Japan puts final touches to defence overhaul
Japan is putting the final touches to a sweeping overhaul of its defence policy that will give its armed forces a greater role globally and could upset Asian neighbours.
The review of the National Defence Programme Outline -- the first since 1995 -- and a related five-year defence programme are expected to be approved by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's cabinet next week, unless squabbling over details causes a delay.
Japanese defence chief Yoshinori Ohno told a news conference on Friday he was hoping for approval by the cabinet at its next meeting on Dec. 7.
The overhaul, which will include steps to improve defence against new threats such as terrorist and missile attacks, is likely to imply a shift away from Japan's purely defensive security policy.
Japan's postwar pacifist constitution renounces war and bans the maintenance of a standing army but has been interpreted as allowing a military for defence only. Such restrictions have been stretched in recent years, most recently with Japan's dispatch of troops to Iraq on a reconstruction and humanitarian mission.
The 2005-2009 defence plan includes starting research on a long-range, ground-to-ground missile, the Yomiuri newspaper said.
Such a precision-guided missile would be developed to counter possible invasions of remote islands several hundred kilometres away from mainland Japan, the Yomiuri said.
There are concerns that any deployment would mark a shift away from Japan's purely defensive strategy, it said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said further discussions were needed on the matter.
"I think it is an issue for consideration, but more discussion is needed on whether it is required imminently," Hosoda told reporters when asked about such strike capabilities.
In October, an advisory panel to the prime minister said Japan should consider whether to acquire the capability to carry out pre-emptive strikes, a sign of a possible departure from a purely defensive strategy.
Bickering between Japan's defence and finance ministries has delayed the unveiling of the new policy, media reports said.
Business daily Nihon Keizai said the ministries had finally agreed to cut the number of tanks to around 600 from 900.
But they were still at odds over a Finance Ministry proposal to reduce the number of ground troops to around 140,000 from the current 160,000, the newspaper said.