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Japan panel recommends defence policy changes

A Japanese government panel will recommend deploying more armed forces in coastal areas that have seen heavy Chinese naval traffic and relaxing rules on nuclear arms transfers, media reported on Tuesday.

world Updated: Jul 27, 2010 11:33 IST

A Japanese government panel will recommend deploying more armed forces in coastal areas that have seen heavy Chinese naval traffic and relaxing rules on nuclear arms transfers, media reported on Tuesday.

The expert panel argues that Japan's Cold War era defence guidelines have become outdated and that the pacifist nation must prepare for "contingencies" on the Korean Peninsula and in the Taiwan Strait, and small scale invasions.

The recommendations will be sent early next month to Prime Minister Naoto Kan before Japan revises its defence guidelines in December, the Yomiuri Shimbun and Asahi Shimbun dailies reported without disclosing their sources.

Japan, which has been officially pacifist since the end of World War II, has since relied on wartime victor the United States for defence and nuclear deterrence, with some 47,000 US troops now based in Japan.

Japan has also had a policy of not making, owning or allowing on its territory any nuclear weapons and has campaigned for their abolition, seeking to prevent more atomic attacks such as those on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

However, the panel recommends that Japan permit the transfer of nuclear arms through its territory something Japan has already secretly allowed US forces to do in the past, according to recently released documents.

The draft recommendations argue that the US "nuclear umbrella" to protect Japan is necessary and "does not necessarily contradict the goal of a total elimination of nuclear weapons", the Asahi said.

The panel, made up of defence experts, academics and former officials, also argues that Japan should be able to take military action to defend the United States without breaching its war renouncing constitution.

Both Washington and Tokyo have long pointed at the threat of North Korea, an isolated communist regime that has tested nuclear bombs and fired missiles across the Japanese archipelago and into the Pacific.

"From the viewpoint of strengthening the Japan US alliance, there should be political will to allow (Japanese forces) to attack missiles bound for the United States," the paper said, according to the Yomiuri.

Japan and the United States have also voiced concern about the military buildup of China and its development of a blue water fleet as it has asserted its claims to maritime areas disputed with its neighbours.

Earlier this year, Japanese warships followed Chinese naval flotillas, including submarines, that were sailing in international waters between southern Japanese islands an act perceived as provocative by Tokyo.

China responded to the surveillance by buzzing the Japanese ships with helicopters in close fly bys, sparking diplomatic protests from Japan.

The draft recommendation proposes that Japan's SelfDefence Forces no longer be evenly deployed throughout the country, but that more forces be shifted to southern islands near those Chinese naval routes, the reports said.

US Japanese ties have been strained for the past year by a dispute centred on an unpopular US airbase on the southern island of Okinawa, but Kan has pledged to iron out those differences.

Any sign of Japan taking a higher military profile would be certain to unnerve its Asian neighbours who fell victim to imperial Japan's aggression before and during World War II.