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Abe tells ministers to focus on security policy ahead of NSC launch


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday instructed his Cabinet ministers to take a united approach to security challenges, a day before Japan launches a U.S.-style National Security Council to redefine its defense posture in view of China's designation of a new air defense zone.

With its primary focus on diplomacy and defense, the NSC will likely discuss a set of defense agenda items that Tokyo is scheduled to approve by the year-end -- new defense program guidelines and a more overarching national security strategy.

Abe made the remarks during the last meeting of the Security Council, established in 1986. The NSC will take over the Security Council after its establishment on Wednesday.

"The NSC will take leadership in crafting both guidelines and strategy," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.

Abe has said the NSC will become a forum for dealing with issues related to the Senkaku Islands, North Korea's missile and nuclear development, and the posture of U.S. forces in Japan, as they are essential for the country's security policy.

The launch comes as China's recent announcement of an air defense identification zone over the Senkakus in the East China Sea raised concern about contingencies. The uninhabited islands, claimed by China as Diaoyu, are at the heart of bilateral tensions.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the Chinese air defense zone is "a matter of concern for the government as a whole," indicating that the NSC will analyze Beijing's move and intentions to decide how Tokyo will cooperate with other countries.

Japan and the United States have criticized China for its unilateral action to change the status quo in the East China Sea, and conducted regular flights of their military aircraft in defiance of the air defense zone.

Tokyo has advised Japanese airlines not to submit flight plans to Chinese authorities, while Washington issued a statement calling on U.S. airlines to notify China.

In Tuesday's press conference, Onodera stressed the launch of the NSC will enable relevant ministries and agencies to share and discuss information on a range of issues regularly.

The government is seeking local approval for landfill work to relocate the Futenma Air Station from a densely-populated area to an offshore area within Okinawa Prefecture, home to more than 70 percent of U.S. military bases in Japan.

The Diet enacted a law to create the NSC last week to give the prime minister's office more power in steering foreign and defense policies, and avoid sectionalism among ministries and agencies.

The prime minister, the chief Cabinet Secretary, and the foreign and defense ministers will meet regularly to discuss security issues under the NSC. The headquarters will be set up within the Cabinet Secretariat early next year.