China's foreign ministry Thursday urged the Japanese leader to face up to history and win the trust of the international community with concrete action, in response to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to reject criticism of his right-wing image and advocate a revision to Japan's pacifist constitution.
Speaking in New York at an event hosted by the Hudson Institute, Abe Wednesday defended Japan's recent increase in defense spending and rejected criticism of his right-wing policy.
According to Japan's Kyodo News, Abe said the increase has not been as big as that of "an immediate neighbor," apparently alluding to China.
"So call me, if you want, a right-wing militarist," Abe said.
Responding to Abe's remarks, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said Thursday that China adheres to the path of peaceful development and a defensive national defense policy and Japan has no right to make irresponsible remarks on China's national defense.
For historical reasons, Japan's activity in military and security areas receives great attention from its Asian neighbors and the international community, Hong said, reminding the Japanese that their defense expenditure has maintained strong growth for many years in the post-war decades.
Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times that to compare China with Japan in terms of their military spending is meaningless. "China is a UN Security Council permanent member and takes an increasingly important international responsibility. China's territory and population is 25 times and 10 times that of Japan. The non-military tasks for the Chinese military, such as disaster relief, is much bigger," he noted.
In the New York speech, Abe also explained that lifting a self-imposed ban on Japan's right to exercise collective self-defense would make Japan a "proactive contributor to peace," though he is not considering a time frame over a possible reinterpretation of Japan's war-renouncing constitution.
"Japan should not be the weak link in the regional and global security framework where the US plays a leading role," Abe was quoted by Kyodo as saying.
Abe's comments came amid media reports that his administration will delay a plan to approve the exercising of Japan's right to collective self-defense until next spring or later.
Citing government sources, Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper said that Abe initially sought to change the interpretation of the constitution by the year-end at the earliest.
Analysts said Abe might want to take a long-term strategy in seeking the change of Japan's constitution, knowing that he is still faced with some opposition from the public and the ruling coalition.
"Abe sees the possibility of staying in power for a long time after his Liberal Democratic Party's win," Hu Lingyuan, a deputy director of the Center for Japanese Studies at Fudan University, said.
"So he might take constitutional change as a mid- to long-term target under his administration and not approach it hastily," Hu said.
"Abe knows that his priority at the moment is still to improve Japan's economy, which is strongly expected by the public. But the delay of the constitutional change plan does not mean he would give this up as he has long supported Japan's bigger security role," Yang Bojiang, a deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times, noting an advisory panel was established in 2007 after Abe was elected as prime minister for the first time.
Geng Yansheng, China's defense ministry spokesperson, Thursday expressed concerns over Japan's seeking of the right for collective self-defense, at a regular press briefing.
"What concerns Japan's neighbors and the international community is not only where the Japanese Self-Defense Force is going, but more importantly what it is going to do," Geng said in response to an earlier statement by a senior Japanese official that if given the right of collective self-defense, Japan could exercise the right in regions far away from its territory, perhaps even "the other hemisphere."
"Any Japanese moves in this hemisphere that deviate from peaceful development, challenge post-war order or are aimed at arms expansion and the showing of force are alarming, let alone their moves on the other hemisphere," Geng said.
"The right of collective self-defense means Japan's right of taking part in a war outside its territory. If Japan merely seeks to defend itself in case a conflict between Japan and another country breaks out in its own territory, it does not have to seek the right of collective self-defense," Qu said.
Liu Yunlong contributed to this story