After years of watching its international influence eroded by a slow moving economy, Japan is trying to raise its profile in a new way.
It is offering military aid for the first time in decades and displaying its own armed forces in an effort to build regional ties and shore up other countries' defenses to counter a rising China.
According to the New York Times, this year, Japan has crossed a little-noted threshold by providing its first military aid abroad since the end of World War II, by approving a two-million-dollar package for its military engineers to train troops in Cambodia and East Timor in disaster relief and skills like road building.
Japanese warships have not only conducted joint exercises with a growing number of military forces in the Pacific and Asia, but they have also begun making regular port visits to countries long fearful of a resurgence of Japan's military, the report said.
And after stepping up civilian aid programs to train and equip the coast guards of other nations, Japanese defense officials and analysts said that Japan could soon reach another milestone.
They said that Japan can begin sales in the region of military hardware like seaplanes, and perhaps eventually the stealthy diesel-powered submarines considered well suited to the shallow waters where China is making increasingly assertive territorial claims, the report said.
According to the report, taken together those steps, while modest, represent a significant shift for Japan, which had resisted repeated calls from the United States to become a true regional power for fear that doing so would move it too far from its postwar pacifism.
The driver for Japan's shifting national security strategy is its tense dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that is feeding Japanese anxiety that the country's relative decline - and the financial struggles of its traditional protector, the United States - are leaving Japan increasingly vulnerable, the report said.
"During the cold war, all Japan had to do was follow the U.S.," said Keiro Kitagami, a special adviser on security issues to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, adding: "With China, it's different. Japan has to take a stand on its own."
According to the report, Japan's moves do not mean it might transform its military, which serves a purely defensive role, into an offensive force anytime soon.
But it is also clear that attitudes in Japan are evolving as China continues its double-digit annual growth in military spending and asserts that it should be in charge of the islands that Japan claims, as well as vast swaths of the South China Sea that various Southeast Asian nations say are in their control, the report added. (ANI)