Japan faces the severest security environment in the region since the end of World War II, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said yesterday, pledging to push a military buildup under a newly adopted security strategy, as well as tackle rapidly declining births so the country can sustain national strength.
Kishida’s government last month adopted key security and defense reforms, including a counterstrike capability that breaks from the country’s exclusively self-defense-only postwar principle.
Japan says the current deployment of missile interceptors is insufficient to defend it from rapid weapons advancement in China and North Korea.
In his policy speech at parliament’s opening, Kishida said active diplomacy should be prioritized, but it requires “defense power to back it up.”
He said that Japan’s new security strategy is based on a realistic simulation, “as we face the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II and a question if we can protect the people’s lives in an emergency.”
The strategy seeks to keep in check China’s increasingly assertive territorial ambitions, but it is also a sensitive issue for many countries in Asia that were victims of Japanese wartime aggression.
Kishida said it is a “drastic turnaround” of Japan’s security policy, but still remains within the limitations of its pacifist constitution and international law.
“I make it clear that there will not be even a slightest change from Japan’s non-nuclear and self-defense-only principles and our footsteps as a peace-loving country,” Kishida said.
While the security strategy said China presents “an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge” to the peace and security of Japan and the region, Kishida said he hoped to maintain dialogue with Beijing, including with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), to found “constructive and stable relations.”
Japan plans to nearly double its defense budget within five years to ￥43 trillion (US$331.3 billion) and improve cyberspace and intelligence capabilities. While three-quarters of an annual defense budget increase can be squeezed out through spending and fiscal reforms, the remainder needs to come from a possible tax increase, and Kishida has already faced growing criticism from opposition lawmakers and even from his governing party.
Kishida also faces a critical question of population growth.
“We cannot waste any time on the policies for children and childrearing support,” he said. “We must establish a children-first economic society and turn around the birthrate.”
Japan’s population of more than 125 million has been declining for 14 years and is projected to fall to 86.7 million by 2060. A shrinking and aging population has huge implications for the economy and national security.
Kishida pledged to bolster financial support for families with children, including more scholarships, and said he would compile a set of measures of “different dimensions.”
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