Japan described China as an “unprecedented strategic challenge” in a new national security policy that sets the long-pacifist nation on course for its largest increase in defense spending since the end of World War II.
The new strategy, approved by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet yesterday, laid out plans for Japan to develop its own hypersonic missiles as part of a radical upgrade of its defense capabilities, from the coast guard to cybersecurity.
The shift was triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, tensions over Taiwan that included Chinese missiles fired into waters close to Japanese islands earlier this year, and North Korea stepping up its missile launches, including one that recently flew over Japan.
The emphasis on China as a focus of security marks a break with past policy, which cited the threat from North Korea as the primary reason for the need to strengthen missile defense.
It comes as Kishida’s government attempts to warm ties with China after a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Thailand last month. Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi could visit Beijing as this month, Japanese national broadcaster NHK reported.
“We see China as a strategic challenge to our country’s peace and safety, and the peace and stability of the international community,” Kishida said.
Referring to a “remarkable” buildup of missile capability in the region, the government said in the document that it is becoming difficult to deal with the situation simply by strengthening the country’s existing missile defense network.
The strategy calls for acquiring “counterstrike capability” that would enable Japan to target an enemy’s military facilities, in a turning point for a country bound by a pacifist constitution since 1947.
Raytheon Technologies Corp’s Tomahawk missiles are being considered for that purpose, according to the document.
Tomahawks have a range of more than 1,250km, meaning they could be used to hit naval bases on the east coasts of China and Russia.
Japan also intends to obtain sufficient supplies of missiles, including those made on its own, over the coming decade, with ranges long enough to strike military assets in the three nuclear-armed neighbors that have been a focus of Tokyo’s concerns.
With its new strategy in place, the government is considering revising the defense guidelines governing its military cooperation with its only formal treaty ally, the US, according to Kyodo News.
Kishida might raise the issue during a visit to the US being organized for next month, Kyodo said.
“Today, Prime Minister Kishida ushered in a new era in the defense of democracy. I want to congratulate him on his leadership,” US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.
China has made clear to Japan that it objects to the wording in the new documents, saying Beijing was committed to maintaining peace and stability.
Beijing’s diplomats filed a solemn representation with their Japanese counterparts about the new policy, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said yesterday.
“It discredits China and we are firmly opposed to this,” he said.
Kishida previously announced plans to increase defense spending by about 60 percent to ￥43 trillion (US$313.4 billion) over the next five years.
Plans are also in place to raise Japan’s coast guard budget by 40 percent, Kyodo said.
South Korea plans to increase its defense spending to more than 70 trillion won (US$53.43 billion) annually by 2026.
China allocated an estimated US$293 billion to its military last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
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