The Japanese military could expand its role and missions around the world under new U.S.-Japan defense guidelines that are expected to be released on Monday and may cause unease in China.
A centerpiece of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s U.S. visit this week, the guidelines are part of Abe's wider signal that Japan is ready to take more responsibility for its security as China modernizes its military and flexes its muscles in Asia.
The conservative Japanese leader, who is scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday, will likely want fresh assurances that America will come to Japan's aid if necessary in a clash with China, Japanese politicians and experts said.
The first update of the U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines since 1997, the revisions will reflect the biggest change in Japanese security policy in decades.
The current guidelines focus on the defense of Japan and on "situations in areas surrounding Japan" -- widely interpreted as a possible conflict on the Korean Peninsula -- where Japan's military is relegated to giving U.S. forces "rear-area support."
The new guidelines are likely to expand the geographic scope of cooperation and to include areas such as cybersecurity and counter-terrorism, according to a recent article by Adam Liff, a fellow at the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program.
They are expected to be unveiled when Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter see Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani in New York on Monday as a week of choreographed diplomacy unfolds.
Abe meets Obama at the White House on Tuesday and will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, the first Japanese leader to do so.
His speech coincides with pressure from critics to ease concerns that he wants to whitewash Japan's wartime past, at the same time his conservative domestic allies feel that after 70 years of peaceful policies, fresh apologies are unneeded.
A Japanese official said that during his U.S. visit Abe would reaffirm Tokyo's commitment to peace and to past government expressions of remorse and apology over the war.
Despite U.S. assurances of its military commitment, worries persist in Tokyo that one day Washington, which is reining in its defense spending and is deeply intertwined economically with China, may not come to Japan's defense, for example in a clash with Beijing over disputed islets in the East China Sea.
Known as the Senkaku in Japan and as the Diaoyu in China, the tiny islands are administered by Japan.