Japan warns of threats from China, North Korea

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TOKYO -- Japan sounded the alarm Tuesday on rising security threats in Northeast Asia, warning in a government report of a potential military confrontation with China over maritime disputes, as well as a North Korean weapons program that appeared intent on producing longer-range nuclear missiles.

Japan's annual defense paper, the first since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December, also raised concerns that budget cuts in the United States and a range of other distractions would hinder Washington's much-touted "pivot to Asia" -- a strategic reorienting of U.S. interests from Europe and the Middle East toward East Asia.

"In its defense strategic guidance, the U.S. presented policies emphasizing a rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region," the report drawn up by Japan's Defense Ministry said. "But how its harsh financial situation will impact efforts to translate these policies into reality attracts attention."

Mr. Abe, a conservative, has been keen to revamp Japan's military strategy to offset China's growing military power and the continuing instability on the Korean Peninsula. In January, he ordered his government to replace the nation's five-year military spending plan and to review guidelines adopted in 2010 by the left-leaning Democratic Party, which would have shrunk the Japanese military's ranks. Instead, Mr. Abe plans to increase Tokyo's military spending for the first time in a decade.

Mr. Abe also has sought to bolster military cooperation with the United States, including holding joint military training drills with Tokyo's longtime security ally. But Japan has struggled to hold U.S. attention. President Barack Obama last month skipped a meeting with Mr. Abe on the Group of Eight summit sidelines in Northern Ireland.

Even as Washington has remained distracted by other matters, the report warned, the security situation in Northeast Asia was turning increasingly volatile. Tokyo is particularly worried by what the report called Chinese intrusions into waters around islands claimed by both nations. Since last year, Japanese and Chinese patrol ships have been engaged in a tense face-off near the Senkaku islands, a set of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea that China calls the Diaoyus.

Although there have been no clashes so far, some experts have warned that an incident at sea could inadvertently trigger a wider military confrontation between the two Asian powers.

The report cited what it said were China's "intrusion into Japan's territorial waters, its violation of Japan's airspace and even dangerous actions that could cause a contingency situation, which are extremely regrettable. China should accept and stick to the international norms."

The Japanese government also has been rattled by renewed belligerence from North Korea, which fired off a long-range rocket in December and conducted its third nuclear test in February. Those moves suggest that North Korea is pushing ahead with plans to develop more advanced and longer-range missiles that could ultimately carry nuclear warheads.

world


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