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In what could amount to a tectonic shift in Japanese defence and security policy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who resigned last month for reasons of ill health, has set in motion policy changes that could open the way for Japan to strike land targets in China, according to press reports circulating in Tokyo last week.

To date the defensive stance of the Japanese Self-Defence Force has been oriented towards blunting attacks and defeating potential invaders on the sea and in the air. Allowing the military to contemplate and plan for striking land-based targets – which would necessitate procurement of the equipment so to do, such as cruise missiles – would mark the single most important shift in defence policy since the 1950s.

Observers in Tokyo attribute the potential policy shift to strengthening concern about China’s more assertive stance in Asia-Pacific and reflects Abe’s long-held conviction that Japan requires more robust military capabilities. It should be noted this is not yet policy – it will have to be adopted by the next government before doctrine can be altered and relevant planning begun.

Chinese initiatives such as the construction of potentially militarily useful infrastructure on Mischief Reef in the East China Sea lie behind Japanese concern and potentially radical policy changes. Note that the military aircraft images are artificial, placed for illustrative purposes. (Satellite image via Center for Strategic & International Studies)

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