Japan decided Wednesday to provide equipment to the armed forces of "like-minded" countries that share its values, such as the rule of law, to improve their defense capabilities to deal with regional security threats, including China's military buildup in the Indo-Pacific.

The four Asia-Pacific nations of Malaysia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Fiji have been designated as recipients of the new grant assistance, designed to "create a favorable security environment" for Japan, according to the government.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the measures will help deter unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, in an apparent warning to China about its maritime assertiveness in regional waters.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno holds a press conference in Tokyo on April 5, 2023. (Kyodo)

In addition to beefing up Japan's defense capabilities, it is "essential" to enhance the deterrence capabilities of like-minded countries to "secure international peace and stability," the top government spokesman told a press conference.

The new framework, called official security assistance, or OSA, was created based on objectives set out in the National Security Strategy -- Japan's long-term policy guidelines updated by the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in December last year.

Under the OSA, Japan will support developing nations in areas not covered by its official development assistance, or ODA, which is limited to nonmilitary objectives.

The details of the assistance to the four countries are likely to be fixed in a few months, government officials told reporters, while not ruling out the possibility of aiding Ukraine, invaded by Russia since February 2022.

The program targets maritime and aerial surveillance, disaster response and other forms of humanitarian assistance, as well as activities related to U.N. peacekeeping operations, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

Tokyo is set to offer support under the OSA within the limits of Japan's three principles on transferring defense equipment and technology, which sets out strict conditions for arms exports.

Kishida's government has earmarked 2 billion yen ($15 million) in its fiscal 2023 budget through March next year to finance the OSA.

In a related move, the Foreign Ministry revealed a draft of its revised policy outline on nonmilitary development aid, pledging to introduce an "offer-based" approach so Japan can proactively design and propose assistance steps.

Japan's traditional concept of development assistance has been a "request-based" approach, which means that aid is implemented depending on the needs of recipient nations.

In the wake of the first update of the policy outline on development cooperation since 2015, Japan will utilize ODA as its "most important diplomatic tool" in a "more strategic and effective" manner, the draft said.

The draft, meanwhile, set a target of increasing the ODA budget to 0.7 percent of gross national income from the current 0.34 percent in the future and referred to the necessity of ensuring debt sustainability for the first time.

The description comes amid concerns over China's alleged economic coercion and "debt-trap" diplomacy, slammed by critics for using liabilities as leverage to gain concessions from borrowing countries.

The draft also promised to support recipient governments in developing the legal system to establish "the rule of law" and to "pay full attention" to how they will map out policies to fight against climate change.

Kishida's Cabinet is expected to approve the revision of the policy outline next month after hearing public comments through May 4.

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