When I visited the spanking new buildings of the Japanese defence ministry in Tokyo in March, it already seemed like another world from the run-down digs of the old Self-Defence Force that I had visited six years earlier.

You could feel the emergence of a new military power, pacifist still in name only. The message that came through loud and clear from talking to officials is that Japan is ready for a fight if necessary, and is convinced that it can sink or shoot down any force sent by China into Japan's waters and airspace -- whether to close in on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, or to ratchet up pressure against Okinawa.

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