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Japan panel urges strong military amid China rise

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MARI YAMAGUCHI | December 11, 2013 12:03 AM EST | AP

TOKYO (AP) — Japan on Wednesday released a near-final draft of its first national security strategy that calls for a stronger military amid the rise of China.

A panel appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued the draft, saying changes in America's relative influence make it necessary for Japan to expand its alliances with other countries while also strengthening its long-standing ties with the U.S.

It raises concern about China's rapid military expansion with little transparency, as well as North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities.

In order to secure national security under such environment, Japan should "strengthen its own capability and expand its role," according to a copy of the draft summary. The presence of U.S. military in Japan under their bilateral security pact is "indispensable" as deterrence, and should be complemented with Tokyo's own effort to step up missile defense and other arms capability, the report said.

To defend Japan's territorial claims in areas disputed with China, the government should also step up maritime defense in southwestern Japan, the report said, citing Beijing's recent intrusion into airspace and Japanese waters around the contested East China Sea islands.

The report, called the National Security Strategy, also says Japan should ease its principles on banning arms exports as a way to step up its international peacekeeping cooperation.

"We have been working to rebuild our national security policy with a firm commitment to defend the people's lives and possessions," Abe said in his opening remark at the panel Wednesday. He said the first strategy report would be "a historic document" to serve the purpose.

The Cabinet is expected to approve the report next week along with Japan's overall defense guidelines. The strategy is part of Abe's efforts to strengthen Japan's national security.