Japan PM to step up defence amid China, North Korea threats

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says security situation around Japan is changing fast and is more severe than ever.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaking at a lectern.
Kishida, who took office in October, served as top commander for the first time at Saturday's Self-Defense Force troop review [File: Eugene Hoshiko/Pool via Reuters]

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has renewed his pledge to consider “all options,” including acquiring enemy base strike capability to protect the country amid growing threats from China and North Korea.

Kishida said at his first troop review on Saturday that the security situation in the region is rapidly changing and that “the reality is severer than ever,” with North Korea continuing to test-fire ballistic missiles while advancing its capability, and China pursuing a military buildup and increasingly assertive activity in the region.

“I will consider all options, including possessing so-called enemy base strike capability, to pursue strengthening of defence power that is necessary,” Kishida said in an address to hundreds of Ground Self-Defense Force members in olive-coloured helmets and uniforms.

Kishida, who took office in October, served as top commander for the first time at Saturday’s Self-Defense Force troop review held at the main army base Camp Asaka, north of Tokyo. About 800 troops gathered for the inspection, according to the Ministry of Defense.

“The security environment surrounding Japan has been rapidly changing at an unprecedented speed. Things that used to happen only in science-fiction novels are today’s reality,” Kishida said. He said his government will lead “calm and realistic” discussions to determine what is needed to protect people’s lives and gain their understanding.

The possibility of possessing so-called enemy base strike capability has been a divisive issue because opponents say it violates Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.

Kishida has shifted his dovish stance to a more hawkish one, apparently to please influential leaders within his governing party, including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and to strengthen his grip on power. He now advocates increasing Japanese military capability and spending.

Extra defence budget

On Friday, Kishida’s Cabinet approved a 770 billion Japanese yen ($6.8bn) request for an extra defence budget through March to expedite the purchase of missiles, anti-submarine rockets and other weapons amid rising concern over the escalation of military activities by China, Russia and North Korea.

The request, still pending parliamentary approval, is a record for an extra defence budget and will bring Japan’s military spending for the current year to a new high of more than 6.1 trillion yen ($53.2bn), up 15 percent from 2020. The combined budget for 2021 will be just over 1 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP), keeping its customary cap.

Kishida has said he is open to doubling Japan’s military spending to cope with the worsening security environment. Critics also say Japan, as the world’s fastest-ageing country with a shrinking population, should allocate more money towards healthcare and other services.

Compared with past troop reviews, which included 4,000 soldiers, more than 200 vehicles and dozens of warplanes, Saturday’s event was significantly scaled down to minimise the effect on regular troop activity, officials said.

There was no parade or public viewing, and only nine tanks and other vehicles participated in the online event.

Source: AP