TOKYO - Japan on Tuesday approved a plan to increase defense spending by 5 percent over the next five years to purchase its first surveillance drones, more jet fighters and naval destroyers in the face of China's military expansion.
The revised five-year defense plan was adopted by the Cabinet along with a new national security strategy that reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive to raise the profile of Japan's military and have the country participate more in international diplomacy and security.
Experts say the strategy and defense plan is in line with ongoing global power shifts, but Japan's neighbors - and some Japanese citizens - worry the new strategies push the country away from its pacifist constitution adopted after World War II.
"Many people worry inside Japan and outside that maybe Abe hasn't really learned the lesson from the wartime history of Japan and that there's a danger that a greater role played by Japan actually means the rise of militarism in the long term," said Koichi Nakano, an international politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Yousuke Isozaki, a ruling party lawmaker who is a special adviser to Abe on security affairs, described the new strategy as progress toward Japan becoming a more "normal" country. He said that while Japan should preserve the principle of pacifism enshrined in its constitution, the country has been too biased in that direction.
"We are only trying to shift closer to a normal country, and we have no intention whatsoever to become a military power," Isozaki said. "Peace policy is Japan's most important value, and I think we should keep that. But parts that have been too restrictive should be modified so that Japan can make international contributions. But again, we are not thinking about matching what America and Britain are doing."
The previous five-year defense plan adopted in 2010 by the now-opposition Democratic Party of Japan cut military spending by 750 billion yen, or 3 percent.
The latest plans reflect a shift in Japan's defense priorities from its northern reaches to the East China Sea, where Tokyo and Beijing dispute each other's claim to some uninhabited islands.
They call for setting up an amphibious unit similar to the U.S. Marines to respond quickly to a possible foreign invasion of those islands. Japan will also deploy an early warning system, submarines and anti-missile defenses in the area.
From 2014-2019, Japan plans to buy three drones, as well as 28 F-35A fighters, 17 Osprey aircraft and five destroyers, including two with Aegis anti-ballistic-missile systems. The purchases will cost 24.7 trillion yen ($247 billion), up 5 percent from the previous plan.
Broader defense program guidelines also adopted Tuesday say Japan is "gravely concerned" about China's growing maritime and military presence in the East China Sea, and its lack of transparency and "high-handed" approach. Late last month, China said all aircraft entering a vast zone over the East China Seat must identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions.
While Japan's alliance with the U.S. remains the cornerstone of its defense, Japan also should seek increased security cooperation with South Korea, Australia, Southeast Asia and India, the guidelines say.
"Up until now, Japan focused too much on the Japan-U.S. security alliance," Isozaki said. "I don't think that alone is enough to protect the peace in this region."
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Japan's aggression in World War II raises questions about Tokyo's latest intentions. "We hope Japan will not just pay lip service to peace, but can make that a concrete reality and play a constructive role in preserving peace and stability in the region," she said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in Manila for talks with Philippine officials, said the guidelines reflect the "joint vision of Japan-U.S. cooperation in terms of security for the region and elsewhere." He said Japan is making greater humanitarian and peace efforts, and is capable of playing a "more modern and engaged role" in the region.
"This is not a sudden response to something or anything that anybody should get particularly upset about," Kerry said.
Narushige Michishita, a national security expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said the strategy and defense plans set the stage for Japan to come out of its postwar isolationism.
"Isolationism was very convenient and comfortable, but now China is rising rapidly and the U.S. commitment to Asia is not growing, so maybe we should be a little more proactive," said Michishita, who helped develop the previous defense guidelines in 2010.
Associated Press writers Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.