Japan has been sending contradictory messages about its biggest warship, the Izumo, this week.
On Monday, Japanese media revealed that Japan is considering refitting the helicopter carrier so that it can carry the United States' F-35B stealth fighters, with a senior Defense Ministry official quoted as saying, "if it is used for defense purposes, it will not fall under the category of an aircraft carrier with attack capabilities", something prohibited under Japan's so-called pacifist Constitution.
One day later, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera denied the reports, saying "no concrete examination" on the introduction of the F-35B or refitting the Izumo is underway.
However, Japan's intentions for its Self-Defense Forces can be gauged by the Cabinet approving a record defense budget for fiscal 2018, under which the country's defense spending will rise 1.3 percent to reach 5.2 trillion yen ( billion). As a result, Japan's military spending will grow for the sixth consecutive year starting April, having grown about 10 percent since Shinzo Abe became Japan's prime minister for the second time in 2012.
Since then, Japanese politicians and media have deliberately hyped up the so-called assertiveness of China and the missile threat from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to justify Japan's ever-growing defense spending and pursue their goal of revising Japan's Constitution so the country has a full-fledged military.
A spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday urged Japan to adhere to the policy of "exclusive defense" and stay committed to the path of peaceful development, saying China looked forward to seeing Japan act on its claim to be a force for peace with concrete policies and actions.
Without such policies and actions, Japan's growing defense budget will, for historical reasons, be viewed as a dangerous trend by its neighbors, and they will not be easily convinced that its growing defense spending is commensurate with its security needs.
It will be even harder for Japan to convince its neighbors that it is making efforts to become a "normal country" because what they have seen over the years suggests just the opposite, since Japan's right-leaning politicians have been alienating the country further from its neighbors by making it a disruptive force in the region.