation's about 6,800 islands in case of emergency.
"Japan has the world's sixth-largest exclusive economic zone as a result of its 6,800 islands," Onodera said at a lecture meeting of the Yomiuri International Economic Society in Tokyo.
"It would be best to permanently deploy Ground Self-Defence Force troops to all these islands, but that's difficult. So we need to establish an amphibious unit that could be deployed rapidly in case of emergency," he said, adding that the Defence Ministry has already begun work to establish such a unit.
At the meeting, Onodera described the ministry's ongoing revision of the National Defence Program Guidelines, which is scheduled to finish by the end of the year. The guidelines, which establish the nation's defence policy, are revised every 10 years, but the government is now revising the version drawn up by a Democratic Party of Japan-led administration in 2010. The establishment of the amphibious unit is part of that process.
Onodera said the revision was prompted by the rapid change in the nation's security environment in recent years. This included "a neighbouring nation's modernization and increase in military power, both in quantity and quality," Onodera said in an apparent reference to China.
Japan-China tensions remain high as Chinese vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese waters off the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture after Japan brought three of the islands under state control last year.
Onodera also referred to North Korea's threatening behaviour as another reason for the revision. He said Japan has the right to attack a foreign military base if Japan is subjected to continuous, intensive military attacks on a level that cannot be defended under its Ballistic Missile Defence System.
Onodera said foreign missiles would be shot down by interceptors under Japan's BMD system, but if Japan were subjected to intense, continuing missile attacks from a certain base, Japan has the right to attack that base in self-defence. However, the actual counterattack would be conducted by US forces, Onodera said, adding that Japan itself will not have the capability to conduct attacks.