Japan's ruling party announces an unprecedented defense spending commitment
Tokyo, Oct 13, An unprecedented election promise by Japan's ruling party to double defence spending highlights the nation' s urgency to acquire missiles, stealth fighters (STF), drones and other weapons to deter China' navy in the disputed East China Sea.
For the first time, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) stated in its policy plan that it will spend 2% of GDP - or about $100 billion if not more on the military ahead of a national election this month.
Given Japan's debt-stricken public finances and a pandemic-ravaged economy, experts don't believe new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will soon double spending. It is also a sign that the pacifist nation may, over time, abandon its commitment to keep military budgets within 1% of GDP - metric that for decades has eased concerns at home and abroad about any revival of the militarism that put Japan into World War Two.
"LDP conservative leaders want the party to give up," said Yoichiro Sato, an international relations professor at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, referring to the de facto spending cap, which he called "sacrosanct for Japanese liberals."
"They are setting the direction, that is what conservatives want to do," he added.
The United States has been pressing key allies to spend more on defence, urging them to increase spending to 2% of GDP, aligning Japan with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commitments.
The LDP's hawkish remarks come as Japanese public opinion shifts away from worries about rearming to growing concern about China' s assertiveness in Asia, particularly toward Taiwan.
In a survey of 1,696 people conducted by the Nikkei business newspaper at the end of last year, 86 percent of respondents said China posed ominous danger to Japan, more than the 82% who expressed concern about nuclear-armed North Korea.
Robert Ward, a London-based researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, added that "putting this in the manifesto is recognizing the need to gain public support for required defence policy changes." "The direction of travel has been determined."
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Japan's military strategy is centered on defending territory along the edge of the East China Sea, where Tokyo is embroiled in a dispute with Beijing over dozens of uninhabited islands.
The Okinawa chain, Taiwan, and islands stretching down through the Philippines form what military planners call the First Island Chain, a natural barrier to Chinese operations in the Western Pacific.
With an additional $50 billion a year, Japan could buy more American equipment, such as F-35 stealth fighters, Osprey tilt-rotor utility aircraft, and surveillance drones. It could also buy domestically made equipment such amphibious landing craft, compact warships (compact war ships), aircraft carriers, submarines and satellites to help fight stalemate.
"The Self Defence Force is well-trained and equipped, but its sustainability and resilience is one of the most pressing problems," former Maritime Self Defense Force admiral and fleet commander Yoji Koda told Reuters.
Japan's defence ministry also wants money for an indigenous stealth fighter and missiles capable of striking enemy ships and land bases more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) away. The country is also strengthening its cyber, space, and electromagnetic warfare capabilities.
"Japan wants to acquire very sophisticated capabilities in a variety of fields," Thomas Reich, the country manager for BAE Systems PLC (BAES.L), said in an interview on Tuesday. What's in the budget and where it'' is going are the things that really attract us.
Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) is Britain's biggest defence firm and part of the consortium that builds the F-35 fighter.
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Observers have been surprised by the pace at which once-dovish Kishida has aligned with conservatives' national security agenda. But he is pursuing policies pursued by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and supported by conservative lawmakers who helped him win the party leadership election last month.
Abe enacted security laws to allow Japanese troops to fight on foreign soil, ended a ban on military exports, and reinterpreted the country's war-renouncing constitution to permit missile strikes on enemy territory, following he took similar small steps.
For now, however, the LDP defence spending pledge doesn't specify how much money would be spent or when the 2% goal will be reached.
"The real question is whether Japan can absorb another $50 billion in a way that improves Japan's defence inmeasurable terms," said Chuck Jones, formerly of the defence industry, who is familiar with Japan' military policy. "The concern is that substantial sums will be wasted on programs and projects that are doomed to failure or irrelevance," added the minister.
The lack of detail gives the ruling party room to alter its course, according to analysts.
"There is opposition even within the LDP," said Tetsuo Kotani, a senior research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs. "We're going to have an election, and we'll see if the general public supports the LDP's proposal."