Japanese backing for military build-up likely to rise after China’s missiles: Analysis

Defence is a divisive issue in Japan, which, as a legacy of World War II, has a pacifist constitution and an enduring public wariness about entanglement in US-led wars.

China’s unprecedented missile launches into Japan’s exclusive economic zone came as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government prepares to publish a defence budget request for a significant increase in spending this month.

The spending plan will be followed by a year-end overhaul of defence policy expected to include a call for the acquisition of longer-range munitions to fend off China, which in 2019 replaced North Korea in Japan’s assessment as its primary national security threat.

Concern about Chinese military activity in the seas and skies around Taiwan and Japan has intensified since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, because Japan worries it provides China with a precedent for the use of force against Taiwan that the United States may not directly intervene to stop.

“The military balance has greatly changed around Taiwan,” said retired admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, who served as chief of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces’ Joint Staff for five years until 2019.

“I hope defence budget discussions will get serious.”


In a manifesto ahead of legislative elections last month, Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party pledged to double defence spending to 2 per cent of gross domestic product over five years, which would make Japan the world’s third biggest military spender after ally the US and China, according to a 2021 defence budget ranking published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Kishida, who condemned China’s action, has promised to increase defence spending “substantially” but has yet to say by how much and how fast.

He has also declined to say whether Japan’s militarisation would be paid for by cuts to public spending elsewhere, or through borrowing or a combination of the two.

China’s missiles have given Kishida a chance to clarify his position, especially given questions about to what extent the United States would step into a crisis, said Takashi Kawakami, a professor at Japan’s Takushoku University in Tokyo.

“Japan clearly needs to show it is ready to fight,” Kawakami said.

Source: CNA

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