JAPAN should boost its military capability to counter missile attacks including the ability to strike at enemy bases, says a defence ministry report, though officials stress it will only be for self-defence.
The interim report released yesterday summarises discussions within the ministry since the start of this year. Its suggestions will be used to draft a new defence programme outline, due out by year-end.
It said Japan would need to step up its ability to respond to possible missile attacks in a comprehensive manner. In this context, the ability to strike at an enemy missile base would serve as a deterrent.
However, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said Japan was not looking to develop a first-strike policy. "In the case where Japan is being repeatedly attacked, we naturally have to consider attacking the enemy's strategic bases," he told reporters.
"But we are not thinking of a pre-emptive strike capability. That would require consultations with the United States. We would also need to get the understanding of neighbouring countries."
Underlying the report's call for beefing up Japan's military capability is the assessment that its security environment is deteriorating.
"Causes of instability, such as the rapid modernisation of China's military power and its increasing maritime activities, and also North Korea's missile and nuclear development, have become more serious," said the report. Because China has its own interpretation of laws, "there is a possibility of increased friction", it added.
China and Japan are locked in a feud over ownership of the Senkaku islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu. Angered by Japan's nationalisation of the islands last September, China has since been regularly sending patrol boats to the vicinity of the islands to stake its claim.
Chinese military jets have also regularly flown near the Senkakus, prompting Japan's Self-Defence Force (SDF) to scramble its planes. On Wednesday, for the first time, a Chinese jet en route to the Pacific Ocean entered international airspace between two Japanese islands in the south.
In the face of China's aggressive maritime expansion, the interim report also calls for the protection of Japan's numerous outlying islands by beefing up SDF's 660-strong amphibious unit to give it the capability to retake islands that are attacked.
To improve the transport of troops and equipment, both in times of military contingencies and national disasters, the ministry is also considering introducing Osprey hybrid transport planes, which are capable of vertical take-off and landing.
Furthermore, the report calls for increasing the SDF's surveillance capability so as to cover even remote islands by introducing high-altitude unmanned spy planes such as those used by the US.
However, it makes no mention of allowing the SDF to engage in collective self-defence, which would require a reinterpretation of Japan's pacifist Constitution, if not an actual revision.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to allow the SDF to go to the aid of Japan's security ally, the US, if the latter were attacked by a third party.
A separate government panel is looking into this.