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Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010

GSDF ranks to be pared by 1,000 regulars

Kyodo News

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda agreed Sunday on a plan to reduce the Ground Self-Defense Force's ranks to 154,000 from the current 155,000, government sources said.

The new figure will be included in the appendix of the new defense program outline set to be approved by the Cabinet by month's end, the sources said.

Kitazawa and Noda also agreed that, of that total, the GSDF will have 147,000 regulars, down 1,000 from the current level, and 7,000 reserves, which is the current level, sources said.

The government is set to place more emphasis on the defense of Japan's southwestern islands, increasing the number of ground troops stationed in the Nansei Islands, a chain stretching from southern Kagoshima Prefecture to Okinawa near Taiwan, by up to 2,000 members with the aim of doubling troop strength in the region.

The move is expected to lead to reduced troop levels in Hokkaido.

The government already plans to state in the new defense outline that it will reinforce the presence of the Air Self-Defense Force and the Maritime Self-Defense Force in the Nansei Islands.

With the anticipated participation of more GSDF troops in the area, Japan hopes to keep tabs on China, which has continued to increase naval activities in waters surrounding Japan, the sources said.

Japan is considering placing troops to the west of Okinawa's Miyako Island, an area the Defense Ministry describes as a "defense vacuum" as no SDF units are permanently deployed there, they said.

Candidate sites for the deployment are Ishigaki Island, which administers the uninhabited Senkaku Islands claimed by China, and Yonaguni Island, which is close to Taiwan, they said.

The government will reduce troop numbers in Hokkaido, where units were stationed to deal with a possible Soviet invasion during the Cold War, as a senior Defense Ministry official said it is difficult to justify this scenario at present.

The GSDF force strength was 160,000 in the defense program outline compiled in 1996, including 145,000 regulars and 15,000 reserves. In the current outline compiled in 2004, the force stands at 155,000, including 148,000 regulars and 7,000 reserves.

The Ground Staff Office initially requested 168,000 members under the new outline, but the figure has been adjusted downward due to calls from within the government and ruling parties for a smaller figure.

No Korea dispatches

The government is not exploring the possibility of dispatching the Self-Defense Forces to the Korean Peninsula to rescue Japanese nationals in case of a crisis, the top government spokesman said Monday, retracting remarks Prime Minister Naoto Kan made last week.

"There is absolutely no such plan. Therefore there are no talks (with South Korea)," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said at a news conference.

During a meeting Friday with relatives of Japanese abducted by North Korea, Kan said the government must consider creating a plan to rescue the abductees in the event of a crisis on the peninsula and may hold talks with South Korea to enable an SDF dispatch there in the future.

Sengoku said "it isn't that easy" to discuss a possible dispatch of the SDF with South Korea, given the peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

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