Speculation is growing in security circles in Japan as to whether targets of a proposed "counterstrike capability" would include China's Central Military Commission, the highest decision-making organ of the country's armed forces led by President Xi Jinping.
The speculation came to light in a parliamentary meeting last week when the Defense Ministry did not answer directly a question from an opposition lawmaker seeking to know whether what has until recently been called "enemy base attack capability" targets would include China's CMC.
The meeting came after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on April 27 suggested Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government acquire counterstrike capability to attack enemy bases and "command and control functions."
The LDP has yet to clearly say what such functions entail but defense experts say the proposed capability could cover command centers issuing orders for missile attacks and would expand Japan's options for retaliating against mobile- and submarine-launched missiles.
In a meeting last Wednesday of the House of Representatives Committee of Foreign Affairs, Japanese Communist Party member Keiji Kokuta asked if the government envisages the CMC and the Five Theater Commands as among the targets of a counterstrike capability.
The five commands are in charge of defense of the eastern, southern, western, northern and central regions of China. The Eastern Theater Command, for example, oversees Taiwan, Japan and the East China Sea.
Masahisa Sato, director of the LDP Foreign Affairs Division, and other security experts say China has about 1,900 short- and medium-range missiles that can reach Japan.
Kokuta cited a document the Japanese Ground Staff Office used in an internal meeting in September 2017.
The document shows an organizational chart of the Chinese military and says there is a command system between the CMC and the Five Theater Commands.
Kokuta said the LDP proposal does not exclude the CMC and the five commands from possible targets, and asked, "Wouldn't this lead to a full-scale war with China?"
Makoto Oniki, deputy minister of defense, did not directly address the question and said, "Attacking the base of a guided missile would constitutionally fall under the scope of self-defense if (the government) perceives there were no other means (to defend Japan)."
Oniki said he is not in a position to comment on the LDP proposal, which also includes a call to double Japan's defense budget to 2 percent or more of gross domestic product over five years.
The LDP wants the proposal to be reflected when the government revises the National Security Strategy and other documents by the end of the year.
Speaking at Wednesday's meeting, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the government is considering adopting a counterstrike capability "without ruling out any possible option so as to fully prepare ourselves for safeguarding people's lives."
LDP lawmakers hope developing a counterstrike capability will serve as a deterrent against possible attacks on Japan, especially in light of China's assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region and North Korea's nuclear and missile development.
Critics, however, say such a measure would represent a major shift from Japan's exclusively self-defense-oriented security posture under its war-renouncing Constitution.