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Japan's defense plans focus on China and islands dispute

TOKYO - Japan will set up a new amphibious military unit and deploy unarmed surveillance drones in its southwest, where it faces a row with China over disputed islands, according to drafts of the nation's latest defense plans seen on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the defense policy review after returning to office last December, pledging to strengthen the military and boost Japan's global security role.

The new defense guideline and military build-up plan, to be approved by the government next week, follow China's declaration in November of a new air defense identification zone in an area that includes the disputed isles, triggering protests from Tokyo, as well as Washington and Seoul.

The drafts of the two plans were made available at a meeting of ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers and shown to reporters. Final versions of the defense guideline, which lays out Japan's defense policy for the next 10 years, and the build-up plan, called the mid-term defense program and covering a five-year period, will be unveiled next Tuesday.

Citing Japan's concerns about what it calls Beijing's attempts to change the status quo with force, the guideline says Japan will "respond calmly and resolutely to the rapid expansion and step-up of China's maritime and air activities."

Japan plans to set up an amphibious unit designed to take back the remote islands in case of invasion and boost the number of fighter jet squadrons at its Naha base on Japan's southern island of Okinawa to two from one to maintain air superiority.

One squadron usually consists of 20 fighter jets.

It also plans to procure unmanned surveillance planes and establish a unit of E-2C early warning aircraft at the Naha base, the draft of the build-up plan said.

E-2Cs, routinely used to keep watch in the area surrounding the disputed islands called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in china, are currently based in northern Japan's Misawa base.

MISSILE DEFENCE, LOVE OF COUNTRY

Japan will also bolster its overall capability to respond to missile attacks in the face of improvement in North Korea's ballistic missile technology, the guideline draft said.

But it stopped short of a call to acquire the capability to strike enemy targets - a controversial and costly step that would further stretch what Japan dubs its "purely defensive" defence posture allowed under decades-old interpretations of its post-World War Two pacifist constitution.

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 Thai PM pleads for end to protests 
In this Sunday, Aug. 18, file photo, Japanese Coast Guard boat and vessel sail alongside Japanese activists' fishing boat, not in photo, warning the activists away from a group of disputed islands called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan, early. Japan has released a near-final draft of its first national security strategy that calls for a stronger military amid the rise of China.

(AP)

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