Given a rapidly changing Asian security scenario wherein China and India loom large as future military powers, Japan has seen fit to take the first steps to carve out for itself a more active role in international defence. “Japan has preferred to play a low profile in post-war security, but this is changing steadily. Today, Japan is paving the way to becoming a respected power in Asia,’’ said Tosh-iyuki Shikata, a military analyst. Japan unveiled its new defence white paper this week in which the government has defined the role of its Self Defence Forces (SDF) as one that is better able to deal with new threats to national security such as ballistic missile attacks and terrorism. China’s increasing defence budget and modernisation of its military — increased 12.6 per cent from the previous fiscal year — was also closely outlined in the document titled ‘Defence of Japan 2005.’

“China is now watched as a military power in Asia, and yes, Japan’s new policy is to be able to have its SDF readily respond militarily if there is an attack from that country or any other,’’ explained Shikata. A chapter in the new policy report says Japan is now putting emphasis on a proactive approach to conflicts or acts that are closely linked to its own peace and security. Shikata points out that this policy is completely new. Japan’s defeat in World War II led the country to establish a post-war pacifist Constitution that stopped the country from maintaining its own military and relying heavily on the US-Japan Security Pact for its national security. But,

60 years on, a changing global structure has led Japan to raise its profile as a strong nation on the international stage, second to none of its emerging larger Asian neighbours, according to the Foreign Ministry.

As part of new steps in this direction, Japan is working hard to gain a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, amend its Constitution to allow military involvement overseas and conduct its own negotiations with Asian neighbours such as by making overtures to North Korea led by the conservative, PM Junichiro Koizumi. The latest US-Japan agreement has been described as “setting common strategic objectives to deal with new threats such as terrorism and rogue states,’’ provoking an angry response from China that sees the programme as a bid to contain its interests in the region. Yet, experts say the new defence policy is clearly defined.

Japan aspires to be a leader in Asia by expanding the role of the SDF and working closely with the US. Nobushige Takamizawa, director of the policy section at the Defence Agency, said the key is building multilateral cooperation with Asian countries in the field of arms control and SDF activists as well as gaining the trust of the Japanese public, as the country moves ahead with its new role in international security. Experts see this viewpoint as a sign of Japan’s strategy to create goodwill and gain support from the ASEAN. Japan already has strong economic ties with most of the countries of the ASEAN bloc which could come in handy as its defence aspirations grow. — IPS