Japan has said it would begin a once-unthinkable $320bn military build-up that would arm it with missiles capable of striking China and ready it for a sustained conflict as regional tensions and Russia’s Ukraine invasion stoke war fears.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government worries that Russia has set a precedent that will encourage China to attack Taiwan, threatening nearby Japanese islands, disrupting supplies of advanced semiconductors, and putting a potential stranglehold on sea lanes that supply Middle East oil.
Japan’s post-World War II constitution does not officially recognise the military and limits it to nominally self-defensive capabilities.
In its sweeping five-year plan and revamped national security strategy, the government said on Friday it would also stockpile spare parts and other munitions, reinforce logistics, develop cyber-warfare capabilities, and cooperate more closely with the United States and other like-minded nations to deter threats to the established international order.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a serious violation of laws that forbid the use of force and has shaken the foundations of the international order,” it said in the national security paper.
“The strategic challenge posed by China is the biggest Japan has ever faced.”
Third-biggest military spender
Unthinkable under past administrations, the rapid arming of Japan, which already hosts US forces, including a carrier strike group and a Marine expeditionary force, has the backing of most voters, according to opinion polls. Some surveys put support as high as 70 percent of voters.
Kishida’s plan will double defence outlays to about 2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) over the next five years, and increase the defence ministry’s share to about one-tenth of all public spending.
It will also make Japan the world’s third-biggest military spender after the US and China, based on current budgets.
The five-year spending roadmap did not come with a detailed plan for how Kishida’s administration would pay for it, as ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers continue to discuss whether to raise taxes or borrow money.
‘Exclusively defence oriented’
The money will fund projects including the acquisition of what Japan calls “counterstrike capacity” – the ability to hit launch sites that threaten the country.
The documents warn that Japan’s current missile interception systems are no longer sufficient and a “counterstrike capacity is necessary”.
While Japanese governments have long suggested that counterstrikes to neutralise enemy attacks would be permissible under the constitution, there has been little appetite to secure the capacity.
That has shifted with the continued growth of Chinese military might and a record volley of North Korean missile launches in recent months, including over Japanese territory.
Still, in a nod to the sensitivity of the issue, the documents rule out preemptive strikes, and insist Japan is committed to “an exclusively defence-oriented policy”.
Its language on relations with both China and Russia has hardened significantly.
The strategy document previously said Japan was seeking a “mutually beneficial strategic partnership” with Beijing, a phrase that has disappeared from this iteration.
Instead it suggests a “constructive and stable relationship” and better communication.
China’s foreign ministry on Friday urged Japan to “reflect on its policies”.
“Japan disregards the facts, deviates from the common understandings between China and Japan and its commitment to bilateral relations, and discredits China,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.