By Snigdha Kalra
The Japanese government has decided to convert the Izumo, a helicopter carrier warship of the Maritime Self Defense Force (Japanese Navy), into a carrier for fighter aircraft. Japan aims to use it to carry the F-35B fighters which it is buying from the United States. Japan is pursuing this policy—which is a reversal of its post Second World War policy of demilitarisation—in conjunction with the US to fight off threats from North Korea and China. This move is being opposed by China, which has warned Japan to “act prudently”.
Changing Japanese Defence Policy
After its defeat in 1946, Japan adopted a post-war constitution including Article 9, known as the ‘no war clause’, which declared war as a means of settling disputes to be illegal. Under this arrangement, Japan does not officially maintain armed forces. In practice, however, the country employs the Japan Self Defense Forces (SDF) in a military role. July 2014 saw a reinterpretation of Japanese law, giving more powers to the SDF in the case of threats to peace.
While previous Japanese administrations have aimed at keeping the Self Defense Forces true to their name, as a defence force, Japan is now pursuing a plan which directly involves arming it with ‘war potential’. The Abe government has also approved the purchase of various offensive weapons. However, defence officials have said that the systems put in place will only be used for defensive purposes.
One of these purchases was the Izumo, a 248-metre long destroyer ship with a large deck. It was added to the Maritime SDF in 2015. After being converted into an aircraft carrier, it may be able to carry as many as 10 F-35B jets, which are advanced stealth fighters. Japan’s National Defence Programme Guidelines will be revised in 2018 to accommodate these changes, and the expenses will be taken into account in the fiscal budget for 2019.
Trouble from the neighbours
The threats posed by North Korea and China are what has moved Japan to take such drastic steps away from its pacifist policy. In response to Prime Minister’s Shinzo Abe’s support for measures to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme, Kim Jong-un has threatened to attack Japan with its nuclear missiles. North Korea has also threatened to attack US military bases in Japan.
Moreover, China is pursuing rapid maritime expansion in the South China Sea, which includes military airstrips, warehouses and radar facilities as well as military platforms. These measures are already seen as a threat to the territorial claims of other nations. The new Japanese carriers will be used primarily to protect islands which are claimed by both China and Japan.
China has claimed that Japan’s rearmament is already unconstitutional under Article 9. Chinese spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “We urge Japan to do more that may help enhance mutual trust and promote regional peace and stability.” Japan’s militarization programme, however, is only going to be expanded, with support from the United States which is itself under pressure by nuclear threats from North Korea. With no side ready to pull back, it seems that the far east is heading into a period of rearmament.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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