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Amid Talk of Regionalism, Japan Expands Naval Power

Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009

When, upon being elected, Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama spoke of building fraternal seas and constructing a European Union-styled East Asian Community, critics denounced him as a naive peacenik. But Hatoyama's low-profile Nov. 23 decision to commission a new DDH-22 helicopter destroyer -- Japan's largest military vessel since World War II -- suggests he is actually striking a shrewd balance between promoting regionalism and protecting Japan's regional and global interests through robust naval capabilities.

The DDH-22 is officially designated as a "helicopter-carrying destroyer" by Japan's Maritime Self Defense Forces (MSDF). But with its flush flight deck and large, starboard-side island structure, it looks a lot like a "light" aircraft carrier. While Japanese law states that carriers "exceed the war potential needed for a minimal level of self-defense" permitted by Japan's pacifistic post-war constitution, the MSDF has craved such capabilities since the 1960s, and Tokyo has long been inching closer and closer to this goal. Hatoyama's decision to commission the DDH-22 culminates a request first made when the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was in power, suggesting that a bipartisan consensus exists for the expansion of Japan's naval power. ...

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