Japan to Deploy Long-Range Missiles Capable of Hitting China in Major Shift in Defense Policy - Report

Japan is inching closer to a thorough overhaul of its long-entrenched 'pacifist' military policy in the backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions. A prominent Japanese newspaper reported on Sunday that Tokyo plans deploying cruise missiles with 1,000 km range to enhance its counterattack capability against China.

According to the Yomiuri newspaper, Japan would modify existing missiles to increase their reach substantially so as to achieve deterrence capability.

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Japan Self-Defence Forces' (SDF) troops march during the annual SDF troop review ceremony at Asaka Base in Asaka, near Tokyo October 27, 2013. Reuters

LDP's Election Win

Japan's gradual yet sustained shift away from the post-War pacifist constitution got a fillip last month when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) cruised to thumping victory in the elections to the parliament's upper chamber.

The elections were held two days after the country's most popular political leader, former prime minister Shinzo Abe, was assassinated during a campaign stump speech in the eastern city of Nara. Abe was at the forefront of a move to renounce the 'pacifist constitution' and had taken decisive steps to increase the nation's military strength.

The Yomiuri report says that the new weapons will be launched by ships or aircraft and they would be stationed around the southern Nansei islands. The missiles will have the reach to hit the coastal areas of North Korea and China, the Yomiuri said, according to Reuters.

Significant Shift

If Japan goes ahead with the reported move, it will mark a significant shift from post-War Japan's military policy. Tokyo has decided all along not to deploy long-range missiles that can hit targets on foreign soil. One of the outstanding features of the post-War constitution was that Japan would use its military only for defensive purposes.

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A group of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Reuters

However, the changing nature of the geopolitical dynamics is forcing a radical rethink at the top echelons of Japan's government. China's increasing aggression in the recent years and the dangerous turn the Taiwan crisis took this month in the wake of the visit of the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the self-ruled island Regional tensions ratcheted up this month after a visit by Nancy have clearly influenced Tokyo.

Impact of Abe's Death

With a clear majority in both houses of the parliament and no elections to face in the next three years, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to push forward the move the amend the constitution.

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Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (L) meets Chinese ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua in Tokyo, Japan Reuters

"We will deepen parliamentary debate over the Constitution further so a concrete amendment proposal can be compiled," Kishida said after the results came.

The assassination of Abe has also helped swing popular support for the policies he had held aloft. Abe was hugely unpopular in China, where his brand of nationalism was seen as a threat.