The head of Japan's Defense Agency is about to embark on a six-day trip to several Asian nations to explain the country's beefed-up defense policy. The visit is seen as an attempt to reassure the region Japan has no intention of returning to its militarist past.
Defense Agency Director-General Yoshinori Ohno will visit Indonesia, Singapore, and South Korea. On the eve of his departure, he told foreign correspondents he wants to see international peacekeeping become a primary, rather than subordinate, mission for Japan's military.
Mr. Ohno said Japan's defense orientation is being revised in light of potential instability in Northeast Asia - he specifically mentioned North Korea and the Taiwan Strait - and said he would be explaining this in the countries he visits.
"I have to report back to those countries about the newly compiled guidelines of the Japanese defense forces," he stated. "We'd like to discuss about the situation of security surrounding Asian countries."
Mr. Ohno defended a loosening of the law banning export of weapons. Such changes have been made to allow joint research on ballistic missile defense with the United States.
He says the law is so strict it even prevents Japan from selling helmets or bulletproof vests to other countries. Mr. Ohno said he would like to see the rule further relaxed to allow Japan to export old warships to Asian nations for the battle against terrorism and piracy.
He said that while Japan is keeping a careful eye on Chinese military activities, it does not consider the Asian neighbor a threat.
The Japanese government has recently protested incursions of suspected Chinese nuclear submarines and research vessels exploring for oil and gas in Japanese waters. Mr. Ohno also noted that China's defense budget is rising by about 10-percent a year. He said he would do his best to try to restart a defense dialogue between Tokyo and Beijing, noting that while economic relations between the two are "hot," overall bilateral ties are not in such good shape.
"As far the foreign relations are concerned, I am terribly sorry, it is very cold right now," said Mr. Ohno. "But we try our best to make these two relations very hot, not only warm, but very hot."
While Japan is cutting military spending one-percent in the upcoming fiscal year - the third straight year of declines - it is increasing funding for missile defense. Spending for that program, designed to counter an attack from North Korea or any other Asian nation, will increase 12-percent to more than $1 billion.