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Japan Defense Report Stresses Peacekeeping, Regional Security


The Japanese government has released its annual defense report, underscoring a continuing transformation of its Self-Defense Forces into a modern, outward-looking military. As Yuriko Nagano reports from Tokyo, the white paper also stresses that Japan should play a bigger role in regional security.

The report sheds light on the role of the new Defense Ministry. It was upgraded from being an agency earlier this year as part of a push by the government to change the mission of the military.

The Japanese Self-Defense Forces are limited by the constitution to a strictly defensive posture, but the government wants its troops to play a larger role internationally.

Toshiyuki Shikata is a defense expert at Teikyo University and a former general. He says the old Defense Agency's main purpose was simply to manage the Self-Defense Forces whereas the new ministry is more involved in planning policies and strategies.

Shikata says another change is the new emphasis on international peacekeeping.

Shikata says going abroad for peacekeeping operations and other missions has become a major priority of the Self Defense Forces.

Overseas operations are controversial in Japan. Many government critics say they violate the constitutional ban on using force to solve conflicts overseas, but supporters of the mission say they reflect Japan's growing international role.

The report says Japan also intends to erect a missile defense shield as quickly as possible, following North Korea's test last year of a nuclear device and its development of long-range missiles.

At $39 billion, Japan's defense budget is little changed from last year and remains at just under one percent of the country's gross domestic product. Tokyo's spending on missile defense increased to $1.3 billion this year.

The defense report expresses concern about the lack of transparency in China's burgeoning military spending. It says Japan will strengthen its coordination with the United States and other countries to ensure regional security.

Analyst Shikata says Australia and India are becoming more important defense partners in the region as China grows in influence and power. He says this sort of relationship with other Asia-Pacific nations is new for Japan. Over the past 60 years, Japan has relied only on its military alliance with the United States.

The white paper also outlined the creation of the new Central Readiness Force. The force is a highly mobile, brigade-class group, positioned in Tokyo to respond to new threats such as terrorist attacks and large natural disasters.

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