Japan's Defense Ministry has called for a more offensive military posture, in response to regional security threats. But under the island nation's pacifist constitution, Tokyo is still officially barred from waging war.
In a report published on Friday, Japanese defense officials called on Tokyo to strengthen its ability to "deter and respond to missile attacks" and strike enemy bases, citing heightened tensions with China and North Korea.
"China's military trend includes high-handed actions that could trigger unforeseen situations, and has become [a] security concern to the region and international society including our country," the report said. "[The] national security environment surrounding our country is increasingly aggravating."
Japan and China are locked in a tense territorial dispute over an island chain in the East China Sea. The Senkaku Islands, called the Diaoyu in Chinese, are administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing as well. Japanese and Chinese naval and air forces have repeatedly faced off against each other in the disputed waters in recent months. So far, the confrontations have not led to violence.
Threat from North Korea
The defense report published on Friday also called for the creation of a marine force with amphibious capabilities to defend the disputed islands in the East China Sea. In addition, the report said Japan should acquire "the ability to deter and respond to missile attacks."
Japan has faced a torrent of threats from communist North Korea, an ally of China. Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear weapons test in February. In response, the United Nations imposed tightened sanctions. North Korea then threatened Japan, South Korea and the United States with nuclear attacks.
Both Seoul and Tokyo are thought to be within range of Pyongyang's missiles. The US West Coast, however, still remains out of the missiles' reach.
"It is necessary to consider whether we should have the option to strike an enemy's missile launch facilities," an unnamed defense ministry official told Reuters news agency. "But we are not at all thinking about initiating attacks on enemy bases when we are not under attack."
Under Article 9 of Japan's constitution, drafted after Tokyo's defeat in the Second World War, the island nation officially outlawed the use of military force as a way to pursue national interests. If interpreted literally, the article bans a standing army. But the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are in reality among Asia's most powerful militaries.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party won a decisive election victory over the weekend, has called for a review of Japan's military posture in response to heightened tensions in Northeast Asia. But the defense ministry has said that Japan's military will remain a defense force.
"There is no change at all to our basic policy of exclusively defensive security policy," Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters. "The issue of [the] capability to strike enemy targets surfaces as we discuss what kind of defense measures we can take when multiple attacks have been mounted against our country."
slk/kms (AP, Reuters)