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Japan’s military, one of the strongest in the world, is looking to build

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Dozens of tanks and hundreds of soldiers fired explosives and machine guns during Monday’s drills on the northern Japanese island Hokkaido a major stronghold of a nation that is perhaps the least known military power in the world.

Just crossed the sea from the opponent Russia Japan has publicly disclosed the Self-Defense Forces’ modestly named exercises to the media in a public display of firepower coinciding with the recent escalation of the Chinese people and Russian troops moving around Japanese territory.

The exercise, which foreign journalists rarely get a chance to witness, will continue for nine days and involve about 1,300 Ground Self-Defense Forces troops. On Monday, as hundreds of soldiers cheered from the sidelines and waved unit flags, volleys of tanks fired at targets representing enemy missiles or armored vehicles.

The exercises shed light on a compelling, easy-to-miss point. Japan, despite having an officially pacifist constitution written down when memories of its World War II uprising are still fresh – and painful – boast a military that makes all but a few should be ashamed.

And, with a host of threats lurking in Northeast Asia, its hawkish leaders want more.

It is not an easy sale. In a country still criticized by many of its neighbors for its past military actions, and where domestic pacifism is on the rise, any military build-up is controversial.

Japan has focused on its defense and is careful to avoid using the word “military” for its military. But as it appears to protect its territorial and military interests against an assertive China, North Korea, and Russia, officials in Tokyo is pushing people to put aside popular insecurity to secure a stronger role for the military and support increased defense spending.

As it stands today, tens of billions of dollars a year have built up an arsenal of nearly 1,000 fighters and dozens of destroyers and submarines. Japan’s forces were on par with Britain’s and France’s, and showed no sign of slowing down in their pursuit of the best equipment and weapons money could buy.

Not everyone agrees with this buildup. Critics, both in Japan’s neighbors and at home, urge Tokyo to learn from its past and back down from military expansion.

There is also domestic vigilance towards nuclear weapons. Japan, the only country whose atomic bombs were dropped during war, does not have a nuclear deterrent, unlike other leading global militaries, and depends on its so-called nuclear umbrella. America.

However, proponents of the new military mechanism say the expansion is timely and crucial for Japan’s alliance with Washington.

China and Russia have stepped up military cooperation in recent years to counter growing US-led regional partnerships.

In October, a fleet of five Chinese and Russian warships circled Japan as they sailed across the Pacific to the East China Sea. Last month, their fighters flew together near Japanese airspace, causing Japanese fighters to scramble. During the fiscal year 2020 to March, Japanese fighters fought more than 700 times – two thirds against Chinese fighters, the rest was mainly against the Russians – Ministry of Foreign Affairs room said.

The Russian military also recently deployed the Bastion coastal defense missile system near disputed islands off the northern coast of Hokkaido.

Japan was disarmed after its defeat in World War II. But a month after the Korean War began in 1950, American occupation forces in Japan formed a 75,000-member lightly armed army known as the National Reserve Police Force. . The Self-Defense Forces, the country’s current army, was established in 1954.

Today, Japan is ranked fifth globally in overall military strength after the United States, Russia, China and India, and its defense budget ranks sixth in a ranking of 140 countries. 2021 as assessed by the Global Firepower website.

During the more than eight-year rule of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which ended a year ago, Japan has significantly expanded its military role and budget. Abe also downgraded Article 9 of the 2015 war renunciation constitution, which allows Japan to stand up for the United States and other partner nations.

Japan has rapidly beefed up its military role in its alliance with Washington, while purchasing many expensive US weapons and equipment, including fighter jets and interceptor missiles.

Defense expert Heigo Sato, a professor at the Institute for World Studies at Takushoku University in Tokyo, said: “Japan faces different risks from different perspectives.

Among those risks are North Korea’s increased readiness to test high-powered missiles and other weapons, provocations by armed Chinese fishing boats and coast guard ships, and Russia’s missile deployment and naval forces.

One of the North Korean missiles flew over Hokkaido, landing in the Pacific Ocean in 2017. In September, another missile fell within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone off the coast of northwestern Japan.

Under the bilateral security treaty, Japan hosts approximately 50,000 US troops, mainly south of Okinawa, along with Japanese units in Hokkaido, strategically important to the US presence in the region. Pacific.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in October, said during the first military parade that he would consider “all options”, including possibly pursuing pre-emptive strike capabilities. to “strengthen Japan’s defense power” – a divisive issue that opponents say is unconstitutional.

Japan has more than 900 combat aircraft, 48 destroyers, including 8 Aegis anti-missile systems and 20 submarines. This number far exceeds the UK, Germany and Italy. Japan is also purchasing 147 F-35s, including 42 F-35Bs, making it the largest user of US stealth fighters outside the US, where 353 will be deployed. .

Among Japan’s biggest worries is China’s increased naval activity, including an aircraft carrier that has been spotted several times off Japan’s southern coasts.

Japan typically maintains a defense budget cap at 1% of GDP, although in recent years it has faced calls from Washington to spend more.

Kishida said he was willing to double the limit to the NATO standard of 2%.

As a first step, his Cabinet recently approved an additional budget of 770 billion yen ($6.8 billion) for the fiscal year to accelerate missile defense and reconnaissance around territorial waters and airspace. Japan, while enhancing mobility and emergency response capabilities to defend the distant East China Sea. Sea Island. That would bring total defense spending in 2021 to 6.1 trillion yen ($53.2 billion), up 15 percent year-on-year and 1.09% of Japan’s GDP.

Experts say the increased defense budget is the price Japan has to pay now to make up the shortfall for much of the post-war period, when it prioritized economic growth over national security.

As China is flexing its muscles in the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan has emerged as a focal point in the region, with Japan, the United States and other democracies developing close ties. closer to the self-governing island that Beijing considers treasonous territory to be reunified by force if necessary.

China’s construction of military facilities in the South China Sea has added to Tokyo’s concerns in the East China Sea, where the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands are also claimed by Beijing, calling them the Diaoyu. China has sent a flotilla of armed coast guard vessels that regularly circle around it and in and out of waters claimed by Japan, sometimes chasing Japanese fishing boats in the area.

Japan has deployed the PAC3 surface-to-air missile interceptor system on its westernmost island of Yonaguni, just 110 kilometers (68 miles) east of Taiwan.

In part due to the relative decline in global influence of the United States, Japan has expanded military partnerships and joint exercises outside of its alliance with the United States, including with Australia, Canada, Britain, France and other countries. other European countries, as well as in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Asian countries. Japan also cooperates with NATO.

Despite the government’s argument that more is needed, there are domestic concerns about Japan’s rapid expansion of defense capabilities and expenditures.

Although defense policy needs to respond flexibly to changes in the national security environment, the skyrocketing defense budget may mislead neighboring countries into thinking that Japan is Japan, the Tokyo Shimbun reported. is becoming a military power and accelerating an arms race.” .

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/japan-hokkaido-tokyo-russia-chinese-b1970334.html Japan’s military, one of the strongest in the world, is looking to build

JACLYN DIAZ

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