Japan plans first aircraft carriers since World War II

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China has criticised Japan over its new defence plan, which includes getting its first aircraft carriers since World War II and buying dozens of fighter jets.

It calls for the defence ministry to upgrade two flat-top Izumo-class destroyers to enable them to launch fighters with short take-off and vertical landing abilities, like the F-35B stealth fighter. The conversion should be completed within five years.

China, the world's second biggest economy, is deploying more ships and aircraft to patrol waters near Japan, while North Korea has yet to fulfil a pledge to dismantle its nuclear and missile programmes.

China's Global Times newspaper, however, slammed the plan, accusing Japan of resorting to the "China threat theory as an excuse to do what it wants".

The step is a major shift to Japan's postwar naval defence, which has lacked aircraft carriers in part out of concerns that they may remind Japan's Asian neighbours of aggression by Japan's wartime Navy. "This policy needs to be immediately implemented given China's hegemony".

But much attention is being paid, however, to the proposed upgrades to the Izumo as its new-found offensive capability will go well beyond that of self-defense and despite a pacifist Constitution, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to amend by 2020.

"Due to historical reasons, neighbouring countries in Asia and the worldwide community have always been highly concerned about Japan's moves in military and security fields", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing.

UH-60J rescue helicopter Japan Air Self Defense Force Air Rescue Wing at Chitose Air Base located in Chitose Hokkaido prefecture
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He argues expanding Japan's military capability will make it a "normal country" and allow it to counter potential threats from North Korean rockets and China.

Defence officials have attempted to deflect criticism by describing the aircraft carriers as "multifunctional warships" that would only be used to defend the country from an attack. Japan plans to spend 235 billion yen ($2.8 billion) to buy a pair of land-fixed US missile defence systems, Aegis Ashore, as well as other American missile interceptors.

Tokyo's decision to increase its aircraft purchases came after Trump openly criticized a trade deficit between the two nations, and called on Japan to spend "massive amounts" on American defense products. The F-35B is apparently the only candidate to fulfil this role, and the hefty Japanese defense budget also includes buying 42 such fighters over the coming decade.

The new plan marks a significant upgrade to Japan's defence capabilities, as it seeks to form a "multi-dimensional joint defence force" to cope with an increasingly hostile security environment. Japan's USA arms purchases have surged, and the Defence Ministry came under criticism by the government's Board of Audit for agreeing too easily to Washington's hefty asking price.

US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose tariffs on Japanese vehicle imports, thanked Abe for buying the F-35s when the two met at a summit in Argentina this month. It was unclear whether the F-2 successor would be made-in-Japan or jointly developed.

The government also endorsed guidelines for a 10-year defense policy that puts renewed emphasis on cyber security as well as space defense.

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