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Faced with threat from China, is Japan shredding its pacifist past?

The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo that links Japan to its military past (Photo: Xinhua/Liu Tian/IANS)

With the China threat looming large in the region, the Japanese ruling party Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) asked Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday to double the defence budget as well as develop counter strike abilities to disable enemy weapons.

In far reaching changes being sought in Japan's military strategy, MPs from the LDP have drafted a document that asks the government to develop "counter strike capabilities" to be able to disable enemy weapons. This is in contrast to merely intercepting enemy strikes which is the current reality.

Since last year the country has been debating its defence expenditure and military strategies in wake of the threat emanating from two belligerent neighbours—China and North Korea. While China has been flexing its military might against its neighbours in the South China Sea and elsewhere in Asia, North Korea has been continuously testing missiles including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

Responding to the proposal, Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said: "Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues. In a situation that can be said to be the greatest (current) crisis for the international community, we must drastically strengthen Japan's defence capabilities".

The Ukraine conflict has raised fears in the region that China too may be tempted to attack Taiwan, which might force Japan to intervene militarily. Accordingly, Japan has been making steady changes to adjust to the new geopolitical realities.

The LDP MPs have recommended that counter strikes should target not only enemy bases, but also their "command and control" functions. This could cover command centres responsible for ordering missile attacks, and would expand Japan's options for retaliating against mobile- and submarine-launched missiles, reports Nikkei Asia.

Looking at the Ukraine conflict, where Russian forces had launched limited attacks on nuclear facilities, the LDP has also suggested that the Japanese military forces, called Self-Defence Forces, be allowed to guard Japanese nuclear plants. Another recommendation to Prime Minister Kishida includes the building of underground shelters to protect citizens from a nuclear attack.

For the past many months Japan has been trying to work out a way so that the US-drafted post-War clauses in its constitution that limit the country's defence budget and its ability to undertake military actions can be changed given the alarming situation in the Indo-Pacific.