By Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO (Reuters) - A new Japanese party that hopes to become a force to contend with in a December 16 general election called for more defense spending on Thursday to protect national interests and cuts in corporate and income taxes to bolster the economy.
The Japan Restoration Party, which trails only the main opposition Liberal Democrats in a latest opinion poll, also wants to shrink the role of the central government while strengthening market competition and making it easier to revise Japan's pacifist constitution.
The party's platform calls for breaking a decades-old unofficial cap that limited defense spending to 1 percent of gross domestic product and boosting maritime surveillance. Such moves could further strain ties with China, already frayed by a feud over islands in the East China Sea.
Deputy party chief and popular Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto said exporting Japan's weapons technology would make Japan more secure.
"What Japan can do is (forming) alliances in economy and in technology. If Japanese weapons flow into various countries while Japan is keeping the core (technology), that would be strong security (for Japan)," Hashimoto told a news conference unveiling the party's platform.
Japan last year relaxed its self-imposed ban on military equipment exports, but shipments are still limited to strategic allies like the United States.
About 15 percent of voters surveyed by the Nikkei business daily plan to vote for the Japan Restoration Party, ahead of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) with 13 percent but behind the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) at 23 percent.
In a reference to Japan's territorial spat with China over rocky East China Sea islets controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing and Taipei, the party urged China to take the matter to the International Court of Justice.
Sino-Japanese relations took a tumble in September when the Japanese government bought the disputed islets from a private Japanese owner, triggering violent protests and daily visits of Chinese government ships near the waters around the islands.
LDP chief Shinzo Abe said on Thursday retired Japanese navy vessels should be converted into coast guard ships to strengthen vigilance against Chinese ships in the area, according to Kyodo news agency.
Echoing LDP pledges of aggressive monetary easing to fight deflation, the Restoration Party wants to revise a law governing the Bank of Japan - a move critics worry would diminish central bank independence.
"Specific monetary steps should be handled by specialists. What elected officials ought to do is look into what's preventing the government and the Bank of Japan from working together well," Hashimoto said.
"There is just too much independence on the side of the Bank of Japan because of the Bank of Japan law."
The party's campaign pledges also called for cuts in corporate tax and income tax to boost Japanese companies' international competitiveness and drive private consumption, but provided no further details.
The party, which had dropped its anti-nuclear stance after founder Hashimoto decided to merge with a tiny pro-nuclear party led by the former governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, promised to phase out existing reactors by the 2030s.
"I personally have not given up on a 'zero nuclear by the 2030s' target. But there are no policy options to choose from," Hashimoto said.
"If what people are looking for is just words like 'zero nuclear in 10 years', I would say anything."
Public opposition to nuclear power in Japan has grown since the Fukushima radiation crisis last year, the world's worst in a quarter century.
(Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Linda Sieg and Raju Gopalakrishnan)