Japan’s ruling party called for the nation to develop its own aircraft carrier and buy American F-35B fighter jets in response to what it described as aggressive Chinese actions.
Tuesday’s proposal from the Liberal Democratic Party’s defense panel, if adopted, would be the latest step by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to beef up defense of outlying islands, including those also claimed by Beijing. In the eyes of China and Mr. Abe’s opponents at home, it would also be a worrying further step away from the country’s postwar pacifism.
Japan already has four flat-top destroyers of the Izumo and Hyuga classes, which can accommodate helicopters. The panel didn’t specify the type of aircraft carrier it is recommending, but a ruling-party official said lawmakers are looking at whether to adapt those destroyers, built at a cost of $1 billion or more, to handle fighter jets.
The panel also recommended acquiring F-35B jets, which can take off and land vertically, making them suitable for shorter-deck carriers such as the Izumo and small islands without full-length runways. The U.S. has deployed its own F-35Bs at a U.S. base in Japan.
Echoing language used by Mr. Abe, the panel said Japan faces “the greatest crisis situation of the postwar era.” It cited Chinese “incursions” near East China Sea islands that are controlled by Japan and claimed by China. In recent years, China has sent progressively larger coast-guard ships, some of them armed, to circle the islands.
A ruling-party official said the final version of the recommendations would be released in late May. They are meant to influence the next five-year defense plan, which Mr. Abe’s government is set to issue by December.
A Defense Ministry spokeswoman said the government is studying new uses for the Izumo-class destroyers and examining the capabilities of F-35B aircraft, but hasn’t decided what to deploy.
Japan hasn’t had a full-fledged aircraft carrier since World War II. At the beginning of the war, it had one of the world’s most powerful aircraft-carrier forces, which enabled the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, but most of the fleet was sunk by the U.S. Navy.
As prime minister, Mr. Abe has sought to remove some of the shackles placed on Japan’s postwar military. Defense spending is set to rise 1.3% to a record $47 billion in the year starting April 1. That includes funds for new bases on southern islands as well as the country’s first cruise missiles and stronger ballistic-missile defenses.
China has said that because of “historical reasons,” Japan’s military policies “receive a high level of concern from Asian neighbors.” It has said Japan should “refrain from doing anything that would damage regional peace and stability.”
Under Mr. Abe, the defense budget has been growing since 2013. Japan, one of the U.S.’s most important allies, has trained a new amphibious troop unit and bought F-35A fighters, which take off conventionally. In the coming fiscal year, it plans to spend more than $800 million to buy six of the jets, completing the 28-jet purchase laid out in the current five-year defense plan.
During a visit to Tokyo in November, President Donald Trump called for Japan to buy “massive” amounts of military equipment from the U.S.
By: Wall Street Journal
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